Top Ten articles have a knack for filling up the comments section with irate posts from readers wondering why a game they fervently believe should be on the list is absent. Then we get to the Game of the Year awards and it becomes trolling central. Everybody has their favorites, and expect them to be at the top. 2013 was a lucrative year in gaming, but unfortunately not every game got recognized.
However, after scanning through numerous Game of the Year lists on numerous sites, I've discovered that not all the negative posts are unfounded. It was a busy year, which means extra effort is required by the authors to sift through all the candidates. It would seem that many writers have taken the cheap way out, picking recent and highly publicized titles with strong sales, which frankly should not be the complete basis in choosing the best games of the year. Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag are all worthy of claiming the top spot, but there are plenty of other titles that deserve a place on the list, or at least an honorable mention.
These diamonds in the rough evade our memory for many reasons. They probably didn't get a lot of press prior to their release; the developer or publisher may not have enough renown; they were released early in the year and thus forgotten through the months; or a combination of all these factors. Let's look a little closer at these aspects, and give a nod to titles that missed most GOTY lists.
There are games that everyone had their calendars brightly highlighted for, and they somehow managed to be sick for at least a week for those launches. BioShock Infinite, after plenty of delays, finally launched early this year. The first official whispers of GTA V were followed by swarms of articles showcasing the tiniest new detail. Everyone was buying sea salt air "fresheners" to prepare for ACIV: Black Flag. There was very little doubt that titles like these would clean up in the rankings. Yeah, these games are great to brag about, but there are plenty of gamers who felt just as satisfied with a budget-friendly title from an independent developer. Games like Bit.Trip Presents...Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, the successful remake of Spelunky, and our own Cody Award winner, The Wolf Among Us all received stellar aggregated review scores, yet somehow are classified in a category that doesn't merit them a spot on the Game of the Year lists. It seems that unless the game is a phenomenon like Minecraft, indie games will never be able to stand toe to toe with AAA titles in critics eyes, which is a sad reality that I personally feel should change.
As I have stated in previous opinion pieces, today's gaming culture is one that hungers for what's new and what's next. Most wait impatiently for months and even years for a release, only to brush it aside after a few weeks of intense play time, screaming in the developer's forums to get cracking on the next entry. This means that all but the obscenely marketed titles that launched early in the year are forgotten by December. Sometimes the power of word of mouth prevails, and quiet entrances from games like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch leave a lasting impression, even months down the road. But for the most part, early year entries, even good ones like Fire Emblem: Awakening get lost in the pile during the Best Games of the Year round-up.
2013 was a good year to be a game journalist, with plenty of work to keep us all busy. That being said, it is our duty in the media to take the time and make the effort to dig into all the year's offerings before spitting out a GOTY article. Big, office-based sites like IGN and Gamespot have the time and resources to showcase a large list, and of course our own Cody Awards took a comprehensive look at more than just the games themselves, giving nods to developers, characters, and other oft overlooked categories. But be wary of blogs and smaller sites trying to make an impression by spouting nothing but big names. Gamers are smart, gamers like variety, and all they expect is us in the press to be the same before we sit down at the keyboard.