Profile Games of 2017 - The titles that defined the last year in the PC games market Games of 2017 - The titles that defined the last year in the PC games market

2017 has been a rollercoaster year for the PC games market

This is the year where we saw old norms trampled upon and the book rewritten on what was possible in the PC games space.

Games that went on to take over the world and popularise seemingly niche genres came from nowhere, while the rules of what indie and triple-A developers could achieve were redefined. 

We saw the games community, and then the mainstream media, push back against arguably exploitative business practices, while the games publishers themselves started to realise they need to deal with the cesspit of toxicity that has come to characterise the online games community. 

We're going to be adding new entries to this list over the next few days - if there's something you feel we are missing, then email [email protected] to let me know. 

And if we don't speak before the Christmas break, have a great break and a Happy New Year! 

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Playerunknown's Battlegrounds - The One That Took Over the World

    Playerunknown's Battlegrounds - The One That Took Over the World logo

    So, this one is basically a shoe-in and likely to appear on most, if not all, game of the year list.

    Playerunknown's Battlegrounds was the biggest game of this year by pretty much any metric you throw its way, so let's break its success down by numbers.

    The title has sold more than 20m copies since its March 23rd release – that's the last official announcement from PUBG Corp at the start of November, with our estimates placing sales at in the region of 25m at the time of writing [Update – as of December 21st, the game has shifted 30m copies across PC and Xbox One]. What's even crazier about this title is how sales have only accelerated since launch. It took the game three months to hit 4m copies sold; five months in it had hit 8m. It then sold 2m copies in two weeks before going to sell another 10m copies over the next two months. This sales curve is not usual and is probably the result of its Early Access and release and word of mouth marketing. 

    It boasts the highest concurrent player figure, smashing the record held by DOTA 2 of 1,291,328 players. What's more, the title now regularly has in excess of two million concurrent players which is frankly insane, and is fast closing in on three million.

    That the game has managed to upheave the balance of Steam's concurrent user figures being dominated by DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is mad, but also endlessly impressive.

    The success of PUBG could not have happened on any other platform. The game proves the potential for innovation and exciting projects in the PC space. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds is inspired by a mod from creative director Brendan Greene, which itself was made in the DayZ mod of ARMA II. What started out as a military simulation title became a zombie survival game and has evolved into the battle royale genre. What's more – Playerunknown's Battlegrounds wasn't created – well, in essence – by a game development veteran working with a 1,000 person team. It was created by a man who wanted to make a specific kind of game while unemployed.

    As freelance journalist Ben Parfitt pointed out earlier this year – if a game is truly innovative, it's probably on PC.

    It isn't just its own success that is notable; Playerunknown's Battlegrounds has inspired a number of other companies to get into the battle royale genre. Everyone from Rockstar to Epic to Crytek is making a battle royale game, and 2018 surely only holds more of these kinds of titles.

    Make no mistake, we are in a gold rush now. Everyone and their dog is going to make a battle royale game that is 'totally different but totally inspired' by PUBG – this is the MOBA space circa 2013/2014 where everyone is trying to imitate the massive success of Riot Games' League of Legend. Despite the reporting around Epic Games and Bluehole's very public spat earlier this year, Greene says that he himself feels no ownership over battle royale, and hopes that people will iterate on the formula.

    It's worth keeping an eye on this space because the real innovation will be coming today or tomorrow, but a few years down the line.

    It's true that the games media has written a lot about Playerunknown's Battlegrounds this year, and looking from the outside in, it can be a bit tiresome to see so much coverage for one game. But the fact of the matter is that Playerunknown's Battlegrounds is perhaps the biggest disruption to the video games market since Minecraft.

    It might be one of games of 2017, but - as the game rolls out of Early Access on December 20th - I can't help but feel that PUBG is only just getting started.

  • 2 Star Wars Battlefront 2 - The One That Triggered a Backlash to Aggressive Monetisation

    Star Wars Battlefront 2 - The One That Triggered a Backlash to Aggressive Monetisation logo

    What? Star Wars Battlefront 2 on a Game of the Year list? Really? Are you high?

    To answer your questions one by one: firstly – this is a list of the games that *defined* 2017, not the *best* games. And secondly – maybe, that's none of your business.

    To say that EA messed up with its implementation of loot crates and progression blocking is a colossal understatement. The publishing giant massively underestimated how much of a consumer backlash there would be this and how far-reaching consequences it would have.

    So, the story so far. The Star Wars Battlefront II beta was rolled out in October, with gamers noticing some rather aggressive progression blocking.

    EA said that changes were being made prior to the game's release. But when it launched consumers could finally see just how bad it was. Characters such as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker would take 48 hours to unlock with in-game grinding; gameplay-affecting items were locked behind a monetisation system that basically forced gamers to pay real-life money to on level pegging with other gamers.

    EA's justification for its reasoning behind this system – that the developers wanted gamers to have a sense of pride and ownership over their character – fast became Reddit's most down-voted comment ever. This is par for the course, if we're honest. People like to kick EA because EA has previous for being a – gasp – company that wants to make money. The publisher dropped microtransactions from the game and is working out a better way to implement monetisation. 

