The success and failure of franchises in 2011

Love ’em or hate ’em, the big videogame franchises are the life essence of publishers. If you love them, every 1-3 years you can (often) find yourself playing a bigger and better version of a game you loved. If you hate them, well… at least a massive amount of sales will provide the publisher with funding for more risky ventures you might care more about.

Still, every franchise has to start with that one game that everyone who works on it hopes will be a runaway success. 2011 saw the major publishers pump out many sequels and attempts at establishing new franchises or revitalizing old ones. Sometimes the quality of the game itself was enough to make it a success, sometimes it was pure marketing, and sometimes it was a mix of both.

Let us take a journey through some of these publishers’ biggest franchises and attempts at establishing franchises in 2011.

January

Dead Space 2

2011 got off to a good start with Dead Space 2 and established EA’s action horror franchise as one that has a long way to go. For such a relatively young franchise it’s being supported as one of the major ones, with animated features, a lightgun game (Extraction), a downloadable title (Ignition), three books, and a mobile title to go alongside it.

While not necessarily the scariest game of all time, the Dead Space franchise has successfully entered and claimed the action horror genre while Resident Evil went M.I.A. Color me surprised if we won’t see new Dead Space titles for the next 5 years to come.


February

Marvel vs. Capcom 3

GET HYPE! A lack of a Mega Man character notwithstanding, MvC3 became the biggest fighting game of the year and solidified Capcom’s already strong position as the main pillar in the competitive fighting game genre. The return of the genre itself during the current console cycle was already a blessing thanks to Street Fighter IV and the influx of classic fighters through digital distribution, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Capcom may have lost a bit of goodwill with the relatively early release and SKU format of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 later in the year, but nowhere near enough to damage the franchise on the whole.

Bulletstorm

People Can Fly’s skill-based shooter surprised many skeptics who were afraid that the leash-kick-gun and skillshot mechanics would grow stale far too quickly to keep it an enjoyable experience for a full game. With Epic Games on board to co-develop the title, a clever way of tracking skillshots to encourage gameplay variety, and some amazing writing thrown in the mix, Bulletstorm was a great shooter that dared to stray from the tried and tested formulas and succeeded. At least on a critical level.

Although the game didn’t sell horribly, it didn’t sell enough to turn a profit for Epic. Those ads with Cliff Bleszinski and Mike Capps in a shower probably didn’t help to create many sales for anyone who wasn’t interested in the game before, although the trailers generally did a good job at showing what the game was all about. Perhaps it just wasn’t enough, or too weird for most. With rumors of People Can Fly developing a Gears of War prequel trilogy, it seems that despite having a rich enough universe to work with, the Bulletstorm IP is unlikely to reappear in the near future. The type of gameplay and Epic’s technical knowhow might make it early future console title material to showcase the new hardware in some form, though.

Killzone 3

Whereas the first Killzone would have made the franchise largely forgettable if it hadn’t received the hugely hyped and highly anticipated sequel on the PlayStation 3, Killzone 3 managed to meet expectations during a time of the year where there wasn’t much novel competition in the online shooter environment. Between this and Mass Effect 2 finally hitting the PS3 a month before, it was a good time to be a PS3 owner.

Guerrilla Games is certainly not a studio to rest on its laurels, so expect their next title to be as tech-heavy as you’ve come to expect. A Killzone for the PS Vita would be a logical choice, if a console sequel and their new IP aren’t eating up all of their resources.


March

Dragon Age II

BioWare continues to refine the RPG genre beyond the ’90s PC era, but Dragon Age II was one step too far for many fans of Dragon Age: Origins. Whether it was the faster-paced and less tactical combat or the less-than-epic and single protagonist-focused storyline, DA II was not a bad game by any means but not quite the improvement everyone was waiting for. Supported by the BioWare brand, a traditional EA marketing campaign, and a trailer that showcased Hawke and the different combat styles in an expertly crafted fashion, Dragon Age II did sell enough to warrant a future title — not that there was ever any doubt of Dragon Age III not happening.

