It was the most prosperous year in the history of gaming – but for much of UK retail, it proved to be a nightmare. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2008…
HIGH STREET PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS
The signs weren’t good from the start. MCV raised the alarm on the power held by Woolworths-owned distributor EUK in August 2008. The trade at large was worried that should anything bad happen to the firm – a supplier to Zavvi, WH Smith, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Asda – 25 per cent of the market could be placed in danger.
Two months later, something bad happened. Following Woolworths’ announcement that it was £400m in debt, publishers’ relations with EUK faltered. Credit was cut off as the biggest labels began to panic that their games wouldn’t reach retailers.
The news got worse before it got better. Woolworths went into administration on November 26th, taking EUK with it. Publishers had to frantically set up direct distribution deals with EUK’s former retail partners – but then, on Christmas Eve, the final nail in the coffin: Zavvi, a former client of EUKs, also hit the skids. It was the last sorry chapter in a Christmas to forget for the industry.
GTA INSPIRES RECORD YEAR
As some of the High Street’s biggest names experienced an annus horribilis, their publishing counterparts had a golden year – with the UK industry generating a huge £4bn at tills in 12 months. The star of the show was Rockstar’s GTA IV, which smashed all sales records when it was released in April and inspired a glut of interest in next generation hardware.
However, Rockstar parent Take-Two didn’t have the easiest time in 2008. In what was dubbed ‘the most hostile bid in games history’, EA’s John Riccitiello went on a mission to buy the publisher. In the end, Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick’s pleas to his investors to ignore him won out, and EA missed out on publishing GTA V, VI and VII…
BYRON AND ON AND ON AND ON....
A saga that began with the banning of Rockstar’s Manhunt 2 in June 2007 came to a close in April 2008, with the publication of the Government’s Byron Review.
Fears that the report – which considered the best ways to protect children from violent materials – would lead to censorship of the industry were thankfully calmed by Dr. Byron’s well-reasoned conclusions, despite some unhelpful rhetoric from the Prime Minister.
When the dust had settled, the Review set the scene for a public spat between the BBFC and PEGI on who should be granted statutory rights to classify UK video games. PEGI won out in the end as part of the Government’s Digital Britain report earlier this year.
APPLE MAKES ITS MOVE
It happened surprisingly slowly, but the ads for Apple’s iPod and iPhone took a noticeable turn towards interactive entertainment in 2008 – and MCV and the industry spotted it. But it took the firm until November to tell MCV that it saw DS and PSP as competitors – calling itself ‘the future of gaming’ whilst it was at it. All bluster, naturally. No-one plays games on iPhone these days, right…?
TRADE TURNS ON THE R4
The ‘official’ industry may have hit new heights in 2008, but the dark world of piracy also experienced something of a boom, as the R4 card reached the mainstream. The device allows consumers to play pirated games on DS, and was roundly criticised by the industry – who successfully put pressure on rogue retailers to stop selling the cartridge through the pages of MCV.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Interest in trade shows took off in a big way in 2008.
First, publishers announced they had moved to back a new show called Gamescom in Cologne, ditching traditional European event Games Convention in Leipzig.
By October both German trade shows were at war, with Gamescom shifting dates to go head-to-head with its adversary. In the end, Leipzig changed its focus on to online gaming and everyone was (sort of) happy.
Meanwhile, over in the US, not many people were happy with the new ‘business-like’ E3. Although the fanboy foolishness of years gone by had disappeared, the lack of razzmatazz upset some of games’ biggest names. EA’s John Riccitiello (him again!) said he “hated” the new format, whilst Sega’s Simon Jeffery memorably told MCV it had “all the atmosphere of a hospital corridor”.