On paper, the year 2000 was a great start to the decade when it comes to video games. It was the year that ushered in the arrival of the PS2, and hype around new efforts by Microsoft and Nintendo started to build and build.
But in reality… well, let’s just say it was more of a transitional year.
Culturally, it wasn’t the nation’s – or indeed the world’s – best. In the UK, the year’s biggest-selling single was Bob The Builder’s ‘Can We Fix It’. Big Brother made its debut and gripped a country of braindead TV viewers.
In a wider, global sense, text messages hadn’t even hit ubiquity yet. Hell, it was the year Americans voted George W. Bush into power (or didn’t vote him into power – it depends on who you ask).
Back in games, there was a similar struggle. Coming off the back of a strong Christmas 1999, an over-saturated games market saw Sony lower royalty rates so publishers could slash prices on PSOne software (at that point it was still just ‘PlayStation’) to maintain consumer interest.
And boy did they have to keep punters interested – the much-hyped launch of the PS2 was pencilled in for the end of the year, after a sell-out March debut in Japan.
Did the building hype behind the PlayStation 2 kill off the only other 128-bit console on the market, Sega’s Dreamcast? Arguably, the smaller-than-today console market only had space for one or two suitors. The idea of four formats (if you included the Nintendo Dolphin, which wasn’t announced until later in the year) seemed ridiculous.
Read on for more on the ramp up for PS2, the demise of Dreamcast and Hasbro Interactive, and the unveiling of of a little-known device that back then we all called ‘X-box’…
THE ARRIVAL OF PS2
JANUARY 2000: To keep PlayStation interest amongst consumers and industry alike high, Sony started to introduce a new sliding-scale of royalties for PSX software.
MARCH 2000: The cut prices for software licences caught on – and it wasn’t long until PlayStation games started appearing at £9.99 and even £7.99.
MAY 2000: Buoyed by mass-market software sales, Chris Deering threw down the gauntlet to new rival Microsoft and old foe Sega. He said PSX had sold almost 30m units in Europe – and that PS2 had even bigger potential.
JUNE 2000: But it didn’t take long to sour all the good feeling over pricing and hardware. Sony confirmed that PS2 was proving so popular that its next console would only be available before Christmas 2000 via a special customer order-only scheme.
AUGUST 2000: It got worse later in the summer. First Sony admitted that exchange rate fluctuations meant PS2 hardware prices would rise (sound familiar). Then the old favourite tabloid 'Rip-off Britain' headline reared its head over the £299 RRP. Plus, if further proof were needed that everyone wanted a piece of PS2, DVD porn barons said the device's movie playback was perfect for them to grow their market. A nation of schoolboys rejoiced…
NOVEMBER 2000: The situation got worse before it was going to get any better: Just days before launch, Sony admitted that Europe's allocation of PS2 consoles had been cut.
DECEMBER 2000: But it was all worth it – the PS2 arrived as arguably the first fevered games hardware launch in Europe. 60,000 units were sold in a day in the UK, with 70,000 in both France and Germany - Sony was expected to have sold 1m in total within the next month. Dreamwhat? Xwho?
X MARKS THE SPOT
Xbox didn’t launch until late the following year, but Microsoft used the start of the decade to herald its move into games hardware with a big reveal of the new console at the 2000 GDC.
By September, 156 publishers and developers were officially backing the console, even though Sony’s PS2 was waiting in the wings for its Western launch. In fact, Microsoft was so eager to court developers it even tried to poach Phil Harrison from Sony to help spearhead negotiations with third parties.
Still, developers had plenty of time to make games for it – just weeks after the PS2 launched, MCV revealed at the end of 2001 that Europe wouldn’t actually be getting the console until early 2002.
THE DREAM STARTS TO END
Sure, Sega actually pulled the plug on its last console Dreamcast in 2001, but in 2000 the writing was on the wall. ‘Sega frustrates consumers’ yelled one MCV headline. ‘Sega admits slowdown’ screamed another. ‘Dreamcast re-think’ we revealed towards the end of the year .
And when in November the firm said in a financial statement that it might consider ‘becoming an online network and content company’ the local teams went into damage limitation mode, saying they were still committed to hardware and retail. All despite the fact stores left right and centre were slashing the price to get someone – anyone – to buy a machine instead of the sexy new PS2…
DEATH IN TOY TOWN
In a Big Media sense, further proof 2000 was a transition year can be seen in the demise of Hasbro Interactive – one of Hollywood’s first attempt to conquer games.
Clearly the attention games had from outisde the industry was dying down and (surprise!) it turned out releasing dross licensed software didn’t guarantee a profit.
Hasbro’s games business was folded into its toy firm, as the company considered a sell-off. It emerged the publisher had lost a then-ridiculous $170m in two years only after the firm admitted defeat and that it was planning to sell of assets.
EA rolled up with its cheque book to pick through the ruins, but left empty-handed, leaving the spoils to Atari/Infogrammes. (EA did get the last laugh though: after one of Atari’s many mid-decade missteps, it eventually scored the EA Hasbro publishing label in 2008.)
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Games marketers – they are a clever bunch, aren’t they? They know how to build hype, position a title and create targeted market appeal. Or sometimes they do the weirdest, mind-boggling things. This one definitely falls into the latter category. Faced with marketing the latest Worms game, did THQ choose to sensibly promote its iconic British-made invertebrate heroes? Of course not – instead it pictured some poor sap having a 20-foot flesh-spaghetti-monster torn from his arse. Er… Even now, ten years later, we think it’s a bit strong.
MEET THE NEW 'BOY
Today leaked, detailed pictures of new hardware and brands might be more common than ever – but in the year 2000 it was almost unheard of. So how’s this for an odd story: With buzz building for PlayStation 2, momentum switching from Dreamcast to Xbox, and next to no-one really bothered about the GameCube (then codenamed Dolphin), Nintendo obviously felt a bit left out. So, not to be undone, it sent these renders of the ‘next-gen Game Boy’ to MCV.
2000: The Top Ten Games
1. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (Eidos)
2. Pokemon Yellow (Nintendo)
3. Gran Turismo 2 (Sony)
4. WWF Smackdown 2 (THQ)
5. Pokemon Red (Nintendo)
6. Pokemon Blue (Nintendo)
7. WWF Smackdown (THQ)
8. FIFA 2001 (EA)
9. Toy Story 2 (Activision)
10. The Sims (EA)