What a year 2010 was for gaming news headlines. From studio shutdowns to vengeful lawsuits to top executives saying their motion controller is better than the other top executive's motion controller, it's been a real rollercoaster. All right, more like a reasonably swift bus ride.
But who were the real winners and losers? Who had a good year and who had an annus horribibirilius? Who will be toasting the new year with a glass of champagne, and who will be drowning their sorrows in a bucket of Kestrel?
Some will remember the past 12 months with fondness, while others won't want to remember them at all. Here's a roundup of the big names, great games and serially litigious independent developers who made headlines this year.
Good Year For...
Sometimes you just want someone to say it like it is. So three cheers for Tim Schafer, creator of Psychonauts, boss of Double Fine Productions and man who called Bobby Kotick "a dick".
The bubbly brunette hit back, pointing out he'd never met Schafer and standing by his decision to cancel Double Fine project Brutal Legend. Kotick also said his statement about plans to "take the fun out of making videogames" was "a quip". (Curiously, Kotick made no attempt to claim his comment about the Tony Hawk: RIDE board being good was also meant to be funny.)
Meanwhile, Schafer received plenty of critical acclaim for downloadable title Costume Quest. "It's another delightful look into the minds of children," wrote our reviewer. Sounds more appealing than a look into the mind of Bobby Kotick. Boo, hiss, he's behind you, etc.
No matter what Schafer had to say about him, it seems doubtful Kotick spent 2010 crying into his electronic skateboard. He led Activision to yet another victory with Call of Duty: Black Ops, which racked up $650 million in sales and broke the record set by Modern Warfare 2. By Christmas, the figure had risen to $1 billion. That's a lot of sweater vests, eh Bobby?
Activision made more headlines when it signed a ten-year publishing deal with Halo maker Bungie. A statement released by the studio said: "Don't worry, we won't let World Domination go to our heads. We're gonna keep making kick-ass games on our own terms." Fair enough, Bungie, but couldn't you try being a bit more American and gung-ho about the whole thing?
The deal was announced less than two months after Activision ejected Jason West and Vince Zampella from Infinity Ward. Bungie might want to watch out – if you can get the sack at Activision for developing the best-selling game of the year, who knows what happens if you're caught stealing paperclips?
If there's one publisher with as much of a penchant for record-breaking as Activision, it's sister company Blizzard. Just look at StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty - released last summer, it racked up sales of more than 3 million within a month.
As if that wasn't enough to send Roy Castle from six to midnight, the launch of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm followed in December. This time round 3.3 million copies were shifted in just 24 hours, making Cataclysm the fastest-selling PC game since the last time Blizzard released a WOW expansion pack.
So what else is the company keeping up its wizard's sleeve? Apparently Blizzard is hard at work on a next-gen MMO, which is being developed with the working title title Titan. News of the project slipped out just last month, much to Blizzard's disappointment.
"The media is not meant to know anything about that," an executive told the media, in between shutting the door and watching the horse disappear over the horizon.
Judging by the success of Bobby and Blizzard, you'd think only big corporations and multi-million dollar blockbusters can achieve success these days. But in 2010, one game came out of nowhere to prove that theory wrong. Its name, as you might have guessed from reading the title of this article section, was Minecraft.
"This is a game which revels in the joy of creation," Rob Fahey explained. "It's a game made for people who aren't intimidated by starting off in a world with no real objectives other than to survive, to progress, to explore and - most of all - to build."
Minecraft is the brainchild of one man: independent developer Markus Persson. Following the game's success he set up his own company, Mojang Specifications, which is based in Stockholm. By the end of 2010 Minecraft had been purchased more than 800,000 times and had 2.5 million registered users.
A rags to riches story and no mistake. But perhaps the most heartwarming aspect of the Minecraft tale is the way it brought Eurogamer readers together. In the autumn a group of forumites got together to build a scale model of York Minster, the largest medieval cathedral in the UK. Makes a change from calling each other ****s.
Returns to Form
Every year the gaming release schedule is packed with sequels, spin-offs, rehashes and re-releases. So it has always been, and so it will always be. (For evidence of this, get a copy of the 2011 schedule and put a tick next to every title without a number in it. You won't blunt your pencil.)
At least in 2010, some of those sequels and reboots turned out to be well worth the wait. There was downloadable offering Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, for example – the game which finally proved SEGA was wrong about the series needing to go 3D, and that everyone else in the world was right.
Meanwhile, Donkey Kong Country Returns might as well have had "To Form" tucked in on the end of the title. The lush visuals, pacy gameplay and serious difficulty curve were so well-designed it was almost possible to forget the Ant and Dec advert entirely.
And finally, 2010 saw the release of another series instalment we'd been waiting seven thousand years for. Gran Turismo 5 scored highly on Eurogamer and was a huge commercial hit, knocking Black Ops from its perch at the top of the chart. Or should that be screeching past Black Ops to race into pole position before burning rubber all the way to the top of the winner's podium oh God I'm going to kill myself.
To be specific, it was a good year for fans of motion control. We've no idea whether it was a good year for the motion controllers themselves or the people who make them – because it's still not clear just how many people have actually bought Move and Kinect.
