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Monday, December 28, 2020

What we're looking forward to in 2021: Matt C's big five


What an unmitigated nightmare of a year 2020 has been. Between the natural disasters that went large this year, over to COVID-19 and the horrors of a pandemic, very few people will look back at this year with fond memories.

Typically at the end of the year we look back at the highlights, but given that 2020 has been so unrelentingly miserable, we've decided to look forward instead. Each of the DDNet team is going to list the five things (related to games) that they're looking forward to in 2021. Whether that be new games, announcements, events or experiences. Be sure to let us know what you're looking forward to on the rebound, too! We'd love to knock this year out with a wave of positivity.

Today's list comes to us from DDNet contributor, Matt C!

2020 sure has been a year. I'm not sure what more there is to be said about it than that.

2021 is going to be another year, but hopefully, it'll be a much better year for everyone. So as I look to the year ahead, "hope" is front of mind—hope for the little joys that games can bring to people's lives, hope for the major, transformative change that the game industry desperately needs, and hope for everything in between.

On that note, here are five things I'm hoping to see in 2021.

A new Final Fantasy XIV expansion

Since its A Realm Reborn relaunch in 2013, Final Fantasy XIV's expansion cycle has been running like clockwork. A new expansion every two years, at the end of June or start of July—that's how it's been through Heavensward (2015), Stormblood (2017), and Shadowbringers (2019). That makes 2021 a Final Fantasy XIV expansion year!

… at least, I'm hoping so. Impacts of the pandemic mean FFXIV's regular updates have been thrown out a lot, so the question remains about what impact there's been on the next expansion, which is almost certainly already in development. Under normal circumstances, it would have been officially announced by now. Square Enix has a Final Fantasy XIV Announcement Showcase planned for February, so here's hoping it's the expansion we're all waiting to find out more about. Here's hoping it can still make a 2021 release, despite this year's setbacks—but not if it comes at the cost of developers' health and wellbeing. Which brings us to ...

No more crunch

"Crunch" — developers working unhealthily long hours for extended periods of time — has long been an issue in the game industry. I don't know if it's gotten worse as budgets and expectations have ramped up, but it's something that's been getting a lot of media attention lately, especially in 2020.

This might be wishful thinking, but I hope 2021 is the year that turns that scrutiny into meaningful action from development studios to stamp out crunch culture. A little bit of overtime every now and then in a sprint to get something across the finish line is going to be unavoidable on occasion, but those should be the exceptions, not the rules. Studio heads need to drive an industry-wide culture change to normalise working a 40 hour week — not just saying "overtime is optional and paid", but putting the necessary structures in place to allow overtime to be genuinely optional, for people to not feel pressured into crunching, and for leaders to be able to recognise when someone's well-intentioned "going the extra mile" is becoming a problem and intervening before "passion" turns into burnout.

Developers making the most of the DualSense controller

I wasn't really prepared for how much of an impact the new tactile feedback mechanisms in the DualSense controller would have. I expected a gimmick, something like the PS4 controller's touch-pad (which mostly just functions as a select button), or worse, the doomed integration of Kinect compatibility into Xbox One games as a standard. Instead, the DualSense has been one of the nicest surprises of the new console generation—a new concept that's genuinely useful and unobtrusive, that can deepen "immersion" and serve a lot of practical, functional purposes.

I want to see developers—and especially third-party developers—lean into this in 2021 (and beyond). Games like Demon's Souls, Astro's Playrooom, NBA 2K21, and WRC9 have already demonstrated a wide variety of ways to put haptic feedback and adaptive triggers to use, but there's still so much untapped potential. I want to see developers really putting thought into how they use these features, and not just slapping them onto PS5 ports as an afterthought—they have the power to be as genuinely game-changing as analogue sticks, but only if the people making the games get on board.

More games from (non-Japan) Asia

The last few years have seen a huge growth in game exports from China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Where the space of games from Asia being localised and sold in Western markets was once dominated almost exclusively by Japan, and still skews heavily that way, we're seeing more and more games from other parts of Asia getting the attention and the backing to break onto the global stage, bringing their own perspectives, histories, and cultures to the fore.

I think it's a given that Asian game exports will continue to rise and rise in 2021 (barring the war with China that America and Australia seem to be baying for), but I still want to get it down in writing: more localisation of Asian games in 2021, and more support for developers on those regions to do just that. For all the success of games like Genshin Impact and Black Desert, they're just the tip of the iceberg of huge, thriving games industries across the full breadth of Asia.

Better preservation of video game history

The video game industry is absolutely terrible at preserving its own history. Between hardware cycles, short print runs, server closures for online-dependent games, so much of the art and culture around this whole medium just gets lost.

In fairness, the industry has been getting better. Where once it was normal to just dump all the source code after shipping a game, that doesn't seem to happen so much anymore, and there's plenty of appetite from publishers to find beloved old games and bring them to modern platforms—usually, but not always, with some sort of efforts to polish things up or add new features. We're even seeing long-lost Famicom and Super Famicom games getting their first official English releases decades after launching in Japan.

But these all depend on the commercial viability of those re-releases and remasters, and on them having some sort of established fanbase to appeal to. And more often than not, they're released with some degree of remastering or remaking, while the originals continue to languish in the past. In 2021, I want to see publishers looking beyond the financial payout of a remaster to the long-term, less easily quantifiable benefits of preserving their own history—or at least, getting out of the way and letting historians do that work without needless legal hassles.

What we're looking forward to in 2021: Matt C's big five
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