Games Industry 2010: A Hard Look Back

Games Industry 2010: A Hard Look Back

2010 is staggering around and coughing up its lungs. It deserves its rest; it’s been a busy year. But now it’s time to let 2010 die on the cold ground while we look back and contemplate what the year taught the games industry.

There’s little reward in supporting the Wii as a third-party developer, especially with “mature” games – This is so sad, but true. Third-party developers just can’t make profitable successes out of their Wii games, and it’s not for a lack of trying. UbiSoft’s Red Steel II, a critically-acclaimed first-person shooter/beat-em-up for the Wii, sold 270,000 copies worldwide. Not bad, but far short of the one million units UbiSoft had initially hoped to sell (on the flip side, UbiSoft is one of the few third-party successes on the Wii, thanks to the popularity of the Just Dance games). Red Steel II‘s lukewarm sales is just one story out of dozens about third-party games for older players that should have succeeded on the Wii, but simply fizzled.

Granted, third party developers have had a hard time getting noticed on the Wii from day one, but 2010 carried a kind of finality to it, an unspoken message from developers that they just weren’t going to bother with the Wii anymore after seeing the moldering piles of failures from past developers in past years. The system belongs solely to Nintendo, which is a blessing and a curse. 2010 saw some of the Wii’s strongest titles ever, including Super Mario Galaxy 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, but those were all from Nintendo and studios close to Nintendo, like Retro. Nobody can compete with Nintendo, and at this point, it seems like third parties are done with trying.

No more bloody plastic peripherals – Three game franchises that were once worth unspeakable amounts of money–Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Tony Hawk–are now in the toilet. Rock Band 3 and Guitar Heroes: Warriors of Rock tanked this year, and Tony Hawk: Shred, which featured a plastic “skateboard” accessory, sold 3000 copies in its first week. It’s all fun and games with molded plastic guitars and drums until someone realizes they need that space for the new love seat.

But it’s not the end for music games in general. Folks are dancing the night away with Dance Central for Kinect, and Just Dance for the Wii. We might even see a resurrection of instrument-based games, but 2011 isn’t going to be that year.

Motion controls aren’t just a fad – When the Wii exploded in 2006, skeptics crossed their arms over their chest and said, “Motion controls won’t last.”

In 2009, they shook the cobwebs from their folded arms and said, “Yep! It’s going to come down any time now!” as Nintendo enjoyed one of the most profitable years in its history.

The success of the Kinect and the PlayStation Move in 2010 prove that the market for motion control-based games isn’t as furiously hot as it once was, but there are still a considerable number of people who are willing to flail into video games instead of sitting passively on the couch. And for the most part, they enjoy themselves.

The Japanese industry: Adapt or Die – Nintendo, based in Japan, is still hugely influential in the games industry. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that when a top-tier developer like Shigeru Miyamoto says, “I have an idea,” Nintendo listens very closely. Other Japanese studios, however, are falling behind Western studios in terms of quality output. The reasons for Japan’s downturn are numerous, complex, and range from cultural reasons to an over-industrialization that has stifled creativity. Former Capcom old-timer Keiji Inafune (the man behind much of the Mega Man series, and the producer of the Dead Rising games) delivered a jolt in 2010 when he quit Capcom in October to “start his life over” with his own studio. Even before he quit, Inafune was not shy about airing his discontent over the state of the Japanese industry: He often criticized the country for making terrible games, and for failing to keep up with Western development.

Japan is not a country that’s known for adopting change with open arms, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fixes its ailing games industry through 2011. Will more developers like Inafune speak their minds and start something new? Or will they slip into a void of black pixels?

Handheld games can compete with regular consoles – The big exciting thing at E3 2010 was the unveiling of the Nintendo 3DS. The 3DS packs some power, but its hardware is obviously not able to compete toe-to-toe with the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. It is, however, more than capable of competing with those consoles for people’s time and dedication. Moreover, Nintendo knows it’s not the only peddler in the handheld gaming market anymore: Apple, and to a lesser extent, Sony, have gripped their pieces of the pie, and won’t loosen their hold anytime soon. Nintendo is prepared to take them all head-on–especially that one guy with the glasses and the sweater.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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