Games 2012: Looking Back

As 2012 comes to an end, we’ll all pause to spend some quality time with family and Assassin’s Creed 3, though not necessarily in that order. It’s also a good time to take a look back at where the games business has been this year and to think about what that means for where we’re all headed.

Share this
  • Share this on Facebook
  • Share this on Twitter

As 2012 comes to an end, we’ll all pause to spend some quality time with family and Assassin’s Creed 3, though not necessarily in that order. It’s also a good time to take a look back at where the games business has been this year and to think about what that means for where we’re all headed.

My thoughts: 2012 has been an amazing and transformational year in the games business. Kickstarter — particularly the $8.5M Ouya funding — was a clear indication that Kickstarter can be a great way to get ideas off the ground, particularly for game businesses. It also was an important symbol of how the console world we’ve gotten used to is transforming rapidly, and that mobile companies will be a big part of the next evolution. Tencent’s investment in the amazing Epic team, not long after the very successful purchase of Riot, sends further signals that the Chinese behemoth is thoughtfully and deliberately eyeing continued growth in the US. If you haven’t worked with them yet, you may soon. And less optimistically, there’s Zynga’s post-IPO come down and the pall it’s cast over Silicon Valley’s appetite for game investment (despite the staggering performance of companies like Supercell.)

The end of the year is also time to reconnect with friends, and so I thought I’d ask some of mine (who also happen to be amazingly bright and generous with their time) what they thought were three events that shaped the games business in 2012. And I’m glad I did: There was a lot of Kickstarter, some lawsuits, predictions of the death of consoles and evidence of their life. I even received some thoughts on how humanity will fare after the apocalypse. Thought provoking stuff, and so I’ve shared it all here, in no particular order:

Ed Fries, Co-Founder of Xbox at Microsoft and Head of Microsoft Game Studios

Spry Fox Sues LolApps

And they settle for undisclosed terms that include Spry Fox becoming the new owner of Yeti Town. Who says there is no justice?

EA Sues Zynga

The court filing by EA should be required reading for everyone in the industry. It puts all the nasty Zynga behavior in one place for all to enjoy. I know there are still people who believe in this company but apparently Zynga’s own upper/middle management are not among them. I think a judge will read this doc and things won’t go very well for Zynga despite with the IP lawyers say.

Rhode Island Sues Itself

You should also read the court filing from the 38 Studios case. It basically says: “We told them we needed $75M to finish the game. They promised us $75M. Then they called back and said we would actually only get ~$45M. We told them that’s not enough to finish the game. We all did the deal anyway. We ran out of money and now they are suing us for not finishing the game.” It’s hard not to feel sorry for 38 and Curt Schilling IMHO.

David Edery, Founder of Spry Fox


Kickstarter became a legitimate source of significant funding for a select group of developers. As some of those developers flame out (without shipping a real product) it will be fascinating to watch how Kickstarter pitches evolve in order to reassure potential funders. Will there be milestones? Independent 3rd party verification? Or will a big name and snazzy pitch remain mostly good enough?


It became a major force to be reckoned with. Mobile game developers can no longer ignore it.

Cost of Mobile Marketing

It became apparent that, with very rare exception, most developers will not be able to launch major mobile hits if they are not willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (per title) on user acquisition. The key mobile platforms, despite being able (if they wished) to step more readily into the role of “kingmaker,” chose not to subvert the importance of paid user acquisition.

Pete Hawley, Founder of Red Robot Labs


Apple pulled Google Maps out of iOS6. Apple are a great product company, not a great big data company. Google are an amazing big data company that aren’t so great at product. Maps became a tug of war in another corporate fallout and as ever, customers were the one’s that got hurt. Google Maps App launched on iOS, seeing 10 million downloads in a day and a 30% spike in iOS6 upgrades. People love maps : ) Users win.


An open world Zombie survival horror game modded into a niche military simulator becomes a gaming phenomenon and points to an exciting future in game design. Vast worlds, no rules, permanent death and proof positive that players en masse know more about game design than the lowly individual. Also further proof, like The Walking Dead and The Road – that when the apocalypse comes, other humans are by far the most terrifying enemy.

