The best years in gaming end in 7.
As 2017 draws to a close, two manifestations have converged to make me realize this.
One, there has been consensus across the industry lauding 2017 as one of (if not the) best years in the short history of video games, and I must agree. Nintendo released the Switch, the most radical system upgrade the industry has seen since the Wii, alongside a handful of critically acclaimed games; PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds caught the world by storm and earned near-universal praise, maturing the battle royale genre, and reinvented multiplayer which had staled since the rise of the MOBA a few years back; the game release calendar was filled with standout new IPs such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Cuphead, alongside refreshing entries in established franchises like Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the Prey reboot, NieR: Automata, and more. In such an excellent year, it’s impossible to provide an exhaustive list of all the amazing releases.
Secondly, over the past couple weeks I’ve been playing Mass Effect 10 years late. I expect to be the butt of many jokes due to my tardiness, but don’t rightly care because I’m a grown-ass man who’s behind the times and is only now getting to the bottom of his backlog. (Cracking job on the puns there, Mr. Feetme.) Though some of the design decisions have aged poorly, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I hope to have a more scrupulous retrospective up shortly.
So, what’s the big deal? Singularly, it was while reading this excellent article over at Polygon that I began to ponder. I most certainly concur with Allegra Frank’s title, “2017 Was the Best Year in Games Since 2007: A Once a Decade Phenomenon”, since the superb Mass Effect was conceivably not even the greatest game of 2007. Its kindred releases attest to a near unparalleled year: Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Bioshock, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, et al. Consequently, if Miss Frank is correct and we do indeed have a single, signal year each decade, I wanted to know when in fact this “phenomenon” occurs. Has a trend emerged over the last 50 years of gaming?
The short and sweet answer is YES, there is a trend, and it occurs on years terminating in the number 7. End argument.
But wait, wait, wait, where’s all the evidence, you say? I was hoping you’d ask, as I’d love to provide proof! The following is a retrograde, concise, perfunctory historical review of all years ending in 7 from 2017 to the dawn of video games, because we all know that’s when the world really began:
Notable games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, NieR: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh, Persona 5, Prey, Cuphead
System releases: Nintendo Switch, SNES Classic, Xbox One X
Other: Gamers rally in uproar against the greedy business practices of EA and its controversial loot box system in Star Wars Battlefront II. The battle royale genre comes into its own with PUBG.
Notable games: Bioshock, Halo 3, Mass Effect, The Orange Box, God of War II, World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Super Mario Galaxy, Assassin’s Creed, Portal, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
System releases: Xbox 360 Elite, iPhone
Other: Nintendo announces WiiWare, a competitor service to Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade. Likewise, Microsoft announces Games for Windows – Live, probably the best “first” attempt at competing with Valve’s Steam platform until Good Old Games comes along one year later. Blizzard announces StarCraft II to huge fanfare in South Korea.
Notable games: Final Fantasy VII, Mario Kart 64, Riven, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy Tactics, Star Fox 64, Ultima Online, Fallout, Quake 2, Gran Turismo, Age of Empires, Goldeneye 007
System releases: N64 in EU and AU
Other: Irrational Games is founded by Ken Levine and other former Looking Glass Studios employees–they begin work on System Shock 2. EA acquires Maxis, creators of the popular The Sims franchise.
Notable games: Metroid, Mega Man, Street Fighter, The Legend of Zelda (NA/EU), Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Maniac Mansion, Contra
System releases: Sega Master System, NEC PC-Engine
Other: VGA graphics and 3.5-inch floppy disks are introduced by IBM. Both Nintendo and Sega try their hand at 3D gaming and fail.
Notable games: Zork, Combat, Video Pinball, Space Wars
System releases: Atari VCS/2600, Nintendo Color TV Game 6, Apple II, Commodore PET
Other: Nolan Bushnell and Atari open the first Pizza Time Theater (Chuck E. Cheese’s). Commodore enters the personal computer market with the PET, the precursor to the wildly successful Commodore 64.
But wait, I can go back further:
The Brown Box, the first working prototype of what was eventually the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey, is released by Ralph Baer and friends at Sanders Associates.
(Much of the above information can be gleaned from Wikipedia, which has an excellent history of video games by year.)
But why are XXX7 years such excellent years in gaming? I have no definitive answer, though I opine it has to do with the console cycle and the average longevity of a system. Except for 1977 when there were no systems to begin with, exceptional years in gaming seldom have a new system release that takes the world by storm. Rarely are the best games on a console released in the first year of its lifetime, as developers learn their way around the system’s architecture. It takes a year or two before design catches up to the newly provided technology. The best years of the N64 were 1997-98; the Xbox 360 were 2007-2008; the NES 87-88.
The average lifespan of a video game console is approximately six years. Since the entry of Nintendo into the North American home console market in 1985, the industry has remained on this cycle, with few exceptions–the Xbox 360’s 8-year lifespan comes to mind. Thus, new console generations (particularly in NA) have been released at or around years divisible by 5: NES in 1985, Sega Genesis in 1989, Sony PlayStation in 1995, PlayStation 2 in 2000, Xbox 360 in 2005, etc. This determines that the greatest games released on a platform come a year or two after on the XXX2s and the XXX7s. And it just so happens that 7 > 2.
Agree? Disagree? Think the only year in gaming that matters is 1998 because Pokémon and TLoZ: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft and Half-Life all came out that year, and you’re probably right in saying so? Let me know!
Happy New Year, and here’s looking forward to 2027!