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10 Potentially Game-Changing Games for 2009

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beatlesWhat games stand the best chance of changing the broader industry in 2009, either by dramatically influencing what consumers play and purchase, or by demonstrating the commercial viability of new revenue models and genres? Below is a list of the 10 most likely candidates, culled from several experts in the field and myself. Keep an eye on these titles to see how well they perform — and whether they really do impact the future business of games. All are scheduled for 2009 release, but of course, dates are always subject to change.

The selection panel: David Cole, founder and president of game industry analyst firm DFC Intelligence; David Edery, Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner for Xbox Live Arcade and co-author of “Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business;” and K. Thor Jensen and Frank Washburn, both game developers and occasional GigaOM contributors.

The Games:

allstate-serious-game1Allstate’s “Insight” Games
A series of “serious games” sponsored by Allstate that are designed to gauge reaction time and perception, the insurance company is currently testing them on older drivers, and may use them as a resource for offering discounts to successful players (who are assumed to be better insurance risks). As Dave Edery put it to me in email, the Allstate games may “change the way that auto insurance companies market their products and relate to their customers.” It’ll demonstrate ROI in spades — and encourage other major industries to begin incorporating serious games into their own products and services. (And the game industry, to begin expanding what has so far been a niche genre.)

The Beatles Video Game
The upcoming music game from Harmonix is set for a 2009 holiday season release, and will fully integrate music from the Beatles’ massive catalog, with creative input from Sir Paul McCartney himself. The enormous popularity of Harmonix’s Rock Band and Guitar Hero have already had a dramatic impact on both the video game and music industry. Harmonix is tight-lipped about the Beatles’ actual gameplay, beyond saying it’ll include “interactive performance of the music… and stuff you haven’t seen from us before,” but the consensus is that this means gamers will get to perform as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, Rock Band-style. In any case, imagine a video game showcasing pop music’s most famous group, beloved by teens and baby boomers alike, riding the crest of music games’ already huge popularity, and you have a phenomenon likely to impact the entire culture. (And in the process, become a killer app for many late adopters, convincing them to finally buy a game console.) Also look forward to more top pop bands demanding their own standalone video game.

“EyePet uses augmented reality technology to insert a virtual pet into a live camera feed of whatever room the camera is pointed at, and advanced motion and shape detection to make it interact convincingly with its virtual environment,” notes Thor Jensen. It functions with the PlayStation Eye, a PlayStation 3 videocam peripheral that Jensen sees as Sony’s best chance to make their troubled console appeal to a casual game audience. Even if it ultimately doesn’t boost PS3 sales, enthusiasm over EyePet could encourage other developers to experiment with games using augmented reality — a technology futurists have been excited about for years, but consumers have been slow to embrace.

Free Realms

Now in beta, this is an MMORPG aimed at kids from Sony (s sne) Online Entertainment, and “represents a new area both in terms of demographic and business model for SOE,” Cole said. That’s because Free Realms has a free-to-play, microtransaction revenue model, something major Western game publishers have previously been reluctant to introduce.

gta-chinatownGrand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the DS
The enormously popular Nintendo DS generally skews to very young gamers or older consumers who enjoy Brain Training and the DS’s many other “eduplay” games. This game, by contrast, aims to expand these demographics to include the 18-34 hardcore gamer dudes who enjoy the GTA series. “It will be interesting to see the potential for this type of franchise on a platform like the DS,” Cole wrote me.

killzone-2Killzone 2
Is the epic shooter and PS3 exclusive the last, best hope to revive Sony’s ailing console?

Washburn thinks so: “The console NEEDS a high-profile exclusive, a Halo-killer that will move consoles with its own release,” he told me via email. “And with 3 years of hype and anticipation behind it, Killzone 2 may well be that game.”

lego-universeLego Universe
Thor Jensen believes the upcoming MMORPG has the best chance to become the world’s most popular one. “The Danish toymakers at LEGO have crafted an online world centered around exploring and assembling the little plastic bricks that have a nostalgic foothold in pretty much every living human in the First World.” Considering the multigenerational appeal and name recognition of the product and the huge sales of Lego-themed computer games, yes, there’s a chance that Lego Universe, if well-executed, could become more popular than World of Warcraft.
Noby Noby Boy

A strange, nay, near indescribable game from the creator of the bizarre cult masterpiece Katamari Damacy, it’s a downloadable title for the PlayStation Network, and if it’s successful, Washburn foresees a renaissance for indie games, which usually earn far less significant profit margins than AAA mainstream games. “But if Noby Noby Boy proves to be both a gaming and a financial success,” he argued, “that could all slowly change.”

Developed for the Nintendo DS, Jensen described it as a traditional side-scrolling platform game that very cleverly incorporates the DS stylus control and word-recognition technology: write “ladder” on the touchscreen, for instance, and a realistic, usable ladder materializes in front of you. As he put it: “With a massive vocabulary (the game recognizes ‘Dialysis machine,’ for God’s sake), Scribblenauts looks set to capture a mix of gaming and creativity that so far has remained untouched.”

wii-sports-resortWii Sports Resort
Sequel to the popular but modest Wii Sports, David Cole sees the follow-up as a consumer loyalty test for Wii’s many casual users. The first Wii Sports is generally sold bundled with the console, and a common industry belief is that it’s pretty much the only title many Wii owners buy. (Which partially explains some publishers’ reluctance to enthusiastically develop for Nintendo’s platform.) Sales of the follow-up, therefore, will gauge how accurate that assumption is.

15 Responses to “10 Potentially Game-Changing Games for 2009”

  1. Killzone 2 is just another shooter, and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Scribblenauts, while interesting in its own right, doesn’t give developers much to go off of in terms of actually changing the industry, save for the possibility of sequels and knock-offs.