Continued Rise of the Smartphone

May sound obvious, but I don’t mean great screens, great CPU and GPU power – but the way some developers are starting to think about the hardware and what in can offer from a game and connectivity point of view. Suddenly the world isn’t just graphics and physics any more. It’s GPS, camera, microphone, compass, accelerometer, messaging – game design just got 100X more interesting. Finally we can escape the paradigms of the console and the arcade. 1UP for innovation lead developers.

Jim Greer, Founder and CEO of Kongregate

Call of Duty: Black Ops II Does $1BN in 15 Days

The console gaming industry is not dead. It may not even be dying. It is now a smaller group of people buying a smaller number of games, but it’s still a huge market. I think the next Playstation and Xbox generations will soundly beat the relatively low expectations Silicon Valley has for them, though 

Gabe Newell’s Net Worth Surpasses Value of ZNGA

Steam is another indicator that the core gamer market is thriving. Valve knows their players better than anyone, and does a great job of instilling a habit of happy buying. (The scrape over the term “DOTA” was revealing – they trademarked a venerable community-generated variant of Blizzard’s games. So they appropriated the work of mod developers. If any other company in the game industry had done that they would have been crucified by gamers, but Valve got a pass.)

CSR Racing Generates $12M in a Month

The formula of adding RPG-style grinding and short session play to other game genres will continue to be big in mobile 2013. CSR is also an example of the quality bar rising for mobile – along with Hay DayClash of Clans, etc.

David Brevik, Designer of Diablo and President of Gazillion Entertainment

Free to Play

All MMOs are converting to Free-to-play. Zynga proved you could make a ton of money using this model in the west. Games that are designed to be free-to-play like World of Tanks and LoL are bursting with cash. We saw this same behavior out of Asia a few years ago and that allowed the Chinese gaming companies to have a huge influence here in the west with developers. Now the west is proving that we can make big money using similar techniques.


Twitch TV, LoL championships and more are leading the way towards a mass-market appeal. Exciting matches that are well commentated are making for gripping entertainment. All the evidence of this is obvious. At PAX in Seattle, the upper floor had a LoL live broadcast of games going and the 3000+ person hall had multi-hour-long waiting lines just to watch.

The Console Market Is in Trouble

Consoles need to take a big step forward and offer new types of gameplay, mainly for online. There have been baby-steps in this direction, but if the WiiU is any indication, the console makers still don’t get online at all. Between the main console market disappearing and the handheld market moving to phone and tablet, they may have a rough road ahead.

Adam Saltsman, Creator of Canabalt and Gravity Hook

Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter

I guess to me the biggest event for the game industry this year was probably the DoubleFine Adventure Kickstarter campaign. That thing really changed the landscape for small and medium-size teams. I literally cannot remember the last time there was a major shift or change in the way games get funded.

Steam Greenlight

Steam, in general, but it was also sort of a non-event? Like… Greenlight made a big splash but hasn’t really made much of a difference in the long term yet. Kind of the same for Big Picture mode. But they also publicly acknowledged their fabled “Steam Box”… even though it doesn’t exist yet. I guess I feel like under the Steam umbrella, if you add those things up, it sends some interesting signals.

Indie Game: The Movie and Indies on PSN

For third place I guess I feel like it is a tie for me, between Indie Game: The Movie’s ambassador work to the general public, and Sony’s recent pursuit and embrace of independent and/or artistic games specifically and intentionally for funding and inclusion in PSN. And/or Polygon and Venus Patrol opening their doors, really. Lots of little things that all add up to a kind of broadening perspective and maturation of our art and our craft I think.

Dan Fiden is a General Partner at Signia Venture Partners, a venture fund founded by Playdom and Funzio founding investor Rick Thompson. Dan served as interim CEO of Wild Needle (sold to Zynga) and Playchemy (sold to Iddiction) and is a board director at Kihon Games, Idle Games, and Super Evil Megacorp. Previously Dan was general manager of the San Francisco studio of Playfish, a social game developer that was acquired by Electronic Arts. Prior to joining Playfish, Dan was Director of Game Development at Electronic Arts’ Pogo division. He also served as Creative Director at Emmy-nominated trans-media startup Spiderdance and at WMS Gaming, a leading developer and manufacturer of casino gaming devices. He began his career in the game business at Jellyvision, serving as Creative Director on the You Don’t Know Jack series of games.  This article originally appeared on Dan’s tumblr blog Dan’s Stuff.