To say that it's been something of a busy year would be a bit of an understatement. When December 2009 brought last year to a close, the games industry was riding on the crest of the largest monthly sales wave it had ever seen. 2010 was expected to be a killer year, full of promise, maximising the potential of that wave and delivering an emphatic message to all doubters everywhere that video games meant serious business.
Sadly, at least in sales terms, that was not to be. The 13% year on year deficit that hit in January didn't really go anywhere, and dreams of the industry catching up to 2009's fiscal standards withered as the year went on. But, sales be damned! The stats and figures hardly told the true story of 2010 - a schizophrenic year that saw plenty of name-calling and smack talk, new players and fierce competition, a resurrection of which Lazarus would have been proud and, of course, a boatload of blockbusters.
There's been plenty to shout about this year, and gaming has made a lot of noise around the world. Supreme Court hearings in the US, a victory of sorts with the MA-17 rating granted in Australia, Hollywood heavies turning to games for inspiration. The launches have been huge, the hype surrounding certain titles enormous. Steam's come to Macs everywhere, publishers have declared war on used games, and gaming got compared to huffing cocaine.
Here are just a few of our highlights from the past twelve months:
The Activision vs EA Soap Opera
Dear god this one was fun to watch. As Infinity Ward celebrated Modern Warfare 2's huge success in November of last year, who would have thought that a year on it would be previous punchlines Treyarch sitting pretty as Kotick's new golden studio, that Infinity Ward would be a husk of its former self, and that the latter's lead creatives would have rebooted over at EA. First of all the momentum in the presses were firmly in favour of West and Zampella, everyone likes ragging on a huge corporate behemoth. But as the drama began to unfold - all clandestine meetings, secret helicopter trips, broken promises and unpaid bonuses - with accusations flying from Activision to EA and back again, it became the bad smell that wouldn't go away.
Activision have won some (Blops vs. MOH), EA others (Rock Band 3 vs Guitar Hero 6), and both have acquired some notable new talent. All eyes will be kept peeled to see what both Respawn and (in a surprise move) Bungie bring to the table in the new year.
Glasses-Free 3D...From Nintendo
Here at the Dealspwn office we're remaining resolutely sceptical about 3D and, impressive though some of Sony's grandiose previews were, we saw very little to change our minds on that this year.
Then Nintendo dropped a bomb. In a year that saw Ninty bear the brunt of the fiscal dip, with sales massively down on both the Wii and DS (although surely there can't be that many people in the world yet to own a DS), the Japanese giant turned things around with a trundling hype machine. It started off as a vague press release, eliciting litle more than the odd shrug. And then E3 happened and suddenly people had 3D in the palm of their hands...without the need for glasses, and with a long list of third parties lined up to help make it a success.
We got very excited about it indeed. But, of course, there were others waiting in the wings too...
A Very Good Jobs Indeed
No one really predicted that come the current generation, after two console generations spent playing second-fiddle to Sony, that Nintendo would rise, phoenix-like from the ashes to dominate proceedings so very triumphantly in both console and handheld markets. But two things changed that this year, and in the case of the latter it was clear that Apple weren't going away any time soon.
Capitalising on the popularity of the iPhone, and looking to offer something a little snazzier than Amazon's Kindle, the iPad was born. Hampering what was, in essence, a fabulous piece of hardware with the crippling mobile OS rather than a modified version of OS X meant that the iPad really was just a larger cousin to its mobile predecessor. It didn't seem to make much sense...until you played games on it, that was.
The popularity of the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad show no signs of dwindling any time soon, and with good reason. The App Store offers some fantastic gaming experiences at little to no cost, and has become a haven for indie developers in as much as it has a headache for larger publishers. There are still concerns over whether or not artists truly receive the compensation they deserve on the platform, and the low price point has been frowned over by many an analyst.
Interestingly, for a year that ranked commercially lower than the twelve months it followed, 2010 proved to be a bit of a stonkingly good year for Microsoft's hardware sales, with NPD reporting in OCtober that they were up 34% on those of 2009. Sony enjoyed hardware success too, both of which almost certainly came at Nintendo's expense. Four years on from the Wii's launch at the Big Two had finally joined the motion control party.
We've said repeatedly that it doesn't pay to compare Move and Kinect directly. Lumping the two together critically is something we've tried to avoid, but the prospect of a three-way motion control battle going into 2011 is a very real one indeed, each with different tactics. Microsoft have actively tried to stick a wedge into Nintendo's monopoly on family gaming, attempting to rid the Xbox of its FPS-centric tag and have it a appeal to a wider sphere. 2.5 million sales in the first 25 days for sub console that appeared unfinished says a lot. Things are probably only going to get better for Kinect too as developers get to grips with the hardware.
Sony took on Nintendo at their own game, offering more precision, more accuracy and, of course, HD graphics, allowing for integration into core games. A friend of mine related how his girlfriend's mum - a table tennis player who'd won tournaments in her heyday and had never picked up a games controller in her life - simply thrashed all comers (including the highest AI setting) in Sports Champions.
But though the touchpaper has been lit, will MoCon's flame burn as brightly for Sony and Microsoft as it did for the Wii's first couple of years? It's possibly too early to tell, but with both Sony and (especially) Microsoft pledging a certain amount of focus on Move and Kinect respectively next year, there's not going to be any hiding from it. And we're pretty sure we're going to be relating our own increasingly embarrassing anecdotes and videos to you even more in the coming months.