MANILA, PHILIPPINES — As is custom in the Game On world, video game connoisseur Rey Tiempo looks back on the previous year, through the lens of his 2023 hard drives filled with photos from his in-game adventures, and real-world events. Through these snapshots, Rey takes a look on how the worlds of gaming and marketing have intersected once again, and what it means for the future of gaming advertising and the industry as a whole.
By now, we have certainly seen our fair share of year-in-review lists flooding our feeds, both from the gaming side (I must have watched tons of “Game of the Year” videos, all varied takes on the best 2023 games, but ultimately lots of commonalities) and the advertising side (conversely, there are as many “best ads of 2023” as there are “best of” lists, interesting.)
As with everything here on Game On, this retrospective will be an exclusive take from the lens of Gaming X Marketing. And as I did last year, I will do this by accessing my devices’ hard drives for screengrabs, both from the virtual worlds I have immersed myself in, as well as from the real-world events that shaped the Gaming X Marketing landscape.
So as I start filling my hard drives this year with what 2024 has to offer (I am already looking forward to the new “Prince of Persia” game and the remastered version of “The Last of Us 2”), let’s dive right in and press the Capture / Share / PrtSc on the year that was: 2023!
*All images / screengrabs/ captures from: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, PC, Steam Deck, Lenovo Legion Go, Apple iPhone / iPad. I will try to keep everything as spoiler-free as possible!
Tango Gameworks, the Japanese developer formerly led by Shinji Mikami (one of my personal creative heroes), has been known for creating some of the darkest action horror games (one of them, “Ghostwire:Tokyo” was actually my Game of the Year last year.) So when this title got shadow-dropped (meaning: got announced and released the very same day, without any prior advertisements) on Game Pass last January 2023, it was like Christmas and New Year all over again for fans of the developer.
What we got, though, was entirely different… and I loved it! It garnered enough critical acclaim to actually get a Game of the Year nomination at The Game Awards. The game is absolutely the furthest thing from anything Tango Gameworks had ever done – a rhythm game that is also an intense hack and slash action adventure game with an immensely unique premise, groundbreaking mechanics for a music game (your character executes combos from riffs created by smashing your guitar), and visuals that are simple and striking. Hey, it’s got a cat with a Metallica-ish collar, what more can I ask for? But hidden under this seemingly very simple scenario is a lesson for all creatives and marketers alike: be uncomfortable!
Get out of your comfort zones, and it will do you wonders. This title, along with other Game Pass-only or Game Pass-first titles mentioned here, also continues to make a strong case for Xbox’s subscription service. And a strong case for Xbox really being the platform that democratizes gaming, well into the future.
Tears of the Kingdom
I belong to a Zelda household. No, we don’t live in intricate puzzle dungeons that need solving (although sometimes, I do feel like Link when I’m cooking in the kitchen – I always end up with Dubious Food.) I meant, we are big, very big (did I say big?) fans of the Legend of Zelda. 2017’s “Breath of the Wild” was brilliant beyond anything that had been done at that point. So for its sequel, 2023’s “Tears of the Kingdom,” we expected nothing less – and of course, it did not disappoint.
The game builds on everything that “Breath of the Wild” had, and then expands, improves, and/or explodes it in every way possible. It is pure genius; no other game hones, encourages, celebrates creativity like this. I have said it before, and I will say it again: if you are a creative marketer, or if you’re even just someone working in any creative field, this is a must-experience.
It trains you to think laterally. There’s no one solution to the challenges; as long as you do your own thing and commit to it, then you’ll eventually arrive at the answers. It’s also very social; there are never ending communities still talking and gushing over and debating over minute details of the game (and, I imagine, for years to come.)
A brilliant quote taken from one of the posts in the communities: “It doesn’t matter how you get there, but if you do get there, then you did something right.” I can obviously go on and on, and yes it is our Game of the Year (not even remotely close, “Baldur’s Gate 3” – sorry, fans).
