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.
Nintendo: Short supply, long demand
Nintendo never seems to make enough to go around. Whether it's the NES Classic Edition, Nintendo Switches, or amiibo*, the company has a long track record of acting surprised when people want to buy its products. Such was the case 10 years ago, when Nintendo's newest system the Wii was still tough to find on shelves some six months after its launch.
That prompted Nintendo to ramp up production of the system, and in April of 2007 a spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz the plan was to put out 14 million systems in the system's first full fiscal year on shelves. It's interesting to note here that for all the scoffing GameStop received recently for suggesting that the Switch could eclipse the success of the Wii, Nintendo reportedly just doubled its previous Switch production, and now expects to churn out 16 million units of its latest console in its first full fiscal year on shelves.
That said, right now people are only saying that Switch will be hard to get through the 2017 holiday season. In the wake of the Wii launch, analyst Billy Pidgeon was saying that the Nintendo Wii would be in short supply until 2009, more than two years after its debut. (He was basically right about that, too!) It will be interesting to see just how long this kind of demand for the Switch lasts, and what Nintendo can do to extend that period as long as possible.
*Except for Animal Crossing amiibo, of which Nintendo apparently believed every living person would need at least a dozen.
Strike up the Rock Band
It's about time for a Behind the Music episode about Guitar Hero. We're at the perfect point in the VH-1 documentary series' template. We've of course already had the stunning rise from humble beginnings (a 2005 PlayStation 2 game with an expensive peripheral demoed in a booth in the E3 black market that was Kentia Hall). There was the overnight success and the stunning breakup, where publisher and peripheral maker RedOctane sold out to Activision while developer Harmonix sold out to MTV. There was a year or two of successful feuding between the two sides before the scene imploded and they both found themselves on the outs, and to wrap up the episode, we've just had the middling comebacks that had essentially no relevance or financial success compared to their glory days, but still pleased enough of the diehard fans to give us a passable happy ending for the episode.
10 years ago, we were just hitting the big second act of the story with Harmonix and MTV's announcement of Rock Band, which would expand on the Guitar Hero formula by adding drums and vocals, and would use the resources of new parent company MTV to secure original recordings for most songs, where Guitar Hero had often relied on cover versions.
Guitar Hero's initial counter punches to that bombshell were a bit soft. Activision contracted a studio to bring Guitar Hero to mobile phones, and then publicly downplayed the Rock Band premise as too complicated.
"I would say that the beauty of Guitar Hero is its simplicity and its elegance, and when we think about adding other musical instruments in there, that's going to make the experience a lot of fun, but it can also make the game a little bit more complex," RedOctane president and co-founder Kai Huang said. "So what we want to focus on is all the great features of Guitar Hero, what makes it really fun and simple for everybody to pick up, and we think we've got some great things that we're working on in that respect."
Guitar Hero III's new features hadn't been detailed at the time, but Huang suggested that instead of introducing drums and vocals and a four-player mode, the company was considering releasing a high-end wooden guitar controller. Activision would ultimately come around on supposed complexity of the full-band set-up, as the following year's Guitar Hero: World Tour added drums and vocals to the franchise. That high-end guitar controller Huang mentioned would also become a reality thanks to Logitech, which launched the $250 peripheral in late 2008.
A less enlightened time
The games industry has had no shortage of trash fire controversies in recent years, which I think has made it easy to overlook just how much progress we've made in some specific areas. Take marketing, for example.
We don't have to run headlines like "Sony to conduct internal inquiry following dead goat incident" anymore just because someone felt it was totally on-brand to make a freshly decapitated goat a centerpiece of the God of War II launch party. We also don't need headlines like "I-Play plans Sexy Pillowfight event" about mobile gaming trade events featuring women dressed up as cheerleaders and French maids swatting each other with bedding because we've ever-so-slowly come around on the idea that this kind of shameless spectacle is simultaneously embarrassing and alienating to a significant portion of the customer base. We don't have CEOs of major publishers crowing about their new game's bra-and-panties mode in a trade-focused interview.
Of course, we still have tasteless games ranging from lasciviously goofy to concerningly creepy or philosophically abhorrent. If anything, we've got more of them than ever. The big difference now is there's no longer hand-wringing about big box retailers refusing to sell them thanks to digital distribution. The result of these trends is that people who want tasteless games can get tasteless games easier than ever before, and people who don't want tasteless games don't have to see their favorites sold as if they were. It's a rare win-win for gamers!
A sprint down memory lane
- Happy 10th birthday (kind of) to Blizzard's hit Overwatch!
- Blitz Games was years ahead when it came to the VR resurgence. Shame the studio didn't live to reap any rewards from it.
- Bethesda bought the Fallout IP for $5.75 million. We can assume it's worth substantially more today.
- At the risk of brutally mixing metaphors, Sega got in on the ground floor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and somehow managed to miss the boat on it all the same.
- Even though most of Sega's Marvel games flopped critically, I really enjoyed Sega's Incredible Hulk movie game and its fully destructible New York City dotted with landmarks like Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, Daredevil's law offices, and Dr. Strange's house.
- And the game's quick travel just had Hulk duck into the subway! Always loved the idea of a giant green monster calmly packed on the Seventh Avenue Express, all the other jaded riders doing their best to avoid eye contact.
- OK, I gotta go hook up the 360 and find that Hulk disc now. Until next month!