2013 Year in Review

Valve unveils Steam machines and Grand Theft Auto 5 dominates the consoles

Year in Review: GTA 5 lived up to the hype by delivering an mind-boggling large open world for players to explore, and the Steam Machine reveal had gamers wondering if Valve was making a potential "console-killer."

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This is the third article in our four-part year in review. You can also read: Part one, covering the reveal of the next-gen consoles and other beginning of the year events. Part two: Covering the biggest news from E3 and immediately after.

With E3 out of the way and a long wait to go before any of the exciting new hardware would become a reality for most people, but that doesn’t mean news in the gaming world slowed down.

Sony offered some clarification as to why the PS4, like the Xbox 360 and Xbox One would require a paid subscription to PlayStation Plus in order to play multiplayer games online. President of Sony worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida said, "Considering the cost, to try to keep such a service free and consequently lower the quality would be absurd. We decided that if that's the case, then it would be better to receive proper payment and continue to offer a good service." Services for the PlayStation 3 were not similarly affected.

And following Microsoft’s post-E3 policy reversal, some gamers called on the company to reinstate their abandoned ideas. Garnering over 28,000 signatures, a petition was organized to get back the console “promised at E3.” The petition read: "This was to be the future of entertainment. A new wave of gaming where you could buy games digitally, then trade, share or sell those digital licenses. Essentially, it was Steam for Xbox. But consumers were uninformed, and railed [sic] against it, and it was taken away because Sony took advantage of consumers [sic] uncertainty."

Ultimately, the petition was unsuccessful, although Microsoft has recently hinted that some programs (such as family sharing and the loaning and trading of downloaded games) may make a return in 2014.

Following in the steps of Microsoft, EA was reported to consider an offline option for SimCity. A survey in July, and then a follow-up in October revealed that developer Maxis had “a team specifically focused on exploring the possibility of an offline mode.” However, the game currently remains online-only.

But soon, most gamers’ attentions were focused firmly on Rockstar’s long-awaited open-world adventure Grand Theft Auto V. The game was GameSpot’s Xbox 360 game of the year, and a nominee for overall game of the year. Despite being “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic,” reviewer Carolyn Pettit also said GTAV “raises the bar for open-world mission design in a big way and has one of the most beautiful, lively, diverse and stimulating worlds ever seen in a game.” The game earned a 9, but with all of the praise and controversy surrounding the game, it’s easy to forget that it got off to a rocky start.

First assets of the game and its music accidently leaked on PS3, prompting Sony to issue an apology. "Regrettably, some people who downloaded the digital pre-order of Grand Theft Auto V through the PlayStation Store in Europe were able to access certain GTA V assets. These assets were posted online," wrote a Sony representative in a statement.

But that’s relatively minor compared to when Amazon accidently broke the game’s street date and started selling GTAV a little early. Rockstar responded saying, “We are in the process of investigating early 'sales' to determine how and why that is occurring.” Then just before the game’s launch, Rockstar issued a statement to Xbox 360 purchasers recommending not installing the game’s Play disc (separate from the Install disc, which was a required installation). Apparently, installing the game to the hard drive would lead to minor performance problems versus running the game straight from disc.

Shortly after GTA V's launch, Rockstar introduced a massively multiplayer online add-on for owners of the game, but server issues prevented the game from working properly for everyone. Rockstar temporarily disabled the game’s microtransactions while they “worked around the clock” to resolve the games issues. Affected players were sent a stimulus package $500,000 of in-game currency for their troubles, but the payout hit a few delays as well before landing in players’ coffers.

Regardless, Grand Theft Auto V went on to break sales records, netting $1 billion in just three days (the Avengers movie took 19 days to reach the same milestone) and earning a place in the Guinness book of world records for a number of achievements including best-selling videogame in 24 hours and highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours.

Grand Theft Auto V is still exclusive to PS3 and Xbox 360 with no official word on a release to other platforms, but rumors have circulated that the game will come to PC sometime early in 2014. Over 600,000 people signed a petition asking for the game to come to PC. Analysts predict GTAV will come to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as well sometime in 2014

Around the time of the GTAV launch, Valve had their own announcements to make: Steam OS and the Steam Machines. The Steam Machine is a standalone box that connects to your TV and allows you to play Steam games running on the Linux-based Steam OS. Beta versions of the device have already gone out for 300 users to test and the operating system is available to download now.

But Valve’s plan, unlike Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, is not to be the sole console distributor. Instead, any company can make and distribute a Steam Machine, and as we’ve seen from the reveal of iBuyPower’s $500 model and Digital Storm’s $1500 version, they come in a variety of prices and configurations.

The most unique part of the system will be the haptic feedback controller, which is being provided by Valve. The Controller will reportedly work with all past, present, and future games on Steam, including those that were not built with controller support. Dual circular trackpads replace traditional thumbsticks, and the entire surface will be clickable. We’ll have even more information on how all of these parts tie together, and how much potential the entire project has during the full reveal at CES 2014 in the beginning of January.

Nintendo meanwhile introduced a new version of their handheld console: the 2DS. Created primarily to introduce a cheaper entry-level option, the system also addressed concerns that the 3D on the 3DS was potentially harmful to younger players. Nintendo clarified that the system’s lack of 3D didn’t mean they were abandoning the feature, however. "It doesn't mean that we are not committed at all to 3D and that we don't think that's a really valuable, unique eye-popping feature for a lot of gamers,” said a Nintendo representative. “We just wanted to continue growing the installed base and needed to find a way to get to a price point that was more accessible for a broad swath of consumers."

Continuing the upward momentum of eSports, the US government officially recognized League of Legends players as pro athletes. The process took a lot of back and forth between developer Riot games and the government, but the landmark decision adds further legitimacy to the sport of gaming.

And finally, we got a closer look at the female character Quiet for Metal Gear Solid V following remarks from director Hideo Kojima that he wanted to make “more erotic” characters to encourage cosplay. Quiet’s incredibly skimpy outfit sparked the ire of a Microsoft developer who called the design “disgusting.”

Kojima later tried to clarify his remarks saying, “Maybe the phrase 'erotic' wasn't really [the correct word for] what I was trying to say… What I'm really trying to do is create unique characters. One of those is, of course, Quiet. She's a really unique character. I wanted to add that sexiness to her. It wasn't really supposed to be erotic, but sexy.” The actress providing the motion capture for the character of Quiet added, “Mr. Kojima has his reasons for deciding why Quiet [is] wearing what she's wearing” and that it “fits in the Metal Gear universe.”