Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday’s everyone! The 2021 video game season is pretty much over at this point, with another year of notable releases and events going by and entering the history books, but what about video games of years past? As I do every week where I highlight a notable title released 10, 20, 30, and sometimes 40 years ago, I thought it would be fun to look back at not only the biggest games of the year, but also some of the most noteworthy and interesting things happening in the entire video games industry. Take a break from all that crass materialism the Holiday’s demand of us for a few minutes and read about some of the big things that happened in gaming from 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011.
The video game business continued to boom, showing no signs of slowing, with the arcade and home video game markets combining for nearly $6 billion in revenue in North America. Pac-Man lead the pack with over $1 billion in grosses, tripling the revenue generated by Star Wars which was, in 1981, the highest grossing movie of all time. What makes this more impressive is that Pac-Man was able to do this in a single year while Star Wars had been in theatres for over four years. The number 2 and number 3 highest grossing arcade games of the year were Defender and Asteroids. Other major contributors to this rise in revenue were Gorf, Scramble, Vanguard, and Donkey Kong in arcades, as well as the home ports of Space Invaders, Warlords, Breakout, and Asteroids.
Perhaps this increase in arcade revenues was due to the high amount of innovation and “firsts” being seen in 1981. Konami’s Scramble was the first video game to feature forced side scrolling and, along with SNK’s Vanguard, is an early example of the shoot ‘em up genre. Nintendo’s Donkey Kong is one of the first platforming games ever created, as well as one of the first games to feature an on screen narrative. Sega’s Turbo was one of the first games to use full color, 3D graphics, and was a pioneer in the arcade racing game genre. Another Sega game, Jump Bug, was the first video game to feature side scrolling platforming, and Atari’s Tempest was the first game to allow players to select their starting level. We might take all of these things for granted today, but just imagine how mind blowing it must have been to see these things appear for the very first time. I’m telling you, 1981 was an important year (and not just because I was born this year).
The Atari 2600 (then called Atari VCS) was the dominant home video game console, easily beating competitors Odyssey and Intellivision. Interestingly, though, while the Atari 2600 was the top home video game console, it was a small Japanese toy company called Nintendo, who had a breakthrough year in arcades with Donkey Kong, which led overall hardware sales with their unique handheld device called Game & Watch. It’s interesting to see that, even back in 1981, Nintendo was leading the video game market with their handhelds; a portent of the future to come.
In the wake of the success of Activision, several new third party video game companies were founded in 1981, including DK’Tronics, Games by Apollo, Gebelli Software, Imagic, Spectravision, Starpath, Synapse Software. The majority of their titles were clones and also what we might consider shovelware now, but there were more than a few gems released, including Cosmic Ark, Chase The Chuckwagon, and Benny Hill’s Madcap Chase. Just about all of these companies would be defunct following the great video game crash of 1983, with, from what I can tell, only the games made by Starpath still under copyright, now owned by Bridgestone Multimedia, a company that specializes in religious content.
While the majority of revenue was coming from arcades and home video game consoles, PC gaming was having a moment of its own with several influential titles appearing, including the two games that single handedly began the RPG genre, Ultima I and Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. Another game, Castle Wolfenstein was itself inspired by 1980’s Rogue, and would itself inspire John Carmack and John Romero’s Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. One of the most interesting gaming stories of 1981 is that of the game Donkey, or as it was more widely known, DONKEY.BAS (the game’s file name). Created for the newly released IBM PC (which retailed for a staggering $1,565, or $4,785 adjusted for inflation), what makes this game so unique is that it was an early Microsoft title, being distributed along with copies of MS-DOS, thus being one of the first “IBM Compatible” games. It’s also notable due to that fact that it was programmed by Neil Konzen and, the main man himself, Bill Gates. Donkey is a crude driving game in which players need to avoid hitting donkeys that would wander onto the road. It was created as a sort of tech demo to prove that the IBM was suitable for gaming but, when it was compared to the kinds of games found on the Apple II, it looked embarrassingly inept, at least according to most Apple devotees. You can still find versions of the game available today on various devices including, surprisingly, ones that run on Apple’s iOS.
