Decade in Review – Part 1 Available Here
Earlier, I listed out five critical moments of the decade that helped shape and define the video game industry. I discussed the rise of downloadable content (DLC), the end of console exclusive arrangements and the industry shift to digital distribution. While these three points are on many lists, I included Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Sony’s PlayStation 2 (and its fulfillment of the 10-year cycle). I hope these picks are diverse and touch on various monumental points. While a decade is indeed hard to surmise with a mere top 10 list, I hope my selection spurs a discussion of what other people think should have (or not) been included. Onward, ho!
#5: Video Games Beat Hollywood Soundly in 2007
In 1999, SEGA confirmed that the Shenmue project cost approximately 70 million US dollars over the course of its seven-year production. Back then, that kind of figure was absolutely unheard of! In fact, that figure still boggles the mind – think of how much Shenmue‘s real value is if you factor in modern day inflation! Nowadays, it’s commonly accepted that Triple-A games have production budgets that rival Hollywood films, with matching marketing campaigns. Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 cost between 40 and 50 million US dollars to produce; now add that to a marketing launch budget of 200 million US dollars! With budgets like that, it was only a matter of time before video games would have the gross sales to match that kind of spending power.*
2007 was the year for video games. Blockbuster heavyweights like Bungie’s Halo 3, Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy were released in tandem. They went public alongside risky, new IPs like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, 2K’s BioShock and BioWare’s Mass Effect. Those are just games that I’m listing right off the top of my head – I know there are tons of noteworthy gems that I didn’t add. This was the debutante party for video games, demonstrating that it had the consumer clout to trump other entertainment industries by the billions. Sure, Hollywood could boast about 9.68 billion US dollars in domestic revenue, but by the same token, the video game industry had already raked in 17.9 billion US green ones.** Based on the quality of titles released and the significant sales figures, 2007 marks the year this industry could no longer be regarded as an up and comer – it heralded video games as a legitimate powerhouse.
*Figures taken from http://most-expensive.net/video-game
**Figures taken from http://blogs.pcworld.com/gameon/archives/006324.html and http://cbs2.com/entertainment/Movie.Revenue.Hollywood.2.1360123.html
#4: Penny Arcade and its Influence
Penny Arcade started out as a webcomic series on video games and gaming culture, fostered by the dedication of its creators: Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. The real kicker is what Holkins and Krahulik enacted following their success. They gave the gaming masses two fantastic movements worth supporting: Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) and Child’s Play. If you’re deeply entrenched in the video game community, surely you will have heard of at least one of these two gems. Why are Penny Arcade’s contributions so significant? Quite simply, it revealed the communal and humane qualities of gamers.
What PAX set out to do was unify all gamers (tabletop, console and computer) in celebration of this growing culture. Created in 2004, PAX has grown in leaps and bounds; PAX 2009 took over the Washington State Convention and Trade Center to accommodate attendees – a grand total of 60,750 people! And this year marks the first time PAX will be held outside Washington with the advent of PAX East 2010. Conventions aren’t your thing? Penny Arcade has something that may fit your charity needs of helping out fellow gamers and generally raking in good karma with Child’s Play. Founded in 2003, Child’s Play sets out to improve the lives of sick children through donations of toys and games to hospitals worldwide. It’s a shame this charity doesn’t get nearly as much coverage in the gaming community considering what it has done to refute mainstream media’s tendencies to vilify the industry. Since its inception, Child’s Play has raised more than 6.7 million US dollars! Who wouldn’t want to get behind that? Scrooges, disgruntled folk and embittered souls need not apply. Considering all the good Penny Arcade has done for the gaming community, it deserves a nod of respect (and appreciation).
#3: Nintendo’s Rebirth
By 2002, Nintendo was “The Sick Man of Video Games,” even facing heavy antitrust fines by the European Commission. However, instead of going down the lane of has-beens, the company completely revamped itself to eventually dominate the industry. While the casual market has always been there, video games were not quite as accessible (or interesting) to the broader audience. Nintendo changed all that when they introduced both DS and Wii to the masses. The company outdid Microsoft and Sony, with the Wii selling more units than the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 (combined) within the first half of 2007 alone!
While Nintendo’s products are certainly not for everyone, even facing derision from some segments of the gaming community, no one can deny what a powerful effect the company has had in the past decade. It not only managed to successfully grab the elusive market of casual gamers, both the Wii and the DS became some of the biggest products to ever hit the public. Nintendo truly understood how to pull in groups that are outside what most consider the core gaming market, from female audiences to more senior segments. Essentially, Nintendo opened the public’s eyes to make video games more socially acceptable with entire families playing together as opposed to sitting on the couch to watch a movie. In addition, Nintendo expanded its products to become more lifestyle oriented, introducing Wii Fit. Instead of facing strict competition from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo carved its own niche to sit comfortably on its throne as overlord of the casual gaming populace.
#2: World of Warcraft … ‘Nuff Said
Do I really need to explain why Blizzard’s World of Warcraft deserves a place on this list? Almost everyone must have heard of this game by now! And if you haven’t, I’ll presume you’re living under a rock … in Antarctica. More than half of the world’s MMO subscribers play World of Warcraft, boasting about 11.5 million subscriptions a month!* Blizzard commands a massively loyal following, able to host their standalone annual convention, BlizzCon, to a sell out crowd.
Blizzard created quite a stir with Starcraft, but it never transcended video games quite like World of Warcraft did. Cue commercials featuring Verne Troyer, William Shatner, Mr. T and Ozzy Ozbourne. How about the inspired South Park episode, “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” receiving an Emmy nod? Felicia Day’s The Guild, a popular web series inspired by her addiction to World of Warcraft, has quite a cult following. For many, it’s more than just a game, but an engaging community that spans across the globe. The mere fact that World of Warcraft trumps the GDPs of most developing countries in the world is a testament to its power. The scary thing is it’s only going to get bigger.
*Figures taken from http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2008/12/world-of-warc-1
#1: Xbox LIVE
PC gamers, PlayStation 3 enthusiasts, Wii fans … before you decry my choice, I will proceed to explain. No, the Xbox 360 doesn’t get a spot because of its absolutely atrocious history of faulty hardware. Rather, I’m bestowing the top spot to Xbox LIVE, the online component, because it really has changed the way gamers interact. Microsoft may have released awfully manufactured consoles, but it got the community aspect down pat. Everything about the online service is clearly streamlined, tapping into online resources that provide an experience that’s more than just about gaming.
At first, I was skeptical about Microsoft’s mission to make Xbox LIVE a central part of a gamer’s lifestyle. Midway through the decade, I was a convert. Gamertag profiles are really an integral part of the experience, from customizable avatars to gamerscores for bragging rights. Earning game achievements was a real breakthrough, inspiring competitors to provide similar features. While the online gaming experience is not nearly as awe-inspiring compared to PC counterparts, Xbox LIVE has over 17 million subscribers, creating a strong community network. With the addition of Netflix, social media applications (such as Facebook and Twitter) and Zune programming, Xbox LIVE has robust interactive elements. The allure of Microsoft’s online service is how it incorporates a diverse range of features to become more than just a gaming console, but an entertainment and lifestyle hub.
Jinkwell’s final say: This list was actually frustrating because I wondered how I could condense critical periods of the past decade. For every moment I included, I realized that there was another I had to unfortunately cut from the list. Keep in mind that these are my selections, and a catalyst for fellow gamers to discuss what they believe should, and should not, have been included.