Christmas 2007 was a period to remember for the video games industry.
It was a time of big sales numbers and bar-raising video games that continued to be popular well into 2008, from the record-breaking launch of Halo 3, to the reinvention of the Call of Duty franchise, via system-shifting new IP such as Assassin’s Creed, Mario and Sonic, Uncharted and BioShock.
It was a watershed year, unharmed by the delay of GTA IV.
Fast-forward two years and 2009’s release schedule is looking awfully familiar (see the list of obvious repeats, below), something that’s likely to be met with joy by retail and gamers, and despair by those desperate to grow the industry through the invention of new IP.
On the one hand 2009’s release slate is simply a result of the industry-standard two-year development cycle. And with a recession in full swing, re-creating the circumstances that led to 2007’s record-breaking sales is a safe bet. In fact, it could be the ideal way of pushing gamers and their parents back into video game and entertainment stores in what will prove to be a crucial quarter for retail.
However, what made 2007 such a stellar year wasn’t so much the individual games, but rather the publishers’ and developers’ willingness to take risks. Assassin’s Creed, Mario and Sonic and BioShock are all examples of new IP that the publishers backed with big-budget marketing campaigns. And even established franchises, such as Zelda and Call of Duty were given radical new facelifts – in fact Call of Duty’s modern setting was such a departure that this year’s sequel drops the Call of Duty moniker altogether.
In 2007 publishers gambled, and those gambles paid dividends. It may have been safer for Valve to release the five games in The Orange Box separately, yet by combining them together the firm created a stand-out product that became yet another critical and commercial 2007 hit. It’s surely surprising that other developers haven’t mirrored The Orange Box model since.
The IP Challenge
The fact that so much is expected from Assassin’s Creed 2, BioShock 2, Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games and Modern Warfare 2 says more about what a great year 2007 was, and not what a promising year 2009 could turn out to be.
So it is with slight anxiety that we turned to E3 for the answer to how this year might end. Zelda aside, Nintendo had yet to fully reveal what consumers can expect this Christmas – and two years ago the Nintendo development teams produced crowd pleasers in the form of Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
A new Metroid and Galaxy were there, but that's not for this year. Instead Christmas consumers are braced for New Super Mario Bros Wii and Wii Fit Plus. The original New Super Mario Bros and Wii Fit are among Nintendo's biggest hits of the generation. The sequels make sense... even if its the case of more old IP.
E3 also provided us with the chance to go hands-on with some of the already announced new IP scheduled for the fourth quarter. There are original titles coming, albeit not on the same scale of 2007’s award winners, with games such as Brutal Legends, Singularity, Borderlands, Blur, DJ Hero and Bayonetta due in the latter stages of 2009.
But when you look at the big name sequels scheduled for the fourth quarter, you begin to wonder if these promising new titles can separate themselves from the rest. And you have to ask, with budgets tightening, are publishers willing to take the marketing risks that made 2007 such a sensational year for video games?
RELEASE LISTS COMPARED
Halo 3: ODST
Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games
Modern Warfare 2
Assassin’s Creed 2
Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Tony Hawk’s Ride
Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles
New Super Mario Bros
Metroid Prime Trilogy
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction
The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles
Super Mario Galaxy
Metroid Prime 3