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Gamasutra's Best Of 2010: Top 5 Surprises
Gamasutra's Best Of 2010: Top 5 Surprises
December 10, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

December 10, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
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    22 comments
More: Console/PC



[Gamasutra continues its 2010 retrospectives with this year's top five game industry surprises, from unexpected deals to new kinds of hardware reveals that few could have predicted. Previously: Top 5 Trends, Top 5 Major Industry Events of the year.]

There are a number of elements that make it especially new and exciting to be in games right now. Amid new platforms emerging and a rapidly-shifting landscape for traditional development, it's tough to predict what will happen next at any given time.

The social games space accelerates its consolidation with big-ticket acquisitions, a number of brand-new hardware devices debuted in 2010, and just when we think we know what will happen next, a game-changer hits.

Of course, that never stops people from trying to guess. These are the top five stories in the past year that raised our eyebrows the most, surprised our readers and defied predictions.

5. The Success Of iPad

Nobody knew what to make of Apple's announcement of the iPad earlier this year -- who'd want a giant iPhone that can't even make calls, some gawked?

But not only did the device's initial sales strain Apple's ability to keep pace, but the success of the iPad helped establish touch tablets as a new major market now predicted to keep growing.

It also helped cement iOS as a platform, instead of just one sector, albeit a rapidly-growing one, within the mobile market. iPad versions of popular software apps and games became de-facto, and the significant software market opportunity on the tablet led developers to begin exploring possibilities uniquely suited to iPad. The device sold over 4 million units this year, a success hard to see coming.

4. Electronic Arts Backs Respawn

When Activision fired co-founders Infinity Ward Jason West and Vince Zampella, that the pair colluded with rival EA was one of the publisher's allegations of wrongdoing. Although it remains to be determined by a court whether or not West and Zampella really engaged in secret meetings before forming their new studio, few expected the gauntlet to be tossed down so soon.

The defection of Activision's two biggest stars to form Respawn Entertainment, a studio that sprung up quickly with an EA publishing deal in hand, was "the ultimate screw-you" to the former parent, as one analyst put it.

It was the next step in what seems to be becoming a saga of one-upsmanship between the bitterly contentious publishers, and the score no doubt was of some satisfaction to EA after last year's big defection, when two of its own stars, Visceral Games heads Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, decided to head Activision's Sledgehammer Games studio instead.

3. Mikami Joins Bethesda

It's been a surprise to many that Zenimax Media, parent of Bethesda Softworks, has gotten so big so quickly over the last couple of years, snapping up studios from id Software to Arkane, Machinegames and more. But its acquisition of Tango Gameworks, the studio founded by renowned Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, was a bit different.

Many well-known Japanese developers have expressed a desire to work more closely with Western studios; look at Square Enix's acquisition of Eidos, or Capcom and Konami's decisions to have European studios develop some of its key properties, for examples of how this usually works.

The out-and-out purchase of a boutique Japanese developer, with one of the region's top minds as part of the deal, is something new, and fans will be watching closely.

2. Bungie Signs With Activision

More surprising than how the Infinity Ward debacle at Activision shook down was what happened next: The publisher had to be reeling after the implosion of its crown jewel in a boon to its biggest rival.

Bungie and Activision said that a deal had been in the works for some time and was not a response to the trouble at Infinity Ward, but when the pair announced a ten-year exclusive contract between Bungie's next big post-Halo project and Activision's publishing muscle, no one saw it coming.

Ten years is a long time, and indicative of the scale of the project on which the studio's hard at work. Predictions on everything, from the game's possible persistent settings to its monetization strategy, continue to fly from all corners, but it's likely many more surprises are yet to come.

1. Nintendo Has Glasses-Free 3D -- And It Really Works

Despite initiatives from major companies like Sony, Crytek and Epic aimed at calling attention to the possibilities in 3D entertainment, most audiences remained fairly skeptical, with industry-watchers neutral at best about whether 3D was even something game consumers wanted.

Who knew it'd be Nintendo -- maker of the lowest-def console, behind on "core gamer" features in every way -- who'd execute a 3D product so well it was the talk of 2010's E3?

But the glasses-free 3D's unveiling was one of the biggest and most exciting surprises of the year: Now, look for it to make our list of most-anticipated events of 2011, too.


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Comments


Dejaime Neto
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iPad's success is the ultimate proof of the power of marketing...

Brad Borne
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Or, you know, making a product that isn't just a list of bullet points.

Christopher Pickford
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Or making a product that appeals to a much wider array of people.

Geoff Schardein
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Guess you don't have one from your comments. great for casual games and many more complex games are coming. I love mine.

Dejaime Neto
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Actually I do...

Anyway, think I'll just use the phone touch...



Nice batery though...

Charles Forbin
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When I first played with an iPad, it struck me as an excellent platform for 2D or isometric RPGs.

Evan Bell
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The kitten in the pop-tarts box was also a surprise.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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Ipad's crazyness seem a fad to me.



for instance, other years the surprise was the rising of facebook games, and this year that's on the "facebook gaming is getting troubled and complex and going down" trend.