BioWare has a huge amount of Dragon Age lore on paper at their offices and to date we’ve only seen a fraction of the universe they’ve created. Story-wise, the end of DA II did fit nicely into the world of Dragon Age: Origins, so a return to form can be expected for the third title. The big question is how BioWare will evolve the combat mechanics. Recent DLC did gravitate towards a more tactical approach in response to fan feedback, and if anything BioWare is a studio that listens to feedback to a point.

Whereas Mass Effect has found its sweet spot for marrying action combat and RPG elements, it’s going to be interesting to see what the next Dragon Age title will give us.

Homefront

Certainly not lacking in marketing with North Koreans walking the streets, taco trucks offering Korean food and copies of the novel, and other crazy PR stunts, Homefront was one of this year’s oddest IPs. Critically panned for its short and mediocre campaign, it did manage to ship more than 2.6 million copies. Alas, it was not quite the Call of Duty beater THQ was hoping for and development studio Kaos was closed only a few months after the title’s launch. Ouch.

Crysis 2

Crysis and the CryEngine are things that Crytek likes to turn into something bigger than they actually are, but Crysis 2 surprised plenty of people — not in the least because it was actually playable on existing hardware. Although it suffered from a leaked early build and a lack of DirectX 11 support at launch, much to the chagrin of PC gamers who wanted to push their hardware to the limit, it sold around 3 million copies or more, regardless. Crysis 3 is a given, especially as the first one was created with a trilogy in mind.

Dynasty Warriors 7

Warriors fans were able to press X X X X Y again to their hearts content this year, and of course there will be a Dynasty Warriors 8. What raised quite a few eyebrows was that the title managed to make it to the top 10 of the UK sales charts, and was able to keep its price from being dropped to bargain levels at UK online retailers for quite some time — no small feat.

Total War: SHOGUN 2

The Creative Assembly continued its streak of excellent Total War games (we’re going to let that Archimedes level in Spartal: Total Warrior slide) with Shogun 2 and a return to feudal Japan. A bunch of DLC in the form of Clan packs and the Rise of the Samurai campaign kept it going well after launch, and there’s no reason to believe it will be the last in the Total War series. If only it was The Creative Assembly who made the A Game of Thrones RTS…


April

Portal 2

The Game of the Year for many, Portal 2 delivered on the high expectations of practically everyone but those who wanted it to be Episode 3 instead. Featuring a good sized campaign, fantastic writing and pacing, excellent co-op, Steamworks integration allowing PS3/PC cross-platform play, and plenty of opportunities for user created levels down the line, it wasn’t just a great game but a great package. Valve’s trademark style allowed for a well-made selection of trailers that highlighted the humor and the gameplay, plus it’s one of the most beloved of studios who can apparently do no wrong.

Portal 2 became a big success with 4 million copies sold excluding Steam sales in the first month, making it one of the biggest hits of 2011. Also, no word of Episode 3.

May


Brink

Adding Mirror’s Edge free-running to an Enemy Territory style of team-based online shooter gameplay wasn’t a bad idea by any means, but Brink failed to get a foothold among gamers. Hampered by online issues at launch and launching in the same month as L.A. Noire, the title quickly received price cuts at online retailers (in the UK at least) and didn’t gain enough momentum to survive until the Holiday season shooter behemoths arrived in full force. A shame, because Brink could be a blast to play.

Perhaps this type of online-focused shooter is better off on the digital distribution platforms for a budget price, like Section 8: Prejudice, since the military shooter war between EA and Activision apparently leaves little room for full-priced games to carve a niche.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

One of this year’s great PC exclusives, not everyone cared for The Witcher 2. It was miles better than the first game and much more impressive in terms of cutscenes, graphics, and a story that changed drastically depending on your choices. It was definitely not a perfect game (perhaps a Director’s Cut will fix that), with a non-existent tutorial throwing many to the wolves, and some skill trees and spells being a bit unbalanced at launch. Most importantly, the game made you feel as if Geralt didn’t actually get stronger throughout the game, but only leveled up to become the fighter you’d expect him to be.