Elsewhere, the magazine Electronic Games (not to be confused with Electronic Gaming Monthly) debuted on October 29th, 1981. Spawned from a column in a home entertainment magazine called Video, it is considered the first magazine to specifically focus on video games and is generally recognized as where the art of video game journalism began, with sardonic and witty pieces by journalists Bill Kunkel, Joyce Worley, and Arnie Katz. Kunkel got his start in the 1960s where he wrote comic book fanzine’s, leading to gigs writing for DC, Marvel, and Harvey. Kunkel would then begin writing articles about professional wrestling in the magazine Main Event, and hosted a weekly radio broadcast in New York about pro wrestling. While at Main Event he met Worley and Katz (who were married), where they quickly learned that they all shared an intense love of video games. This led to their column in Video magazine, and finally the creation of Electronic Games.
1981 was also the second year of their Arcade Awards (or the “Arkies”), where they gave Best Coin-Op Game to Asteroids, with Console Game of the Year going to Superman on the Atari 2600, despite both titles being released in 1979. Electronic Games would be published until 1985, where it became another victim of the great video game crash of 1983, starting up again in 1992 before finally ceasing publication 1997, when it was known Intelligent Gamer. As for Kunkel, Worley, and Katz, each would continue writing for various outlets over the years, while also self publishing their own fanzines and novels. Kunkel would pass in 2011, Worley would pass in 2016, and, as far as I can tell, Katz is still alive at the age of 75. These pioneers in the video game journalism industry helped shape and mold everyone who writes about video games today, a toast to them!
As I mentioned above, the arcade was really coming into its own and, while we certainly had big titles in previous years, 1981 really feels like the year that video games “broke through”. With Pac-Man releasing in December of 1980, it wouldn’t find its audience until 1981, and it would be joined by several major titles that helped shape and influence just about every video game released afterwards:
- Asteroids (Atari 2600)
- Castle Wolfenstein
- Donkey Kong
- Jump Bug
- Missile Command (Atari 2600)
- Radar Scope
- Super Cobra
- Warlords (Atari 2600)
- Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz
Arcades saw renewed interest in 1991 after losing market share to home consoles, with the major driving force being Capcom’s Street Fighter II. The landmark fighting game was not just the top grossing arcade title in North America, but throughout the entire world, and was estimated to have accounted for 60% of all coin-op revenue in 1991. Street Fighter II was such a massive success that it became one of the top 3, highest grossing arcade games of all time, following behind Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Part of the success of Street Fighter II can be attributed to its multiplayer aspect, leading to long lines at arcades as player after player would compete against one another to prove they were the best fighter. This popularity drove players back into not just the arcade, but also into convenience stores and other non-traditional gaming spaces, making a lot of people a lot of money. Like Pac-Man before it, Street Fighter II was able to generate more revenue in a single year than the highest grossing films, as it would do in 1993 against the blockbuster Jurassic Park. By the end of 1991, SNK would release their first fighting game, Fata Fury: King of Fighters, and it wouldn’t be long before a new challenger appeared on the market shouting, “Get over here”!
In the home console business, the company that saved the video game industry after the big crash in 1983, Nintendo, followed up their massively successful Nintendo Entertainment System with the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or SNES), with the top two, best-selling games being Super Mario World and F-Zero. Coming out two years after the Sega Genesis, Nintendo’s machine would sell well, but the momentum was on Sega’s side, especially with its push towards an older demographic as well as the incredible success of Sonic the Hedgehog, which would sell over 2 million copies worldwide in 1991. However, Nintendo still held a sizable chunk of the video game market share, with the NES outselling both the SNES and Genesis and, as we saw with Game & Watch, the Game Boy outsold every other gaming device, with a staggering 4 million units sold in 1991 (with the worldwide total coming in at 7.5 million). Sega, on the other hand, was seeing a very poor reception to their Game Gear handheld. Their full color, 8-bit system was technologically impressive, but the general public didn’t latch on, making it the worst selling game system of 1991, and the first of several failures Sega would have in the 90’s.
