Roundtable: The Games That Defined This Generation

As we prepare for next-gen, the GamesIndustry International crew looks back fondly on some of the biggest innovations of the last eight years

No disrespect to the Wii U, but after eight long years, we're finally about to get true next-gen consoles. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, some believe, will usher in a new era of innovation in gaming. Meanwhile, from a business standpoint, the fact of the matter is that the bulk of industry sales this holiday will actually come from last-gen software. And for many gamers, the Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii will remain hooked up to the living room TV for quite a while longer.

Sales may have dipped in the last few years, but the last generation of gaming has been an incredibly productive one for the industry, yielding whole new forms of gameplay, introducing new technologies, and even luring back lapsed gamers or inviting new ones into the fold. Whether it was motion control, voice recognition, plastic guitars, more robust online functionality, massively single player titles or something else, the industry produced one of the broadest spectrum of experiences for just about anyone interested in gaming.

With that in mind, the GamesIndustry International staff decided to take a look back at some of our personal picks for games that defined this era.

Matt Martin: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

I'm that guy you look down upon because he laps up Call of Duty games every year. I'm there on day one and I've usually pre-ordered a special edition. It's not a guilty pleasure, it's simply a pleasure.


Modern Warfare was a revelation for me, where Infinity Ward threw out the WWII formula it had cultivated from PC to console and went boots-deep with a new bombastic gung-ho spectacle. This is a video game series that set the bar and by which every other first-person shooter is measured. Call of Duty is the closest a first-person shooter gets to a sports game on console. It's a yearly purchase alongside FIFA and Madden for millions of gamers who want the epitome of triple-A console gaming.

I live in a remote part of Wales where the pub has closed down and there's no shops, cinema or sheep to kick for miles around. At the weekends I play Call of Duty, chew meat and drink alone. Sometimes I can't remember when I last left the house. I've played through the campaign three times on Veteran. I know it in my head, step by step; the cold calculated murder of Death from Above, the tension and panic of One Shot, One Kill and the inevitable nuclear end of Shock and Awe.

And I've lost hours in multiplayer. I'm that douchebag spamming grenades and camping, running through buildings with a knife, calling in the airstrikes, getting killed more than I kill and laughing when I trigger my own Claymore mine. I'm an obnoxious gamer when I play and you'd hate me. I love Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

James Brightman: Guitar Hero and Rock Band

I've played a lot of great games in the last 7-8 years, but nothing was more addicting for me than the guitar games. For at least a couple years in a row, I simply couldn't get enough. While you may have felt stupid the first few times you tried to use what was basically a plastic toy to "make music," the end result was deeply satisfying. Trying to perfect some of the toughest sections on expert mode reminded me of the scorching difficulty of some of the games in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. You played until you were developing carpal tunnel syndrome and your fingers were practically bleeding, but darn it, you had something to be proud of in the end! Or occasionally, you wrecked a plastic guitar in frustration...


At its most base level, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games gave gamers, especially those who didn't play any real musical instruments, a way to rock out while knocking back a few beers, and better yet, it was an experience that even so-called "non-gamers" could appreciate and get into. Social gatherings and parties centered around these games were commonplace, and it got even better when you found "band members" who could drum with precision and sing in the right key.

Yes, it was ultimately a fad, but it was a damn good one. It was a nice feeling to be able to share our passion with the outside world. The industry is often far too insular. Harmonix and RedOctane deserve a ton of credit for helping it to branch out.

Brendan Sinclair: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

My game of the generation was there from day one, a twin-stick shoot-'em-up available from Xbox Live Arcade for just $5. I think the story of this generation was that the console makers didn't have the foresight to create the systems needed to satisfy gamers' demands, so the last eight years were an improvised hack-a-thon as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo made their boxes do things they'd never been intended to do.


Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was everything the industry didn't foresee. As everyone was wringing their hands over skyrocketing HD development costs, they were blind to the consumer demand for smaller, simpler games. While Microsoft seemed ready to give Live Arcade all the support of an Xbox Live Indie Games (or worse, the original Xbox's Live Arcade), the success of Geometry Wars quickly changed that, touching off a race for AAA publishers to pad their numbers with smaller downloadable titles and created a thriving digital storefront with broad reach that would be key for the current indie revolution.

There have of course been other trends the consoles fumbled to come to grips with--user-generated content, social integration, alternative business models--but those came later. Geometry Wars was there on day one, and it set the tone for the entire generation.

