Review of the Decade - 2004

Ben Parfitt

 

DAILY MAIL SPARKS PR NIGHTMARE


Although Manhunt actually hit in late 2003, it wasn’t until mid 2004 that the Rockstar game grabbed headlines. And not through any volutary choice by the developer’s usual skirting on the edges of controversy.

‘Murder by PlayStation’ screamed The Daily Mail’s front page one day, followed by ‘Ban these evil games’ the next. Rockstar’s game stood accused of being the persuasive force in a tragic murder – and the tabloid wanted to set its own agenda on the matter.



It was also a classic case of the media outside of games not really getting the medium. And of course not letting the facts get in the way of an easy story. Reports claimed 17-year-old murderer Warren LeBlanc was obsessed with Rockstar’s game – but the hearing soon uncovered that it was actually the 14-year-old victim Stefan Pakeerah who owned and played game.

Any links between the 18-rated game and the case itself have since been long quashed, but at the time the whole incident was a public relations crisis for the trade, as ELSPA, retailers and publishers all tried showing a united force against the bad press.

Of course, the discussion around how those gamers under 18 were able to get their hands on adult-rated games wouldn’t rear its head until the sequel to Manhunt arrived in 2007 and in turn sparked The Byron Review…

SEEING DOUBLE


After a disastrous 2003, Nintendo came out fighting to reveal it was working on a new handheld. One with… two screens. It wasn’t an obvious strategy, and initial confusion wasn’t helped by a bamboozling initial press release.

“Players can look forward to being able to manage their game progress from two different perspectives, enhancing both the speed and strategy of the challenge,” Nintendo said – without actually saying anything. “Nintendo DS makes it possible to perform tasks in real time by simply glancing from one screen to the other.”

Despite the fact more retailers were ditching the GameCube, the firm had the last laugh. An impressive showing at E3 (using a rough-around-the-edges prototype) started to help the tide turn away from the PSP.

STOCK SHOCK


If you wanted evidence that the games market can be hamstrung by its reliance on physical product look no further. With PS2 so popular, and Sony driving interest with a new slimline model, the last thing anyone needed was for stock to run out – which promptly happened just in time for Christmas. The closure of trading routes through the Suez Canal, of all things, were cited for the logjam, with Sony having to fly in emergency supplies.



Xbox and GBA stocks also started to water down – with pundits saying around £50m in sales were lost thanks to empty shelves.

SHOW DOWN


Ww won't dwell on this one for long, but 2004 is also best remembered amongst the UK trade as the year which saw a dissatisfied ELSPA launch a rival to long-running tradeshow ECTS. The battle wasn’t particularly pretty, with publishers, developers and the media caught in the middle of an ugly tussle. We hate it when mum and dad argue. Ultimately no one won: both shows died off, rather than offer one event for the industry to get behind.

ONLINE GAMING COMES OF AGE


2004 offered the clearest indication that online games were no longer a niche part of the games industry.



Sure, the debut of World of Warcraft towards the end of the year helped the already-established MMO category hit mainstream status – but the bigger signs came earlier, thanks to growing momentum for Xbox Live, which launched in 2003. Microsoft boasting that London was one of the biggest Live-using cities was one thing – more impressive was the news that retailers were ramping up preorders for Live-enabled games in order to satisfy demand. It was a key development for the format which helped Xbox outshine GameCube and cement its status as a worthy, feature-packed rival to the bestselling PS2.

2004: THE KEY GAMES RELEASES


Far Cry - Ubisoft
2004 was a big year for PC games. Ubisoft’s shooter was the first in a set of big titles hitting the platform.

World of Warcraft - Blizzard
The world’s most popular MMO also made its debut, solidifying Blizzard’s role as one of the industry’s smartest studios.

Half-Life 2 - Valve
Meanwhile, Valve’s latest didn’t just offer a genre-defining FPS, but a game-changing digital distribution platform, too.

GTA: San Andreas - Rockstar
Just two years after the launch of Vice City, the newest GTA broke sales records around the world. It topped the year’s chart.

Halo 2 - Microsoft, Xbox
It arrived in the shadow of San Andreas, but Halo 2 still did strong numbers, and primed the world for the Halo 3.

2004: THE TOP TEN GAMES


1. GTA: San Andreas (Rockstar)
2. FIFA 2005 (EA)
3. Need For Speed: Underground 2 (EA)
4. The Simpsons: Hit & Run (VU Games)
5. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (Konami)
6. Sonic Heroes (Sega)
7. Spider-Man 2 (Activision)
8. Need For Speed: Underground (EA)
9. Halo 2 (Microsoft)
10. Driv3r (Atari)

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