Sales-wise, it didn’t sell that great on digital platforms. 200,000 units on Steam, 40,000 on GOG, and 10,000 on the other digital distribution platforms are nothing to write home about, but thankfully CD Projekt is bigger than CD Projekt RED alone. If anything, leave it to the wildcard Polish company to keep polishing The Witcher 2 on PC, finally allow console gamers to play the game, and keep working on The Witcher 3 just because they want to, and can.

L.A. Noire

Team Bondi’s game was set up to be a big franchise starter, with a large marketing campaign, tons of DLC and even a season pass to keep players playing the title for months. Driven by boundless ambition, the long-delayed title finally came out this year to critical praise and plenty of copies sold, although Take Two was probably glad to just being able to finally ship it and offset at least some of the cost of the title’s years long development. However, stories of the human cost of the project emerged some time later. These stories of harsh crunch times and Brendan McNamara’s leadership style, as well as how developers who had left were refused credit, ended up imploding the studio and resulting in the closure of Team Bondi in September.

L.A. Noire was one of this year’s most intriguing titles, even if it was basically a big budget CSI game that actually good and had some open world aspects that weren’t all that necessary. If anything, it will go down in history as a lesson how not to manage a multiple-year development project and how to shout like a lunatic if you think somebody is lying to your face.

June:


Duke Nukem Forever

DNF may not have met everyone’s expectations after all those years, but at least it was finally released so we could all shut up about it. Or could we? Not the wild success Take Two hoped for, it was and remains somewhat of a novelty title and a lot of sales were probably driven by a morbid curiosity more than anything else. Despite everything, it did put Duke Nukem back on the agenda and the aging hero received a ridiculous amount of attention for months, so the disappointment many have felt after playing Duke Nukem Forever might just make them ready for a new and better game down the line. Roll on Duke Nukem Eternal.

Red Faction: Armageddon

With its more linear campaign, Armageddon‘s departure from Guerrilla wasn’t quite what everyone was hoping for in the end. Debates on things such as whether or not it was true in spirit to the first two cavernous games, or if THQ’s transmedia strategy and the resulting mediocre-but-still-better-than-most-SyFy-Original-movies Red Faction: Origins did it any favors, are now irrelevant as THQ has shelved the franchise for the foreseeable future. The publisher isn’t in the best shape as it stands, so while the Red Faction franchise itself will probably live on and showcase a new generation of hardware and destructible terrain in the future, it’s going to take a while.

The Descent-like sections in Armageddon did lead to much salivating among fans of Volition’s old PC hits in the run-up to the launch, so perhaps they could work on a new title like Descent or Freespace that is separate from Interplay’s IP ownership, eh? Eh!?

Dungeon Siege III

More Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance than the first two Dungeon Siege games and heavy on a story that the franchise wasn’t exactly known for, Dungeon Siege III wasn’t the runaway success that Square Enix and Obsidian had perhaps hoped for, but it was nevertheless an enjoyable hack & slash distraction. Complaints from the PC crowd and problems with the co-op camera system didn’t do the latest installment any favors, either. However, it sold well enough and received DLC a few months later.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more Dungeon Siege in the future, but Square Enix would be wise to release it as far away from Torchlight II as possible.

Alice: Madness Returns

Spicy Horse’s take on American McGee’s Alice wasn’t great, but it was a passable diversion if a fairly monotonous one. Between the lock-on camera that would leave you vulnerable to off-screen enemies and the rather awkward teleporting dodge move that didn’t actually teleport through enemies, the core gameplay could be hit or miss depending on how demanding a mood you were in while playing it. Its environments were crazy and fitting enough for an Alice game, but it failed to recreate the blissful wonder that the first game gave us and it’s hard to imagine a return of Alice Liddell in the foreseeable future. On the upside, you received the original for free if you bought the game new.