In the world of PC gaming we continued to see developers take advantage of the IBM’s gorgeous VGA graphics, as well as the improved audio that was capable thanks to Sound Blaster, with titles like Lemmings, Monkey Island 2, and Sid Meier’s Civilization. Pushing PC graphics even further, the company S3 Graphics released their first chip to video card and motherboard manufacturers, called 86C911. It was mostly used to help improve the quality of GUI operating systems, most notably Windows 3.0, but it would have applications in gaming as well, helping them to look just that much crisper. Sierra On-Line continued their streak of successful adventure games with titles like Police Quest III, Space Quest IV, and Leisure Suit Larry V, but it was their foray into online connectivity that was really exciting. Taking a cue from Prodigy, The Sierra Network launched in May of 1991 as another online service provider that allowed people from around the world to meet up with one another and chat, play games, and send messages to one another. Since Sierra were best known for their games, The Sierra Network was a bit more lighthearted and fun than Prodigy and other newcomer America Online, with their hub designed as a kind of theme park with lands to visit. The biggest draw, aside from the chat rooms, was the game The Shadow of Yserbius which, along with AOL’s Neverwinter Nights, are some of the earliest incarnations of the MMORPG. In 1994, The Sierra Network would be sold to AT&T who would keep Yserbius going until 1996 when AOL would purchase the rights to the game, just so they could kill it, as they viewed it as the biggest competition to Neverwinter Nights.
11 years after Activision would pioneer the idea of the third-party video game company, new ones would continue to sprout up year after year. 1991 had its fair share of notable start-ups, including Vicarious Visions, id Software, Bungie, Blizzard Entertainment, The 3DO Company, and Cyberdreams. 3DO and Cyberdreams wouldn’t last but, in a funny twist of fate, Vicarious Visions and Blizzard would eventually be bought out by Activision. Of course id Software was built of the success of Commander Keen before changing the world with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom; they would eventually be purchased by ZeniMax who would themselves be bought out by Microsoft. These same names keep popping up…
The notable games of 1991 were a varied and eclectic bunch, with a lot of really great titles spread out over a large range of consoles. With everyone vying for your dollars, it was no surprise that some people consider the 1990’s as the height of the “console wars”, as the various third party publishers were still finding themselves tied to a single console, and the giants of Nintendo and Sega were continually putting out high quality, first & second party games on their consoles. Then, of course, the PC was hitting its stride thanks to advancements in hardware, and the arcade was bouncing back thanks to a slew of fantastic, exclusive, must-play titles:
- AD&D: Heroes of the Lance
- The Adventures of Lolo 3
- The Adventures of Willy Beamish
- Adventure Island II
- Another World (Out of This World)
- Bart Simpson’s Escape From Camp Deadly
- Batman: Return of the Joker
- Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
- Bonanza Brothers
- Bonk’s Revenge
- Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge
- Double Dragon III
- Fatal Fury: King of Fighters
- Final Fantasy Adventure
- Final Fantasy II (IV)
- Final Fantasy Legend II
- Gradius III
- Joe Montana Football
- King of the Monsters
- Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patty Does A Little Undercover Work
- The Little Mermaid
- Metroid II: Return of Samus
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
- NES Open Tournament Golf
- Neverwinter Nights
- Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
- Nobunaga’s Ambition II
- Operation C
- Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
- Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods
- Quackshot: Starring Donald Duck
- Radar Mission
- The Rescue of Princess Blobette Starring A Boy and his Blob
- Road Rash
- Rockin’ Kats
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms II
- Shining in the Darkness
- SimCity (SNES)
- The Simpsons Arcade Game
- The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
- The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World
- Sonic The Hedgehog
- Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers
- Street Fighter II
- Streets of Rage
- Super Castlevania IV
- Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
- Super Mario World
- Sword of Vermilion
- Tecmo Super Bowl
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time
- ToeJam & Earl
- Ultimate Qix
2001 was, in many ways, one of the most important years in modern video game history. Several games would release this year that would become not just all-time classics, but would shape and mold the entire industry moving forward. While the top two bestselling games in the U.S. were Pokémon Crystal and Madden 2002, it was the third bestselling game, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III, which made the biggest impact culturally and has arguably changed video games forever. Violence in video games and its supposed effect on children was not a new topic, the battle had been raging since the early 90’s with titles like Mortal Kombat and Doom, but GTA III took the conversation to a whole other level. Despite the violence found in previous games, the player was almost always some kind of hero. Doom is about a space marine fighting demons from Hell, Mortal Kombat has good guys pitted against bad guys, but GTA III allowed you to play as a violent criminal in a massive (for the time) open world who could hurt innocent people, kill the police, do drugs, have sex with prostitutes, and engage in a myriad of unsavory things, and you were often given some kind of reward for it. This might seem passé today, but in 2001 this was mind blowing, highly subversive stuff. Even in a game like Loaded on the PlayStation, where you would play as an escaped convict, the player was confined to one small area and only allowed to shoot. It was violent and it rewarded you for progressing, but it had a finite set of rules about what you could do and where you could go. GTA III, meanwhile, had no end and you could, theoretically, play the game forever. Heck, you could ignore every single mission and just run around the city committing crimes, there was nothing stopping you from living out your wildest violent fantasies. Coming out at the end of 2001 means that the most outrageous controversies and fights against the game would happen after 2001, so I’m sure we’ll be talking about many of those in the coming years.
