Keep Your Eye on the Code
There is never any shortage of game news, and last year was no exception. One story that stands out above the rest is the Half-Life 2 source code theft and the resultant delays to the game's release. In early October, Gabe Newell confirmed that hackers had gained access to Valve's network and illicitly posted portions of the highly-anticipated game's code on the Web. The event caused a stir among the game community, and many of them joined in the search for the culprits, who, as far as I know, still haven't been identified.
Valve Steams Along
Valve also created some steam with Steam, it's new content delivery system that came along with the release of Counter-Strike 1.6, a game which continued it's rein as the most popular multiplayer action title in the world. No everyone was happy to have Valve tinkering with their beloved Counter-Strike, but following a few hasty updates, the Steam system now does appear to be functioning reasonably well.
Consoles get Connected
Online console gaming had a banner year in many ways. Not long ago the only console that had online capabilities was the Sega Dreamcast. Since then, all of the major consoles have gone online, with the Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox now duking it out for domination.
Not only did Sony sell their 50 millionth PS2, they forged the way for the first truly cross-platform games. Need for Speed Underground broke new ground by allowing PS2 users and PC gamers to participate in the same environment for the first time. EverQuest Online Adventures came to the PS2, and SOCOM II quietly set console game records for simultaneous online players.
Xbox Live, Microsoft's online service for Xbox users also came of age, offering gamers excellent player-matching, downloadable content, and voice communication for around $70 a year. They demonstrated a large commitment to online gaming, and led the way in adopting multiplayer console titles. I'll go out on a limb and say the future of online console gaming has never been brighter.
See You in Court
On the darker side, it was troubling to see Take Two and Rockstar Games spending so much time in court defending their right to make games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which came under attack from all directions, and was even compared unfavorably to child molestation by a writer at the NY Post.
Negative publicity didn't stop video gaming from became a little more acceptable just the same, especially for women and adults. The average age of people playing games rose to 29, and there were more women 18 or older playing games than there were boys from ages 6 to 17 - a significant shift in gamer demographics.
The Rise of the MMOGs
I haven't actually counted yet, but I'd call it a record year for massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) releases. The Sims Online, PlanetSide, Star Wars Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, EverQuest Online Adventures, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, and Horizons all launched in the last 12 months, to say nothing of the deluge of expansion packs which came out for MMOGs from earlier years.
We also saw some unprecedented rates of growth among these new MMOGs. Two months after its launch, Star Wars Galaxies surpassed 275,000 registered users, making it the fastest growing MMORPG to date. Final Fantasy XI, the first truly cross-platform MMORPG, was released in North America and attracted 100,000 new players in a single month.
But it wasn't all good news for MMOGs. Motor City Online, a massively multiplayer car collecting and racing game, became one of first major MMOGs to run out of gas, ceasing operations in late August.