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The Big News Countdown: 20-11

Part one of our look at the most important stories we've covered in the past 12 months

No matter who you ask, 2008 was probably the most important year for the videogames industry to date. It saw the biggest growth in revenues globally, not to mention key merger, acquisition attempts, publisher failings and studio collapses... and then there's the economy.

In a look at the twenty most important stories of the year, here we feature numbers 20-11 on the list, and look at how they developed. The top ten will be published tomorrow.

Number 20: Guitar Hero Heroics

Although neither Guitar Hero nor Rock Band were originally released in 2008, both franchises continued to impact the industry as more and more people talked about the accessibility of peripherals and the value of attracting new audiences to games.

But they also continued to make a splash financially, so at number 20 we're featuring two of a number of stories that reported on the business success of the respective franchises.

First up, Guitar Hero revenues passed the USD 1 billion mark, just 26 months after the game first launched, while it was subsequently revealed that Rock Band earned developer Harmonix a hefty USD 208.7 million bonus on its sales performance.

And it wouldn't be the only comparison drawn between respective publishers Activision and EA over the course of the year...

Number 19: PS - The PSP

It's clear that 2008 wasn't 'The Year of the PlayStation Portable', not by a long shot - although the handheld did see some good sales weeks in its native Japan. But the Sony console was notable in the news on a few occasions, and not always for the right reasons.

Back in June, Ubisoft's Rob Cooper voiced the opinions of many when he labelled the PSP as "directionless," and urged Sony to act, while shortly afterwards SCEE president David Reeves admitted that the platform needed more games to boost its interest among core gamers.

However, as new Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida later pointed out, the company considers that there's a long life left in the hardware yet, a move underlined by a hardware revision later in the year - the PSP-3000 - with another update apparently set for next year.

Number 18: EA's Online Gambit

But we're not talking about the much-discussed launch of Warhammer Online - although that was a story under consideration for the top 20 list, it didn't quite make it. Instead we're talking about the announcement and beta launch of Battlefield Heroes, significant because it heralds a change in direction for the publishing giant.

By publishing a mainstream title utilising a microtransaction system - not yet something commonplace in the subscription-heavy West - the company also fired a warning shot to its retail partners in the process.

How the game will be received is yet to be seen, but the significance of such a player making such a move shouldn't be underestimated.

Number 17: The Ensemble Goes Quiet

Following the separation of powers between Microsoft and Bungie in 2007, it came as something of a surprise when the Xbox 360 manufacturer announced that it would be closing down first party developer Ensemble Studios early in 2009.

The studio had a long and successful history in the industry, most notably with the Age franchises, but will now close its doors after RTS title Halo Wars ships in a couple of months' time.

Shortly thereafter the future for both UK stalwarts Lionhead and Rare were questioned, but MGS boss Phil Spencer was quick to reassure both companies that they were safe... for now, at least.

Number 16: E3 Falls Flat

Long considered the most important videogames event on the calendar, following complaints on cost and a radical downsizing in 2007, the 2008 circus returned to the LA Convention Center.

Except, it wasn't so much a circus as a low-key gathering of trade specialists, horribly dwarfed by the surroundings, and largely bereft of any real passion or excitement.

Cue numerous execs clamouring for change, and several predictions of the ultimate demise of the event - to be followed later in the year by promises of said change for the 2009 event.

We watch and wait with anticipation.

Number 15: NCsoft Feels the Pressure

Korean's online super-publisher, NCsoft, has been an optimistic place to be in the past few years, but as its native MMOs failed to gain further traction in the West and the great hope - Tabula Rasa - fell flat, it became apparent that the company needed to make some changes.

Sadly those changes hit hardest in the offices in Europe and US, with multiple layoffs followed by the formation of a new NC West company brand. Projects were also abandoned in the process.

The sorry tale saw NCsoft financials make for sad reading, and the only remaining option was to fire Richard Garriott - the man behind Tabula Rasa - off into space as punishment.

Number 14: Home, Sweet Home...

When PlayStation Home was first announced by Sony, the gaming world took note, and as with anything made by the iconic hardware firm, details on launch couldn't come soon enough.

Unfortunately the project took rather longer than was intended, and the news earlier in the year that Home's release would be delayed was greeted with dismay.

Finally the online virtual world platform was released earlier this month, although still in beta form, to something of a critically lukewarm reception - but Sony's adamant that it will continue to evolve the offering in 2009.

Number 13: Wow'd Again

It seems every year since World of Warcraft launched has belonged to the all-conquering MMO, and from Vivendi's point of view, the annual billion-dollar revenues probably backed up that argument.

But in 2008 the game passed first the 10 million active subscriber barrier, then the 11 million mark, and then broke sales records with the launch - albeit later than originally intended - of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

The game shows no sign of slowing down, four years after it first saw the light of day, and it's also laughed off the challenges of Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. It's probably put off anybody else from trying to even think about starting to concept initial planning on anything remotely resembling a fantasy-themed MMO...

Number 12: New Experiences And Stuff

Microsoft's Xbox Live has done a pretty good job of connecting console gamers to each other, and transforming the online multiplayer market beyond all recognition (Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and so on).

But the Blades weren't cutting it in the post-Mii, pre-Home world, and Microsoft wanted to do more to make its platform attractive - so it charged Rare with the task of creating new avatars as part of the New Xbox Experience.

The biggest usability changes are yet to come, with functionality to take your avatars into games on a wide scale, but there are glimpses of the sorts of things Microsoft has planned in that area. Will it change the online experience to the extent that the launch of the original service did? Very unlikely, but it does add a new dimension to the evolving platform, certainly.

Number 11: The House of Lara Crumbles

2007 ended with a huge amount of speculation on who the mystery bidder for UK publisher SCi/Eidos could be, but not long into 2008 and the whole thing came tumbling down.

Firstly the approaches were rebuffed, then the management team quit at a point when the share price had lost the vast majority of its value.

The SCi story for the rest of the year seemed to constantly revolve around who would be buying the company next, with Warner Bros - a strategic partner - seemingly the hot favourite.

But as the year draws to a close the publisher - now renamed Eidos - is still walking its own line, and the period of uncertainty seems set to continue.

The concluding part of this countdown will be published tomorrow.