Pushing Buttons: Some video games sink, others swim in tough recession

by Beacon Staff • January 28, 2009

Towards the start of our current economic turmoil, game industry media, blogs, analysts and executives were, for the most part, confident that gaming was impervious to the worst of economic trouble. While this seems a tad bullish even to me, it's so far turned out to be true, at least on the sales end of things. Still, a lot of industry people are newly out of a job, and publishers are starting to worry about both consumer and investor confidence, so conditions will likely worsen. Whatever the case, it will be a year of change, if you'll forgive such a clicheacute;. Here are some predictions about where the game industry is headed in 2009. Some are awesome. Others, not so much.

buAWESOME:/b/u

bWe figured it out! Movie tie-ins suck!/b

Going back as far as iE.T./i in 1982, gamers have been subjected to sloppy, rushed movie-based games. iSpider-Man 3: The Gamei was even worse than the film, and let's forget about last year's iIron Man/i or any of the iSuperman/i or iMatrix/i-related games. But with the swift collapse of movie-game-only developer Brash, executives have finally realized that they waste time and money on dozens of such titles that fail, and that they have to share a chunk of revenue with whoever owns the property. Moreover, developers don't have full control over something they don't... well... own. During this recession, the industry will be looking to create properties it fully controls, and can keep all earnings from - for better or worse.

bAnti-gaming legislation gets a no-confidence vote./b

Society will at least begin to accept games as the dominant leisure activity, and perhaps something beyond that. Last year saw droves of regulatory initiatives turned down, and "studies" about the dreaded effects of games finally started to get some criticism. We also have a lot of new elected leaders who are young, and grew up as gaming became popular. There's now a Wii in the White House. Need I say more?

A return to the big, glitzy E3 of yore.

Electronic Entertainment Expo is the big yearly event in SoCal where the game industry trots out all of its huge announcements. We're talking the big holiday releases, new hardware and enough glitz and glam to rival Las Vegas. Or it was until the industry whined that it was too pricey to show up to, opting for the last two years for a much more conservative trade show in hotels and a big air hanger. Big mistake. This year's E3 will return to the lights, deafening noise and scantily-clad "cleavage-heavy spokeswomen" of the past. Not a second too soon, either. We need the optimism.

bThose folks who got fired? They stick it to the man./b

Every time publishers lay off a bunch of people all at once, a good chunk of the newly freed artists, designers, coders and audio gurus link up and establish their own shops. During a time of hiring freezes, this is especially true. 2K Boston (iBioShock/i) was founded by folks left idle after a number of local closures in the 90s. And most recently, Robomodo (rumored to be taking over iTony Hawk/i) rose out of EA Chicago's ashes within months. Expect to hear about a lot of new indie and boutique developers this year. Many won't even get seed capital, but those that manage to sign a deal may end up with some really cool wares, especially with so many new cheap, easy channels for content.

buNOT SO MUCH:/b/u

bHit the road, innovation ... or at least make a pit stop.b

People justifiably turn risk-averse during economic uncertainty. Such is true not just in the stock markets but also when it comes to creative decisions. Regardless of how many new shops pop up, the big guys are already aiming to revert to "safe" sequels and franchises for their bread-n-butter, even after some genuinely new ideas made it to shelves in '08. I hope I'm wrong, but say hello to another iMadden/i and goodbye to - well - something cool getting canned as we speak.

bDRM goes ultra-draconian./b

You think the industry learned something from what happened when EA tried to take over your computer with iSpore/i (a class action law suit to be precise)? Think again. Creators are starting to get really worried about pirated games eating away at their revenues. As downloadable games begin to inch out their disc-based brethren, expect some awful methods of digital rights management, from games deactivating when bought used, to having to call a publisher for the "right" to re-install a game after your PC or Mac bugs out.

bMusic games get drugged-up, sent to rehab, appear on VH1./b

Since iGuitar Hero: Now with Drums and Singing, Also!/i has awkwardly caught up to iRock Band/i with added instruments, anticipate some - but not all - to milk music-based games for all they're worth. Every major artist will be clamoring for their own thing (as Aerosmith, Metallica, AC/DC, and The Beatles have). Don't even try to think about what we'll see for hip-hop, country, and the growing turn-your-living-room-into-a-stage market, or your head will explode.

bWe start to hear about the "next-gen."/b

Yes, it seems obvious, but I had to mention this. The Xbox 360 came out almost four years ago, and the PS3 and Wii almost three, so guess what it's time for? That's right: the first whispers of what's coming next. Microsoft always has stuff under RD and Sony is in deep doody if it doesn't rescue PlayStation soon. Lastly, if you think the drowning-in-cash Nintendo won't release an updated Wii just as it starts to wear out in 2010, you - sir or madam - are patently absurd.,John Richardson, iBeacon/i columnist