NewsGamasutra editor Alex Wawro continues our annual year-end roundups series by looking back at the biggest events that defined 2014. As the year winds down around us, I can't escape the sense that a handful of 2014's most momentous events will continue to shape the way our industry evolves in the years to come. We say that every year, because it's true -- events like the #1reasontobe campaign that spread across social media in 2012 and Microsoft's abrupt decision to reverse many of its Xbox One policies in 2013 are still influencing the way developers work today. 2014 saw fresh battles for diversity and more shake-ups at big companies, but the stakes were higher than ever. Major tech companies threw themselves into the game industry, some larger-than-life personalities left it, and too many developers struggled simply to remain. Yesterday we examined the big trends that defined this year, so now let's zero in on five specific events that rocked the industry in 2014.
Across the industry, developers responded with a heady mix of outrage and excitement. Some saw the deal empowering Oculus and cementing virtual reality's relevancy going forward, while others -- mostly developers who were making Rift games or had backed the headset's Kickstarter campaign in 2012 -- were angry about Oculus "selling out" to a company with a less-than-stellar reputation for fostering innovative game development.
While the company still hasn't shipped a consumer version of its headset, the deal with Facebook has already impacted the game industry and seems poised to continue doing so for some time to come. Oculus has spent the past nine months putting its newfound resources to use by, among other things, buying up hardware and software companies, launching its own developer conference and assembling what chief scientist Michael Abrash calls "the first well-funded VR research team in 20 years."
Right, remember when that happened? Amazon started reaching out to game makers months before the launch of the Fire TV, and was met with guarded optimism. The retail giant made it relatively easy for developers to port their Android games to its hardware, and Amazon's decision to make games a core pillar of its platform -- you could buy a Fire TV with a gamepad packed in -- potentially strengthens the industry by opening up another new market for developers, one that seems starved for games.
It's a convenient capstone on Microsoft's aggressive attempts to reposition itself in our industry during a year in which its flagship Xbox One console was consistently trounced, sales-wise, by Sony's competing PlayStation 4. Those attempts directly affected developers when Microsoft did things like unbundle the Kinect from Xbox One, appoint a developer-minded Microsoft man like Phil Spencer to lead the Xbox division in the wake of former Xbox chief Marc Whitten's departure, and pour a bunch of money into studios like Crystal Dynamics and Mojang.
The Mojang deal also marks the departure of indie darling Markus "Notch" Persson from the studio and the game that made him a household name. Mojang and Minecraft will likely continue to thrive without Notch -- Microsoft is counting on it -- but his own future and his role in the industry going forward is less predictable. With a significant chunk of change at his disposal and a proven track record of contributing to (and participating in) interesting game industry projects like jams, documentaries and crowdfunding campaigns, he's in a prime position to shake up the industry regardless of whether or not he makes another game.
But laying the foundation for much of our industry wasn't enough for Baer, who went on to invent (among other things) the first video game light gun -- which was also the first video game peripheral, period -- and a number of electronic games and toys.
He never seemed to stop tinkering with new ideas, and at the time of his death Baer had been inducted into the U.S. National Inventor's Hall of Fame with over 150 patents to his name. He also earned a slew of awards, including a U.S. National Medal of Technology and a GDC 2008 Developer's Choice Pioneer award, and remained an active participant in the game industry up until his death. His absence will be felt for years to come.
5 events that shook the game industry in 2014
As the year winds down around us, we zero in on five specific events that rocked the industry in 2014.