Playboy, pizza and hot coffee
2005 was a turbulent year for the video game industry. What happened after the headlines faded?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) – Who would have thought in a year where we saw the launch of two new major gaming systems and announcements about two more that the story of the year would be about a beverage?
Still, despite the ongoing shopper frenzy for the Xbox 360 and steady sales of the PSP – not to mention the looming questions about the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution - it's the 'Hot Coffee' scandal surrounding "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that refuses to go away.
Owing in part to the hidden raunchy scenes buried within that game's code, 2005 saw a marked increase in the number of states floating bills regulating the sale of video games. Three states – Illinois, California and Michigan - passed those bills. Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court overturned the Illinois law in a rather blistering 53-page decision, saying the state "offered no evidence that the violent content in video games is 'directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action.'" A preliminary injunction blocking California's law was passed Wednesday. A similar injunction blocked the Michigan law in early November.
Federal legislation is now being proposed, though, which should make this a continuing trend for at least the next year – and likely beyond that.
"GTA" didn't have the only sexy moments in gaming this year. In October, Playboy Magazine presented its second photo spread of nude video game characters – this time offering two different versions, with trading cards. The issue once again sold well, Playboy's Lauren Melone told me, roughly equaling last year's numbers. (The magazine does not release specific sales figures.) Playboy said it's already planning a third installment for 2006.
Of course, it wasn't all sex and courts this year. The launch of two highly anticipated new systems brought cheers from gamers. I was particularly glad to see Microsoft (Research) listened to some of the items on my wish list for Xbox 360, such as downloadable demos and, to an extent at least, backwards compatibility – and I hope they follow up on a couple more.)
Meanwhile, the handheld field got more interesting also, with the launch of the Sony (Research) PSP (PlayStation Portable). Sales have been brisk so far with 2.5 million units sold through November, according to The NPD Group. The PSP has failed to unseat Nintendo, though, as many thought would happen. Truth be told, the Nintendo DS is having a banner year in both sales and innovation, offering arguably the strongest lineup of any recent hardware system.
Looking over the past year, there are a few previous columns that deserve an update or acknowledgement. Take Sony's experiment with online pizza orders in "EverQuest 2," for instance. (Quick recap: players could simply type "/pizza" in-game and arrange for Pizza Hut to deliver to their home, meaning they never had to leave the mythical land of Norrath.) There was a lot of hue and cry when this emerged, with some purists saying it would never fly.
Shows what they know. The promotion, originally slated to run just one month, ended up running three months. A second "slash-order" campaign is slated to kick off early next year. (Because the deal is not signed, Sony Online Entertainment declined to name the partner – but confirmed it was not Pizza Hut.)
Speaking of S.O.E., that action-based massively multiplayer game CEO John Smedley let slip in April? It will be officially announced during the first quarter of next year. Don't be surprised if it's announced as a cross-platform game (allowing you to play as the same character on several different gaming systems) and comes without a monthly charge, though S.O.E. would not confirm that.
Finally, Rupert Murdoch did get into the video game industry, but not like everyone expected. In January, his News Corp. was "kicking the tires" of several publishers, including Activision. Ultimately, it ended up spending $650 million for IGN, which is best known for its gaming Web portals and in-game matchmaking software.
Unfortunately, that means the Hannity & Colmes role-playing game remains on hold.
Will Nintendo's next generation console be Revolutionary? Find out in our test drive.
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNNMoney.com. Click here to send him an email.