In console news, on March 31st, 2001, Sega would officially cease production on the Dreamcast and commit to just being a third-party software developer. This was a devastating blow to the company, having to lay off nearly one-third of its workforce in Tokyo but, according to Sega of America President Peter Moore, if Sega had continued to manufacture the Dreamcast they would have gone bankrupt and likely out of business (or more likely being sold to a competitor). With even their most optimistic projections showing them being easily trounced by the PS2, Sega wanted a fighting chance in the future and they felt that making platform-agnostic software was the best move. It was, because in 2003 Sega would post its first profit since 1998.
Although we lost one console in 2001, we gained three new ones; two from Nintendo and one from newcomer Microsoft. Starting in June, Nintendo released their next big handheld device, the Game Boy Advance. Noted as being a kind of “pocket Super Nintendo”, the GBA was well received by critics and players for its graphics and power. What they didn’t like, however, was the poorly lit screen, making it very difficult to see what you were playing, particularly in titles like Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. This low light was a point of contention throughout the life of the console, leading some players to think that developers intentionally made their GBA games with brighter, more garish colors to help compensate for the lack of visibility. Our next two consoles would arrive in November just a week apart, first up was the highly anticipated Xbox from Microsoft. It was a big gamble for the software company to try and enter the already highly competitive home console market, but their hope was that they could change the way games were played much in the same way that they changed the way PC’s were used when they launched MS-DOS twenty years earlier. While the Xbox wouldn’t find a way to overtake the PS2, they were able to find a solid fan base with Bungie’s first person shooter Halo: Combat Evolved, and their brand would really take off with the introduction of Xbox Live in 2002 (more on that next year).
Nintendo, who still led the market based on the popularity of their Game Boy line, was smarting a bit in the home console arena, losing major market share to the Sony PlayStation when third party support for the Nintendo 64 plummeted. Their new console, the GameCube, was more powerful than the PS2 and was much easier to develop for (as was the Xbox) but, like Microsoft, Nintendo just couldn’t find a way to make a dent in the PS2’s continued dominance of the market. While third party support for the GameCube was better than it was for the N64, the best games were still the ones made by Nintendo, and third party developers would often find that people weren’t buying their games for Nintendo’s console, eventually leading to many of the exclusive deals Nintendo would make with third parties (such as Capcom) being broken.
Here’s a funny tidbit, internet company America Online entered into a partnership with Sony to add AOL Instant Messenger and its email client to the PlayStation 2. This was seen as a shrewd move by both parties as they tried to bolster their market share of internet users against Microsoft who was planning on releasing their new console, the Xbox. However, this merger would never come to fruition, as AOL continued to lose relevance in the online service provider field, as well as their reluctance to broaden the scope of AIM, which was a program they hated as it brought zero revenue to the company and cost a lot of money to maintain.
While the console business was booming, it was not so much the case for arcades. With the vast majority closing down due to lowered demand, most arcade games could only be found in specialty businesses such as Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster’s. The traditional style of arcade game was rarely produced anymore, with the majority being large scale racing games or on-rail shooters, as all other genres had fallen out of favor or moved to home consoles. Because of this, developer Midway announced that they were no longer going to be making games for arcades, focusing solely on consoles. Sadly, this decline in arcade business affected one of the great gaming companies of the 90’s, SNK, who were well known for their suite of fighting games. Due to the loss of arcade revenue, along with the failure of their handheld the Neo Geo Pocket Color and their home console (which debuted in 1991), SNK went into bankruptcy, eventually being sold to a company called Azure. I’m sure we’ll talk more about the SNK brand over the next few years.
As for other game company acquisitions, the French holding company Infogrames Entertainment purchases Hasbro Interactive for $100 million dollars. This gives Infogrames the exclusive rights to publish games based on Hasbro Properties, including Dungeons & Dragons, as well as access to the vast libraries of MicroProse (Cvilization, RollerCoaster Tycoon) and Atari (Centipede, Asteroids, Pong, etc.). Infogrames would sell off many of the rights to these libraries over the next few years, including Civilzation to 2K. The other big acquisition in 2001 was Activision’s purchase of Treyarch. Their first game published under Activision would be 2002’s Spider-Man, leading to them developing all subsequent games in the series (up to 2008’s Web of Shadows). Eventually Treyarch would transition into releasing Call of Duty games, alternating years with Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, and Raven Software. This would lead to the creation of Call of Duty: Black Ops, one of the most critically acclaimed games in the series.
