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2014 in Review: The Mavens choose their Game of the Year

From Hearthstone to Monument Valley, Flappy Bird and Kim K...
2014 in Review: The Mavens choose their Game of the Year
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It now being deep December, our Mavens' thoughts have taken a retrospective turn. 

So looking back over the past 50 weeks of mobile gaming action, we asked them:

What was your Game of the Year in 2014?

And - if you wan to moderate your opinion - what was your favourite game of 2014?

William D. Volk

William D. Volk

Chief Futurist at Forward Reality

Game of the year is Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

Not because of the quality or innovation of the game, but because it shows that in a non-curated open marketplace, game brand (not the publisher) becomes more and more important.

The cost to acquire users has soared beyond LTV due to major publishers fighting for market share above profits. Using Kim as a license lowers that expense.

Glu's <em>Kim Kardashian: Hollywood</em> solved the discovery problem thanks to its celebrity star
Glu's Kim Kardashian: Hollywood solved the discovery problem thanks to its celebrity star

My favorite game is Flappy Bird, because it keeps the dream alive for the indie developers. No marketing spend. Big success.

Scott Foe

Scott Foe

Chief Product Officer at Ignited Artists

I really don't see much point in naming our favorite games in light of the Fantastic Online Entertainment awards, often affectionately referred to as the "FOEs."

I mean, who are we to question the supreme (and handsome) wisdom of the FOE Awards?

The FOE Award for Best Game of 2014: Desert Golfing.

In 2014, Desert Golfing captured the imagination of game designers everywhere. Whether a true game design virtuoso or a pompous wannabe windbag washout, you probably played, loved, and tweeted about Desert Golfing.

The FOE Award for Best Shameless Gacha of 2014: Summoners War

As the great Harry Holmwood once espoused (in the previous Pocket Gamer Mobile Mavens), combine/evolve and gacha dynamics are not just for static card-battlers, and Summoners War is a shining example of how those dynamics can be integrated into polished and engaging game systems.

The FOE Award for Best Spreadsheet Starring Carmelo Anthony: NBA All Net

NBA All Net is a beautiful hint to the future of combine/evolve and gacha dynamics being applied away from pimple-faced nerd games. It is not hard to imagine EA Sports-esque graphical fidelity and simulation applied to such titles in the future.

NB: The Academy of Fantastic Online Entertainment is the world's preeminent games related organization, comprised of 1 accomplished men and women working in interactive entertainment. Best known for the annual FOE Awards, the Academy is also involved in a wide array of education, outreach, preservation, and research activities (sic).

Dave Castelnuovo

Dave Castelnuovo

Owner at Bolt Creative

While technically released in 2013, the 2014 game of the year needs to be Flappy Bird.

It proved that no matter how cynical we get as developers, surprises can still happen and there is still hope for success stories driven by word-of-mouth rather than user acquisition.

Adam Telfer

Adam Telfer

Consultant at MobileFreeToPlay

Game of the Year: Hearthstone

Hands down. It is an amazing game. I was never a trading card battler fan before, but this game has addicted me. I love playing, and it's a perfect game for tablets. It's a perfect example of where all designers should aim for free to play.

My hat's off to Blizzard. They've done an amazing job.

<em>Hearthstone</em> - the CCG for fans and newbies alike
Hearthstone - the CCG for fans and newbies alike

Other than in the mobile space I've been amazed at the Wii U. Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. have brought me back to consoles.

A runner up would be Massive Chalice by Double Fine. Their early access was a great purchase. I'm having a blast.

Harry Holmwood

Harry Holmwood

CEO at Marvelous Europe

I'd like to add Mixi's Monster Strike to the list for coming from nowhere, growing rapidly, and finally knocking Puzzle & Dragons off the number one spot in Japan.

It shows that, however static the top grossing charts might appear, the right game can always come along and rise to the top.

Mixi's <em>Monster Strike</em> was the top grossing game in Japan
Mixi's Monster Strike was the top grossing game in Japan

I'm sure we'll see the same happening over the next year in the west as more developers begin to understand what makes a really successful mobile game.

David MacQueen

David MacQueen

Executive Director at Strategy Analytics

For me, I'd have to say the two games that have given me the most enjoyment have been Hearthstone and 80 Days.

“[It’s] Good to see a 'traditional' games company [Blizzard] not being snobbish about mobile.”
David MacQueen

Hearthstone is a really polished, great first mobile game from the almost-always reliable Blizzard. I'm a Warcraft player as well, and it's interesting how they've adopted some of the typical features of mobile gaming into the latest expansion with the introduction of farming and timed missions in their garrisons.

Good to see a 'traditional' games company (an one with a pretty hardcore audience) not being snobbish about mobile.

80 Days is just a very good implementation of interactive literature, genuinely beautiful graphics, great minimalist UI and strong writing.

Flappy Bird has to be the story of the year.

On the one hand I agree it's great that someone can indeed have a hit like that without a load of money behind them. On the other hand, that he ended up feeling forced out by the industry (although we are lauding him now) was disappointing.

Especially so that Flappy Bird and GamerGate were probably two of the biggest stories to actually reach out of gaming into mainstream press coverage, and that unfortunately makes us look (as an industry) like a bunch of d!cks.

Here's hoping 2015 shows the world that there's some good in the world of gaming…!

Kevin Corti

Kevin Corti

Principal at Spidershed Media

Clearly the GotY was EA’s delightful ‘re-imagining’ of Dungeon Keeper, non? ...Well, the graphics were slick at least.

If you choose by revenue then we’re clearly looking at Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga ... for killing it on iOS and GooglePlay for another whole year.