Rachel Weber: Skyrim

Stick me in a horned helmet and called me Dovahkiin, because obviously Skyrim is mine. My boyfriend and me, sat in two separate rooms, adventuring in our pyjamas and shouting encouragement to each other over the roar of furious dragons. We've rarely been happier.


Because that was the other thing, it felt like the gaming community all went mad at the same time. We all stumbled into work late because we'd been up until 3am looking for Pantea's Flute, we checked Reddit guides to make sure we were smithing at maximum efficiency, we told stories about our horse falling off a mountain when we were in the pub. (I'll never forget you Swiftwind.)

And you can stop giving me that look, Mr Indie, I've had some fun with you this generation too (who hasn't?) but this was an all you can eat buffet of magic and wonder, an MMO without the horrible humans messing it up, a game that could have you fighting giants one minute and agonising over whether to drop the charred skeever hide or the troll fat the next. When I look back over the hours I've spent in the world (and we're talking hundreds of them at this point) it's the game I've spent more time with than any other. What else matters?

Dan Pearson: Minecraft

Before I start talking about why Minecraft has defined this generation for me, I should make one thing clear: I haven't really played it much.


Sure, I bought it, back before it was a big deal even - because I'm cool like that. I've mucked about a bit with it, digging holes and building shoddy cabins. I've found iron and made hats, watched the sun rise and bullied sheep to death. I've lusted after diamond and found only coal, died a thousand times in a lonely pasture far from home, but it never really clicked.

It was the first game that really made me think I might be getting a bit too old for all this, a craze that was passing me by for want of understanding. And then my mum started talking about it. That's what makes it a generation-defining thing, for me. Yes, it radically shook up the industry's view of developer publisher relations, pioneered a game-changing new business model and empowered a thousand indies with its cachet and poster-boy bankroll, but for the majority, that's by the by.

What it did, what makes it a microcosm of the last seven years in gaming more completely than any of those other reasons, was take a niche game from a tiny company - an epitome of nerdiness and insular engagement - and turned it into a global phenomenon, a household name which is a byword for creativity, community and enjoyment.

That process, of bringing what was once seen as a slightly shameful, mucky habit into the daily lives of millions, that democratisation of gaming, is at once the most important and disruptive process of the industry's recent history. Minecraft wasn't responsible for that, but it's damn hard to think of a finer example.

Latest comments (15)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
Speaking for Uncharted:

After seeing Indiana Jones 3 in 1989: why can't games be like that
After playing Uncharted 2: why wasn't Indy 4 like that?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Klaus Preisinger on 14th November 2013 6:37pm

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
That "true nextgen consoles" argument looks sillier by the day as we see these "nextgen" games offer little leap over our previous experiences. Some no leap at all. Sub-1080 resolutions accompany sub-60 framerates. Visuals are indistinguishable to most gamers without sticking the games side-by-side. Maybe you guys should show a little more professionalism in your intros here?

As for games defining the last generation, I understand there are a limited number of you and thus limited numbers of choices, but not one of you thought to bring up Wii Sports, as the game that actually did define gaming that generation? It was single-handedly responsible for every bit of market expansion we had this generation (as will be apparent during the massive shrink back to PS2 industry size levels this gen without that driving force).
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz5 years ago
Ah, you're just what I expected Nicholas! I actually noted to another staffer, "how much do you want to bet that someone says something because there's no Wii Sports?" These were personal choices, by only 5 people so it can't possibly encapsulate everything. If we wanted to do an editorial on all the games that helped define the last gen, then yes, absolutely Wii Sports would be in there.

As for true next-gen, sorry but Wii U is far underpowered compared to PS4. It's not as noticeable on day one (you rarely see anything that great to push a system at launch) but in another year or less, the differences will be more noticeable. That doesn't take away from Wii U - the games from Nintendo will still be tons of fun, but there's a clear difference in hardware.
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Show all comments (15)
WiiSports was easily the biggest. Biggest selling, sold a console, and forced Sony & Microsoft to counter with their own motion control systems.

If you are talking about the "favourite games from our editors" - then sure ;). But games that defined the last generation? Article is completely wrong IMO.

Leaving WiiFit out would also be terribly wrong. Another game that spawned a genre, and lots of follow up titles across all consoles.

Guitar Hero/Rock Band I totally agree with btw - its the same.