    But what would normally be a 'gamer outrage controversy' actually went much further than any of us predicted. Soon this wasn't just a story for the games media – national and international publications were covering the mess. The gambling commissions from the UK, Belgium and The Netherlands have been looking into whether loot crates constitute gambling, with politicians from France, the UK and Hawaii being made away of the story.

    At the time of writing, the jury is still out as to whether loot crates do constitute gambling, or whether this will be a story that goes any further. Triple-A firms such as EA, Blizzard and Take-Two have rushed to defend loot crates, saying they were not gambling. That's to be expected, given that these companies obviously profit from their implementation in the likes of Battlefront II, Overwatch and Grand Theft Auto Online. Meanwhile, accounts of the damaging effects of gambling addiction that stems from in-game purchases have come out highlighting just how easy it is to fall into this behaviour.

    But EA will have to listen - Disney and LucasFilm have been involved and the publisher's share price has sunk 8.5 per cent since, representing $3bn in value. 

    It remains to be seen whether loot crates and in-game purchases will be regulated moving on, or how they will be implemented in games moving forwards, but one thing is for sure – the Battlefront II mess has made it so that no games publisher is going to try monetisation so aggressive again for a while.

    This also shows how desperate things have become at the top. Game budgets have inflated by ten times in the last decade, while video game prices have actually done down, taking into account inflation. So the biggest triple-A publishers are having to seek other ways to make back the game's budget, both for development and marketing.

    We saw this years ago with DLC and microtransactions in games, but with aggressive implementation of schemes like loot boxes... it's starting to look like things are getting pretty fraught.

    You can't blame EA, or other triple-A firms like Take-Two, Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, for wanting to make money as these are publicly owned companies answerable to shareholders who have entrusted them with their money in the hope of making more money. But the triple-A companies are running something of a gambit with these aggressive tacts.

    If nothing else, we might see new, and potentially less aggressive, ways of making money back in video games. But - to quote one fantastic game that sadly will not be making this list - This Cannot Continue.

  • 3 Hellblade - The One that Proved Mid Tier Development Can Be Successful (Sometimes)

    Hellblade - The One that Proved Mid Tier Development Can Be Successful (Sometimes) logo

    After working on low-key triple-A titles such as Enslaved and DMC: Devil May Cry, Cambridge-based Ninja Theory decided to try and experiment with its next game.

    It was going to put its team of triple-A developers and make a smaller scale project, one that didn't need to sell one million copies to be deemed successful. The team had a budget of £12m, which might sound like a lot but is something like one-tenth of what a triple-A game costs to make these days.

    What emerged was Hellblade, a narrative-driven eight-hour experience that dealt with issues surrounding mental health, looked absolutely gorgeous but was made within very specific limitations. For example, in pre-production, Ninja Theory realised they didn't have the budget to do motion and face capture for more than one character, so all of their efforts were focused on the main character, Senua, played and voiced by Melina Juergens who has deservedly gained a lot of critical acclaim for her performance. Other in-game characters are inhuman, with another human character being a real-life person that the team recorded on film, then put a load of filters and effects on top. 

    The gamble paid off, with Ninja Theory proudly posting that the game had sold half a million copies and that the game was profitable at that point. In an industry that has soaring development costs but where the final products have never cost so little, it's good to see a developer proving that with a limited budget and limited expectations, success is possible.

    This isn't a universal rule, though. Around the time Hellblade launched, Cliff Bleszinski's new studio BossKey released a team shooter called LawBreakers. There was a similar mindset behind the game – triple-A quality at a sub-triple-A price point. The game launched and, in what could be a massive understatement, it bombed. Why this game failed where Hellblade succeeded is up for debate.

    Part of the reason could be that Lawbreakers arrived into the crowded team shooter market too late to make a dent. Multiplayer games live and die by their user base, so if you and your mates are already putting hours into Overwatch, are you really going to shift gears to LawBreakers? The net effect here is that if people don't see other people playing your game, you're way less likely to go pick it up.

    BossKey is hard at work adding in extra content and changes for the game and fingers crossed that it turns the tide with this title.

    Going back to Hellblade, it's refreshing to see a small team creating an ambitious, gorgeous-looking and fun to play game coming out and returning on its investment at a time where game budgets are increasing ten fold in a decade. It's proof that with the right game and positioning, indie-A, triple-I, mid tier.. whatever you want to call it can and will work.

  • 4 Overwatch: The One that Highlighted the Pressures Devs feel from the Community

    Overwatch: The One that Highlighted the Pressures Devs feel from the Community logo

    Yes, Overwatch came out in 2016, but the title has been massively influential through to this year for a number of reasons.

    We could write about Blizzard's interesting approach to esports or about how it proves how a service-based game can work. But, in our opinion, the most interesting thing Blizzard has done this year is draw attention to just how taxing working with gamers can be.