July


Call of Juarez: The Cartel

The original Call of Juarez was decent enough, and its sequel Bound in Blood was one of the best recent Western games until Red Dead Redemption came along. So whoever had the bright idea of putting the only other Western franchise in a modern setting can go screw himself. Call of Juarez: The Cartel ended up being even worse than expected and it would’ve been the deathblow to anything Call of Juarez if Rockstar’s 2010 hit title didn’t popularize the Western setting again. There’s still room for more Western games and Call of Juarez is the only slightly well-known IP that has a somewhat established modern presence in this genre outside of RDR, so if we’ll see a new Call of Juarez that is even half-decent but set in the Old West again, I bet most will be willing to just forget that The Cartel ever happened.


August

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Eidos Montréal was tasked with the gargantuan task of delivering a new title in the spirit of the original Deus Ex, updating it to the modern era, and dealing with the demands of one of gaming’s most hardcore fanbase. Remarkably, they managed to deliver on every front. Despite being a prequel, Human Revolution played like Deus Ex without dumbing down the game and offered a similarly lengthy story to boot.

Supported by developer diary style videos, an Art Director who somehow became one of the primarily spokespersons for the title, and exceptionally managed dialogue between the studio and the game’s community leading to things like optional object highlighting to make it more like the original Deus Ex, Human Revolution sold 2.18 million copies as of November. A post-credits sequence hinted at more of the Deus Ex storyline to flesh out, so it looks like the franchise is healthy and in good hands at the Montréal studio.

Arguably the most important part of Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s legacy is that it finally succeeded in creating a game that brought us what made the original — one of the best games of all time — so special, where others never even came close to the excellence that was Deus Ex. If a future title in the franchise fails to deliver, at the very least DXHR showed the world that players want more of this type of game.


September


Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

IT’S DA SPOICE MARINE!” Relic’s attempt at bringing the 40K license to the shooter genre eventually resulted in one of the most brutally enjoyable shooters of the year (especially if you’re partial to the 40K universe). Some critics were annoyed by the somewhat cliffhanger ending when THQ hinted there wouldn’t be a sequel, but is it really that hard to imagine what happens afterwards?

Captain Titus would have gotten a chance to stomp more xeno and heretic scum in the face, and we would’ve enjoyed doing so. How he would get back into his fighting self would’ve been introduced by an intro cinematic and perhaps a slowly paced level that showed how he got out of his predicament. Some films are praised for not explaining the obvious future events before the credits roll, so I don’t really understand why it was suddenly a big deal for this game when the main story arc got closure and Titus’ character would’ve only allowed for more alien asskicking in the future.

Regardless, Relic did show that it could pull off creating a 40K game that was not an RTS, even if in this case the game didn’t do well enough to warrant its own sub-franchise. Releasing it in the same month as Gears of War 3 was not the most strategically inspired choice, either.

Resistance 3

Admittedly I’ve never played a single Resistance game so I can’t really argue its quality, but it felt like Insomniac’s third console entry in the series was quickly forgotten in the violent torrent of the holiday season’s massive marketing push. It looked like the kind of game you might have been waiting for if you were a Resistance fan, but if you were not one of those or never got around to playing the first two games, it’s not hard to imagine how this could all too easily create a barrier between saving your cash and giving the third title in a series a try. While it had somewhat disappointing sales for such a big PS3 exclusive, the release of the Resistance Dual Pack might create some new fans and give Resistance 3 the long legs it needs.

The franchise will see its Vita entry next year, developed by Nihilistic Software, so it looks like we’ll see more Resistance in years to come, although probably not by Insomniac. After three titles, I can imagine they want to work on something else again.

Gears of War 3

Apparently there is a story in the Gears of War series, and it ended with Gears of War 3. At least, for Marcus Fenix & Co. As one of the few big Xbox 360 exclusives Microsoft has left, everything surrounding the final chapter was made to be a pretty big deal and without a proper new Halo title there wasn’t much else for 360 fanboys to cling to. Between the popular multiplayer in which people shoot each other with shotguns and the Horde 2.0 upgrade, Gears 3 has plenty of life left in it to last a while.

