So far, 2012 has been about as propitious a year for games as it has been for austerity-peddling European governments. In a way, it's a good job that there have hardly been any games worth buying, given that in the UK at least, we can't even buy games on our local high streets any more.
For committed gamers, however, there have been two rays of light amid the glowering gloom: Xbox Live Arcade and the Sony Entertainment Network (formerly known as PSN). Between them, they have provided by far the best games to arrive up until now in 2012.
So far this year, the only games to display any originality, wit and willingness to take risks have appeared exclusively on XBLA and the SEN. And, of course, they cost a relative pittance.
This goes a long way towards explaining why videogames (unless you count social games) have been conspicuously and uncomfortably absent from the pop culture spotlight. As motivated console gamers we're well aware of the joys of Microsoft and Sony's download services, but that can't be said of, say, the average family that bought an Xbox 360 in order to play Kinect games (don't laugh), or that owns a Wii (seek out WiiWare and ye shall find tumbleweed). With Cameron and Osborne lording it over us, we don't need to be reminded that this world isn't a meritocratic one. XBLA and SEN games deserve infinitely more attention than they ever actually receive.
MAKING GOOD THINGS WORSE
Even the custodians of the download services seem to treat them with an unwelcome amount of disdain - presumably because, in their current incarnations, they will never provide enormous profit margins (even though XBLA games, in particular, can generate impressive download figures).
We were left in no doubt about how important XBLA is to Microsoft when last year's cynical Xbox Dashboard update bumped it to a dusty, out-of-sight corner from its previous position of prominence in favour of things like Netflix, LoveFilm and Muzu, whatever that that last one may be. Fair enough: XBLA developers and publishers don't pay Microsoft vast amounts of money to get on Xbox Live, and therefore don't need to be repaid by a constant spam-level battering of consumers reluctant to start paying for services they don't want. But it's a slap in the face that the really good stuff, which consumers do actually want, is hidden in the Xbox Live equivalent of a broom cupboard, somewhere behind the carpet-sweeper and underneath the boxes of bleach.
Sony, meanwhile, waited for everybody to get used to the rather clumsy PSN acronym, before decreeing that the PlayStation Network should become the Sony Entertainment Network, thereby achieving the seemingly impossible by generating an even less memorable acronym. To be fair, that move never came close to being as cynical as Microsoft's, since Sony actually has non-gaming content companies churning out music and movies and now, more than ever, it needs to pull together as a company.