    Jeff Kaplan, the game director for Overwatch and arguably the closest thing the title has to a public face, has been incredibly open in the last twelve months about the negative impact that working with gamers has had on the team. In a series of blog posts, forum messages and videos, the developer has taken us behind the scenes on what it's like to work on a game like Overwatch's community.

    Though the game itself is very much a feel-good romp, featuring a colourful art style, a nice and - yes, diverse - cast, working on Overwatch itself is anything but a feel-good experience.

    In the summer of this year, the developer highlighted just how many accounts were being banned from the game for negative behaviour. In September, close to half a million accounts had faced some kind of disciplinary action since the title's May 2016 release date. That's 1/70th of the game's 35m strong player base but is still an insane number.

    Around this time, Blizzard outlined part of the way it was going to handle the problem - improving the ban system, which has now been rolled out.

    But as part of this open dialogue, Kaplan went on to say that dealing with the community is 'downright scary and intimidating', as members of the development team are branded as 'lazy' and so on. Blizzard has had to put together a strike team, yes, A STRIKE TEAM, to help deal with toxic behaviour

    This isn't a lone example either; when we spoke to Hearthstone senior game designer Peter Whalen about the new Kobolds and Catacombs expansion, we asked him what his experience was and it was pretty similar. Whalen said that he wished that fans would express themselves in more positive ways. These were echoed by Riot Games alum Aaron Rutledge, who was fired from the company earlier this year for controversial remarks he made about a League of Legends streamer.

    Speaking to Glixel after the incident, he said that: “Talking to players as a developer is scary and intimidating," before going on to say that some developers prefer to be anonymous for fear of "getting called out or targeted."

    That there are sizeable toxic elements in the games community has been known for a long time - there have been numerous controversies, developer witch hunts, reports of death threats in the past.

    But this is perhaps the clearest look we have had at it. It's not just comments we see online now; the developers behind some of the world's largest and most successful games are now outright saying that dealing with the community can be draining.

    It's time that we, the industry, listened.

  • 5 Sonic Mania: The One that Showed Sometimes Listening to The Fans Pays Off

    Sonic Mania: The One that Showed Sometimes Listening to The Fans Pays Off  logo

    If you're not familiar with the Sonic Cycle, I'm going to give you a brief rundown of this concept.

    In short, Sega announces a brand new Sonic game. Gamers and journalists go: 'Huh, this doesn't look that bad. Actually, it might be okay'.

    Over the coming months and as we see more of the game, we start to be apprehensive. There's gameplay that looks okay, but ultimately pretty janky, but we tell ourselves: 'No, this time will be different – the game isn't out yet, of course it's going to look a bit messy'.

    But ultimately, the game comes out, isn't nearly as polished as we'd like and ultimately peaks between 60 and 70 on Metacritic.

    This year, two Sonic games hit shelves. There was the 3D Sonic Forces, made by Sonic Team at Sega, which sadly appears to have obeyed this law. But another, the 2D Sonic Mania, appears to have defied the laws of physics that surround the franchise.

    Announced last year at the Sonic 25th Anniversary event the title was unveiled in a very charming and sincere trailer (below) that very much screamed 'We know things haven't been great, and we're trying to figure out where to go from here'.

    This wasn't being made by Sonic Team, however, rather than Taxman, Headcannon and PagodaWest.

    You're forgiven for now knowing who these names are because they aren't big shot developers. Taxman is one Christian White, while Headcannon is Stealth aka Simon Thomley.

    The duo is not 'professional' game developers, but rather hail from the fan community. Having developed their skillset making Sonic fan projects, they teamed up to rework Sonic CD for iPhone in 2011 for Sega, before going on to develop the original Sonic and its sequel for Apple's mobile device.

    The game launched in August and was a combination of levels from the original 2D Sonic games, stages that took elements and made them into something, while one-third of the 12-level game were brand new creations. That's more – the game was received pretty well, even by people (myself) who weren't massively into Sonic. Its Metacritic score currently averages out in the mid-80s, compared to Sonic Force's, which range from 57 to 64.

    We have now reached a stage where modders and ROM hackers, people who you normally hear about in news stories about DMCA strikes, cease and desist orders and lawsuits, are actually competent enough to make games that are better than those released by professional developers.

    Sega isn't the only company realising this fact either. After his fan game, Another Metroid 2 Remake, was shut down by Nintendo last year, Milton Guasti found himself being hired by Moon Studios, the team behind the Ori and the Blind Forest, to work on follow-up, The Will of the Wisps.

    Too often, big companies view these fan projects as infringing on their IP, which, yes, they are. But rather than shutting down these teams, isn't it better to not waste this knowledge and instead bring it in-house to make your games better?

    Despite its lack of luck with the 3D Sonic games, as seen in Forces, Mania shows a refreshing amount of foresight from Sega, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Whitehead and HeadCanon be given greater freedom with the Sonic IP in the future. Assuming that bridge hasn't been burnt by the – um – interesting launch of Sonic Mania in PC.

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.