It was quite a decade for video games – new systems, new technologies, and new demographics all took part in making our beloved digital entertainment a market powerhouse. But what ten events truly shook the world of gaming in the 00s? Here are my picks.
10. The Dream Is Dead – A good deal of the 90s was defined by Sega. It managed to do the impossible and actually beat Nintendo during the early part, and everyone knows how they spectacularly dropped that ball/passed the torch to Sony. Things ended on a high note with a promising new system that many believed was the key to Sega return to prominence. Yet when the Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001, despite having a developer friendly platform and software that should have appealed to everyone under the sun, we all the knew the world had changed; it wasn’t enough to be a tiny little company that just makes video games, but a mega corporation with vast resources that goes beyond all that. For many, the world of gaming has never been the same, and not in a good way.
9. Video Games Saved The Radio Star – The music industry’s steady decline began well before the new century, but things were flat-out hopeless once 2000 rolled around. Why buy music when you can easily download it or free, especially when its older stuff that you already paid for in the past? The introduction of the iPod and Apple Music Store somewhat helped, but it wasn’t until games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero came about that many musical acts, especially aging ones, found themselves able to hold off on selling that last mansion. But more importantly, the kids of today were able to re-discover music from a time when it was actually good, plus there’s now the potential of new starts to be created from this new economy. Surely you’ve all heard that Aerosmith made more money from that one GH game than all their records combined. The fact that the greatest rock band of all time recently got their own game is simply the icing on the cake.
8. Hot Coffee – The video game sex scandal that rocked America. When traces of an unfinished mini game involving intercourse was discovered in GTA: San Andreas, politicians and religious nuts had a new poster child to help expound upon the evils of video games, who had previously concentrated on the blood and gore. Though part of the hilarity was the game’s creator, Rockstar, which had always maintained an air of edginess, who bold face lied to the public by claiming that it was all the work of some PC game hackers, until game save and cheat tools were used to unlock the mode in the consoles versions. Everyone’s a corporate monkey in the end it would seem, plus Americans are still uptight about sex. Though it should be noted that there’s sexually lewd acts in the recent GTA4, which have hardly raised anyone’s eyebrows, but that might have more to do with the game’s lack of popularity these days more than anything else.
7. The Red Ring – Consoles have always been tricky things to operate. Surely anyone who owned a NES has had to blow the inside of a cart to get it working. And technology has marched forward, the problems that they can bring to the table have also become bigger and badder, especially when it comes to gaming. Yet that’s still not much of an excuse for owners of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the constant hardware failures. The highpoint were reports that around 32% of consoles produced were destined to die, with others claiming as high as 60%. The kinds of problems are simply too numerous to mention, other than they’re annoying to deal with, as well expensive, as Microsoft’s poor customer service was on par to their poor hardware design. And unfortunately they’re not the only ones: during the early days, PS2s used to drop like flies and even Nintendo, who normally makes rock solid systems, have had issues with the Wii.
6. The Ultimate Entertainment Hub – When CD-ROM came about in the 90s, console makers were trying to figure ways to make their game playing machines the ultimate entertainment hub for the entire family, but no one could figure out a way. Until Sony struck gold with the idea of incorporating a DVD drive in their PlayStation 2, as well as including the option to watch movies during the format’s earliest days. Why did the Dreamcast die all of a sudden, despite the rich library of titles? Why did everyone and their moms by a PS2 despite the fact that the early crop of games looked and played like complete garbage? Because the system was a far cheaper solution to dedicated DVD players at the time (never-mind if they weren’t quite as feature rich or good), plus it allowed one to play older PSone games, both of which appealed to cost and space conscious parents in droves. Many argue that the DVD format would not have taken hold as it did without such a move.
