Mass Effect 3

I’m in a bad mood. Christmas was tough on me this year. I didn’t get my shopping done until the last minute, my doctor says I need to cut out egg nog, and the only holiday movie on TV right now is A Christmas Story. I hate A Christmas Story.

Thankfully, my colleagues at GamesBeat know just how to get me in the holiday spirit: Make me write a list about the year’s worst gaming trends. In a year that had some great trends, like bows and arrows in every game, we also had some ideas that are really starting to stink up our favorite hobby. So, happy holidays; it’s time to get negative.

Ancient aliens in every sci-fi game

Halo 4, Mass Effect 3, and Assassin’s Creed III were arguably the biggest releases of 2012. They’re massive games with budgets that rival most blockbuster movies, so it’s strange that they all ended up using a very similar plot device: the ancient alien.

Sure, the title’s share the science-fiction genre, but it had seemed that each one was telling a very distinct story. That’s why it is so weird that each game ended up have some sort ancient race that is pushing forward the plot.

Mass Effect 3 has the Repears, an ancient race of machines who wish to destroy all the civilizations of the universe. Halo 4 has the Precursor, a civilization of ancient aliens that even predate the Forerunner race of ancient aliens. Assassin’s Creed has the First Civilization, which aren’t Aliens (I don’t think) but have god-like powers and lived on Earth long before recorded history.

In a vacuum, any one of these games using this narrative gambit would be interesting, but when they’re all happening simultaneously, they tend to cancel each other out.

Insulting downloadable content

As gamers, we have accepted that a game is more than what is on the disc. The economics of development often require studios to sell extra story, multiplayer maps, and more as DLC to pad their bottom line. That’s OK.

But it’s not OK to hold back crucial story content or a game’s “true” ending in an attempt to shake down dedicated fans.

In Mass Effect 3, the best character and crucial elements to the lore of that universe were held back for the day-one add-on From Ashes which cost around $5. It introduced the only surviving member of an ancient alien (!) race whose actions have influences the Mass Effect trilogy’s plot since the beginning.

Publisher Capcom has a history of making poor decisions with its downloadable content packs. In its insane anime-inspired title Asura’s Wrath, it held back the ending of the game’s plot in a piece of $7 DLC. This is after the company included paid DLC characters on the disc for Street Fighter X Tekken, which had customers asking what exactly is the “downloadable” aspect of the content.

B-team studios adapting A-list franchises on PlayStation Vita

This is a trend that spilled over from the launch of Sony’s newest gaming handheld, but it dampened (or destroyed) at least two big releases in 2012.

The promise of the PlayStation Vita, according to Sony’s own marketing, is that it is basically a home console on the go. It’s powerful and has dual analog sticks, so why are games like Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified so disappointing?

Because publishers bring in small outside developers that have no experience with the property they’re adapting.

NStigate Games (formerly Nihilistic Software) got the nod to adapt Call of Duty to the Vita. This is after that studio produced a very mediocre adaptation of the first-person shooter series Resistance for Vita around the system’s launch. Nstigate had nothing to do with producing a Call of Duty game prior to Declassified and it shows in the subpar final product.

The same thing happened with the Vita version of Assassin’s Creed. Ubisoft Sofia, a studio that had little to do with Assassin’s Creed, was in charge of bringing a console-quality version to the Vita.

What’s truly sad is that Ubisoft Sofia just came off the decent 3DS launch game Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. It was a strategy game that wasn’t trying to reproduce any other Ghost Recon game, which allowed the developer to create something new.

By setting the Vita up as some sort of PlayStation 3 on-the-go — and then constantly failing to meet that promise — Sony appears lost and confused about how to position the handheld. If they want publishers to release big-name games, they need to get developers who are up to the task.

Slot games on Facebook

I’m probably just old and set in my ways, but few things in gaming skeeve me out like the casino games on Facebook.

Specifically, the slot-machine titles that have become very popular in the last few months. As a medium, gaming has so much potential. Developers can present intricate systems to players that emulate or encapsulate our relationship to math, physics, and nature. At this point, the people who make games are also very good at rewarding players for actions and creating gameplay loops that trigger a nice release of dopamine in our brains.

Developers use these manipulative techniques in a variety of interesting ways, but these slot machine games take all of that knowledge and use it for evil.

Now, I don’t really think the slots on Facebook are evil, and I don’t want to take anything away from people who enjoy spending their time pulling a lever with nothing tangible to show for it — but I won’t shed any tears when these games fall out of popularity.

The main problem is that the slots are completely devoid of any actual game. All the player does is pull a lever and then play an occasional minigame that amounts to nothing more than picking a number between 1 and 10. Yet, these games are bursting with experience points and satisfying sound effects and bonuses and meta games and social links and every other trick to keep players pulling the lever.

And the setup is so devious. The most offensive slot games have more than one machine. They have a series of themed slots that always start with a machine that seems to spit out tons of coins on every pull. Then each successive table is less likely to pay out than the previous one, but they reward (and require) more money. The idea — at least as it appears to me as a cynic — is to get a certain percentage of players hooked on winning from the generous early games only to take everything back with the greedy later machines. Then, when the player is broke, get them to pay a few bucks for more coins so they can keep playing.

If that’s what people want to do with their time, so be it. But it’s still an ugly use of gaming’s strengths.

Mobs of angry and embarrassing gamers

As gamers, we’re a highly connected group. We play games and then look for places to go and talk about them on the Internet. Our passion for the medium is so great, we’re also easily riled up when we feel like something is threatening the games we love … or if we don’t get our way.

In 2012, mobs of irate gamers took the rage to a new and unnecessary level.

Nothing embodies this phenomenon like the reaction to feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian introduced a Kickstarter project called Tropes vs. Women that will examine the many stereotypical ways that games depict females. A vocal group of gamers felt threatened by this, and while some may have voiced their disagreement with Sarkeesian in a respectful manner, the loud apparent majority drowned out all reasonable discourse with a disgusting wall of sexism.

Groups of male gamers banded together online to systematically harass Sarkeesian. Someone posted a web-based game called Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian. Essentially, they proved her right and embarrassed the rest of us who are willing to talk about these topics.

Fear of change seems to provoke these mobs more than anything. When Madden 13 launched earlier this year, a new mode replaced the Franchise mode that’s been a part of the series for years. This created a hornet’s nest in our article that explained the change. Gamers filled the comment section of that story with impotent rage. It isn’t even a big change, but that didn’t stop the mob from demanding publisher Electronic Arts fire the game’s designer.

I’m sure that angry fan backlash like this is common across a variety of mediums, but that doesn’t make it any better. It’s poor behavior for anyone for any reason. The worst part is that genuine criticism is lost in the caps-locking, screaming mob.