As for "WiiU is underpowered" - so what? The XBone is underpowered compared to the PS4. Maybe you should totally discard that as well. As a WiiU developer, I can tell you two things with total certainty: The WiiU is much much powerful than people imagine in their perception ... and the gap between the WiiU & XBone is much, much smaller than the gap between the Wii and PS3/360.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
+1 Michael. Came in here to mention Wii Sports. The only reason I bought a Wii, the only thing I ever really played on it, and still don't regret the spend.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
No game defined last generation more so than did Wii Sports.

CoD: Modern Warfare deserves to be on the list. The game itself isn't the greatest but it did write the narrative for the majority of what became of games on PS3 and X360.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band also deserve a place on the list though I'd probably give the nod more to Guitar Hero by itself. Rock Band was very much a 'me too' reaction to Guitar Hero. Without GH, you wouldn't have RB.

Wii Fit, as mentioned by Michael is another title that opened the door to a whole new market segment. Brain Age sits in the same category but to a lessor extent.

I'm sure something on Facebook and mobile should be here as well. Farmville and Angry Birds, I suppose. Each really defined their respective platforms.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
@ James As others have pointed out here and in previous articles, if you define generations by power then you have to draw lots of arbitrary lines. Sure, the gap between the Wii U and PS4 is fairly significant, but so is the gap between the Xbox One and the PS4, and the gameplay benefits afforded by this new technology are yet to be seen. So no, you can't say "true next generation" just based on a higher processor speed.

The PS4 was under-powered to even a mid-high end PC before it ever hit the market. That doesn't make it not a new generation of systems. The 3DS is barely more powerful than a PSP, but it's certainly in a new generation, and features more original experiences than you'll find on the more powerful Vita.
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Neow Shau Jin Studying Bachelor in Computer Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia5 years ago
It would be the Mass Effect Trilogy for me. No matter how it ended, it told a story that spans 3 games across almost the entire generation.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany5 years ago
It would be the Mass Effect Trilogy for me. No matter how it ended, it told a story that spans 3 games across almost the entire generation.
You saved me from writing that exact same thing. No game before made me feel so much.
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James Ingrams Writer 5 years ago
Same ol' same ol'/. You can almost predict what games will be mentioned! Yawn!
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Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 5 years ago
For me it's Assassin's Creed that deserves some praise, specially the Ezzio saga. Having been in Rome in person and then visiting it as Ezzio was something amazing. Unlike Skyrim and most other open world games, the locations (Florence, Venice, Rome, Istambul...) felt like lived in, credible and breathing places. Also, Ezzio rules!

Honorable mentions to Uncharted for the sense of spectacle, Mass Effect for the huge story and great characters, and Journey for showing how people can cooperate kindly without killing anything
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It will be interesting with the long gaze of history, if not GTV, COD and Battlefield are seen as a defining games of two generations, proving the cross-over from Gen-7 to Gen-8 was nothing more than a low benchmark in the console industries drive towards oblivion. Players so engrossed in games that offered so much on existing hardware that they did not need to consider 'upgrading' to gen-8?

That now we see with the respective hardware launches a move away from last years claims of "unparallelled graphical performance" to a much more humble claim of "great performance". I look to Nintendo JP towards how the console industry will play the next phase of business - licking their wounds over the failure of the Wii-U, Nintendo has already started to think on how the future of the games scene will be defined in a DRM / DLC world!

Defining a generation... the last to own physical media?
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports5 years ago
@Jim, don't forget that Guitar Hero was a Harmonix creation, after Guitar Hero 2 they split from Activation and created Rock Band. I don't think there's any 'me too' in Rock Band, it was the first to provide the full band and arguably superior to every Guitar Hero game that came after. Definitely worth it's place on the list; another great 'non-gamer's game'.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Kieren, I suppose you could say it was a spiritual successor to Guitar Hero. However, that wasn't the first time the people behind Guitar Hero ripped off their own stuff. Red Octane originally provided a peripheral guitar for a game series called Guitar Freaks. They later took the guitar, tweaked it to 5 buttons rather than the original 3 and pitched the whole Guitar Freaks concept to Harmonix....hence Guitar Hero.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
@Michael Shangar: Is Nocturnal planning on making a Wii U game any time soon? As a fellow Wii U owner (Wiiiii! there are two of us here!) I'd LOVE to see something from you guys, as I like that you're not automatically punching the system in the neck like some who want to see it sink like a solid lead balloon. Yeah, I smack Nintendo around with some tough love myself... but it's out of respect. I want the darn thing to start getting some more games that it needed to have earlier or at least by now...
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