In a way, it feels like more video games are coming out than ever. But in a different way that so many of the video game industry’s loudest, most expensive sides are built around, 2022 was a drought like no other.
If you want to talk about small platformers on the Switch, or city builders on Steam, or weird horror adventures on itch.io, then this has been a bumper year. In terms of volume, there are more video games on more platforms than ever before. As packed as the calendar was with smaller and even mid-tier games, a glimpse of the blockbuster’s 2022 release schedule was terrifying reading.
What is a “Big Game”?
I’m using the term as an acronym to describe a standalone blockbuster video game release, one that’s typically funded by a major publisher and that has an inescapable level of hype/fame. Think Call of Duty, Halo, God of War, Zelda, that kind of game. The big ones! You know what I’m talking about!
It’s easy to forget, as familiar with their routines as we are, how much of this industry still revolves around this calendar, without happily realizing (or unwillingly accepting) that it’s not 2003 anymore. The timing and volume of AAA game releases has been the cornerstone of everything from big events like E3 to development schedules and sale periods to retail channels to times when video game site writers like this used to be able to take vacations ( until recently it was never in October or November, that would be too crowded!)
In recent years, however, what was once a flurry of high-profile releases has slowed to a trickle, and by 2022 it was more of a slow drip. But the scaffolding around these games that has taken root like scaffolding that no one can or wants to dismantle is still there. Much of the video game industry has spent the year reverberating around it, lone footsteps pounding through a cavernous, empty church. 2022 was not a year known for its big games. It was a year notable for her absence.
Sure, some came out. They always have and always will. elden ring, God of War, horizona revised one call of Duty. But what else? Even 4-5 years ago would be the year full of big, expensive releases from big publishers. Especially now, during the holiday season, packed with the kind of games urging you to pre-order them with big posters at a GameStop, that would clog an E3 press conference. In 2022, you could hear a pin drop for months.
Most people’s first response would probably be the pandemic. Its impact disrupted development plans around the world, and while some games were released midway, others were delayed for months or even years to recover from the chaos of having entire studios sent home in the worst-case scenario. Many games that should have come out by now aren’t yet, resulting in one hell of a traffic jam in early 2023.
But I don’t think that’s the reason To the right Answers. This deadlock is temporary and obscures broader trends that the pandemic has only exacerbated. The truth is that the AAA landscape has been shrinking for years. Everything has become too big, too expensive. The math is simple: games take longer to make and more developers are needed to create them, so we get less of them.
And even then, not all of these are big releases New. Publishers are so risk-averse these days that remakes are big business, and companies clearly prefer making safe money restoring a proven classic to trying something original. So yes, the year also has big releases like The last of usa game that… came out in 2013 and has been remastered before.
Add to this an ongoing obsession with turning the few releases we get into a live service experiment, publishers hoping to sell content for them years after release, and not only can you see us in this AAA drought, but also why it will only get worse (or at least weirder) in the coming years. Assassin’s Creed leads the charge here; What used to be a flagship series released every 1-2 years is about to become a platform in itselfbut it is also visible from everywhere Call of Duty stubborn war zone to Fortnite’s seasons. Big games just don’t get released anymore; the the are will never go away
Yet despite all of these changes, this framework, the structures of hype and commercialization built to encase the AAA business model, remain in place even as the very thing they were built around begins to collapse. Check out GameStop, formerly a store that sold boxed video game releases, now an NFT clearing house and placeholder for meme stocks. Look at big trade shows like E3, whose bread and butter – big reveals and huge press conferences –moved on and downsized. These remnants of the old world remain, but the sand on which they are built is beginning to wash away.
I want to be clear now and say that unless you run E3 or work at GameStop, this isn’t a bad thing! The Smaller Games Rule, the Mid-Size Games Rule, the Smaller Studios and More Agile Publishers Rule, the Phone Games Rule, and millions of people (and millions more every year) are very happy to play video games every day in a way that for you don’t have to pay $70 for a box that says “PlayStation 5 exclusive.”
But for anyone involved in that creaky framework, or even emotionally involved with the idea of standalone AAA game releases — folks who are still noting E3 press conference times in their diaries, I see you — these must be troubling times be. Because while 2022 may seem like a barren year for blockbuster video games: