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Time is weird. We mostly use it to organize days and weeks to help us figure out how far away the next Star Wars movie is (360 days until Star Wars: Rogue One). But we also love using it as a way to collate and compare lists of things. The best music, the best cat pictures, and, of course, the best games.
But you don’t have to stick to just comparing items from within a single year. No, you can bunch all of the games from one annual cycle and contrast them against against another to say something like the following: 2015 was the best year ever for video games.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to argue today — that 2015 was a better year for gaming than even 1998 or 2004.
Why 2015 was the best year ever for games
Last week, we released our list of the 10 best games of 2015. Let’s rehash it again just so everyone is on the same page:
- Super Mario Maker
- Rocket League
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Ori and the Blind Forest
- Until Dawn
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Pillars of Eternity
I’m still struck by it — and not necessarily because what is on it. Here is a list of games that didn’t make our top 10:
- Fallout 4
- Tales from the Borderlands
- Batman: Arkham Knight
- Halo 5: Guardians
- Xenoblade Chronicles X
- Dying Light
- Total War: Attila
- Destiny: The Taken King
- Kerbal Space Program
- Her Story
- The Beginner’s Guide
- Just Cause 3
You could make another top 10 list from just these games that would make sense for 2015. That’s how many incredible releases we’ve seen over the last 12 months. It’s hard to overstate just how packed with amazing games this year was.
We had an embarrassment of triple-A marquee releases.
In January, Dying Light came out of nowhere with the first-person action survival game, and the releases didn’t really slow down through December with Xenoblade Chronicles X and Just Cause 3. In between, we got some of the best entries in venerable franchises like Metal Gear Solid, The Witcher, and Tomb Raider. The year was also punctuated by new surprises like Splatoon, Until Dawn, and even Super Mario Maker.
But it’s not just about the density of high-quality software. It’s about the diversity as well. Every GamesBeat staff member picked a different choice for their Game of the Year — and the rest of our lists were just as varied. And a great year like 2015 doesn’t accomplish something like that by only serving up expected hits from traditional publishers.
2015 vs. 2004 vs. 1998
When you look back at some previous “greatest years ever,” you see that 2004 had Half-Life 2, Halo 2, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. And everyone generally concurred that those were the best games and everyone should play and enjoy them. Same thing with 1998. That was the year that gave us Pokémon Red and Blue, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life, StarCraft, Metal Gear Solid, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Baldur’s Gate, Grim Fandango and Resident Evil 2. That’s one hell of a list.
The thing that those years are missing, however, are the smaller, more experimental games. I don’t think 2004 or 1998 had an Ori and the Blind Forest, and they definitely didn’t have a Rocket League. While 2015 gave us the term “indiepocalypse” — the fear that indie developers can’t make a living any more due to a crowded market — it also gave us multiple smaller games that captured huge audiences.
Undertale is probably the best example of this. It is a throw-back role-playing game that touches on themes of relationships that most other games struggle with. It has also captured an enormous following that adores its cute characters and themes.
Over the last 12 months, Splatoon got people who hate shooters into a shooter. Super Mario Maker got people who have never wanted to make something in a game into building their own levels.
And that is what 2015 has done so much better than any other year. It has us expanding our horizons and finding our niches. You can find a type of gamer that spent their whole year on Splatoon, Life Is Strange, and Undertale. Or you could find one that put 1,000 hours in a revitalized Total War franchise thanks to Attila. A third may spend all their time binge gaming on Steam Early Access PC titles like Ark: Survival Evolved or Kerbal Space Program and Elite: Dangerous (two games that emerged from Early Access). Hell, others are gulping down new content for established online multiplayer games like Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, and League of Legends.
2015 was the year, thanks to an influx of smart, creative developers, that this industry figured out that one size doesn’t fit all. And the result was so many games for so many different kinds of people. I prefer a market that has something for everyone over having 10 or so games that everyone agrees are pretty good.
So I don’t think that 2015 would win a “best year ever” award if you were to just compare the biggest releases. It’s hard to top a Half-Life, a Zelda, and a Metal Gear Solid even with a Fallout, a Witcher, and a, well, a Metal Gear Solid. But 2015 is much wider in terms of appeal. It’s games like the surprise adventure hit Dropsy, amazing return-to-form releases like Pillars of Eternity, and experimental games like Her Story that put 2015 above the rest and really make us all lucky to be gamers in what is clearly a golden age.
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