As the first working week of a brand new year draws to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on 2023. They say if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it, but I reckon there’s a few new trends from last year I could stand to see repeat—alongside a few that I absolutely want to leave behind.
Join me for a look back on the things that have shaped the industry over the last 12 months, and a bit of wishful thinking about how I hope things go for the next 12. Reckon I’ve missed any big trends here? Jump into the comments and let me know what you think needs to continue or stop for good.
Big game releases
The impact of the pandemic has been keenly felt in the games industry. Studios being hampered by sudden shifts in how they’re able to work has led to lots of major projects receiving lengthy delays, and from 2020-2022 the release schedules were often disappointingly quiet. Though we still saw the release of a few modern classics, and a steady stream of standout indies, it’s been hard to shake the feeling of a noticeably subdued calendar of launches.
2023 really felt like the year the floodgates reopened. Games we’ve been waiting years for finally launched, alongside all sorts of other releases great and small. The release calendar was packed for the first time in what’s felt like a long while, and our 2023 GOTY discussions were reinvigorated with excitement and variety.
Though COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, I’m hoping we’re fully out of the dry spell it created and set for a busy 2024.
2023 was an unpredictable year. We knew Baldur’s Gate 3 was going to be good, but it absolutely blew the roof off the genre, and broke through to the mainstream in a way that I never thought an old school top-down RPG could. Dave the Diver came out of nowhere, to turn a chubby little middle-aged fisherman into a beloved new gaming icon. And Alan Wake made a well-deserved and triumphant return with one of the most acclaimed games of the year.
The surprises weren’t all good, of course—many of the games we thought were guaranteed to be winning awards by the end of the year instead floundered. Diablo 4 didn’t recapture hearts in quite the way it wanted to, Starfield struggled to live up to expectations, and Redfall… well, Redfall barely lived at all.
But even if it means taking the bad with the good, I’d rather 2024 be filled with more interesting surprises rather than just going through the usual motions. I hope this year’s GOTY contenders are as surprising as 2023’s.
Proper videogame adaptations
For decades, videogame adaptations have been a joke. It was taken as a given that any TV show or film based on a game was guaranteed to be cheesy, low budget trash, no matter how good the original subject matter was. 2023 was the year that trend officially died. Videogame adaptations are being taken more seriously now than ever.
The way was already being paved earlier in the 2020s—Netflix’s Castlevania was a confident step forward, and Arcane broke through to the mainstream by being not just one of the best videogame adaptions, but simply one of the best animated TV shows. But 2023’s The Last of Us was the first time a videogame show was treated like proper prestige TV in the mainstream, and though The Super Mario Bros Movie struck a rather lighter tone, its unbelievable success at the box office (earning over a billion dollars against a $100 million budget) was a watershed moment. It’s now undeniable that games are just as viable a source of stories for the big and small screen as books or comics.
With Arcane’s second season and a Fallout show due this year, a big budget Minecraft movie due in 2025, and projects in development covering everything from Silent Hill to Borderlands, it doesn’t look like this is a trend that’ll be slowing down any time soon.
Games getting shut down faster than ever
2023 seemed to be the year games companies decided it’s acceptable to can your online game within just months of launching it. Our list of games that shut down last year is a sad testament to both an unsustainable focus on live service business models, and the attitude that’s gotten us here—one of throwing games callously at the wall, seeing what sticks, and abandoning the ones that don’t as fast as possible.
It’s not fair on consumers, but it’s also not fair on developers, who can end up putting years of their lives into projects, build moderate but passionate communities, and then see it all disappear within six months just because it’s not a new mega-earner. We’re long past the point where publishers need to accept that not every game can be the next Fortnite or Destiny, and start chasing good design instead of already oversubscribed trends.
Remember when World of Warcraft was huge, and every company tried and failed to launch their own MMO? And then when the same thing happened with MOBAs? No one learned anything and it shows. Here’s hoping some publishers wise up in 2024.
Mass layoffs and studio closures
Sadly, 2023’s going to be remembered as the year when it felt like every publisher around was laying off huge reams of staff, and even closing studios entirely. From EA squeezing Codemasters a few months after its studio BioWare cut loose key Dragon Age veterans, to Amazon gutting its gaming division, to Embracer “restructuring” away 5% of its workforce, and far too many more examples to name, it’s been a heart-breaking 12 months in the industry.
I’m not business-savvy enough to diagnose when this phenomenon is the result of corporate greed or mismanagement, and when it’s an unavoidable consequence of worldwide economic trends, but there’s no doubt things are rough out there—as evidenced by many indie studios struggling to even survive the year. Developer League of Geeks claimed “almost all funding and investment has evaporated from the videogame industry” as it laid off half its studio and paused development on its upcoming game. Meanwhile Mimimi Games closed entirely shortly after releasing the year’s best stealth game simply because of the unsustainable burnout and “heavy personal toll” of development.
It’s a distressing thing to see—this industry that we’re told rakes in more and more profit every year seems to be utterly hostile to anyone actually making a living in it. I’m not naive enough to think there’s much chance of this trend turning around completely in 2024, but let’s at least hope for a less brutal 12 months, yeah?
Broken PC ports
I’d allowed myself to believe that this trend was way behind us, which made its resurgence in 2023 a very unwelcome jumpscare. By February we were already aghast at one buggy release after another; they continued so unrelentingly that we ended up updating the article with more examples in May, but even after that they just kept coming. From Jedi: Survivor to Wild Hearts to Forspoken, we saw everything from stuttering framerates to crashes to bizarre eyebrows. This is the year we had to give The Last of Us, one of the best games of all time, a 50% review score because it was so badly ported.
Our digging into why this is happening hasn’t offered up easy answers, but certainly one of the biggest factors is exactly the one you’d guess: developers are working to impossible deadlines with far too few resources. Listen, I know I said I want 2024 to be another year of big releases, but if some of these games need a little longer in the oven to be ready for the limelight, I’ll take that over every AAA launch being just the precursor to three months of desperate patching.