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
The newest Super Mario game in the franchise goes back to its traditional side-scrolling platforming format – a treat for us long-time fans.
But also, scratch that; it has so many new, updated tricks up its sleeve that even my young daughter has taken to it so naturally. And for that, I would recommend playing it co-op (my daughter is already way better than me; sigh, youth reflexes.) This game is just pure joy to play, and a worthy new installment to the side-scrolling Mario titles.
Also important to note: this came out in the same release window as some of the biggest titles in 2023: “Assassin’s Creed Mirage,” “Forza Motorsport,” the new Sonic game, the new Hellboy game (which I totally love), “Spider-man 2,” “Ghostrunner 2,” “Alan Wake 2” (more on this later), “Cocoon” (more on this too). That’s one stacked month! It is definitely crazy how we are getting all of these quality content in just a span of a few weeks. Apologies to our backlogs!
Street Fighter 6
On last year’s list, I was eagerly looking forward to this 2023 release, the latest installment to the long-running fighting game franchise of which I am a huge fan. Capcom learned a lot from the rocky “Street Fighter V” launch in 2016; this proper follow-up did just about everything that the previous one did not.
Launching with full-on content even by today’s game standards, “Street Fighter 6” boasts of not just one, but actually three different games in one! The standard Versus fighting mode is still the benchmark of the fighting game community, and still the platform by which this title is being played in the biggest esports arenas around the world. World Tour is a single player mode that lets you create your very own character and avatar, assign your favorite Street Fighter moves (yes that’s me with Guile’s moves), and embark on an open world adventure encountering other Street Fighter characters in the universe.
The personalization is unprecedented and unheard-of for any Street Fighter game, ever. Meanwhile, Battle Hub is the most interesting mode for me, and the literal game changer in fighting games – you can use your avatar to play and interact with other avatars online, in a big arcade stadium. It perfectly recreates the experience of going to the arcades back in the ’90s, lining up for your turn, interacting with other players, learning tips and tricks, and maybe even some side-gossip – but all done in a virtual arcade setting now. It is insane! And insanely meta as well!
Imagine this: your avatar character will interact with another avatar (created by someone in the real world); your characters will then sit down and play an arcade game of Street Fighter where they will, in turn, choose characters to fight against each other. Get it? The Street Fighter match now playing is actually twice removed from reality. Mind = blown.
Still, probably one of the most significant features of this latest Street Fighter title is its openness to embracing the branded metaverse experience. During its initial launch window alone, we had been treated to collaborations with Onitsuka Tiger and Chipotle, and more on the way. The capability is really only limited to the creativity of marketers out there. I am looking at you, brands and creatives!
Alan Wake 2
“Tears of the Kingdom” is my heart’s Game of the Year; but “Alan Wake 2” is my brain’s Game of the Year. Because this game (is it even a game??) is as cerebral as it gets, and for the survival horror / mind-bending, meta-provoking / spiritual, religious lover in me, it is absolute perfection.
How to even start talking about “Alan Wake 2”? I will try my best, and I know I will still fail. I will probably devote an entire Game On piece dedicated to “Alan Wake 2.”
Right now, all I can say is if you are a writer or a creator who loves fiction and who believes that imagination and creativity are the building blocks of the universe; who believes that your work has the power to literally change things around you, change the people, change the world, change the universe; who believes that stories are the foundation of our very existence; who believes that art and magic are indistinguishable from each other; who insists that darkness is necessary, if only to celebrate the light; and who, once in a while, still enjoys your survival horror action, only amped up to maybe a hundred – then this is most definitely for you.
That the visuals are stunningly next gen, that the action is fluid, the puzzles are top-notch, and yes the presence of THAT ONE SCENE is probably the best gaming moment in 2023 (you will know it when you’re there) are really just icing on this very multi-layered cake. Creative Director Sam Lake (who appears in the game as himself, playing a character the writer protagonist Alan Wake wrote, which is a character he wrote – confused yet?) along with this whole team at Remedy Entertainment, are absolute crazy geniuses.
