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 will run a monthly feature chronicling the biggest happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.
On the Road to Judgment Day
Sometimes the games industry feels like a surreal alternate universe where the impossible becomes the inevitable. Perhaps never more so than in October of 2005, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB1179 into law. Schwarzenegger, who made his career as an actor starring in some of the most violent (and popular) films of the '80s, passed legislation to fine anyone caught selling violent games to children.
"I'm a big believer in these videogames, I mean they're terrific," Schwarzenegger said at the time. "A lot of them are manufactured in California and they're doing a great job. We just want to make sure that they don't go into the wrong hands or that children under the age of 10 aren't playing those things, because it does have an impact on our children."
A week later, the Entertainment Software Association filed suit to prevent the law from ever going into effect.
California was by no means alone in seeking to impose restrictions on the sale of games. But where other states like Illinois, Washington, and Michigan abandoned their efforts when judges sided with the trade group, California pressed the issue as a moral imperative, eventually appealing it all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional by a 7-2 vote, setting a precedent and effectively shutting down any future discussion of legislative restrictions on game sales in the US.
By that time, Schwarzenegger was out of office and back making violent action movies aimed at the same demographic as most violent games.
While Schwarzenegger was passing violent game legislation, two more titans of the silver screen committed to game-related projects that never panned out, as Peter Jackson was announced as the executive producer for a feature film adaptation of Halo, and Steven Spielberg revealed plans to collaborate with Electronic Arts on three new original franchises.
As seems to be the case more often than not with such projects, things did not go as planned. Originally planned for a 2007 release, the Halo film never made it to production. The Spielberg-EA deal fared a little better, producing the well-regarded Wii game Boom Blox while the other two planned-upon IP never materialized.
The Spielberg deal wasn't the only big news for Electronic Arts that month. October 2005 also saw the publisher reach a settlement in one of multiple post- EA Spouse lawsuits it faced from employees forced to work unpaid overtime. The publisher agreed to pay $15.6 million to settle the claims, and more importantly, began changing the way it treated employees. In 2013, original author of the EA Spouse blog post Erin Hoffman lauded EA for the progress it had made, saying "To me they've learned one of the biggest quality of life lessons in the industry, but nobody really focuses on it."
Arguably the most important bit of EA news from October of 2005 didn't even have anything to do with EA. During the X05 press event to tout the impending launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft announced that it would be releasing an exclusive new role-playing game from BioWare called Mass Effect. This news would only become deeply relevant to the publisher two years later, when EA acquired BioWare and Pandemic in a deal worth more than half a billion dollars. Mass Effect would see release the following month, laying the foundation for what would become one of EA's biggest franchises.
Speaking of that imminent Xbox 360 launch, Microsoft had ambitiously planned a near-simultaneous worldwide launch for the hardware. While that doesn't sound so incredible by today's standards, it certainly wasn't the norm at the time, and Microsoft was clearly having logistical issues with the undertaking.
When analysts came to a consensus that Microsoft would manage to ship 1.5 million Xbox 360s by year's end, Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell cautioned that might not happen, saying industry watchers were "expecting more of a launch spike than we were."
Microsoft VP Peter Moore stressed the difficulty of launching across all major territories in a span of a few weeks, saying, "There's a reason no one has done this before and we are figuring that out," adding, "If we knew what we were getting into, we might not have done it."
Finally, Xbox corporate VP J Allard was blunt in predicting disappointment for retailers and consumers alike when it came to launch supplies. Rather than launch in fewer territories and have enough systems to meet demand, Allard said Microsoft decided "to take a little bit of heat on allocations, frankly, in all the territories rather than take a lot of heat in one or two territories."
He added, "It's never fun to work really, really hard and then get heat from the media, from retailers, from the consumer because we didn't have enough of the things or because something wasn't quite as perfect as we'd like it to be in our execution, but the team signed up for it, because it's the right thing to do."
It may not have been the right thing to do after all. The system probably could have benefitted from more time and testing before launch, as hardware failures in the initial runs of Xbox 360 machines were unacceptably high. After years of customers reporting their systems malfunctioning due to the "Red Ring of Death," Microsoft announced in 2007 that it would extend the warranty for all Xbox 360s to three years at a cost of more than $1 billion to the company.
Finally, we have a long overdue correction to make regarding the accuracy of this headline. The dream was, in fact, dead.
We regret the error.