Picking out the five "best"
trends is pretty tough. Almost more than ranking games, judging the
positives and negatives of any of these trends is an exercise in subjectivity.
Some trends are good for business
but could easily be argued to stifle creativity. Some might have no
positive or negative effect, or fade away as fast as they arose. But
these trends all seem significant and compelling in their own way.
Here's the one that might be the most debated on whether it's good or not: consolidation. While it's not an innovation in business, the consolidations of 2007 were extremely significant -- chiefly BioWare and Pandemic being folded into Electronic Arts, and the announcement of Activision and Blizzard's merger. There were others, of course, and of no less significance to the players involved, no doubt.
When Gamasutra spoke with him,
BioWare's Ray Muzyka had nothing but positive things to say about the
merger with EA, his respect for its management team, and the promise
of a stronger future for the developer's creative drive under EA.
Of course, the Activision Blizzard merger, on the other hand, is being viewed chiefly from a financial perspective, which isn't to be ignored. Either way, these are significant moves that point towards an evolving future for the structure of the industry.
4. Catering to the Wii Audience
While there haven't been as many practical examples of this just yet as we might like -- Take 2's Carnival Games hit hard -- the fact is that 2007 seems to be the year developers really got a handle on the Wii and started to play to its strengths.
Developers are focusing on
creating games for the system that take advantage of its controls and
its audience -- which may be less interested in the sort of games that
developers are used to making and publishers are used to selling.
One of the major flaws with the Gamecube wasn't necessarily directly Nintendo's fault: publishers would port their PS2 games to the system, watch them sink in the marketplace, and then abandon ship. The massive success and innovative control of the Wii have forced everyone to rethink this strategy (for the most part.)
Perhaps most notably, Ubisoft
CEO Yves Guillemot's widely-reported statement that the company's Wii
games would have "Nintendo-like quality" acknowledges that
developers understand what they're up against. The metamorphosis of
Majesco into a publisher of casual games with a focus on the Wii and
DS -- to the point of commissioning original games from top minds in
the industry -- is another interesting reflection of this shift.
3. The Rise of the Shooter
If 2007 could be said to belong to any one genre, it's got to be the shooter, and it doesn't seem like this trend is ending anytime soon. Since Gears of War launched late last year and began to define the Xbox 360 experience, through to Halo 3's massive sales this year, we've experienced a boom in the genre.
Call of Duty 4 is another staggering success for the genre, one so huge it seems to have blotted out the light from the latest Medal of Honor. The Orange Box brought together Valve's best work in one convenient package; Lost Planet was perhaps the first credible (and successful) attempt from a Japanese developer to conquer the genre.
Mass Effect showed that
even RPG stalwarts BioWare felt the need to adopt the trappings of the
genre to appeal to the Xbox 360's hard-bitten core audience. And there
are plenty of other hits, and even more also-rans.
Next year shows no letup: Army of Two and Haze both stand out (as refugees from this year's onslaught) while Killzone 2 will be one of the most significant PS3 games of the year.
2. Indies Going Major
While the PlayStation Network
can't offer the same breadth of popular content as Xbox Live Arcade,
it has two of the most significant games released to the console download
market this year: Everyday Shooter and flOw.
Both originated outside of
the game development mainstream and gained big audiences based on their
quality. And for a game that's indie in a different way, Xbox Live Arcade
ponied (or is that llamaed?) up Space Giraffe, supporting the
fever dreams of iconoclastic English developer Jeff Minter. The evolution
of student indie Narbacular Drop into one of this year's most-praised
titles, Portal, is nothing short of heartwarming, really.
And the talent keeps coming. The Independent Games Festival -- run by CMP, as is Gamasutra -- received a record-breaking number of entries this year. Microsoft used its XNA platform to encourage indie developers, awarding two prizes (and publishing deals) to games that entered its competition.
Indie developers have been around for years, but their produce is inspiring everyone and, most importantly, finding an avenue to engage with mainstream audiences in all new ways.
1. Mainstreaming of Handhelds
Barring an absolute miracle, the Nintendo DS will be the bestselling console of the year in the U.S. Its sales in Japan and Europe are also astounding. Many discount the PSP by comparison, but Sony's handheld is the first credible competitor to Nintendo's unbroken chain of successes, and was Sony's bestselling hardware platform this November.
But more importantly, the mainstreaming of the handheld is catching on. The Brain Age games aren't showing signs of fading; other Touch Generations-style games have begun to make their impression on western audiences; Disney is, according to its general manager Graham Hopper, the number two handheld publisher through September 2007 (and what's more mainstream than Disney?)
One of the most significant
moments, however, was the announcement at the tail end of last year
that Dragon Quest IX, the full-fledged sequel of Japan's most
popular game series, would be debuting on the Nintendo DS. Has a series
of this caliber ever debuted its prime sequel on a handheld before?
Since that time, the stock
in the system has only risen dramatically. Nintendo sold over 1.5 million
DSes in the U.S. in November. Electronic Arts has publicly admitted
it misjudged the market by focusing on the PSP. What is left to be said?