Finally, it is difficult to talk about the year 2001 without mentioning the devastating attacks in the United States on September 11th. The country was in a state of shock and so, in an effort to keep emotions from boiling over, there was concern among creators in the entertainment industry about how their content might be perceived. Changes were seen in every sector, from film and television, to music and books, and of course in video games. Several titles saw content removed or changed, such as a rooftop battle on the World Trade Center in Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro, the removal of sequences of skyscrapers being destroyed in Twisted Metal Black, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Shinobi, as well as delays to the games Command & Conquer: Yuri’s Revenge and Mobile Suit Gundam: Journey to Jaburo. Perhaps the most notable game to receive changes was Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III, due to its high profile and controversial content. While there were various rumors going around that Rockstar removed missions where you flew a plane into a building (this is false), they did change certain aspects of the game, including making the police cars black & white instead of the classic blue & white of the NYPD, changing the flight paths of airplanes as to not make them look like they are flying into a building, and altering the cover art to make it less violent. I’m sure we’ll talk more about the impact of 9/11 on gaming as the years go by, it was a true world changing event.
As I mentioned earlier, 2001 was a watershed year for video games. Not only did we receive some all-time classics, but titles like Grand Theft Auto III, Devil May Cry, Halo: Combat Evolved, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Ico, Metal Gear Solid 2, Silent Hill 2, and Max Payne would forever shape and change the future of the video game industry:
- Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies
- Advance Wars
- The Adventures of Cookie and Cream
- Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
- Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
- Black & White
- The Bouncer
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
- Civilization III
- Conker’s Bad Fur Day
- Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex
- Crazy Taxi 2
- Dead or Alive 3
- Devil May Cry
- Dr. Mario 64
- Dragon Warrior VII
- F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
- Fear Effect 2
- Final Fantasy X
- Fire Pro Wrestling
- Golden Sun
- Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec
- Grand Theft Auto III
- Guilty Gear X
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth
- Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
- James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire
- Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble
- Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons
- Luigi’s Mansion
- Mario Kart: Super Circuit
- Mario Party 3
- Mario Tennis (GBC)
- Max Payne
- Mega Man X5
- Mega Man X6
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
- Myst III: Exile
- Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee
- Onimusha: Warlords
- Paper Mario
- Phantasy Star Online
- Pokemon Crystal
- Pokemon Stadium 2
- Project Gotham Racing
- Red Faction
- Return to Castle Wolfenstein
- SSX Tricky
- Serious Sam: The First Encounter
- Silent Hill 2
- Silpheed: The Lost Planet
- The Simpsons: Road Rage
- Sonic Adventure 2
- Sonic Shuffle
- Soul Reaver 2
- Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
- Star Wars: Starfighter
- Stretch Panic
- Super Monkey Ball
- Super Smash Bros. Melee
- Syphon Filter 3
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
- Twisted Metal: Black
- Virtua Tennis 2
- Wario Land 4
- Zone of the Enders
As we saw in 2001 with the September 11th attacks in the U.S., catastrophic world events have profound effects on the world at large, including on our favorite hobbies. In 2011 we had yet another devastating tragedy with the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. As had happened in the aftermath of 9/11, several video games were either delayed or cancelled due to content that might be considered insensitive, or because of various disruptions. This included MotorStorm: Apocalypse and Yakuza: Dead Souls for the content, with MotorStorm never even receiving a Japanese release, and the games Steel Diver, Major League Baseball 2K11, Top Spin 4, Dragon Age Origins: Awakening, and DLC for both Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood all being delayed due to various issues. Of the games known to be cancelled, the two highest profile were a sequel to Steambot Chronicles and the game Disaster Report 4, although it would eventually be revived and released in 2018.
