2008 has been a big year for the games market. Game sales soared to new heights this year and resisted the onset of the recession. Here’s a recap of our biggest game-market stories this year (including some links for related stories) for those of you who may have missed them:
1. The Nintendo Wii broke all sales records and expanded the market for gaming beyond nerds. The Wii tapped into a need to play more casual and social games. We had a Q&A with Nintendo of America’s president, Reggie Fils-Aime, about the phenomenon.
2. The industry hit a record $22 billion in the midst of a recession. A census estimates there are 44,400 people working in the U.S. game industry.
3. The iPhone emerged as a game platform. With companies such as Ngmoco making iPhone-only games, the market took off. Thousands of games are now available on Apple’s App Store.
4. Activision closed its merger with Vivendi Games, which included the crown jewel Blizzard Entertainment, maker of World of Warcraft. In post-merger life, the crown jewel was left to operate as its own independent company.
5. VentureBeat uncovered the behind-the-scenes story of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death hardware failure. Microsoft fired the game tester who talked to Venturebeat.
6. Electronic Arts struck out with its holiday line-up. Spore disappointed, and EA was forced to lay off 10 percent of its staff.
7. Both Microsoft and Sony tried to make console games into a more social experience. Sony launched Home virtual world for PlayStation 3, while Microsoft debuted its new Xbox Experience including movies from Netflix. Sony was able to get a bunch of partners to launch inside Home, but users overwhelmed Home in its early days.
8. Electronic Arts courted Take-Two Interactive with a $2 billion hostile takeover bid, but the maker of Grand Theft Auto IV wanted a higher price and the companies gave up on merger talks.
9. Microsoft cut console prices, finally addressed Red Ring of Death with Jasper-based models of the Xbox 360.
10. Advanced Micro Devices took leadership in graphics chips back from Nvidia. It did so by shooting for the sweet spot of the market. Previously, Nvidia owned the gamer market. But now the tables have turned.
11. World of Warcraft expansion pack Wrath of the Lich King sold 2.8 million units in 24 hours.
12. Google launched, then buried, Lively virtual spaces. But it got off the ground with in-game advertising.
13. The redesigned E3 trade show — once a signature extravaganza that drew 80,000 people — was a train wreck, drawing only a few thousand underwhelmed media and business people. Afterward, the game industry vowed to bring the old show back.
14. Music video games overtook sports games, thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises.
15. Nintendo DS ran away with the portable market, outselling the PlayStation Portable by two to one. Then Nintendo announced the DSi improved version of its handheld.
16. Grand Theft Auto IV sold 10 million copies, despite the criticism of anti-violence critics. The biggest game industry critic Jack Thompson was disbarred for unprofessional conduct.
17. Scrabble clone Scrabulous took off on Facebook, Hasbro sued, the game was shut down and the replacement Scrabble tanks.
18. Wii Fit broadened the video game audience and brought the exercise genre — which had been just a niche in the past — to mainstream audiences.
19. Funware — the use of game mechanics in non-game applications — expanded the game industry’s reach beyond games.
20. YouTube became a huge channel for game marketing.
Please check out our link to VentureBeat’s inaugural game conference, GamesBeat 09, on March 24.
Two news bits about the Nintendo Wii snuck out during yesterday's Christmas Day lull: Nintendo announced that the Wii would finally be getting video downloads, and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) said that the console topped its holiday best-seller list.
—Nintendo teams with Dentsu for Wii video service : Nintendo has partnered with Japanese ad agency Dentsu to roll out a video distribution service on the Wii. Reuters says the service will offer both free (ad-supported) and subscription-based shows, though no specific series were named. NewTeeVee reports that the VOD feature, tentatively named the Wiinoma Channel, may not appeal to console owners that have become accustomed to broad show libraries: as it stands, the Wii won't be used to access third-party content over the Web, just the clips that Nintendo approves.
There also weren't any details about when the service would be available outside of Japan, though it's in Nintendo's best interest to scale it out globally at some point. The company has sold roughly 34.6 million Wiis worldwide, and just 7 million of those units were sold in Japan (per Gamespot)—compared to 13.4 million in the U.S. alone.
—Wii fuels Amazon's "best ever" holiday sales : What recession? Online shoppers helped Amazon rake in its best holiday sales season in 14 years—with nearly 73 items ordered per second on Dec 15, its peak day—per a company press release. Amazon called out the Wii specifically in terms of its holiday success, saying: "the Nintendo Wii dominated the top sellers in video games and hardware including the Wii console, the Wii remote controller and the Wii nunchuk controller."