Hooray for indie games and indie developers and their constant push to break boundaries. As one of the most pleasant surprises in 2023, this game is from the same designer as previous similarly acclaimed indie work “Inside” (which is probably one of my all-time favorite games.) With its gorgeous and captivating art style, presentation, and intriguing world, it’s one of the current games I can truly recommend, for those who are very new to gaming, or those who just want to jump right back and are curious about how intelligent gaming has become. Yes, intelligent!
That’s because it’s one of the very few games that does not look down on its audience’s capabilities to grasp and understand mechanics. There are no tutorial levels here, no handholding of any kind – you will discover what you need to do as you go along, all using just ONE action button. Throughout the experience, I kept asking myself over and over “How can something so simple be so complex???” It won The Game Awards’ Best Independent Game. No objections here!
Cannes Lions Gaming
Screenshots from the real world! 2023 was a landmark year for Gaming X Marketing, as the Cannes Lions Festival Creativity, the benchmark for global creative excellence in the advertising industry, finally launched its very own category dedicated to Gaming! I was fortunate enough to attend, document, and cover the festival extensively (view my coverage here) as Press, and especially as Game On captain!
I have a long history with Cannes and gaming, and a somewhat amusing tale how the industry has led me down the path of a creative gaming marketer (I’ve told the story in a previous Game On here). For a Year One category, there were already some really standout cases, and some very mature takes on gaming culture – this was largely because gaming work has already been winning in previous years, but in other categories, as a dedicated Gaming category did not exist yet!
While long overdue, the Cannes Lions’ move to finally put a spotlight on the creative gaming space is pivotal for the industry, as gaming continues to grow to unprecedented engagement and with it, the inevitable creative possibilities! It will all be very interesting as we move on to this year, with Spikes Asia’s turn to launch its own dedicated Gaming category. As more and more industry award shows start to put focus on the impact and creative marketing opportunities in gaming, you can be sure that Game On will be there every step of the way, chronicling and celebrating as only a hardcore gamer and a hardcore advertiser can.
And of course, I will be Playing while Working (ah, the Steam Deck, a worthy companion to these award show travels!)
London International Awards
I was back at the London International Awards, covering the Creativity in the Metaverse category on its second year. It’s always interesting how the most prestigious industry award shows all have different takes on gaming work; for LIA, there isn’t (yet) a dedicated category, but we’ve seen gaming and gaming-inspired work entered and winning in the Creativity in the Metaverse category – more on this as we see and document its evolution.
But what I have always loved about the LIA is its sense of inclusivity, how they’ve always welcomed young creatives and Press in the same room as the jury as they deliberate. No walls, no filters, nothing between the observers and the juries’ valuable insights on the work. Its Creative LIAisons program is undoubtedly one of the best young creatives’ programs in the world. The LIA judging week has always felt very human – a welcome contrast to crazy and ridiculously excessive Las Vegas where it is usually held.
Gaming X Marketing
2023 was all about spreading the word on Gaming X Marketing. Hosting and moderating the first-ever Gaming track for the Digital Marketing Association of the Philippines’ (DMAP) DigiMax; having my own Marcel class on Gaming and Brands (Marcel is Publicis’ custom-made AI platform that connects all of its people worldwide); leading the session on Cannes-worthy gaming work for a Global Content Summit; being invited to inspire gamers and creatives for the Oddefy Agency; connecting and speaking the same gamer language with neurodivergent creatives at The Misfits Camp; being a part of the Kidlat Awards’ first-ever jury on Gaming; and leading clients and brands in various gaming opportunity workshops across Manila.
Whew! Next up: Gaming X Marketing in 2024. Watch this space!
The Lenovo Legion Go
One year after the release of Valve’s Steam Deck (revolutionizing the handheld gaming PC experience forever) worthy competitors like Lenovo and ROG started dipping their hands into this very niche market. It is to be expected – the technology is far from being imitation-proof. Surprisingly, it’s the user experience that actually spells the difference between these devices.