The earthquake also had a major impact on online gaming. With power consumption in Japan being well monitored, several companies took measures to cut down on their usage, including Square Enix and Konami. For Square Enix, they not only decided to shut down servers for Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, but due to severe damage to their FFXIV servers, they made the choice to take the entire game down and re-tool it, as it was an already failing project. It would subsequently be re-released in 2013 as A Realm Reborn, gaining much praise from fans and critics. As for Konami, not only did Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima opt to work from home in order to conserve energy, but the decision was made to shut down the servers for Metal Gear Online, the multiplayer mode for MGS 4, indefinitely. The gaming community came together to help support the people of Japan, and in the early days of the tragedy several high profile developers used their social media presence to coordinate with friends and family and give updates on the state of things, including the already mentioned Kojima, as well as Suda 51 and Hideki Kamiya. In the weeks and months following the earthquake, several game companies would donate money to help with relief efforts, such as Sega, Namco Bandai, Capcom, Tecmo Koei, Arc System Works and Square Enix. Many gaming outlets abroad held fundraisers and auctions, including Kotaku, Game Informer, and Siliconera, and various companies sent a portion of their game’s profits to help out as well, including Valve with Team Fortress 2, NEXON with MapleStory, and Riot with League of Legends.
One item that didn’t see a delay, however, was Nintendo’s new handheld the 3DS. First releasing in Japan in February, the device would arrive in the West in April to somewhat lukewarm sales. This prompted the typically stingy Nintendo to immediately react by dropping the price from $249.99 to $ 169.99. Nintendo’s video game business had, for over forty years, been highly dependent on the sales of their handheld devices, so to see their latest console start to falter must have really spooked them. This reversal was met with mostly praise from the gaming community, however there was a contingent of players who were upset, namely those who had purchased the system at the original price. To make up for it, Nintendo promised these original 3DS owners that they would get exclusive access to a handful of digital Game Boy Advance titles through the company’s Virtual Console. This, then, angered players who purchased the console after the price drop; you can’t please everyone. Despite selling 75 million units worldwide, the 3DS would be Nintendo’s least successful handheld console (not counting Game & Watch), but it would be home to a fantastic library of games.
Sony, who had dominated the market with the PS2, was now in second, trailing behind Nintendo and only barely beating Microsoft (though MS had a commanding lead in the U.S.). However, things began to look up near the end of the seventh generation as Microsoft began to shoot themselves in the foot with their devotion to the Kinect and casual gamers, but things for Sony took a turn for the worst in April, 2011. Beginning on April 20th, customers began reaching out to Sony indicating that they were unable to use multiple online services. Sony acknowledged that they had taken the PlayStation Network offline to undergo maintenance and that they would send out a communication to discuss when it would be brought back online. After a few days of silence from Sony, they finally sent out word that the PlayStation Network had been infiltrated by an outside source sometime between April 17th and April 19th. When Sony became aware of the intrusion they shut down the PSN and told customers that it would take them a bit longer to figure everything out, probably a week. The last bit of news they dropped was the biggest, that customer’s personal information had been accessed and stolen.
That initial week passed and the PlayStation Network was still down. Complicating matters further, Sony also shut down the Sony Online Entertainment servers that ran games like EverQuest, DC Universe Online, and Star Wars: Galaxies, leading people to wonder just how large the breach may have been. In a press release sent on May 2nd, Sony acknowledged that not only had personal data been stolen, but that customer’s credit card information was also stolen, but they were adamant that this data was useless to the cyber criminals, as they encrypted CC numbers per regulations. It was in the early days of May when the news outlet Reuters stated that the attack on Sony was the largest internet security breach of all-time, with over 12k credit card numbers stolen as well as the PII (personally identifiable information) of nearly 24.7 million customers. This was a very serious situation, and it prompted Sony to send a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives that stated the extent of the cyber-attack and what Sony was doing to fix it, as well as its plan to help customers. This included one free month of PlayStation Plus to all PSN members and one year of free identity protection. Sony also gave out two free games to all players, varied by region, and included titles like Wipeout HD, Little Big Planet, InFamous, and Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty. In the aftermath, many PSN users were upset, even going so far as to sue Sony in a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit didn’t amount to anything, as a California judge decided that Sony had done enough to compensate customers and that there was no such thing as perfect security. A similar lawsuit in Canada also went nowhere, with only the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK fining Sony, a paltry 250k pounds. Perhaps the most lasting, and chilling, effect this had was on Sony’s new term & conditions for the PSN, which basically stated that customers would not be able to sue Sony in class action lawsuits in regards to data breaches without first going through an arbitrator.
