Monday, December 28, 2009

Obligatory Year-End Post '09

I was considering repeating last year's roundup of five things awesome, five things lame and five things for the next year. But I also wanted to look back on the '09 predictions, and the culmination of all this would be too much overlap and too many words. Instead, I'm just going to look back at '09 and forward to '10, perhaps with some tangential thoughts drizzled in.

2009 Astern

Free-to-play didn't gain much prominence. Current F2P games remained so, and few new ones made much of a splash. Dungeons & Dragons Online went free-to-play, which may save the game from withering in WoW's shadow. Battlefield: Heroes is unimpressive at best. Runic is saying they're going to create a Torchlight-inspired F2P MMO, so there might still be a chance of F2P catching on in the west.

Wow, embracing the Wii definitely didn't happen. While there were some true gems (Little King's Story, House of the Dead: Overkill, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories), 3rd parties haven't seen much success on the Wii. There isn't a single simple reason: the confluence of a blizzard of shovelware, a poor understanding of the audience, WiiWare never really hitting stride, general marketing misfires. All have contributed to a lack of 3rd party success on the Wii. Can this be turned around in 2010? Your guess is as good as mine but there's still a real monetary opportunity here for the publisher that nails it.

While Brütal Legend didn't receive accolades from all sides, I found it fantastic. The world, the characters, the love and deep appreciation for the material more than outstrips the somewhat noisy and unfocused gameplay for me (much as Psychonauts did, really). It's one of my favourite games from last year, no question. I couldn't have predicted it, but I'm working on DeathSpank now. Still a little surreal, but god damn, I've learned a lot. That's almost a post by itself.

Mobile games haven't really integrated into the real world. Not surprising, but still a shame. I think there's a lot of potential here. Still shocked someone hasn't done this with an iPhone game yet.

Did '09 surpass the mark set by '08? I ... don't know. There weren't any moments of blazing glory, but there were some very, very competent games. Sequels doing what sequels should (Left 4 Dead 2, Assassin's Creed 2), bullseye executions on a licensed IP (Arkham Asylum), excellent ideas that didn't quite deliver (Scribblenauts). It was definitely an interesting year. Maybe having more weird but awesome moments is as good as a handful of brilliant games that everyone acknowledges.

2010 Off the Bow

Single A and the PC

The momentum had been building for a while, but 2009 is really when the "single A game" proved viable and distinct. And those successes have largely been on the PC. From Zeno Clash to Machinarium to Torchlight, there's clearly a space for highly polished but smaller scope games to deliver extremely compelling experiences. XBLA and PSN contribute as well, but the freedom the PC allows provides even more potential for single A games in 2010. And while some AAA games still soar on PC (e.g. Dragon Age) and others are PC games by necessity (MMOs, RTS), I think we'll see a growing divide between large AAA games that are primarily console-focused and single A games launched on PC.

Spring 2010 is the new Xmas 08

Ye gods, there's a mess of (hopefully) excellent games coming out in the spring of 2010. I fear we'll have flashbacks to when Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Fable 2, Little Big Planet, Mirror's Edge and so many more all came out in a 6 week span. It will murder our free time. But hopefully sales will still be strong and we'll get one step closer to laying the "must ship for the holidays" thing to rest forever.

Motion controls? Middling.

Microsoft will release Natal, Sony will release their ... wand-thingie and they will be okay. They won't revolutionize gameplay from here on out and unless Sony or MS really hits on a killer app, they'll remain somewhat niche. There will be a few interesting and clever games, a lot of clumsy, optional motion controls added to core games and that's about all. But if it means the current console generation stays on the field a few more years, that's a wholly commendable accomplishment even if nothing else comes of it.

DeathSpank - Game of the Century

Or at the very least, you'll be able to play it and laugh. It'll be the first game I've shipped (the previous title I was working on was canceled) and for me, that's tremendously exciting. Hopefully we'll hit our mark and you'll be able to appreciate our labours.

And that's it for 2010. It's going to be another exciting year and one I'm greatly looking forward to. But it's also quite murky, so it will be interesting seeing how things shake out. I'll see you all on the other side.

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Blogger Steve gaynor said...

I hope that single-A games will become more prevalent next year, but I wonder if it really will stay mostly on PC. I can see a trend of single-A games starting out on the PC, getting buzz, then only really being successful (financially, numbers-wise) once somebody picks them up for the move to XBLA/PSN (as Atlus is doing with Zeno Clash, for instance.) Some single-A games (Torchlight as you mention) seem to do plenty fine PC-only, but that one's a very classically PC-native genre entry. Alternately you could look at games like Shadow Complex or Flower as single-A, and they're console exclusive and I think both fairly successful. I wonder how Braid would have done if it had been on PC first then console, not the other way around.

Basically I think that console is the breakout platform for any given title and I hope that single-A games become a major part of that landscape as well.

December 28, 2009 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Steve Perhaps, I think that largely depends on the resources available though. Believe you me, there are a lot of hurdles to putting something on XBLA/PSN that do not exist on PC. Flower and Shadow Complex might be a bit misleading, since they had the massive engines of Sony and Epic respectively moving things along. Without that, things can be much rougher, e.g. how long it took Trine to hit PSN even though the game was completely done and it was waiting on Sony.

There are advantages to targeting console download, especially being able to target just one known hardware configuration. I remember Jon Blow saying that's a big part of the reason he did Braid on XBLA first. And if you can get in MS/Sony's good graces, they can definitely give a marketing boost.

Steam has more users than either XBLA or PSN and doesn't have any onerous certification hurdles (nor does the game require initial approval at all). And if you can sell it on your own site, you can keep 100% of every dollar, instead of sharing it with MS, Sony or Valve. You can do pre-orders, sales, package deals, etc. Hell, 2D Boy made over $100,000 by just saying "Pay what you want for World of Goo."

Smart folks with sufficient resources will just make everything as multi-platform as possible (I'm totally singing the Hothead company song on this one, but I do believe it). With the consoles, you get stability and a more captive audience. With PC, you get freedom and the ability to experiment. Hopefully a combination of both will provide the right cocktail needed to see those single-A games really flourish next year =)

December 28, 2009 at 8:49 AM  

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