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"I cannot now imagine a PlayStation 4"

10 Years Ago This Month: A Sony executive shake-up prompts speculation of a departure from the hardware market while errant Wii Remotes destroy living rooms

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, runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.

One PlayStation at a time!

It's not a good sign for your new console when it just launched and people are already wondering how long they have to wait for the next one. The PlayStation 3 hadn't even been on shelves for a month before the PlayStation 4 started grabbing headlines. After a shake-up to Sony's executive ranks that saw Kaz Hirai replace Ken Kutaragi as the president of Sony Computer Entertainment International, Nomura analyst Yuta Sakurai read greater meaning into the news, saying, "The appointment of Hirai could be the start of a shift from hardware to software," adding, "I cannot now imagine a PlayStation 4."

Others in the industry were a bit more imaginative. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter was particularly blunt on the topic, saying, "It is embarrassing that an analyst could reach that conclusion so soon after launch. Sony cannot have made such a decision, and to draw such an inference is foolish." Meanwhile, Evolution Studios head Martin Kenwright said the then-independent developer of Motorstorm already had plans for PlayStation 4. (Evolution would be acquired by Sony the following year. It would survive to see the release of its first PS4 game, Driveclub, but was shut down earlier this year.)

[CORRECTION]: After the planned closure was announced, Evolution was picked up by Codemasters. (We were so worried about what happened 10 years ago we forgot what happened less than 10 months ago!)

The Great Wii Wrist Strap Debacle

The Wii Remote was a very intuitive interface, to the point that it presented a problem. In fact, it was so intuitive that people playing Wii Sports bowling or tennis often didn't consider that their living rooms were not actually bowling alleys or tennis courts, so they probably shouldn't be putting quite as much "oomph" into their movements. This led to a bumper crop of YouTube videos depicting amusing destruction of property and potentially serious injuries, as well as some headaches for Nintendo.

Nintendo clearly understood this was a potential issue, as it included a wrist strap with the Wii Remote and cautioned players to wear it before every game. Unfortunately, the strap didn't seem to be getting the job done, prompting Nintendo to investigate the issue. Shigeru Miyamoto said the company hadn't expected consumers to be so excited when they play and was considering encouraging them to calm down. Meanwhile, Reggie Fils-Aime put the blame on the players, saying users putting the straps on "aren't quite doing it the right way." Shortly after Nintendo acknowledged the issue, it launched a program it explicitly described as "not a recall." Despite insisting there was "absolutely nothing wrong" with the strap and that it was "perfectly safe," the company quickly rolled out a new wrist strap with a thicker cord, and said customers who mailed the original straps back to the company would be given the newer version.

Predictably, between the massive success of the Wii and Nintendo doing everything except openly admitting fault with its product, a lawsuit was filed. It was among the first suit inspired by the Wii's success, but not quite the first. It was beaten to the punch by a company called Interlink filing a patent suit, seeking to enforce a claim on "trigger operated electronic device" intended to substitute for a mouse controlling a cursor. Nintendo has been fighting patent suits related to the Wii for a full decade now.

Humble Beginnings

When news first hits, it's not always clear how significant it will be in the long run. For every obviously huge story like Facebook acquiring Oculus or Activision merging with Blizzard, some of the most significant, industry-shaping events get very little coverage when they happen, if any at all. While much of the news of December 2006 was about the Nintendo Wii and its phenomenal success, a handful of largely overlooked stories wound up being far more impactful than they first appeared.

First up, we have this little bulletin about Sony signing a three-game deal with an upstart indie studio. The name of that studio, thatgamecompany, didn't even make it into the story's headline, because at the time it was considered more noteworthy that the developers were former students at the University of Southern California. The three PS3 games they made--flOw, Flower, and Journey--represent some of the best-loved titles on the platform, with Journey in particular doing its part to push indie games on par with their AAA counterparts, winning a boatload of major awards after its 2012 release, including Game of the Year from specialist sites like GameSpot and IGN to more mainstream outlets like Entertainment Weekly.

Then there was this missive about a new licensing deal between Warner Bros. and SCi Games that saw the media giant invest in a 10 percent stake in the game publisher, while SCi acquired rights to make games based on nearly a dozen Warner properties. According to the headline and strap of the article, that list of properties was led by Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and the teen drama TV series The O.C. Also included in the deal were the rights to make Batman games, which might have understandably been dismissed out of hand considering the character's tortured history of mostly terrible game adaptations to that point.

For the Batman assignment, SCi would turn to the developer of Urban Chaos: Riot Response, which it released earlier in the year to a less-than-riotous response from critics and consumers. Fortunately, that developer was Rocksteady Studios, and it would prove its worth (and kick off an enduring franchise) with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sadly, SCi never published a game based on The O.C.

Finally, this may have been one of the best $1.5 million investments anyone has ever made in games.

In brief

  • This makes me nostalgic for the days when companies had to pay marketing agencies to fake fan enthusiasm. Now they can just pay YouTubers and streamers to fake fan enthusiasm.
  • This partnership didn't pan out as hoped. Also, this line really and truly made sense at the time: "The fact that developers of the stature of Gearbox and Obsidian are involved will be considered a significant show of strength from the one-time platform holder, which appears determined to buck the industry trend of producing low-expectation licensed properties under the assumption that the brand will carry the content."
  • EA acquired Headgate Studios and put them to work on Wii. Unlike most of the company's acquisitions we cover in this column, they're still around! They changed their name to EA Salt Lake, and earlier this year released Secret Life of Pets: Unleashed on mobile.
  • And finally, happy 10th anniversary to Certain Affinity! They've lent their shooter expertise to Call of Duty, Halo, Doom, Left 4 Dead, and even cranked out a few original titles like Crimson Alliance and Age of Booty on the side.
  • Remember, you can find plenty more historical perspective on how far we have come as in an industry in the last decade (or not come, as the case may be) on the @GIbiz10YearsAgo Twitter account.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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