Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Looking back to the future of fun

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter, BBC News

As 2008 draws to a close and with 2009 just around the corner, it has been an eventful year for the games industry.

Crystal ball
Will the recession and a lack of triple-A titles make 2009 a year the industry will want to forget?

Call of Duty: World at War surpassed expectations, Wii Fit showed us that you can play video games and still keep the spare tyre in check, Gears of War 2 proved the Xbox 360 was still a force to be reckoned with, selling over two million units world wide.

World of Warcraft released the Wrath of the Lich King and kept millions of gamers glued to their PCs for another six months, and Grand Theft Auto IV took the world by storm.

But with the economy cooling, games companies like Sony shedding jobs, and a shortage of triple A titles scheduled for release, what does 2009 have in store for gamers and the video game industry?

We put that question to some of the industry stalwarts, asking them for their thoughts on how 2008 has been for them and what they think the next year will bring.

PETER MOLYNEUX: Video game designer, Lionhead Studios
Peter Molyneux

"2008 was the year that the Nintendo Wii got even better, more than anyone really thought possible when it first launched. The 360 did well, although it was put into the shade somewhat by the Wii. PlayStation 3 has been disappointing to say the least.

On the gaming front, GTA IV was a real moment for the industry. Rockstar nailed how you characterise a game and their engine and cut sequences are state of the art. However, only a few people actually saw all the cut sequences because the game was so tough to play. Are we making games too difficult? That's a question the industry has been asking itself of late.

We - as developers - are finally comfortable with the next-gen consoles and we saw a slew of sequels this year. Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, Fable II, the seventh Tomb Raider.

One of my personal favourites was Little Big Planet; superb artistry and a fantastic marketing job by Sony - yet it didn't make the numbers. I wonder if Christmas is really the right time to release a new title. We've got into a rhythm [of sequels at Christmas] which is all fair and well while people are buying games but we have to make sure we don't get complacent.

Next year, well, it's all looking a bit dry. All the triple A titles came out this Christmas and while there is stuff in 2010 we can look forward to, off the top of my head I cannot think of anything next year that really excites me.

Everyone says games are good value for home entertainment, despite the relatively high price. I'm not so sure. I think we're going to see a lot of price pressure put on games.

And as for Lionhead: now we've got Fable II out of the door we can focus on our other project - it's super secret for now - but we might announce it next year."

PAUL BARNETT: Creative director, Mythic Entertainment
Paul Barnett

"Personally 2008 was like giving birth: lots of pain, struggle, huffing, and puffing. But the end result [Warhammer Online] was worth it; it's no longer ours, it belongs to the players.

It was a year of disappointing big games; budgets too big, development too long, platforms underdeveloped, and expectations were too high. The Wii produced some kooky games that defied logic, the 360 continues to do well, the PS3 is desperately trying to find a market, and the PC was coming to terms with DRM (digital rights management).

At the same time, 2008 was the year that web browser games came of age: proof that backroom coders, great art design, and business know-how can exist under the same roof: Passage, Shift, World of Goo, and Portal were all very curious.

GTA IV was the most impressive game of 2009, because it's almost impossible to deliver a game that good. It was a proper computer game, it sold bucket loads, and it improved on the original. Not only that, but it was British! I'm not a fan of the game but I am really respectful of what they [Rockstar] have done.

Bioshock proved that art direction matters in a game - and it was truly a triumph of art. It looked good and every icon and element felt connected. People get wrapped up in the story and narrative. Bioshock never had a story - people pretended it does - it doesn't. It's simple and linear, but in terms of art it is fantastic.

That said, some people confuse games with art and developing a game as an art title (as opposed to a good game with great art in it) will lead us into madness.

As for Warhammer, we're going to make good on our promises. We've got RvR [Realm vs Realm] hobby experience; this means bigger battles, more character, a stronger campaign. Basically, war is everywhere.

As for next year, it's going to be a year of pain for all the big labels and a continuing fight between games defining themselves as 'art', 'design' and 'entertainment'.

The games industry is going to go through the pain the music industry went through when the traditional way of making and selling their products goes through a radical shift. The route to the customer is undefined and income streams are uncertain. Large firms have a history of not being responsive (and being fearful) of change - the DRM fiasco (with Spore) is a classic example of that.

I expect to see some large studios go under and some big name titles fail."

RICHARD GARRIOTT aka 'Lord British': Video game designer
Richard Garriott

"For me, the high point - quite literally - was spending 12 days on the International Space Station. As a result, I've been somewhat outside the gaming scene; I was in quarantine for nearly three months in 2008.

That said, Halo's sequel was a big deal. World of Warcraft continues to dominate the massive multiplayer arena - more power to them. If I had to pick a developer who has done a bang up job, it would be Blizzard [the development team behind World of Warcraft]. The number of people they have converted is just amazing. They have shown all of us what good game development is all about.

After 25 years at Origin, the last thing I wanted to make was yet another medieval fantasy game. Now, after a very interesting break, I'm keen to get back into the fray and work on a new game. Probably medieval fantasy and probably online; there's something very powerful about getting people together."

WILL WRIGHT : Video game designer, Electronic Arts
Will Wright

"2008 was the year that the console hit its stride, we're seeing the rise of mobile gaming (along with user generated content) and, as we hear every eight years, the death of PC gaming.

The Wii took everyone by surprise - not for its looks, but its accessibility. Games like Guitar Hero attracted non-gamers and Sony and Microsoft are responding to that with things like the 'Avatar' system and Little Big Planet.

Next year, we're going to see more connected games - more social networking rather than just multiplayer. What's more, they are going to be more fractal in nature; how you interact with the game will depend not only on what you play (360 vs mobile) but where you play. So, for example, a mobile game that interacts with a GPS (global positioning system) so that where you physically play the game in the real world will have a direct effect on the game you are playing."

JOHNATHAN 'Fatal1ty' WENDEL: Professional games player
Johnathan Wendel

"The high point for me was getting my new line of headphones. I've been working really hard to develop them with Creative and we saw our sales increase by 50% since 2007.

That said, I think the credit crunch and subsequent fall out really hurt sponsorship of professional gamers. We used to have 300 people making a living from playing games; now we have less than 100.

Because of that, I want to start sponsoring other gamers. They're having a tough time at the moment, so I want to give something back to help them follow their dreams to become a professional gamer.

I'm going to continue working on a professional series of headphones. I want people to use my headphones, not just to talk smack, but to use them in the real world by making them stylish and attractive. We're close to getting that finalised and then we can launch.

And as for the future, well I hope we'll soon start seeing real 3D. You already get that experience in an iMax cinema. I think games will eventually go that way. I still want to use a mouse and keyboard to play, but if I can get that kind of graphical feel, that would be great. We really need to change the way we view a game."

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