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Game Developer's best of 2022: The events that defined the year

From Twitter's maelstrom to Stadia's death sentence to devs offering support to Ukraine, these are the events that shaped 2022.

Elon Musk buys Twitter, chaos ensues

The Twitter logo

Whatever else you could say about Twitter, there's always been some sort of stability to balance out the utter madness the site has proliferated over the years. It was chaos, but it was a chaos brought about by the users that could be equal parts infuriating and hilarious.

The last handful of years, however, has seen Twitter reach some of its lowest and most exhausting points. The takeover by Elon Musk is shaping up to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. If Twitter (the company) isn’t losing dozens or hundreds of employees, Musk is taking actions that are transparently vindictive and self-serving, not to mention incredibly short-sighted. And if Twitter (the website) isn't on the verge of falling apart, it's making you wonder what the breaking point will inevitably be. Admirable as it is to tough it out and make sure Musk regrets his $44 billion decision, you can't deny those who opted to jump ship in recent weeks might've had the right idea.

But the worst thing about Twitter's recent upheaval is how it reveals how utterly boring of a person Musk is. Granted, this wasn’t a shock to those not sold on the "billionaire as secret misunderstood genius" myth, but recent weeks have made it quite clear how dull he is. He's petty, he’s not particularly funny, and he’s continuously tweeting through it in a way that's just plain sad.

– Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

Industry offers support as Ukranian devs speak out against Russian invasion

The Stand with Ukraine fundraiser logo

Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted an outpouring of support from across the game industry, with studios and publisher rallying around employees in the region and other companies donating huge sums of cash to help those affected by the conflict.

Some of the industry's biggest players including Sony, Microsoft, Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, Take-Two, CD Projekt and EA halted sales of video games and other content in Russia after the country began its war on Ukraine. Others with a footprints in Ukraine, including Ubisoft and Frogwares, offered to provide affected employees with alternate housing and established support hotlines to assist those in need. Meanwhile, some companies like Wargaming decided to exit Russia and Belarus (the latter of which assisted with the invasion) entirely, closing down their offices in both countries and relocating.

The industry at large also pulled together to raise money for humanitarian groups and charities offering support to those displaced by the war, raising millions of dollars for those in need through various charity bundles and revenue donation initiatives. Despite having their reality turned upside down overnight, developers in the region also shared their experiences to highlight the effects the war was having on Ukraine and its citizens, helping to raise awareness and express defiance.

Speaking to Game Developer in February, Wael Amr, the CEO and founder of Kyiv-based studio Frogwares, described the situation in the country as "tense and fluid" and implored tech and video game companies to "take a stand" against Russia.

"We hope for peace and most importantly freedom, and the whole civilized world should look for the same," said Amr. "Closing their eyes or quickly moving on within a few days to the next 'trending topic' will have terrible consequences for the world."

Chris Kerr, News Editor

Playdate cranks up the creativity

Playdate artwork depicting a number of characters and the console itself

After years of fanfare and a couple of delays, we finally got our hands on Playdate, the devilish little doodad from Panic and Teenage Engineering that promised a full season of quirky games from some of the game industry's brightest creators. Most console launches are huge events in the game industry diary, but the arrival of Playdate wasn't about championing huge hardware breakthroughs or boundary pushing tech.

Instead, Panic's vibrant handheld poses a question: do you want to go make something cool? It's inspiration and joy and everything that's wonderful about game development squished into a little handheld that also features a crank because why the hell not? It might not be for everyone, but that's beside the point. Playdate is technology designed to inspire, and the world could always use more of that.

"From a consumer perspective, it's a twee slice of magic that'll engage and delight in equal measure. A glee-inducing console designed around a pick-up-and-play philosophy that'll elevate your coffee breaks to new heights. On it's own, that might be enough for some. But to suggest the Playdate is all about, well, playing, would be an absolute WHOPPER of a lie," wrote Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr in our review.

"If you were to prize off that now-iconic yellow shell and gaze into Playdate's glistening, swirling core, what you'd understand is that the tinkerers at Panic have given us something infinitely more special than mere hardware or video games. They've handed over the delicate, priceless gift of possibility."

Chris Kerr, News Editor

Rise of the TOOTS: The dawn of Trombone Champ

A pair of Trombone Champs tooting away

Few games can truly claim to be overnight success stories, but Trombone Champ might just be one of them. Dubbed the "world's first trombone-based rhythm music game" (who are we to argue?) by developer Holy Wow, the hootin' tootin' title burst onto the scene with the grace and decorum of an incandescent howler monkey after taking social media by storm.

We (by which I mean people who spend too much time on Twitter) couldn't get enough. At one point, it was almost impossible to scroll through your feed without coming across ludicrous renditions of everything from classic bangers like Beethoven's Fifth and Also sprach Zarathustra to more contemporary hits like Paramore's Misery Business and Evanescence belter Bring Me to Life (which made their way into the game thanks to a custom song feature).