I was deliberating on getting a Windows-based device (I still enjoy the portability and ease of use of my Steam Deck, but admit on struggling with its Linux/ Steam OS-only limitations), and while the ROG Ally does boast of some really exciting specs for a Windows handheld, I instead went with Lenovo’s beast of a machine, the Legion Go. Its screen size is by far the biggest among the three, and possibly its single-most winning feature (someone in the forums called it ‘perfect for my dad-eyes’ and I agree!)
But that’s not all, it is the only one with a refresh rate of 144Hz and the only one with QHD resolution (ok ok, I may be going into PC nerdy area here for some, but these just mean the screen is clearest and fastest.) It has this unique FPS mode feature where the right detachable controller turns into a mouse for better control of First Person Shooting games (screencaps here are some of the first I’ve taken through the Legion Go.)
Of course, it is still essentially a Windows PC, so you are pretty much left to the forums and tutorials on how to best maximize the settings, where to download drivers, etc etc. But if set up just right, this machine is the best handheld PC out, right now. This year, what new innovations will the new players bring to this market?
The Year of Awesome Remakes
“Dead Space Remake.” “Resident Evil 4 Remake.” “Super Mario RPG Remake.” “Metroid Prime Remastered.” Classic games, now re-presented and re-packaged for newer generations of players to experience. All of the original versions of these games are all-time favorites (and the very reason why they were considered to be remade in the first place) but these newer, sleeker versions, with updated graphics and control schemes, have actually improved on the originals; it’s almost like sacrilege, but the developers have managed to do it — especially on the brilliant “Resident Evil 4 Remake” (better in almost all aspects from the original, which was already S+ tier anyway!).
Remakes, when done right, rake in not only the revenues, but expand their already dedicated fanbases and communities.
The Future is Creative
I was lured back into “Fortnite” because of its recent collaboration with Lego, which I thought was a no-brainer. Instead, I found myself playing and exploring its other game modes using a free Alan Wake skin (thanks Epic Games!). It is a giant of a game now (it’s more like a platform really), literally a playground of Gaming X Marketing creative possibilities; a healthy, fully-engaged community, with its own social, ecommerce, and the closest thing we can get to experiencing an actual living, breathing metaverse experience (and we don’t even need those headsets.)
The same is happening in the Roblox universe, another platform that encourages openness, interaction and creativity, albeit in totally different packaging and aesthetics. Their huge focus in the coming months is on advertising, as they’ve started to work ever more closely with brand partnerships (we’ve seen tourism campaigns, supermarket chain activations, and yes even the biggest brand in rock, Metallica was there at one point, launching their new album!). Roblox lets users create virtually ANY experience – imagination is the only limit. It’s another Gaming X Marketing gold mine, and I am paying close attention to the growth of these two already-massive creative platforms.
And there you have it, the year 2023 in screenshots. But of course, this represents a mere snapshot of how truly outstanding 2023 was for gaming; one of the standout years in terms of both quantity and quality in content. There simply is no shortage of excellent gaming experiences out there, just waiting for you to discover and enjoy (as I’ve always said: participation, participation, participation is key.) Here’s to having your own awesome list this coming year, and to having more fun “playing while working!”
About Game On
Game On is the first and only industry column of its kind, with exclusive content on Gaming X Marketing, the increasingly rich interplay between gaming and creative marketing. Created by Rey Tiempo: creative gaming brand specialist, content creator, entrepreneur. Rey has led teams to multi award-winning work in the industry’s biggest networks. He preaches “playing while working” when leading industry discourse on tech, gaming, and the future of creative marketing. Currently playing (while working): Street Fighter 6, The Finals, Super Mario Bros Wonder (co-op with daughter).
Column artwork by Dennis Nierra, Creative Director at BBDO Guerrero. Currently playing: Diablo IV.