[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.