It wasn't just the music (and we use that term in its loosest possible sense) that impressed, through. Trombone Champ captured the imagination thanks to its combination of kooky wide-eyed characters, who appear to be high on more than just life and toots, and a UI that liberally dishes out praise and punishment in equal measure by hurling words like "NASTY!" at would-be trombo's as they mercilessly butcher song after song. The success of Trombone Champ also allowed Holy Wow to fully commit to the project in the long-term, and according to studio founder Dan Vecchitto (speaking to Game Developer earlier this year) quite literally changed the lives of its developers.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

Stadia is sentenced to death

The Google Stadia controller and logo

Google Stadia's days are numbered.

It's only been a few months since Google announced Stadia will be shutting down in January 2023, but it feels like the forlorn streaming service has been sinking for an eternity. Although it won't technically vanish from view for another few weeks, Google has already begun processing refunds for Stadia hardware while developers quickly deployed the life rafts in a bid to find refuge on other, more buoyant platforms. As is always the case in these scenarios, however, some creators were doomed to go down with the ship.

The slow demise of Stadia represents the end of what was a pretty lavish gaming experiment for Google, with the company opening a number of studios and making some pretty impressive hires in a bid to firmly establish itself in the game industry–following an equally grand reveal at GDC 2019. Although the technology itself worked, Google evidently struggled to persuade players to buy into the platform, and now it seems like Stadia (or, at least, the technology behind it) is destined to be repurposed as a glorified dev tool.

For Game Developer senior editor Bryant Francis, the impending death of Stadia is both untimely and avoidable. Assessing the situation in an op-ed published in September, Francis suggested that mismanagement was the reason for Stadia tumbling like a slow-motion house of cards, explaining that while Google nailed the idea, it failed miserably when it came to execution.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

The world says hello to Steam Deck

The Steam Deck in all of its glory

Valve did it. I still can't believe they did it, but Valve released a mobile PC video game platform that can act as a standalone way to use Steam. And it's not just good, it's great.

This was a major accomplishment. Not only does this give Valve a shot at expanding the number of Steam users (a PlayStation 5 owner curious about PC games might buy a Steam Deck now), it shifts the landscape of video game hardware to make way for equivalent products.

Already, Lenovo, Verizon, and other manufacturers are swooping in with their own Switch-likes—albeit ones optimized for cloud game platform services, not offline play. But Valve wants other manufacturers to get in on the game and load the Linux-based SteamOS onto their hardware. More and more players have the power to play games wherever they want, and it's going to exert gravity on Microsoft and Sony's plans for their consoles as well.

It's the rare industry win that feels good for everyone involved. More people get to play more games, developers can reach a bigger audience, and Valve gets to turn a tidy profit. The Steam Deck's success isn't likely to compete with any of the major consoles—but it's nice that it doesn't have to.

– Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

Unity and IronSource merger irks devs

Artwork announcing the Unity and IronSource merger

What a year for Unity. But not… a great year. The corporation behind one of the most widely-used game engines spent 2022 expanding a slew of companies before surprising the world by announcing it was merging with IronSource. But unless you're in the mobile advertising world, IronSource isn't a household name. And when developers went to learn about it—they found old articles describing how the company's poor platform was just malware.

Woof.

This pushed a number of Unity users to vocalize their dissatisfaction with the company—and while you could air out any number of grievances about how the megacorporation is looking to make its money, they all came back to once core complaint: Unity wasn't putting developers at the center of its big business moves. Unity of course, disputed that characterization, but it was at least willing to concede that it "hadn't been talking enough" to game developers. That rare concession seemed to dial down the temperature in September (even if developers responding to our conversation with Unity didn't seem convinced).

Wherever Unity lands, its challenges in 2022 are a symbol of what happens when game-making tools go public: their obligations begin to change, and they risk alienating the customers who brought them fortune in the first place.

– Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

New Year, New Acquisitions, New Wordles

wordle logo

With the year now nearly behind us, it's easy to forget exactly how much 2022 started with a bang, as far as the video game industry goes. Right off the bat in January 2022, multiple major players in the games space announced groundbreaking acquisitions in the millions and billions, and we've spent the 12 months since keeping up with the impact of those decisions.

We are, of course, speaking about the New York Times' groundbreaking, seven-figure acquisition of Wordle. After the clever puzzle game dominated our mobile phones and group chats in late 2021, creator Josh Wardle opted to sell the title to the media company that had partially inspired its success. Wardle spoke briefly about the decision to sell in his GDC talk on Wordle's unconventional road to success, explaining at the time that he was more interested in creating things than running a game business.

Notably, a few other small acquisitions made headlines in January: Sony's now-completed $3.6 billion purchase of Destiny 2 developer Bungie, and Microsoft's yet-ongoing acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

The acquisition train doesn't end there. Check out our 2022 trends round-up for much more!

- Alissa Macaloon, Publisher

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