5. “Oh Man, It Sucks Over Here” – That’s essentially what Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man, said earlier this year at Japan’s biggest industry event, The Tokyo Game Show. And truth be told, it’s what everyone has known for some time. Japan used to be the place where everyone looked upon for blockbuster games, as well new ideas. But for a variety of reasons, that just ain’t the case these days. For one, folks in Japan are not playing traditional games as much, which is forcing certain designers and publishers to aim at a very specific audience, or in some cases the lowest common denominator to make a buck. It’s why there’s schoolgirls in virtually everything, even when it’s not appropriate. While the economy in America has been crap for a few years now, it’s been like that almost forever in Japan, though now that games are more costly to produce that ever, it’s forced many companies to either merge or just throw in the towel. Also, given how it’s always been a commuter-based society, it’s hardly a shock that cell phone gaming has taken such a strong foothold, now that cell phones are on par with consoles to various degrees. Hence why the DS still tops the PS3. Though most telling is how the best ideas these days are coming from the West, yet many in Japan are not taking heed, even though they honestly should. It’s hard to say if things will turn around, but thus far, it would seem that the damage has been done.
4. The Rise Of The Independents – As just noted, traditional consoles require lots of time and manpower to create just a single game. Also, tons of money, to the point that video games have indeed become the new Hollywood. And whenever something becomes too big, there’s always some little guy to prove them wrong. In recent years, some games have gone back to their roots, those created by small teams or sometimes just one person, like it used to be. These offerings are often smaller and more manageable, though most importantly, far more fun that the 900 hour epics we see on the big machines. Plus they help to remind us why we got into video games in the first place.
3. Number Three – For seemingly forever it’s been a two-man battle for video game dominance. Sure there’s been three way wars, but it’s always been two big guys fighting for the gold and someone else trying their best to stay noticed. But the past decade has seen three power players vying for dominance, all on equal footing, which has been practically unheard of. Even crazier is how this third party is American and even getting the upper hand in many respects. I’m talking about Microsoft, which managed to do the impossible by simply sticking around. Among the many accomplishments under it’s belt: wisely offering the internet on a platter for those who prefer sitting on couches, while simultaneously resurrected the very idea of the arcade and making gaming a social thing. They also saw the best that American game designers had to offer and gave them a platform they were comfortable with, hence why American games are kicking the butt of those from Japan, as also previously noted. Granted, it’s hardly a perfect picture (see #7) but the fact MS has managed to stick around and make such waves in amazing.
2. The What? – The Wii. Nintendo’s latest console has been a game changer to say the least. Unable to compete with MS and Sony in a battle of the better tech, Nintendo wisely realized that more and more former gamers were calling it quits, and plenty of others who had yet to hold a controller, due to the increasing complexities involved in what’s still essentially fun and games. Jaws were dropped and fists raised, as folks were no longer able to play Zelda like the way they used to. But it doesn’t matter, since everyone’s too busy playing Wii Sports, the one game that everyone loves to play, regardless. And everyone as in EVERYONE; by appealing to the unwashed masses, the Wii has managed to best the powerhouses of the PS3 of Xbox 360 via pure mindshare alone, which means more than actual hardware numbers at the end of the day, like it or not, and also introduced new methods of play. Granted, Nintendo seems to be the only ones making decent games for the system, and even then their efforts are often debatable (its almost impossible to find anyone that actually enjoys all the waggling in New Super Mario Bros Wii), but the Wii is the wave of the future, again like it or not.
1. Internet, LOL! – Easily the biggest thing to happen to video games during the past ten years. Hell, it’s changed everything, but its greatest mark has been left in gaming. For starters, and MS certainly helped that ball to start rolling with the 360 and couch gamers, but online gaming on the PC finally cemented itself as the spiritual successor to the arcades of the 80s. But the internet hasn’t just changed how we play games, but how we acquire them. Traditional distribution channels are being left in the dust as folks are using the web to nab new titles, which many of them would have never gotten on the shelves of GameStop in the first place. It’s also changed how we receive and process information; the web has killed print across the board, but the effect has been especially devastating for game magazines, with only about three on newsstands today, as compared to the thirty or so ten years ago. Who needs to read some print editor’s regurgitation of a press release when you’ve got a 14 year old on a message board offering his unbiased view of whatever screenshots 2 seconds after it’s left the publisher’s office? And the web has both shrunk the world view of gamers (remember when Japan was this exotic place with wacky games you only heard about? well now that you can read about anything via wikipedia and blogs, the allure is certainly not there anymore) and expanded it as well (thanks to YouTube vids of random hijinks or places like Etsy that highlight wacky game inspired creations).