The games industry moves pretty fast, and there's a tendency for all involved to look constantly to what's next without so much worrying about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past. So to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on our field's history, GamesIndustry.biz runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.
Halo 3 floods the news cycle
It's hard to convey just how all-consuming the hype for Halo 3 was in 2007. It was the first Xbox 360 installment in Microsoft's flagship series. It was Bungie's first chance to iterate on the online multiplayer experience it created three years prior in Halo 2. A significant number of people purchased a separate full-priced retail game in Crackdown just so they could get into the Halo 3 multiplayer beta test. When it comes to pre-launch hype, that puts Halo 3 in the same rarefied air as Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid 2, demos of which were bundled with Tobal No. 1 and Zone of Enders, respectively.
The hype was palpable throughout the games media, and GamesIndustry.biz was no exception. During September of 2007, we ran 20 original stories with Halo in the headline. There were stories about preorder records, broken street dates, online leaks, and midnight launch plans. And midnight launch plans. Seriously, there were a lot of midnight launch plans. Are you kidding me with this? Apparently I greatly underestimated our readership's thirst for midnight launch plans.
There was talk of Sony attempting to "spoil" the Halo 3 launch by cutting the price of the PS3. We had an editorial about "the phenomenon" that was Halo 3. The press release section of the site we maintained at the time was similarly overcome with Halo fever, and headlines that ranged from confusing to idiotic.
And after all that hype, what is Halo 3's legacy? It wrapped up the initial trilogy of games, and was the last mainline installment developed by Bungie before the studio gained its independence from Microsoft and used that precious freedom to make another multiplayer first-person shooter franchise in a sci-fi setting. It didn't revolutionize the genre on consoles like the original, nor did it codify online multiplayer like the sequel.
If you look at Metacritic (I know, I know), it's just another Halo first-person shooter that performed worse than its predecessor but better than its successor, another step in a slow degradation for the franchise that continues to this day. (2009's Halo 3: ODST is the lone exception to this, as the narratively ambitious spin-off from Halo 3 was knocked harshly by critics, giving it the lowest score of the franchise's original first-person shooter entries.) I'm not saying Halo 3 was a bad game, simply that it didn't justify the hype.
This sort of total eclipse of the industry doesn't happen to this degree quite that much any more, and we're all the better for it. As the industry has grown and diversified, it's much harder for any one game to take up all the oxygen. And when we do see titles that become irritatingly inescapable even for non-players, the hype typically comes not from pre-release marketing, but from the success it earns and the enthusiasm it generates among players once it's out in the wild.
Just look at League of Legends, Clash of Clans, Minecraft, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, or Pokemon Go. As someone who no longer has to write the sort of stories that were linked above, I owe a debt of gratitude to the games-as-a-service model for keeping games like these alive and relevant beyond their launch window, and giving journalists more interesting things to cover than midnight launch plans.
Activision's interest in the studio behind Project Gotham Racing made perfect sense. While Bizarre had some experience in other genres (it created the Xbox Live arcade twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, for example), the studio's racing pedigree filled a very clear gap in Activision's portfolio. Analyst Michael Pachter was practically pencilling them in for an annualized racing franchise reliably selling 1.5 million copies.
Unfortunately, things didn't play out that way. The studio's only racing game under the Activision banner was Blur, which launched in May of 2010 and played a bit like the Mario Kart series but with the whimsy replaced by licensed sports cars. It flopped, and as soon as its next game, James Bond 007: Blood Stone, came out that November, Activision began the process of shutting the studio down. The publisher blamed the closure on the market, saying that during the three years since the acquisition, "the fundamentals of the racing genre have changed significantly."
Evolution's story has been a little happier. Even though Sony already had a top-notch racing studio in Gran Turismo creators Polyphony Digital, it put Evolution's expertise to good use. After its acquisition, Evolution produced three MotorStorm titles for the PlayStation 3 (with the last one also on Vita), and managed to get Driveclub out the door before Sony decided to pull the plug on the studio in early 2016. However, Codemasters came through with an 11th hour acquisition of the team, giving Evolution a new lease on life.
Elsewhere in gaming...
- Reggie Fils-Aime, Sept. 15: Good news, everyone! Unprecedented Wii supply this holiday season!
- Reggie Fils-Aime, Oct.1: Good news, everyone! Not nearly enough Wii supply this holiday season!
- On a related note, good luck to everyone hoping to buy a Super NES Classic, which is apparently only "available" this holiday season.
- Blizzard's Mike Morhaime warned developers that giving players real-world financial incentives would hurt their games. If only someone had told him that, uh..., later?
- Dead Space was part of EA's big push for new IP, along with fellow dormant properties Skate, Hellgate: London, EA Playground, Crysis, Boogie and Army of Two. Incidentally, EA's holiday slate this year has Madden, FIFA, Star Wars, and Need for Speed.
- Before the first Rock Band had even launched, Elite Beat Agents developer developer Keiichi Yano was already warning of oversaturation in the rhythm genre.
- Microsoft pulled the plug on FASA Studios, which had just launched Shadowrun a few months prior. One big hook for the first-person shooter was it allowed Windows Vista players to square off against Xbox 360 players as part of Microsoft's on-and-off push for cross-platform play that continues to this day.
- There was a lot of chatter about potential suitors for Eidos parent SCi. There were also reports that Square Enix was looking for a partner to help expand its business outside of Japan. Hmmm...
- Happy 10th anniversary to Ubisoft Chengdu, which has been working on Assassin's Creed: Origins, Skull and Bones, and Rabbids Crazy Rush!