Back in November Sony announced 4.1 million Moves had been shipped. This was in response to Microsoft's news that 2.5 million Kinect units had been sold. Shipped and sold are quite different things so it's hard to draw a direct comparison, but one thing's for sure: Nintendo's still winning.
Since then everyone's been mysteriously quiet. Except, of course, for leading industry clairvoyant Michael Pachter, who claimed sales of Kinect and Move were neck-and-neck. And who, nine days later, revealed Kinect bundles were outselling Move bundles 5 to 1.
The point is, it was a good year for anyone who likes waving round plastic sticks with magic light-up ping pong balls on the end, or who enjoys the unrivalled freedom of controller-free gaming, as long as they have a lounge like an empty swimming pool.
Bad Year For...
Poor old EA. First the publisher came under fire for introducing Project Ten Dollar, an initiative designed to discourage second-hand sales. It proved particularly unpopular in the UK, perhaps due to the less catchy brand name of Project £6.38.
Then there was Talibangate. EA ended up cancelling plans to feature the big T in the multiplayer mode of Afghanistan-based shooter Medal of Honor, following pressure from politicians and the media. It's all right to shoot foreigners, see, just not empathise with them.
Weeks later, the publisher hit the headlines once again when a disgruntled employee wrote an online rant against EA and BioWare Mythic. The self-titled "EA Louse" claimed forthcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic had cost more money to make than Avatar, and that it would be rubbish.
BioWare doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk hit back, telling Eurogamer: "It is not going to be rubbish." (May be paraphrasing here.)
At least EA won a whole new legion of new fans in 2010 by taking on litigious pantomime villain Tim Langdell. Eurogamer had been reporting on Langdell's crusade to protect his "Edge" trademark since August of the previous year, but it was EA's legion of lawyers who finally delivered justice back in October.
Six days later, Langdell lost his trademarks. He was also forced to write to everyone he'd ever sued to let them know. What this will cost him in stamps and biro ink alone would render anyone bankrupt.
By the end of the same week, Langdell had been booted out of the International Game Developers Association. He was dismissed for displaying a "lack of integrity" and "unethical behaviour".
Not many people cried very hard.
There was plenty of sympathy, however, for Realtime Worlds. Dave Jones' Dundee-based studio went into administration back in August. The developer's latest project, cops and robbers-themed MMO APB, just hadn't attracted enough players. In the end, APB was online for just 86 days.
It's never funny when people lose their jobs, unless they're BNP councillors, so there's not much more to say about this one. For the full story, you're better off reading our Fall of Realtime Worlds feature, which explains where it all went wrong.
Time to move onto something cheerier – well, funnier anyway. 2010 was the year Tiger Woods, a golfer so famous even I've heard of him, was exposed as a love rat. Which is of course what men get called when they've been dirty old slags.
One analyst blamed falls in sales of Tiger's videogames on his antics. But EA Sports boss Peter Moore stood by him, which wasn't surprising since he'd previously expressed support for an actual convicted rapist. The question is, how long will EA stick with Woods?
"We have no plans to move away from him, but it's a business relationship on the basis of we make the best golf game and he's the best golfer," said platinum-coiffured EA king John Riccitiello. "We're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for a period of time."
All the best then, Tiger.
And there we were hoping to get through one of these entries without mentioning EA. Unfortunately they published Rock Band 3, which made headlines in 2010 for not selling very many copies at all.
So much for Harmonix's claims that no one bought Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock because they were waiting for RB3. Activision's offering had also failed to set the tills ringing, with less than a fifth the number of copies sold compared to previous instalments.
But the dream isn't over, according to Screen Digest analyst Piers Harding-Rolls. "I don't believe the music genre is at a dead end," he said. Hooray! "I expect dance titles to sell well this Christmas." Oh.
John Riccitiello agrees: "I think the music genre is going to recover. I don't know exactly how. It could be based on some new innovation. Maybe it all becomes dance-based." I'd prefer it all to become One Direction-based, but perhaps that's a personal thing.
Cast your mind back to E3 2009. That's when Gepetto Molyneux first introduced us to Milo, his virtual talking boy. "It's very different. It's very ambitious. But we're going for it," he told us. It was all very exciting.
Molyneux cast doubt on this assertion by revealing that Project Milo was just a tech demo.
"It's definitely not just a tech demo," said Greenberg six days later.
"I still think this is a very, very big tech demo," Molyneux then said. "I don't think of it as a released product at the moment... I don't think of it as something that would be a boxed product on the shelf," he added.
"Of course! I wouldn't be working on it if I didn't hope that to be true, yes," said Molyneux a few weeks later, when asked if he thought of Milo as something that would be a boxed product on the shelf.
The same day Eurogamer published that interview, rumours emerged that Project Milo had been cancelled.
Just to round it all off, a Microsoft bigwig Alex Kipman claimed Milo had never been announced as a game, adding that it was "never really a product". He basically insinuated that the whole thing had never existed in the first place, as though it were just a dream emerging out of the bizarre ramblings of a crazy old man. As if.
Farewell then, Milo. And farewell 2010. Let's hope more this year brings us more exciting new game announcements, amusing executive spats and brilliant Peter Molyneux quotes than ever before.