I lived the first mobile gaming craze from the inside, and I also lived their crash...so I don't see a reason why Iphone/Ipad are gonna perform steadily year after year...it's gonna be big everyone will want to jump and cash in and then it's gonna go down fast.



Or I might be totally wrong, but that's my 2 cents.

Gregory Kinneman
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Once they add a camera I can see augmented reality games really taking off on the iPad. Not that these games will be huge for sales or prevent a crash, but they'll provide an ample opportunity to push these games further.

Russell Carroll
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Once it is priced reasonably (priced in line with devices that do a lot more for a lot less) I see the iPad really taking off!

(at the same time I'm not holding my breath for more reasonable pricing, while the initial high pricing made people think the PS3 was too expensive, it somehow only adds to the mystique and exclusiveness of the iPad)



It's neat, but $500 neat? No...

...and it's barely more than $200 useful...

...though if you're looking for a fun $500 toy that will increase your geek cred +12, the Wand of iPad is definitely the best item for your quest!

Kim Pallister
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The price argument is of course the same one that people like Steve Ballmer cited as why the iPhone would never take off.



They sold 8M iPads by this past october. How many do they need to move to "really take off"?

Russell Carroll
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The GameCube sold over 11 million units in the US alone and was seen as a failure, so 8 worldwide is great, but I wouldn't call it really taking off. (Maybe 'just' taking off ;)

Lo Pan
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Totally agree on price, but that is Apple. Charge 2x because it looks cool.

Give me it at $249 and I am in.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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Augmented reality was hot and on the rise in 2008 already, and it's still a promise to check, I really dont see that being that much of a advatage...at least till they have a real breakout game.



For instance the company I was working on lost a nokia contest to this game:



http://www.ghostwiregame.com/



which end up in DSi and without publisher, instead than on mobile devices and published...and it's a shame, as it seemed like a neat idea...at least on paper!!!

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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The augmented reality was on the rise and "hot" when the mobile company I worked in crashed and burn....two years later, the augmented reality it's still there, waiting and being a "promise".



I remember that the winner of a nokia game contest where one of our ideas participated lost against one game that featured a very interesting augmented reality game:



http://www.ghostwiregame.com/





which end up on DSi and without publisher...



too much for the agmented reality.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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sorry about the double post....it wasn't showing when i poster it, so i repeated.



And now I cannot erase it...





Ouch!

Benjamin Quintero
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I would have expanded #3 to "Zenimax buys in big", gaining Mikami but also buying up some industry icons like idSoftware. They are making an obvious push to strike it big over the next 5 years. I dont know that Mikami was any more/less surprising than any of the steps that Zenimax has taken this year.

Jonathan Escobedo
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I don't like the Apple products, and a good chunk of these games aren't worth me shelling out money for an iPad or iPhone. That being said, I'd be lying if I said the Apple market and the casual gaming scene didn't leave a huge impact on our industry and our culture at large. In fact I would argue that this new type of gamer is the one thing we as an industry have as our last defense against the Jack Thompsons and Micheal Akinsons of the world.



As for the 3DS, I don't care if the 3D makes it a portable holodeck, it isn't worth the price of admission if there aren't any worthwhile software. Thankfully there is, and whatever price the 3DS will finally be in the US, it'll be worth it for a new Kid Icarus and a Megaman Legends 3.

Leon T
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What do you mean by "new type of gamer" ? I only ask because people have been playing games ( flash, free to play, downloadable, paid to play ) on cell phones and laptops ( ipad is a new type of laptop) for a long time. The ios devices may have opened the market up more by Apple simply promoting the feature more and getting more developers involved. I don't think there has been any indication that they created some new type of gamers. Even if someone that never played a game before plays one for the first time on an ios device they have not created a new type of gamer. This type of thing has been going on since people were able to play games on a cell phone or any device.



I do think it is great that there are more devices to play quality games on.

Jonathan Escobedo
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I didn't mean it as a derogatory or offensive term, and I apologize if it came off like that. What I meant was that these type of games are bringing in people that normally don't play video games. I understand this isn't the first time that's happened, but most people who played video games in the past have tried to do so and were often shunned away for one reason or another. However, with these new iPhone games and games on Facebook like Farmville, these people have a new venue to play a video game, and they're easy enough to get into so they don't feel confused and stay longer. Again, none of these iPhone games appeal to me personally, but I say any new device that gets people playing video games is ok in my book.

Stephen Todd
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the iPad has been quite successful, and will most likely continue to be successful in the future. but there is a difference between triple A console titles and iPad titles, and the consumer's they are marketing to. Many titles from the last generation of consoles have been ported over to the iPad, and the stories of failure far out number the stores of success my friend. Really, who is going to crap their pants playing RE4 on an iPad in the airport, and who would play angry bird for hours on a 42" LCD with surround sound? Embrace the iPad

Stephen Todd
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the touvh screen will change the way we interact with triple A titles... remember the Wii with Wii tennis, now, only a few years later, we are about to get a move controller in the shape of a gun to play Killzone 3... better way to interact with the medium... wait and see..


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