Features// SPOnG's Review of the Year '09: March

Posted 26 Dec 2009 17:31 by
This is a continuing SPOnG retrospective of the year’s events.


As the bizarre February snow melted and Spring began to show its face, it was time for the majority of the games industry to come out of hibernation and start showcasing its upcoming wares for the year 2009. Of course, March can be summed up by one game, both in terms of its size and cultural impact.

That game was Resident Evil 5, an instalment of the Capcom survival horror series that took a lot of high-profile risks. Chief of these, in gameplay terms, was the inclusion of a forced co-op mode and the reliance on the same game engine that was praised in Resident Evil 4.

Such a gameplay mechanic was perfect for online play, and Microsoft capitalised on this with a new Xbox 360 console revision which included the ‘Jasper’ motherboard (“Resident Evil 5 Xbox 360 Jasper and Pad”, 2nd Mar 2009). Jasper 360s were hyped to be ‘Red Ring of Death’ free - although we all now know this is a fallacy, the new manufactured consoles are less prone to dying on unsuspecting gamers, and the news gave Microsoft some good press.

In the mass media, Resident Evil 5 was getting a different kind of attention. The game is set in Africa, you see - and as one might expect from looking at a picture of a white man shotgunning a rabid black guy in the face, national newspapers and highbrow blogs went ballistic. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to talk about whether Resident Evil 5 was ‘racist’, or whether the games industry had really grown up too fast to talk about sensitive cultural issues.

Of course, it could be said that it was all much ado about a survival horror game set in Africa one minute, Spain the next and Western Europe in another. Things didn’t help when Capcom spokesperson Chris Kramer suggested to the Wall Street Journal that newly elected President Barack Obama somehow stirred the racism pot (“Obama to Blame for Resident Evil 5 Racism Row?”, 12th Mar 2009).

Apparently “Americans are more sensitive about issues of race in the wake of President Barack Obama’s election. [Kramer says] ‘There are probably some cultural awareness levels that are not there [for Japanese developers].” The Capcom spokesperson also said that the row over the setting caught the company by surprise. Either the publisher was being quite naive about the whole thing or it simply felt that a zombie is a zombie, whatever the colour.

Microsoft didn’t just have a new branded console to sell to consumers, it also had a brand new development kit to show off to game makers, with the Game Developers Conference a prime time to unleash the black and blue behemoth (“GDC: Microsoft Gets Xbox 360 Dev Kit Blues”, 25th Mar 2009). New tools were announced along with a competition aimed at hobbyist developers and indies.

Spring 2009 was a time when Microsoft was very keen to promote its XNA community-based developer system. With the Community Games section, it opened the floodgates for homebrew and amateur games to be bought and rated by fellow Xbox players, and at GDC the console manufacturer announced plans to take that one step further by allowing episodic content and Avatars to appear.

In Sony’s world, March signalled a turning point for the PlayStation 3’s fortunes in Japan, with the release of Yakuza 3 and a special white ‘Dragon’ decorated console resulting in over 36,000 units sold, and top position on the hardware charts that week (“PlayStation 3 Beats Wii in Japan”, 6th Mar 2009).

The number sold pushed it ahead of the DSi (at over 35,000 units in the same period) and miles ahead of the Nintendo Wii, which managed nearly 18,000. From this point on, the PS3 and the Wii would continue to have a close battle for console supremacy, as the Wii’s outstanding dominance started to wane in the region.

With Peter Dille (Sony Senior VP Marketing) talking about advertising pushes for Killzone 2 and God of War III, people started taking bets when the next Greek God smash-em-up will hit the PS3. Online retailer Play.com had a date down for the 25th September 2009, but as we all know now reading this retrospective, that appeared to be a case of over-enthusiasm.

SCEE told SPOnG that they hadn’t confirmed a date and that they asked Play to remove the details from its page (“Sony Responds to God of War III Release Date”, 4th Mar 2009). Unlike most denials and ‘no comments’ from the company this year, this rumour actually ended up being false.

With all the attention the PlayStation 3 was getting in the last two months, you’d think that people would start talking about ways to make the console more accessible to the consumer. Something like a price cut, perhaps. Well, you’re right, gentle reader, because new bundles and price slashing rumours were the order of the day in March, with a couple of sources even believing it would happen that very month.

All the speculation was sending blogs into overdrive, with 2oldtoplay announcing an impending $99 price drop in EB Games, and Joystiq spreading word of a new SKU being launched at rival retailer Target (“PlayStation 3: New Bundle AND Price Cut in March?”, 17th Mar 2009). In the UK, SCEE put off price cuts to instead offer ‘value added’ bundles which included a console and one or two free games.
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