If People Can Fly are indeed taking charge of the Gears of War franchise and developing the prequel trilogy, it leaves Epic Games to work on their unannounced new titles and their new Unreal Engine technology. Free-to-play Unreal Tournament 4, anyone?

Driver: San Francisco

After the last couple of Driver titles, it was definitely time for a breath of fresh air for this old franchise. I doubt anyone expected Driver: San Francisco‘s approach of using a comatose protagonist who can shift into different cars, but it turned it into a crazy and fun racer in a year that also saw the unfortunate demise of other UK racing game specialist studios Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studio. Ubisoft’s financial report mentioned the new Driver selling above expectations, which is good news for fans of the more arcade type of racers.


October

Dark Souls

The surprise hit Demon’s Souls allowed for a sequel, and Dark Souls shows that From Software has found its niche: masochist gamers. With veterans who casually mention how it’s not that hard in the way a connoisseur of BDSM might scoff at the lack of a tazer unit in the Saint’s Row: The Third dildobat, there’s no doubt that the Souls franchise has built its tower of eternal torment on the gaming landscape.

While it improved on the first game, Dark Souls didn’t do everything quite perfect just yet. We’ll probably see a Black Souls or Onyx Souls in the next couple of years.

RAGE

id Software’s latest tech showcase was generally received as something like “a pretty good shooter that didn’t do anything remarkable.” You could see Jesse Pinkman play it in Breaking Bad, but other than that it’s likely going to be the technology behind it (megatextures!) that will be the title’s legacy for years to come. It’s a shame that the PC version was such a mess when it was released, especially given id Software’s history on the PC, and we’ll have to see how Bethesda will deal with fan demand to mod the idTech 5 engine once games come out that beg for modding.

As for the RAGE franchise itself, it’s nice to see id Software do something else than Doom and Quake but we’d rather have the next title be Doom 4 than RAGE 2.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

A far cry from what many Ace Combat fans wanted from the next title in the franchise, Assault Horizon‘s “Modern Warfare” approach tried to sell the combat flight sim genre to a new crowd that apparently likes that sort of thing. When asked if this would be the new path for Project Aces during gamescom 2011, Kazutoki Kono said it would depend on the new title’s success. Assault Horizon did top the Japanese charts for a bit, but didn’t manage to capture the Western audiences as planned. Assuming that the Japanese simply bought it because it was called Ace Combat, there’s still a sliver of hope for fans that the next title will just be good old Ace Combat 7.

Battlefield 3

EA’s frontal assault on Call of Duty reached a climax in October when it tried to sell everyone and their mother on Battlefield 3. Often considered to be the more adult and complex online shooter franchise largely thanks to its PC roots, it managed to sell over 8 million copies thanks to its trademark multiplayer and gargantuan marketing budget. Enough to unseat Call of Duty? No, but enough to make a big enough dent.

Battlefield has stayed pretty strong in recent years, with Bad Company, Battlefield Heroes, and the downloadable Battlefield 1943 titles keeping players occupied between Battlefield 2 and 3. The franchise is in great shape, despite EA’s insistence on the Origin platform being a requirement of the PC version of Battlefield 3 and its rather unspectacular initial performance. If EA can get Origin to pass its teething pains and use it to compete against Activision’s Call of Duty Elite, we’re in for a long battle for the attention — and revenue — of the online shooter enthusiast.

Batman: Arkham City

Arkham City was bigger and badder than Arkham Asylum ever was. For some it was too big, leading to a bit of an unfocused collectathon filled with cries for attention whenever you were only trying to reach a certain location and start a story mission. I didn’t really have a problem with that, but that’s probably because I still have to finish the majority of the sidequests and Riddler challenges. Arkham City gave us an astounding amount to do and a New Game+ to do it all over again, and became a massive success for both Rocksteady and WB Games in the process. The best of luck to Rocksteady on working under the pressure of the sky-high expectations, but since they’ve already shown they can pull it off twice in a row, they’ll hopefully not worry too much.