<em>Monument Valley</em> - a popular choice for Game of the Year
Monument Valley - a popular choice for Game of the Year

If you base it on use of brand/IP then that’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood ...e.g. for conducting a massive global A/B test using Stardom with and without the famous name to prove that brand recognition certainly drives consumer awareness, player engagement and bank-busting wedges of spondoolies.

...But for showing us that beautiful and elegant design, pure gameplay (that goes beyond clicking) and bucket loads of honest-to-goodness British charm can still persuade people to part with their coins before they play a game ... ustwo’s Monument Valley.

Oscar Clark

Oscar Clark

Chief Strategy Officer at Fundamentally Games

Game of the year is a tough but hard to argue with Hearthstone.

It managed to bring an establish brand in a new format to tablet making a quality experience as well as a kind of free-to-play that no-one complained about (and uses Unity). That being said I play Magic The Gathering: 2015 because it can at least be played offline whilst Hearthstone can't.

Personal favourites are harder...

I play too many gorgeous indie games (as well as plenty of not so) so much that its actually hard to remember any one that sticks out. Titles like Timberman, Threes (or actually for me 2048) and Clay Jam kept me playing for a long time; but then it's not just indies.

“Game of the year is a tough but hard to argue with Hearthstone.”
Oscar Clark

I have now returned to Candy Crush (Soda) especially while travelling. And then there are titles like Monument Valley and The Room 2 that definitely deserve some credit.

The closest I get to a favourite is perhaps FTL with its arrival as an iPad game as I've probably played the most - but ironically I've kinda come to hate it because it always ends in humiliating defeat.

There are also plenty of titles I played a lot in 2014, but which strictly came out earlier including Dead Trigger 2, Createria and Warhammer Quest.

If there is a favourite, it may be Super Glyph Quest, which uses match-3 mechanics smartly to cast spells at monsters, done in a lovely art style and by a delightful couple - even if it is a paid game ;0)

Alexey Sazonov

Alexey Sazonov

CEO at Panzerdog

It was a year of Steam gaming for me. And none of my favourites - Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, South Park - is on mobile.

Just a couple of mobile games got a lot of my hours: Out There and Warhammer Quest (which is technically from 2013, but I missed it).

There were also a lot of remarkable puzzle games, but I'm not good with those.

Jared Steffes

Jared Steffes

Co-founder at Muxy

I don't get to play enough games to have a Game of the Year.

I really enjoyed Heroes of the Storm, Fates Forever, Mario Kart 8, and Octodad.

John Ozimek

John Ozimek

Co-founder at Big Games Machine

Jeez, it must have been a terrible year for the games industry if Flappy Bird is really the best thing that happened in 2014?

“I'm not inspired by many of the 'big games' of the current era of mobile.”
John Ozimek

For me, it didn't teach me anything about the craft of creating great mobile games. What it did teach me was that once again the influence of the media is very difficult to gauge, that virality is impossible to plan for, and that PewDiePie and YouTube gave me a glimpse at the potential the future of game reviews.

I certainly doff my cap at wonderfully polished games like Hearthstone, but they are not for me for the same reason I have never played Final Fantasy VII, World of Warcraft or Elder Scrolls - I lack the required spare time and commitment.

Possibly it means that I'm a hopeless romantic, but I'm not inspired by many of the 'big games' of the current era of mobile as I still feel great unease with much of the F2P approach - maybe it comes from knowing what lies underneath.

I'm with Kevin. Monument Valley was perhaps the one game this year that made my heart sing. It had elements of wonder that reminded me of Ico and Journey. It is simple and beautiful. A jewel of a game. In fact, I can't think of another game this year where I have cornered bewildered members of my family and jabbed my phone in their faces so they can share my appreciation of the level designs (especially the one that's a box that opens on different sides - genius).

Ironhide's <em>Kingdom Rush Origins</em> - a polished TD
Ironhide's Kingdom Rush Origins - a polished TD

The game that always gets my vote is Kingdom Rush, with the most recent instalment being Kingdom Rush Origins.

I'm yet to play another tower defence game that has the same depth, polish, and sheer value to it. All three games in the series are always on my iPad, and the developers (Ironhide Games) come up with great new levels and gameplay modes.

Whoever designed the deeply disappointing Star Wars: Galactic Defense please take note.

Dmitry Terekhin

Dmitry Terekhin

CEO at Nekki

I've been trying to recall a good game, but could not. so I bet there was no Game of the Year in 2014.

There were nice indie games like Flappy Bird and Monument Valley. Also many Clash of Clans-clones. But nothing really great.

Talking about my personal favorite - it's Shadow Fight 2, the fighting game developed by our company.

Nekki's <em>Shadow Fight 2</em>
Nekki's Shadow Fight 2

Comparing to all our games we released in 12 years, this one is the most emotional, entertaining and well-balanced.

And next year we will be working on Shadow Fight 3, and we will try to make it really Game of the Year.

[people id="192" name="Carter Dotson"]

For developers, I think there were two games that were truly the most influential titles: Clash of Clans and Flappy Bird, depending on who you are and what you're doing in the mobile market.

Clash of Clans showed that mobile is going bigger and bigger than ever: from its ubiquitous TV marketing campaign, continued expansion, and holding firm as one of the top grossing games of the year.

“Find a way to make one small game that people love.”
Carter Dotson

Other developers with big-time ambitions can point to it as their target, but to a certain degree, its influence may be a problem as too many developers think that just copying its gameplay is a way to succeed, and not to decipher what it does well.

Meanwhile, Flappy Bird exists on the exact opposite of the spectrum in terms of gameplay, and well, everything. But it served as a beacon for smaller developers: it's possible still to go viral, and that advertising can make money.

And maybe you're making games too big. You don't have to make Clash of Clans: find a way to make one small game that people love, and it could help you thrive.