2009 Retrospective: A Look Back at the Year of Gaming
Written Friday, January 01, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Being inquisitive human-beings, what’s the first thing we do now we’ve ushered in the new year and 2010 is upon us? Simple, we look back. We can’t help it, we’re very reflective creatures, and there's nothing better than spending the first day of 2010 looking back at the last year of gaming. There’s plenty of time ahead to look forward, so for today, we’ll look back at the gaming year’s highs and lows. Just how successful was 2009?
Mirror's Edge, a casualty of 2008's busy fall period.
From a personal standpoint, I believe that 2009 was a year of recovery. Not only was the world embroiled in its worst depression for a few decades, but the gaming industry took a hit in 2008 for its lop-sided Christmas and fall schedule. Too many quality titles in such a short release window meant that many titles were getting over looked, especially new IPs that would have blossomed at other points of the year – we’re looking at you Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge. 2009 almost seemed like somewhat of a cautious affair with publishers weary of making the same mistake twice which is why we saw so many fall 2009 titles slip into Q1 2010.
2009 was a good year for gaming though, but it admittedly wasn’t the greatest. That’s not to say we didn’t see a handful of this generation's greatest titles, but across the board, you could count them on two hands. 2009 for us will always be the year of the DLC. Games like Fallout 3 and GTA IV saw some of the biggest and most sustained post release support that we’ve possibly ever seen and even games like Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider Underworld were keen to get in on the act. Pricing definitely seemed like the stumbling block from our perspective with the vast majority over charging for a few hours experience (Saint’s Row 2 was one of the main culprits here), but that's to be expected whilst publishers find their feet and get the right balance.
It wasn’t all DLC though and 2009 saw its fair share of great games including Assassin’s Creed 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Modern Warfare 2, Forza Motorsport 3, The Beatles: Rock Band, Arkham Asylum and Resident Evil 5... which all scored 90 or above on X360A this year. Of course, there were many more impressive and great games (including Borderlands, Magna Carta 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 (88, 88 and 87 respectively), but that was the crème de la crème. Still, after totting up our review scores for 2009, the average score was still only 73 (across 86 reviews). Hardly inspiring stuff, but fortunately you don’t have to play all the crap... because we do it for you.
Trials HD, as epic as it is frustrating.
Those 7 90+ must-buy games though are spread across multiple genres and surely out of all of them, there is a triple A game there for everyone. Whether you like racers, music games, shooters, action adventure games, RPGs, horror survival games, 2009 had you covered. Even if you loved sports games, the vast majority of sports games shot above an 80 last year, well, the EA ones anyway. What's that? You’re an Xbox Live Arcade fan? Well you were covered there as well with Shadow Complex, Trials HD, Monkey Islands: SE, Peggle, Splosion Man and Battlefield 1943. Again, something for every audience near enough. It’s no 2007 though (the best year of gaming so far in my opinion), but it was still a bloody strong year.
How did Microsoft and its exclusives fare? Well, not too brilliant... compared to 2008 anyway. Sure, ODST was a great game, Halo Wars was impressive enough and Forza 3 was simply stunning, but after that, nothing worthy of a mention. They may have all sold well, but compare that to Sony and there were more reasons to pick up a PS3 than an Xbox in 2009 as Sony released Killzone 2, Uncharted 2, InFamous, Demon’s Souls, Katamari Forever and Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time in 2009 alone. Microsoft have already stated that they put their eggs into the Modern Warfare 2 basket, a move that paid off in terms of units shifted (2 Xbox 360 copies sold for every 1 PS3 version sold), but hardly a move that’s going to tempt in new 360 owners. I think you'll even find that those that purchased the Modern Warfare 2 Elite Bundle were already 360 owners who just upgraded.
2009 wasn’t just a good year for games, it was also a big year for trade shows and we were there covering the major ones. For Aleks and myself, this year was our first E3 and whilst the press conferences were a tremendous spectacle, the relatively quiet show floors didn’t quite prepare us for Europe’s new trade show; GamesCom. I’m not sure we’ve got a bad word to say about GamesCom... no, we don’t. Everything seemed a lot bigger than E3 and whilst it didn’t quite have the same blockbuster announcements, the party atmosphere on the show floor attracted just shy of a quarter of a million people. Not bad going, huh? It seemed like Cologne was a great choice for Europe's trade show relocation and I encourage everyone to check it out if they have the chance next year. Of course, we were there for PAX this year as well and some unfortunate bugger caught swine flu, but hey, don’t let that put you off joining us on our community pilgrimage out there next year (remember, September in Seattle, WA).
Twitter, part of Microsoft's social networking initiative.
Microsoft’s dashboard initiative last year was fuelled by the internet’s current favourite buzz words; “social networking.” 2009 was the year that Microsoft tried to spearhead their Xbox Live service with the addition of Facebook, Twitter, Last FM and the Zune Marketplace. To anyone who’s not tech savvy, that might sound like a major coup, but in reality, the service was confined to the dashboard and despite what they’ll tell you, they aren’t as successful or well implemented as any of us had hoped. The UK also said a big hello to the Sky Player, but due to high subscription costs, this is another area that is surely underperforming and an underwhelming addition. It’s not all tepid though, 2009 was also the year that the service saw the underused but neat introduction of the avatar Awardables and also the free-to-play MMO quiz, 1 vs. 100, which is a welcome distraction if you’re looking for a more chilled out evening.
It wouldn’t be a 2009 retrospective without looking at what 2009’s fall period could have included... *deep breath*... Splinter Cell: Conviction, Bioshock 2, Red Dead Redemption, Mafia II, Max Payne 3, Dark Void, Bayonetta, Alan Wake, Perfect Dark XBLA, Serious Sam HD, Ghost Recon 4, I Am Alive, Alpha Protocol, Singularity and Blur, are all games that slipped to 2010 despite confirmation of a 2009 release... and I’ve probably missed a few as well. Even worse, that’s just the 360 and multi-platform titles too, throw in Starcraft II, MAG, Red Steel 2, Heavy Rain to name but a few from other platforms, and that’s a whole lot of delayed games right there. The delays are surely a result of the 2008 fall and holiday period that I touched on before and it could be another year or so before we have a balanced release schedule (Q1 2010 is just crazy!).
So whilst 2009 wasn’t the greatest year the industry saw in terms of overall quality and year-on-year sales were down 12%, if you pick apart the figures however, you’ll see that core games sales were up 17% in the last six months (Xbox 360 & PS3 titles excluding music titles). That’s partly down to the Modern Warfare 2 making Activision a boat load of cash in November & December (over half a billion in its first week), but so long as core game sales are up (the market we cater for), 2009 can be seen as a successful year. Not only was it successful in terms of great titles, strong new IPs and a rise in sales figures, but for us as a site, we gained 33% more users from January to December. We’d consider that a tick in the win column.
Join us tomorrow as we look forward to what 2010 will bring.