Dance Central 2/Just Dance 3

The two biggest titles in the dancing genre got to duke it out on Kinect for the first time this year. Dance Central 2 replaced Dance Central as the must-have Kinect title for everyone who buys Kinect to play games, with more of a campaign, a better Break It Down mode, and instant access to all difficulties this time around.

Just Dance 3, Ubisoft’s monster seller, brought its wildly popular gameplay to all three consoles in 2011 but time will tell how much Harmonix will suffer from the competition. While they are arguably different kinds of dancing games altogether, the casual audience might not see the difference and decide between the two based on what their children demand, or their peers talk about. Harmonix does benefit from its experience with selling songs as DLC which, bundled with being the first to enter the controller-less dancing arena with success, will likely keep it afloat now that the music peripheral genre has somewhat imploded. Meanwhile, the legal fight between Harmonix and Viacom carries ever onwards.


November

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Someone was mad enough to give this title a 9.5/10 because he deemed it enjoyable, prompting a healthy discussion filled with good arguments people to lose their shits. Quality aside, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 managed to sell ridiculously well despite the departure of a lot of Infinity Ward’s staff — although one might wonder what percentage of CoD fans even know what an Infinity Ward is. 2011 also saw the launch of Call of Duty Elite, a quite frankly brilliant way to get people to pay money for statistics that are being generated at a very low cost.

Activision is definitely not the most risk-taking publisher out there, but it’s franchises like this that have allowed for games like Singularity in the past, so you might as well be grateful for small favors if Call of Duty‘s success offends the core of your existence. It also means I’m expecting a proper new Battlezone title, Activision!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Other than the cringe-factor of people using the “arrow in the knee” joke unironically a few days after it became a meme, Skyrim did pretty much everything right and became a monster of a hit that even managed to kick MW3 into a corner on Steam. There’s not much left to say about the phenomenon that was, and is, Skyrim other than that if you are reading this now, you have either not started it yet or you’ve already put well over 60 hours into it, and probably more.

Given Bethesda’s track record, we can expect a bunch of DLC to be spread across 2012 and a ton of excellent and insane mods to be released for the PC version. The Elder Scrolls franchise lives on and prospers.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Better multiplayer than Brotherhood‘s — if you can connect as a team — and pretty disappointing at being a revelation just about sums up the new Assassin’s Creed. All eyes are on next year’s Assassin’s Creed III and on how Ubisoft will deal with being forced to close one chapter of its most popular IP due to the story reaching its apex in the year 2012, and continuing the franchise beyond the Templars’ nefarious plan to launch their satellite into space and control human evolution — provided the 2012 apocalypse doesn’t destroy the entire human race. I’m sure Ubisoft can find a way for Desmond to save the world and keep on fighting the Templars for years to come.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Perhaps the Uncharted formula started to show its age a bit during this third installment, but it remains the king of AAA games when it comes to delivering thrilling set pieces to run, climb, and shoot your way through. If anything, Uncharted 3 was the closest you could get to typical Hollywood blockbuster entertainment in 2011. While there was some review “controversy” when people dared to give it a 10/10 or an 8/10, most Uncharted fans had already decided they would play it when Uncharted 3 was announced. Unremarkable in both marketing and buzz, it was simply “the next Uncharted” that you knew you wanted or didn’t want to play.

Naughty Dog’s studio expansion and its upcoming The Last of Us might give it the well-deserved change of pace after three games featuring Nathan Drake, but the Uncharted franchise continues without them in the form of the PS Vita Uncharted: Golden Abyss launch title.

Sonic Generations

SEGA did the impossible in 2011, releasing a new and full-fledged Sonic title that didn’t suck. The kind of Sonic game you could give to your child in order to pass your love for the blue hedgehog down a generation, without adding the almost obligatory “this isn’t as good as the one daddy and mommy played when they were young, though!” comment.

