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The 6 biggest gaming surprises of 2020

2020 has seen some pretty big gaming surprises. It hasn’t exactly been the best year overall for many. Though, despite all that’s happened, this year had some genuinely great things happen in the gaming industry.

We’ve seen some unsuspecting games become viral sensations this year. The industry as a whole has been shaken due to some wild acquisitions. Plus, against all odds, developers were still able to create memorable experiences during a global pandemic.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest gaming surprises in 2020. These have all had a major impact on the gaming landscape and defined the year.

The sudden success of Among Us

The rampant success Among Us has seen this year has been nothing short of spectacular. Although this indie darling launched in 2018, InnerSloth’s multiplayer game didn’t gain too much attention until the latter half of this year.

Let’s put this into perspective. According to Steam Charts, Among Us peaked at 19 players during its launch in Nov. 2018. In Sept. 2020, the game saw an astounding 438,524 players jump in, with an average 151,380 player base.

among us crewmates

Among Us continues to show strong numbers. The developers were so taken back by the game’s success that the studio cancelled its plans to develop a sequel. Instead, Among Us has been receiving continued support, including a new map that was recently teased.

Microsoft acquires Bethesda

This one legitimately made me do a double-take. The news that Microsoft is acquiring ZeniMax Media, the parent company of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout developer Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion shook the industry.

Microsoft has been expanding the family of Xbox Game Studios through acquisitions over these past few years. However, welcoming the likes of DOOM, Wolfenstein, Quake, and the aforementioned tentpole titles is monumental. The Xbox Game Studios umbrella now comprises 23 studios, including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios.

The terms of the acquisition are still murky. Timed exclusive games like GhostWire: Tokyo and Deathloop will still launch on PlayStation. Though, beyond that, it’s still uncertain how this acquisition will affect the release of Bethesda games on other platforms. Xbox’s CFO Tim Stuart has said that the company has no “intentions of just pulling all of Bethesda content out of Sony or Nintendo or otherwise”.

The best part of it all is that Microsoft’s acquisition brings Bethesda and Obsidian back together. This sets up a possible scenario where a Fallout: New Vegas sequel could see the light of day.

XBox Bethesda Buyout - What Does This Mean for Xbox S1 and X1 Exclusives - Squadcast-Sep 21 2020

The gaming industry thrives despite global pandemic

From memorable games releasing on a consistent basis to digital events being held and consoles releasing, the games industry has been thriving. Many entertainment mediums have taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the talented developers, engineers, and event coordinators persisted.

We’ve seen the likes of The Last of Us Part 2, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Ghost of Tsushima, and countless others released during the year. While many studios transitioned to working remotely, it didn’t stop them from continuing to deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.

Early on in the year, it became apparent that traditional events like E3, PAX, and Tokyo Games Show weren’t feasible. This encouraged event coordinators to begin creating digital events. The Game Awards’ Geoff Keighley took the reins this summer, creating the Summer Games Fest. This season-long industry event helped studios showcase their games to the public. Through varying degrees of reception, these digital events provided ways for the community to gather and celebrate reveals and updates.

Microsoft and Sony both released their new consoles this year. The Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PlayStation 5 were showcased through online events and released worldwide. Both companies somehow managed to secure components and had their new pieces of hardware manufactured. It’s certainly no easy feat to finalize all that is required in order to release new pieces of hardware. This is especially true in a year that saw many teams divided and isolated.

The creators of hardware, software, and the events held to highlight everything the industry had to offer should be proud of their accomplishments this year.

Genshin Impact is the most successful international release of a Chinese game

MiHoYo’s free-to-play gacha title Genshin Impact released to resoundingly positive reception, despite being frequently compared to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Genshin Impact quickly cultivated a massive community of players.

Genshin Impact characters

What made it such a surprise to many, was that it’s now become the most successful international release of a Chinese-developed game. Genshin Impact has not only become one of 2020’s most popular mobile games, but it has made a big splash on PC and PlayStation 4 as well. Within its first month, Genshin Impact gained $245 million from in-app purchases.

While incorporating gacha mechanics, the game has a solid base for players to get a full experience without unloading their wallets. During its launch on Sept. 28, 17 million players around the world downloaded the game to their various devices. 10 million of those had pre-registered for access prior to the launch. Speaking for us at SQUAD, I have to admit Genshin Impact’s gameplay loop has hooked a lot of us in.

Fall Guys is a smash hit out of nowhere

The battle royale genre is still going strong with the likes of Apex Legends and Fortnite taking a bulk of the mind share. This year, Call of Duty’s Warzone caught the attention of a lot of players as well. However, it was Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout that stood out amongst the rest.

Fall Guys features silly, light-hearted mini-games akin to Wipeout. Yet, the game maintains the same competitive nature seen in traditional battle royale games. It became an overnight success. This was partially due to viral social media campaigns and launching as a PS Plus title in August.

Fall Guys had an enormous amount of buzz circulating around the game as players raced to get their first crown. ESPN began extensively covering streamer Timthetatman’s struggle to secure a win. Talk Guys, a Fall Guys talk show hosted by screenwriter Gary Whitta also came from the game’s success.

It’s hard to not be enamored by the game. It was easy to imagine that the game would find a community of players. Though, for the game to dominate the conversation for as long as it has is quite a surprise.

Epic Games goes up against Apple

Epic Games went toe to toe with Apple over Apple’s App Store policies in August. Creating a workaround to Apple’s revenue-sharing cut, Epic gave players the option to purchase V-bucks in Fortnite directly from its own storefront at a discount. It didn’t take long before Apple quickly removed Fortnite from iOS. Google soon after followed as the company was also blocked from receiving its 30% revenue cut.

In quick succession, Epic Games rallied its player base to jump into Fortnite and watch the premiere of the Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite parody video. This was followed by the kickstart of the #FreeFortnite campaign, which featured an in-game event. Epic then filed a lawsuit against Apple over antitrust and anticompetitive behaviour. The first bench trial has been scheduled for May 2021.

Apple has often faced criticisms for its App Store policies in the past. However, as Epic Games planted its feet into the ground, everyone took notice. The whole ordeal can be seen as two giant tech conglomerates fighting for more money. However, that didn’t stop me from grabbing some popcorn and going along for the show.

It’s been a real rollercoaster. Yet, as we near the end of the year, we can look back at all the surprises the gaming industry has had in 2020. Many of these surprises have given us positive moments to look back on. Others have fundamentally shaken this industry and will likely ripple out for years to come.

What are your biggest gaming surprises of 2020? Let us know in the comments below!

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Steve Vegvari

Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His adoration for everything gaming began very early on in the SNES-era. He’s gone on to write honest content around the web. While not writing about games, Steve is often looking for the next big narrative-driven title. Something with an impactful story, regardless of genre or platform. Bonus points if it has an appealing achievement/trophy list!
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