This year was massive for games, and was VG247′s biggest to date. Join us every day over the holiday break on a detailed journey through the year’s most important and entertaining news.
New in January 2011
A Shadow’s Tale
DC Universe Online
Mass Effect 2 (PS3)
Dead Space 2
Kingdom Hearts re:Coded
The early weeks of a new year are generally a slow time in gaming news, as developers and publishers take some much needed time off over the holiday season before firing up the machines again. 2011 was no exception, although a growing trend to push releases and announces out of the crowded November and December crunch period means we weren’t exactly twiddling our thumbs.
Perhaps the biggest story of the month was Sony’s reveal of the long-rumoured PSP successor at a press conference on Tokyo. The device was given the codename of NGP, or Next Generation Portable, and sported all the features we’d expected.
The announce should have put paid to the rumours and confusion surrounding the equally shadowy PlayStation Phone, but this month, new photos and images surfaced of what we would later come to know as the Xperia Play, Sony Ericsson’s flagship smartphone for the PlayStation Suite set of PlayStation Certified devices.
Sony continued to dominate headlines, finally launching the PlayStation 3 in China, quite a bold expedition into a traditionally resistant territory. At the Las Vegas Consumer Show, the company unveiled its 3D headset, which debuted as a prototype but went on sale before the end of the year. (It was a little more eciting than Microsoft’s big reveal – Avatar Kinect.)
It wasn’t all good news, though, and this month saw the sowing of seeds which would later blossom into one of the biggest – and messiest – stories of the year. Hackers published the PlayStation 3′s root ket, opening the door for less skilled individuals to run pirated games.
Sony, controversially, responded by suing the hackers, most notably George “GeoHot” Hotz, the man responsible for jailbreaking the iPhone. Justin Kranzl offered a timely and informative summary of the delicate situation which is still well worth a read.
Sony wasn’t the only Japanese company having a trouble month. Nintendo announced its quarterly financial results for the tail end of 2010, announcing a grim 46% tailing off of profits. The Big N was struggling with a plunge in demand for the DS, while the Wii continues its slow fade.
The 3DS, its new handheld, was touted as just the ticket for turning the company’s fortunes around. Interest in the device, at the time just two months from launch, was extreme, with a set of images leaked from a Chinese factory snapped up and pored over.
But hopes were tempered by caution when Nintendo finally unveiled its launch plans for the device, due in March with a hefty price tag and a much smaller software line-up than previously expected. The console certainly didn’t look set for a dead-on-arrival release, but some quietly cashed in their stock.
Final Fantasy developer turned rising publisher Square Enix held one of its famous press briefings this month, offering both carrots and sticks to long-term fans.
The Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy XIII sequence, originally announced as three games with a shared setting, was given an official shake up, with Final Fantasy Agito XIII retitled to Type-0 to reflect its shift in focus and separation from the project.
Even the suspiciously silent Final Fantasy Versus XIII benefitted from a new cinematic trailer, embedded in the boxout – but we didn’t keep our party hats on for long, as it slipped back into the vapourous depths, surfacing just a few times over the year and never attached to a release window.
There were some big releases this month, especially in the Sony camp. DC Universe Online brought premium MMORPG gaming to the PlayStation 3, while anticipated sequel LittleBigPlanet 2 released to strong reviews.
Less satisfyingly, the intriguing-sounding A Shadow’s Tale and Mindjack both fell rather flat, failing to live up to their interesting mechanisms. Kingdom Hearts re:Coded went down well with fans, though.
Mass Effect 2 arrived on PlayStation 3 at last, but as many of us had already played it, we turned our attention to another kind of sci-fi: Dead Space 2. Critics loved it – no, really – and the game seemed set to cement EA’s hope for a franchise by outselling its precursor. We had a chat with producer Shereif Fattouh about the game, too.
On the indie side, Arrowhead’s whimsical and addictive spell-’em-up Magicka shifted 30,000 copies in less than 24 hours. We’re still seeing expansions at the end of the year.
The NPD Group’s January report on US sales figures had Call of Duty: Black Ops at the top of the charts, with LittleBigPlanet 2 and Dead Space 2 coming in at third and fourth respectively to represent new releases. DC Universe Online struggled in at tenth – not bad for an MMORPG.
Overall, the US industry saw a 4% decrease in spend year-on-year, with accessories – like the newly released Kinect and Move – the only sector to post a positive bump of 6%. On the hardware side it was all about Xbox 360, with 15% growth year-on-year, but Sony did note a 25% jump in software.
Sega announced its latest project with Platinum Games, Anarchy Reigns, but the multiplayer brawler failed to make much of a stir despite a slew of trailers and assets.
Silent HIll fans had a mixed reaction to Game Informer’s reveal of the next core entry in the Silent Hill franchise, Downpour, which would be developed outside Konami. The project has been disturbingly quiet, and was later delayed into 2012.
Although it wasn’t technically an announce, another of Game Informer’s exclusives went down a treat – the first proper coverage of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. We got so excited that we cornered Bethesda vice president Pete Hines, who highlighted the coming year as the biggest in the company’s history. LOoking back, he was clearly right – and not just because Skyrim topped charts and wowed critics.
On the DL
For every game we knew about, there were a dozen secret projects in the works. Bungie made a handful of new trademarks which we’re yet to learn the meaning of. Cryptic was discovered to be at work on a new secret project, which is still under wraps – and possibly shelved, as you’ll see when we hit May.
Ignition, which had an extremely troubled year, got off to a strong start by promising that its vapourous shooter Reich was still in development – for the time being – and Blizzard finally revealed one tiny piece of information regarding its long-running, top secret project; the MMO is indeed codenamed “Project Titan”.
Hatched, Matched and Dispatched
2011 was a year marked by an even greater number of expansions, lay-offs, closures, foundings and acquisitions than our fluid industry usually experiences. The continuing transition from a financial world dominated by traditional retail to one in which any number of business models has an equal chance of success is not without its casualties.
Things started off in a very messy fashion, with Tron: Evolution developer Propaganda wiped from the map. That was far from the end of the carnage at Disney Interactive, as the publisher chose to cut its losses and restructure as a digital only affair.
In news better equipped to raise a smile, rumours bagen to fly that PopCap was preparing to make its initial public offering. The privately held company has long been suspected of making money hand over fist, and everyone wanted a piece of one of the few companies to make casual gaming really pay.
A couple more headlines rounded of January’s most important highlights. Ubisoft’s troubled relationship with PC gaming and DRM displayed a pattern for which the publisher has since become notorious for, first saying one thing, and then doing another. The company announced it was over that unpopular always-on DRM; and then, it changed its mind.
From those who detest having to be constantly on the Internet to those who love it, OnLive announced its plan to make the streaming games service hardware agnostic. The company made mention of HDTVs, Blu Ray players, and even smartphones; some of this, though not all, would indeed become a reality by the end of 2011.
And on the homefront, VG247 expanded its borders with the addition of an Australian news editor – that’s me! – and became the first 24 hour gaming news source in the UK. For several months it was “first and only”, too – but imitators soon followed.
This was the month in which Pat began toying with a new site feature which would take several forms over the year before being unceremoniously shelved: a daily audio round up of headlines.
January was an auspicious start to what would be a tremendously busy year, packed with some amazing games, some enromous headlines, and a great deal of fun. Tune in tomorrow to continue our journey through 2011.