It also restored some faith in Sonic Team that was eroded over the years, and with the recent announcement of Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II it looks like the Sonic franchise is in pretty good shape for the future.

Rayman Origins

A new Rayman game! And it’s in 2D! And it’s a bit like New Super Mario Bros. Wii with the co-op, but not exactly! And good sales for Rayman Origins would help speed up development of Beyond Good & Evil 2! How could it possibly fail? Yet somehow it did, not managing to even break into the sales charts in many countries. Buzz for the new Rayman wasn’t very strong, sure, but was that the main thing that that lead to this? Were there just too many other games we wanted to buy in Q4? It’s a tough call to make, but it’s clear that Ubisoft’s desire to turn Origins into a game that could be found under the Christmas tree of millions of children did not actually lead to any positive result.

Time will tell how it will affect the hero that already lost an arm and a leg, twice. Perhaps a digital-only and episodic future is the way forward?

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I’m the worst person to talk about a Zelda game, but you have to respect Nintendo for being able to deliver on years of hype for Skyward Sword. After a pretty disastrous demo of the Motion Plus controls on stage at E3 2010, Nintendo kept doing its casual and heartwarming style of providing Zelda propaganda to keep people interested. A few ads with Robin and Zelda Williams, the release of Ocarina of Time 3D, and Zelda music concerts helped to keep the franchise on everyone’s radar. Most importantly, though, the game met critical acclaim and people seem to love it all around. It also gave people a reason to play a big new game on their Wii if they didn’t live in Europe and weren’t already playing Xenoblade.

Saint’s Row: The Third

If there was an award for “most ridiculous marketing for a videogame” then Saint’s Row: The Third would have won it. From its insane Professor Genki character and tie-ins, to the Penthouse QA press release and generally the entire marketing campaign focusing on how ridiculous the game is, people were ready to love the game to death. Upon launch, it wasn’t exactly a Grand Theft Auto beater for most despite not being all that similar in the first place, but it showed there was still room for an enjoyable and stupidly fun game that allowed you to do the most ridiculous things.

The massive amount of marketing seems to have paid off as Saint’s Row: The Third was able to slip into the top 10 charts during a killer season, meaning we surely haven’t seen the last of Saint’s Row unless THQ simply vanishes from the planet. And what else is Volition going to develop? Freespace?


December


Star Wars: The Old Republic

EA and BioWare ruined the family spirit of Christmas by releasing the long-awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic late December. It seems that the issues that plagued the beta have been addressed in the run-up to the massive launch, at least if the first impressions are any indication. However, 2012 will be the year in which SWTOR has to prove if it has the high level content to keep players coming back and paying every month, or if it will move to a free-to-play model earlier than anyone would anticipate.

The rest

2011 was a year littered with big budget sequels that did well for the most part, but many of the new titles with a future of sequels of their own could be found among the smaller and indie studios. For example, Orcs Must Die! simply begs for a sequel with co-op, Dungeon Defenders will keep on trucking for a while to come, and Fruit Ninja got its Kinect incarnation.

These IPs may not be household name franchises yet, but the landscape of gaming is forever in a state of flux and the big up and comers seem to be the success stories of the age of digital distribution. This time next year, it’s going to be interesting to see just how much of a bite these smaller but popular little games can take out of the total consumer base’s disposable income during tough economic times, and if it will come at the cost of spending money on AAA titles.

Another change in the landscape could be seen in developments on the free-to-play and mobile fronts. 2011 saw increased success for games like League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 went free-to-play, and a great deal of MMOs adopted the free-to-play model in order to survive and boost its userbase, or launched as a free-to-play game right off the bat. Mobile games saw the adoption of freemium as new social games can be found more and more on iOS and Android, and hit titles like Tiny Tower sparked debate on whether it’s actually a game or simply an exercise in compulsive tapping.

Developments in the games industry continue at a breakneck pace and it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with actually playing everything on offer nowadays, but we’ll try to cover as much as we can as we enter 2012 with high anticipations of what the next year will give us. Bring it, 2012!

Maurice Tan