One of the side effects of attending GDC last week was that I spent a lot of time in my car; not my favorite place, but at least I got to catch up with podcasts. In particular, I’m glad that I had time to listen to the three part Critical Distance “2010 in Review” podcast: it’s about three hours long, but there were great guests on it, and I always like listening to smart people talking about games. They started off by talking about events of the year, blog posts and articles that seemed particularly interesting; then they switched to going through an incredibly long list (I didn’t count, but my guess would be about 50 games; kudos to Eric Swain for assembling it) of major 2010 titles, and talking about whichever ones they had something to say about. (Which turned out to be most of them: the participants were an opinionated, talkative, well-informed crowd!)
Quite a show. But then, when it ended, I realized: I have three personal candidates for 2010 game of the year, and yet none of them made it on that list despite its length! What’s going on with that?
One of my candidates is Minecraft, and there I think the answer is clear: the game doesn’t have a release date. I can’t remember for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they actually did talk about Minecraft in the first half of the podcast; it’s just not going to naturally show up in a chronological list, though, and you could make a case that it’s not a 2010 game at all.
Another one of my candidates is Rock Band 3. I’ll have to chalk that one up to an oversight (I know one of the podcast participants is a big Rock Band fan, though I don’t think he had input into the creation of the list): it’s a huge advance in an important gaming franchise, of course it should be on there. But your eyes glaze over when going through comprehensive lists of releases, it’s impossible not to occasionally miss something when whittling them down to a manageable size.
My final candidate is Flight Control HD. It makes my list by virtue of being an incredibly fun game, superbly matched to its system, that I cannot imagine improving: it seems to me to be a local maximum in the design space of games in the same way that Tetris is. But it wasn’t on the list. In fact, no iOS games were. (I’m not a huge Angry Birds HD fan, but a lot of other people are, and Osmos has certainly gotten its share of buzz.) Actually, did I miss an Angry Birds mention in the podcast? Christopher Williams mentions it in the comment thread, so maybe it did show up in the podcast list? Unfortunately, it’s hard to check facts about a three-hour long podcast…
And the iPad and iPhone aren’t the only platforms that were left out. I honestly can’t remember if any DS games were listed, though I suspect not: I just checked July, and Dragon Quest IX is missing, which is the first candidate off the top of my head. (I also can’t remember if any PSP games were listed, but I have no idea what games came out for that platform in 2010.) And the other missing platform is Facebook: I bet CityVille has been (is still being!) played by more people than any other game in their list, but it’s missing, as are FrontierVille, City of Wonder, Ravenwood Fair, and Cow Clicker.
Lists like the one on the podcast are always going to be incomplete; having said that, this complete omission of games on three of the current most popular platforms seems like a pretty big oversight to me. So I’ll repeat my question from above: what’s going on with that?
Eric is the only person who can answer; maybe he’ll chime in in the comments. And I don’t want to turn this into some sort of big accusation or anything: I really enjoyed the podcast, and it’s a lot of work making a list like that, so I don’t want to turn that into something that’s even more thankless than it would otherwise be. But in the meantime, I’ll speculate.
Presumably he’s not a fan of games on those platforms. That is, of course, perfectly fine: there’s no reason why he, or anybody else, should be! And one’s tastes are always going to affect the contents of lists like this that one creates.
Another contributing factor is probably the fact that it’s a Critical Distance podcast. And there just aren’t that many blog posts about games on those platforms on the sorts of blogs that Critical Distance links to. (I’ve been sadly remiss in discussing such games myself.) Or at least about any of the games I mentioned above other than Cow Clicker, but that game is enough of a special case that I can see its not being included.
And another potential contributing factor is that games on those platforms aren’t targeted at people like those who participated in the podcast. At GDC, the phrase ‘forty-three year old woman’ was bandied about a lot; as far as I know, all the podcast participants are men in their twenties. As are a lot of the authors of blog posts that Critical Distance links to, so this factor and the previous one are linked.
Christopher Hyde has been pointing out for years how much tunnel vision the “critical game blogging” community has: we (and I very much include myself in this) spend an awful lot of time playing and talking about AAA games, which seems to more or less mean games targeted at men in their twenties that are expensive to make and sell lots of copies. There is, of course, nothing wrong with talking about such games; but there are a lot of other spaces worth exploring.
This post has not been revised since publication.