All opinions and the style in which they are written below are the author’s unless otherwise attributed. Also note that we use very strict criteria for a 2014 release. Early access/paid beta or titles originally in commercial release on any platform in a previous year do not qualify.
2014 saw such an enormous surge in the number of independent video game releases that, for a while, it was difficult to sift through the gray ooze of titles and find the ones to which we could afford to devote the time to play. So we started choosing at random. And then patterns started to emerge. Trends. Buzz. Breadcrumb trails.
In 2014, there were games that were made just to amuse players streaming YouTube videos. Others were indistinguishable from AAA releases. It was a strange year in gaming. And it was a good year, too. But noisier than ever before. It took more writers, more time with more deliberation to make the final determination about what made our Year’s Best list.
We use many criteria, but among them are innovative mechanics, novel and inspiring world-building, playability and even fun factors, art, music, design, value and overall efficacy. We poll the writers, we poll the gamers, and we start in January so we don’t miss anything along the way.
Trends in 2014 included Early Access – the sort of evolution from Crowdfunding into a bona fide cottage industry of pre-selling your game. In other words, paid betas. So such titles as SpeedRunners, Crypt of the Necrodancer and Rust all remain outside the scope of this year’s list, even though thousands of gamers have already built fond, lifelong memories with these titles.
On the other side of the coin, we also saw a lot of mobile-game-to-PC-port shovelware, some even intact with the epidemic Free to Play (F2P) monetization practice. No one, except maybe bean counters and stockholders, seems to like this trend. Hopefully the market will bear on this soon and lead to a new method for ROI.
HappyWulf: “(Early access) is hit and miss, with some groups abusing the system and others taking advantage of it in the way it was intended. While some appropriately tag their game as a beta, others release, collect money, and then run away to the bank, never to return or update their game ever again.”
“Couch Multiplayer” and the rise of the “eSport”
If there was a clearly emergent trend in indie games in 2014, it was in close-quarter, interpersonal gaming sessions. With games like Nidhogg, Lethal League, Duck Game (OUYA), Gang Beasts (still in paid beta), SportsFriends and Starwhal: Just The Tip leading to much laughter, hooting and hollering, and fast friendships, this whole thing felt like it just might be good for society after all.
HappyWulf: “eSports invokes a specific image of high skill ceiling games being played in front of large audiences for prizes, or even a living. Couch Multiplayer invokes an image of friends having fun together in the same room with a collection of controllers.”
JRPGs took a far more adult turn this year. What was once an outlier in such mature dramatic fare as To the Moon has become more prevalent with such outstanding and legitimately challenging titles as Always Sometimes Monsters, Actual Sunlight and, in a different way, Lisa, whose developer stated that he wanted to push some boundaries and emotional and moral limits.
Simulators and Simulation Parodies, Simulator Parody Simulators
There was a sim for everything this year. Goat Simulator and the subsequent Goat MMO Simulator managed to be the scene-stealer. Here is just a small sampling of the dozens of simulators released in 2014. And these are just the ones with the word “Simulator” in their title.
- Ropeway Simulator 2014
- Beach Resort Simulator
- Mining Industry Simulator
- Snowcat Simulator
- Fireworks Simulator
- European Ship Simulator
- European Fishing
- Ski World Simulator
- Grass Simulator
- Dig It! – A Digger Simulator
Story-driven games with minimal gameplay were seen throughout the year. And then there were Visual Novel/Simulators like Hatoful Boyfriend, a visual novel/dating simulator where the characters are also pigeons in high school. Some of the standout offerings included the futuristic The Maker’s Eden, Everlasting Summer, and racy Sakura Spirit.
YouTube Baiting and Let’s Plays:
HappyWulf: “YouTuber bait are games that are rather dumb, but enjoyed for a laugh. The term came about because every time one of these games showed up almost every single YouTuber with an audience put footage of themselves playing these games and yelling exaggeratedly at the game’s bad physics as they played.”
Five Nights at Freddy‘s – made with Clickteam Fusion 2.5 – was a point-and-click horror game that, though not made expressly as YouTube bait, certainly was propelled to stratospheric success by countless Let’s Play videos on YouTube, especially various appearances on PewDiePie‘s channel – the singularly most-watched channel on YouTube.
Meanwhile, “Let’s Plays” were everywhere – garnering their own mini festival in Los Angeles, national news attention, several documentaries and even the South Park treatment. Twitch.tv got bought by Amazon, Steam launched its own live streaming video and OnLive suddenly didn’t seem so crazy after all.
And a million YouTube gamer stars were born.