Industry highs and lows of 2009

Execs, devs, shops and analysts fill us in.

The Christmas and New Year break affords us a chance for reflection; a glance over the shoulder at a year passed, the games released, the games announced, the shows that have been and gone and the promise of the year ahead.

There were major headlines: Microsoft announcing Project Natal and Sony revealing the PS3 wand, the introduction of Wii MotionPlus, DSi, PS3 Slim and PSPgo. Apple's iPhone also boosted mobile gaming, Michael Jackson died and Twitter took over the internet. All that amidst a global recession.

But what stood out for developers, retailers, executives and analysts?

Who better to start with than Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft's group product manager for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live? Well, Bill Gates would have been nice but we couldn't get hold of him. Greenberg was staggered by the "overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive response to Natal", he told us, and the fact the E3 booth for it was visited by some "very famous creators from other companies".

Ubisoft has apparently promised to make more games for Natal than "any other peripheral coming out in the next 12 months" - "any peripheral" in this case being Sony's PS3 wand, due springtime. Combine the unveiling of Natal, "late night shows" and "The Beatles on our stage", and Greenberg said you had Microsoft's biggest ever E3, which was his highlight of 2009.

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What was it Wenger said? Everyone thinks they've got the prettiest wife at home.

Jason Avent, game director for Pure at Brighton's Black Rock Studio (and therefore my old next door neighbour, fact fans), reckoned Microsoft stole the show. "E3 was great in 2009, and in my opinion the most exciting and important thing to come out of that was Natal. If it works it has masses of potential," he said, adding that "Develop in Brighton was the best yet this year too."

Greenberg continued: "Finally, congrats to Infinity Ward and Activision on the biggest game of the year - look forward to passing the crown next year to Halo: Reach." Always on-message.

Activision's Modern Warfare 2 wasn't just a highlight for 2009 but a landmark for the industry as a whole, showing us "just how big videogames can be these days", according to Antti Ilvessuo, co-founder of Trials HD developer RedLynx.

And the arrival of Modern Warfare 2 and its ilk was a time for retailers like ShopTo's Igor Cipolletta to celebrate. "The biggest triumph of the year has to be the return to prominence of the gamers' titles rather than the year being dominated by casual games like 2008," he claimed. "Great games like Uncharted 2, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising have been a huge success for us."

Modern Warfare 2 may have provided the mainstream media with a new post-GTAIV poster-child, but the hearts of the industry belonged to another: to Batman's second coming in Arkham Asylum.

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Tom thinks they should be calling the sequel 'Batmen'.

"The biggest triumph was, without question, Batman: Arkham Asylum," declared Michael Pachter, analyst for investment bank Wedbush Morgan Securities - a man we hadn't expected to actually like games if we're honest. "An unknown developer took a previously unsuccessful licence and turned it into one of the highest rated games of the year. Bravo to Rocksteady for making the first melee game that I've enjoyed in years," he added.

Split/Second game director Nick Baynes was also "surprised" and "blown away" by Arkham Asylum, which sounds painful. "The combat was sublime and Arkham itself was a really well-realised, cohesive environment," he offered, although "the comedy final boss fight in Arkham Asylum was a bit of a letdown".

Baynes' highlight of 2009 was showing the incredibly promising Split/Second to the public "after being gagged from talking about it for two years". You may have seen the game at the Eurogamer Expo 2009. "The reaction since has been amazing," beamed Baynes, who also like New Super Mario Bros. Wii for its soothing contrast to "blowing s*** up all day".

"The biggest low for me, though, was getting a replacement iPhone and discovering that the App Store doesn't back up your save-games so I had to start everything from scratch again," he growled, probably. "But I guess that goes to show it wasn't a bad year really, was it?"

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