#73: Award tour

Perhaps you might think it premature for me to talk about end-of-year awards, but this was the reality of my career in print. In any case it’s around this time of year that Geoff Keighley sends out ballots for The Game Awards, so every outlet worth its salt, online or off, is already thinking about this stuff. This week, while playing and thoroughly enjoying Forza Horizon 5, I’ve wondered occasionally whether it might be my game of the year. It’s not, of course, because of all that stuff I said about it the other day. But nor am I entirely sure what is. This has been a very, very strange year for games, and I’m struggling to make sense of it all, particularly in an awards context.

Forza Horizon 5 is the best-reviewed game of the year so far, but I think that is as much of a commentary on 2021 as it is on the game itself. This has been one of the quietest Q4s I can remember: a fitting end to a thoroughly atypical year, perhaps, but quite unsettling all the same to those of us who have grown so accustomed to the game industry’s traditional rhythms. I cannot think, for instance, of a November in any other year where I would have paid the slightest bit of attention to the delightful Unpacking. I simply wouldn’t have time, so bogged down would I be in two-page reviews of 50-hour epics. Anyone shipping an indie game in the fourth quarter of the year would, in normal times, be committing a wanton act of self-harm. This year, things are different.

Yes, yes, Covid, I know. Since Wednesday’s edition, both Steam Deck and Playdate have been delayed into 2022 because of the supply-chain crunch. So far this year, according to IGN, 54 games have been delayed. (What a wonderful idea for a list feature, by the way.) The release schedule for the first three months of next year looks absolutely insane; presumably in a normal year all those would have made it out in 2021, all would be right with the world, and I wouldn’t be writing this now.

And yet! This has actually been a very good year for games! Eurogamer, for instance, has given out so many Recommended badges in its reviews this year that EIC Oli Welsh admits the staff wondered whether they should be actively seeking out worse games to balance the scales a bit. The triple-A bods were always going to be more affected by the pandemic than small, nimbler teams — that is simply a question of the number of people involved — but the indies have well and truly filled the gap. When the year-end lists eventually come, I expect them to be dominated by indie teams; that’s been an increasing trend in recent years anyway, but it should be even more apparent in 2021, given the relative drought of blockbusters.

This has been a great year for indies, then, but that’s not just a question of a lot of triple-A stuff getting out of the way for once. Covid’s impact on the events circuit has been profound, and the traditional hype train has been diverted. Getting attention is no longer about who has the most high-profile publishing deal, gets a slot on a platform holder’s E3 stage, makes the best trailer or gives the most talks on the conference circuit. The focus instead has been on games that actually shipped: on Valheim and Chicory, on TOEM and Death’s Door, on Unpacking and Loop Hero and Inscryption and all the rest. None of those games had any buzz to speak of until they launched. Then, suddenly, they had loads.

This year’s crop of successful indies have found their audiences, attention and acclaim on their merits rather than their marketing, in other words, which is of course as it should be. It’s one of the few consequences of the pandemic I hope sticks around after things return — they will, right? — to normal. So, no, I don’t have a game of the year at the moment. Instead I have bloody loads of them, and that will do nicely — especially since I no longer have to rank them from one to ten.


  • Earlier this week, Discord CEO Jason Citron tweeted a hint that some form of NFT support was heading to the platform. Well, now it isn’t, after a raft of users cancelled their ‘Nitro’ premium subscriptions in protest. “We have no current plans to ship this internal concept,” Citron sobbed. You love to see it.
  • Dan Hay, executive director of the Far Cry series, is legging it after ten years at Ubisoft. No news yet on what’s next for him, but given the costly competition for talent in Canada at the moment, we can safely assume he isn’t going far. Meanwhile, erstwhile Assassin’s Creed writer Darby McDevitt has returned to Ubisoft just seven months after jumping ship.
  • Microsoft is testing an update to its PC store which will let users install games to the location of their choice, rather than forcibly nestling them away in the most baffling folder structure on the planet as it does currently. Jolly good.
  • Xbox and Razer are among the early supporters of Paidia, a new community platform “that empowers women and allies of all genders to safely connect, learn and play.” There’s a free 60-day trial, after which membership costs $9.99 per month. One of those things that shouldn’t need to exist, obviously — or cost money! — but such is the world we all live in.
  • YouTube is removing the dislike count from videos, to avoid pile-ons and because data showed it was harming smaller creators. It’ll still be visible to channel owners behind the scenes, however.
  • PS5 is one year old today, apparently. In a letter to fans, PlayStation capo Jim Ryan promises his team is “just getting started” — well, yes, obviously — and thanks them for their patience while global supply-chain hoo-hahs are sorted out. Speaking of which, Sony now expects to make one million fewer PS5s by the end of its current fiscal year. Oh well.
  • Thanks to a kindly Hit Points reader, I have Elden Ring beta access (gosh, you lot are wonderful). Unfortunately I’m not going to get much time with it, but from a quick half hour just there I… well. I saw enough, both to know that I am going to enjoy it very much, and that I am not going to enjoy trying to play it under a time limit and a very inconvenient schedule. Might be able to sneak another session in over the weekend, but if not I am quite happy to wait for the full thing.
  • I hurriedly threw some music I like in a Spotify playlist and it has improved Forza Horizon 5 for me immensely, though I am already considering putting my money where my mouth is and doing several genre-specific playlists instead. It’s here if you’re interested. Radio volume to zero, master volume to 75%, and away you go. You can barely hear the constant chatter. Bliss.

That’s your lot! An important announcement: Hit Points is taking a break next week. I am knackered, for one thing, and have a complicated week ahead helping out family overseas with some business in the UK. I’ve also got a couple of consultancy projects on the go, and want to work on the next nugget of subscriber-exclusive goodness (I did the interview this week, and it was great, thanks for asking). Mostly, though, I just need a bit of a rest. Please bear with me, and I’ll see you all on Monday, November 22. Unless something enormous happens in the meantime, of course. Game industry, if you’re reading, please do your best to have a quiet one. Catch you soon!