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2012: The Year in Online Gaming

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January 5 2013

In the middle of high season for Game of the Year awards, opinions vary over whether 2012 was a good or a bad year for games. Given the rapid growth of the games industry, I'm not convinced that we've really had a bad year for games in this century, even if the average review score on Metacritic has dropped slightly. At any rate, it's an appropriate time to reflect on some of the highs and lows of 2012.

Even FPS fans who have grown weary of the annual Call of Duty release (in this case Black Ops 2) had good games to choose from. The Counter-Strike series received a long-awaited revamp with the arrival of Global Offensive. (new maps, characters and game modes.) Post-apocalyptic shooter sequel Borderlands 2 has been widely praised for its co-op, and Tribes: Ascend brought new life to another classic franchise.

Also in the shooter department, but on a massive scale, PlanetSide 2 launched. The game certainly has its share of problems and it feels unfinished in many ways, it has delivered some of the largest combined-arms battles we've seen since, well, the first PlanetSide.

Guild Wars 2 sold well and earned several awards, although the game appears to be struggling a little to hold people's interest long term. KingsIsle Studios, makers of Wizard101, continued to innovate with Pirates101, a child-friendly title that has appealed to a lot of adults. For other new MMORPGs, 2012 was not all smooth sailing. Funcom's conspiracy inspired entry into the genre, The Secret World, hasn't managed to get much traction, and Star Wars: The Old Republic (which launched in late 2011) went free-to-play in hopes of bolstering player numbers.

It should be noted that the free-to-play trend continued to gain momentum. SOE intends to employ this revenue model for all there games going forward, with PlanetSide 2 leading the way. This may seem like a positive development on the surface, but it also has the potential to mystify game pricing.

Of course, there was a World of Warcraft expansion in 2012 as well, and the introduction of a playable panda race didn't appeal to everyone. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very substantial addition to the game, with some critics declaring it the best WoW expansion yet. Many people have moved on, but it's clear that there is still life in this 8-year-old title.

Another major event was the release of Diablo 3 and the controversy surrounding both the game's always-online requirement and the real-money auction. As it had been over a decade since Diablo 2 there was naturally a lot of anticipation over the game, and it broke day-one sales records on the PC platform. The PvP system was regrettably scrapped before launch to be added at a later date, and many people seemed surprised to discover that Diablo 3, like most RPGs, actually comes to an end.

For strategy fans, XCOM: Enemy Unknown brought turn-based gameplay back from the brink of extinction and walked away with several Game of the Year awards. Unlike the original XCOM, Enemy Unknown has a multiplayer feature that allows for one-on-one tactical battles, but the single-player side of the game has certainly been of the highest interest.

There was a lot to like about online gaming in 2012, and I don't doubt that 2013 will be a decent year as well. Stay tuned for a list of the upcoming games I'm most looking forward to in the months ahead.

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