With the seventh generation nearly over, Nintendo was ready to jump into the eighth generation, sort of. Despite the Wii being part of the seventh generation of consoles, its specs were far below the PS3 and Xbox 360, and was the beginning of Nintendo moving away from trying to meet or exceed the competition on graphical parity, instead relying on their proven track record of providing memorable gaming experiences. Still, by end of the 2000’s and the start of the 2010’s, it was clear that Nintendo needed to have a machine that produced HD graphics and could run games that matched Sony and Microsoft’s machines. At E3, 2011, Nintendo introduced the world to their next piece of hardware, the Wii U. While the Wii was focused on bringing everyone to the gaming arena, Wii U claimed it would have a strong focus on not just games for everyone, but also games that offered deep, single player experiences. Their commitment to this was seen by their partnerships with EA and Activision to bring titles like Mass Effect and Call of Duty to the Wii U, and their E3 sizzle reel displayed many titles that had skipped the Wii in favor of the PS3 and 360, like the Batman Arkham games and Assassin’s Creed. The most striking new feature of the Wii U, however, wasn’t the HD graphics or new support, it was the unique tablet controller that acted as a second screen. Nintendo touted the controller as a way to not just interact with your games in a whole new way, but also as a way to turn your Wii U into a handheld gaming device. If you were playing New Super Mario Bros. and the baseball game comes on, all you’d need to do is change the channel on your TV and then switch the game over to your gamepad where you could continue playing. It was revolutionary but, for some, confusing. With the name Wii U, there was this idea that the tablet controller was a peripheral, with not only CNN and Jimmy Fallon claiming as much on their programs, but even retailers telling customers that the Wii U was the same thing as a Wii, just more expensive. We’ll get into it later, but the Wii U was not the KO punch that Nintendo was looking for in the eighth generation; that punch would come later.
Sony also debuted the Vita at E3 2011.
2011 wasn’t the strongest year in gaming, and we can maybe attribute that to the near end of life cycle for the PS3 and Xbox 360 (although neither had announced a successor at this point). Still, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have good games, in fact some really great stuff came out. There were some strong single player games released, despite much of the industry thinking the genre was “dead”, like Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Skyward Sword, L.A. Noire, Uncharted 3, The Witcher 2 and the endlessly ported The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. We also can’t forget that one of the biggest modern video games debuted in 2011, the massively popular Minecraft:
- Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
- Atelier Totori: Alchemist of Arland 2
- Batman: Arkham City
- Battlefield 3
- The Binding of Isaac
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
- Child of Eden
- Conduit 2
- Crysis 2
- DC Universe Online
- Dance Central 2
- Dark Souls
- Dead Island
- Dead Space 2
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution
- Disgea 4
- Dragon Age II
- Driver: San Francisco
- Duke Nukem Forever
- Dynasty Warriors 7
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- F.E.A.R. 3
- Fable III
- Forza Motorsport 4
- Gears of War 3
- inFamous 2
- Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony
- Jetpack Joyride
- Killzone 3
- Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
- Kirby Mass Attack
- Kirby’s Return to Dreamland
- L.A. Noire
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
- Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7
- Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
- Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
- Little Big Planet 2
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
- Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
- Mario Kart 7
- Mario Sports Mix
- Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
- Monday Night Combat
- Mortal Kombat (2011)
- Ms. Spolsion Man
- Nintendogs + Cats
- Orcs Must Die!
- Pilotwings Resort
- Pokemon Black and White
- Portal 2
- Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One
- Red Faction: Armageddon
- Resistance 3
- Rock of Ages
- Serious Sam 3: BFE
- Shadows of the Damned
- Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure
- Sonic Generations
- Star Wars: The Old Republic
- Super Mario 3D Land
- Temple Run
- Trine 2
- Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
- Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
- The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
- World of Tanks
- Yakuza 4
Wow! That’s going to do it folks. I had a ton of fun reading up on video game history as I did research for this, and took some lovely trips down memory lane. I hope you stay safe this holiday season; get vaccinated, get your booster, don’t drink & drive, and hug your loved ones, they need it more than ever. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget, next week we’re talking about the upcoming 2022 releases; I can’t wait! Finally, I want to leave you with an all time holiday classic, something that warms my heart every time I hear it; I hope it does the same for you:
Wait, wait…this isn’t it. Shit, okay, let me try this one. This…should…do it…
FUCK! This isn’t it either! Okay, I have it now, I PROMISE.
Sigh…I give up.