The thing is, I realized that AAA $60 games were a huge disappointment for me this year. I bought a handful, played them, and enjoyed them but looking back on the year I realize that they didn't truly do anything new. My favorite 3 AAA titles this year were Arkham City, Assassin's Creed Revelations, and Skyrim. They were all sequels with incremental improvements but none of them were truly groundbreaking.
For me the best part of 2011 were all the indie games. Oh my god, the indie games. I've seen them grow by leaps and bounds in the last few years. With the rise of Steam, XBLA, PSN, and downloadable games in general indie games are gaining the attention of the wider gaming community. The indie developers were the true innovators this year.
My favorite game released in 2011 was Bastion from the small team at Super Giant Games. It gave storytelling an interesting twist with voice over in a world barely holding together. That combined with an interesting art style to make the most memorable game of the year for me. Super Giant Games tried new things and succeeded.
Bastion was awesome, but all the other games that surprised me with their innovation this year also came from indie developers. Minecraft, Frozen Synapse, Atom Zombie Smasher, Tiny Wings, VVVVVV, SPAZ, and countless others I haven't tried. Not to mention all the Humble Indie Bundle goodness that keeps coming our way. These games are not only innovative, they are also much cheaper than the traditional $60 asking price. Most of the games I just listed are in the $5 to $15 range.
My hopes for the future of the gaming industry no longer lie with the big name developers. They're going to do what makes them the most money and stick to the tried and true. Instead, I'm looking to the little guys, the start-ups, the independent developers who want to push the envelope and try something new. That's what I learned this year.