2019 wasn't a 'bad year' for video games, but it sure was a weird one

Commentary: This year video games were very much in a holding pattern.

Mark Serrels Editorial Director
Mark Serrels is an award-winning Senior Editorial Director focused on all things culture. He covers TV, movies, anime, video games and whatever weird things are happening on the internet. He especially likes to write about the hardships of being a parent in the age of memes, Minecraft and Fortnite. Definitely don't follow him on Twitter.
Mark Serrels
3 min read

Sekiro just took out the big prize at The Game Awards.

From Software/Activision

Arguing that "video games had a bad year" is fraught with risk. 

To begin with, it's difficult to even pin down what the phrase "video games" actually means now. Are we talking about blockbusters like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? Or battle royale games like  Fortnite ? What about Esports -- games like League of Legends or DOTA? How do indie games fit in? Do we include Twitch? What about itch.io?

Given that ambiguity, daring to claim video games had a "bad year" is asking for trouble. 

"Wait, you didn't play instant classics like Outer Wilds or Baba is You?"

"Were you too stupid or too American to understand Death Stranding?"

"Are you denying the meticulously designed masterpiece that is Luigi's Mansion 3?"

So, playing it safe, I'm not going to say 2019 was a bad year for video games. But it's fair to say it was a weird one.

You could never argue 2019 was comparable to 2017, where large, well-funded studios delivered all-time classics like Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Or even 2018, where franchise games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 took massive swings at greatness. 

Good games are released every year, and you'd be hard pressed to say any different about 2019. Control was one of the most interesting AAA video games in years. Death Stranding was definitely Death Stranding. But when I think of 2019, I think mediocrity. I think business as usual. I think 7 out of 10.


Outer Wilds was probably my personal favourite of the year.

Mobius Digital

I think Gears 5, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Mortal Kombat 11 and Borderlands 3. One of my favourite games of 2019, Resident Evil 2 , was a remake. Even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, while still high quality, is arguably the weakest game From Software has released in the last decade. 

When AAA games go on vacation, it's typically a time when indie games step up to the plate. That did happen -- to an extent. Baba is You was pure genius. The Outer Worlds was a large-scale open world RPG that put Bethesda to shame. Outer Wilds was a sublime, perspective-shifting, perfectly realised snowglobe of a universe, and Disco Elysium swept in at the last minute to widespread acclaim (and a rare 10/10 from our sister site Gamespot).

But game streaming was a dud out of the gate. Google Stadia fell flat with a grim launch line-up, latency issues and a borked business model. 

Microsoft , for its part, seems intent on pouring cold water on Project xCloud. Game streaming seems central to Microsoft's broader strategy, but it's always pitched as supplemental. A way to play games on the move as opposed to a direct replacement for consoles . The idea of a Netflix-esque streaming future is a so-close-yet-so-far situation. 

2019 wasn't a year where a new consoles revolutionised what it meant to play video games either. Sony skipped E3 . Apple Arcade just kinda came and went. The VR hype train continues to sputter and lose momentum, despite a last-gasp resuscitation attempt by Valve with Half-Life: Alyx. The only new console we got was the Nintendo Switch Lite , a portable console that actually removed functionality compared to it's older, bigger brother. I still bought one. Obviously.

In 2019 I couldn't shake the feeling that video games were in a holding pattern.

We suspect 2020 will be the big one. Not just for games like The Last of Us Part 2, Cyberpunk 2077 or The Avengers, but new consoles. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are both set for release in 2020, so we'll finally see where both Sony and Microsoft think gaming is headed -- as a medium and an industry beyond SSD drives, faster processors and ray tracing.

What do next generation consoles look like? How will they transform how we purchase and consume interactive experiences? What about the video games themselves? 

The answers to these questions may end up being far more conservative and status quo than we're dreaming of, but console releases do tend to kickstart a new wave of innovation. In 2019 we could only speculate, in 2020 we'll get answers. 

And regardless of whether those answers are revolutionary or incremental, at least that's something to look forward to. 

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