  2. Avg Bear

    This seems to be more of a “will this save the PS3?” article. But in regard to Killzone 2 – isn’t the term “Halo-killer” a bit tired? That’s what they called the first Killzone. Sure, three years ago the demo footage for Killzone 2 blew people away. I’m sure it’ll be an outstanding title, and likely the PS3’s top seller, but I doubt it will outperform Halo 3, CoD4, Gears 2 nor next fall’s CoD title. Sony grew too fat and complacent with the PS2 and now they’ve fallen too far behind Microsoft to regain any ground.

  3. I don’t think Noby Noby Boy is going to spark indie-game development. Keita Takahashi carries too much clout to use him as a watermark for indie acceptance, he has massive Japanese publisher Namco Bandai backing him, and saying “from the maker of Katamari Damacy” will move units no matter what the game’s about. We already _saw_ the spark of the indie renaissance with entirely self-published games like Braid and World of Goo finding critical success and mainstream sales, and the opening 360’s community games marketplace.

    If Noby Noby Boy has any relevance on the independent games market, it’s the same as Katamari Damacy’s – can a game with unusual or low-fi presentation, or very little active marketing and lots of word-of-mouth hype, move units? And again, Braid, World of Goo and the Wii have already shown that’s possible, shown how it’s possible and laid a blueprint for future independent publishers to follow.

    As for Killzone 2, it doesn’t take long to see that the enthusiast press has little love or care for it – Sony, unlike Bungie and Epic, are unable to use delays in development to drum up hype, and lacks the community building to let fans beat the drum for them. At best, it’ll be about as successful as LittleBigPlanet at moving PS3s – which, sadly, was not very well.

    In this economy, the only real game-changing move Sony can make is to cut the console’s price. People simply aren’t seeing the value – it’s a repeat of the Gamecube against the PS2, that even though the exclusives for the platform are very high-quality, people are flocking to consoles with larger install bases to take advantage of online play. Straight action FPS games live and die on their multiplayer components, and nobody will spend $400 or more to play Killzone 2 alone or with a small pool of strangers when they can spend $250 and play Halo 3, or Gears of War 2, or Call of Duty 4/5 with many more people, and more likely their friends.

    I do think Lego Universe will be a success, but it doesn’t have to pass WoW to be one, and it’s unlikely to find the adult market necessary to do so. The huge sales of LEGO games come from families searching for family-friendly games compatible with short playtime spans; an MMO certainly is not the latter. If NetDevil can pull that off, it’ll be huge, but what’s been said about it places it squarely in the realm of traditional MMORPGs – level up, upgrade weapons, fight enemies. That doesn’t mesh with traditional LEGO offline play, and requires too much time compared to the drop-in/drop-out gameplay of the LEGO console games.

    Again with Free Realms, aiming MMOs at kids will not fly well with parents unless they can be put down quickly and frequently. Microtransactions are a good strategy in a weak economy, but they must add value. Sony must also distance themselves from things that drove their other MMO products to failure, like frequent and massive changes to core rules, high system requirements and – to a lesser extent in a game aimed at kids – Sony’s famously proprietary, inflexible natures of their game data and user interface.

    EyePet’s augmented-reality technology isn’t even new for the PS3 – see the flopping of Eye of Judgement, though that was more because of a high-priced game on a system that was even more unaffordable back when the economy wasn’t as sickly. If Sony can keep the cost of the game down – packing in an EyeToy for $60, much like Nintendo’s Wii Play packed in a controller, or Wii Fit packed in the balance board – it’ll sell well among the base. It is well targeted to the PS3 demographic – it’s an impressive showpiece of technology, much like the console – and will appeal outside of it. But again, if LBP didn’t move consoles, a non-game pet simulator won’t, not when a kid can get Nintendogs and take it with them outside of the house.

    I also agree the Beatles game will be a seismic shift in the rhythm game business, but Aerosmith, Metallica and AC/DC have all beaten them, and the push for major bands to participate in the field with themed “experience” products is already well underway. What the Beatles game will do is shift power and money toward artists, as Harmonix apparently sealed the deal by being sweeter than Activision Blizzard.

  4. AllState’s games will go largely ignored, EyePet will see about as much success as the rest of Sony’s camera games, and Free Realms will be full of obnoxious Brazillians. Killzone 2 is just another shooter, and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Scribblenauts, while interesting in its own right, doesn’t give developers much to go off of in terms of actually changing the industry, save for the possibility of sequels and knock-offs.

  5. Heh, good point, Matty!

    I love Bioshock too, Kadisco, but I think the sequel would have to use a revolutionary new engine or AI system or something to be game-changing. If it’s just an iterative addition to the first game, I’m not sure that counts. Then again, few developers seem to be following Irrational’s lead, Bioshock still stands alone IMO.

  6. I played Rock Band for 3 straight Days this holiday break. I’m not new to this game genre as I’ve been playing Guitar Hero on/off for a few years now and I actually play the real guitar with strings. Aside from the fact that the guitar playing is weaker in Rock Band than in Guitar Hero, Rock Band – for lack of a better word – rocks. ) Back To my point: the whole time I was playing I kept thinking, wow – if Pink Floyd released The Wall for Rock Band, they’d not only resell the album to all aging stoners, they’d turn on Floyd to a whole new audience that had no idea emo rock started in the 70s (nay 60s). If I’m any of the music publishers, I’m looking into how I can develop for this new…dare I say it…platform.

  7. If Bioshock 2 lives up to its potential as the thinking man’s first-person shooter, it will be a major step towards mainstream acceptance of the idea that games can have intellectual and artistic merits just like films, novels, etc.