As gaming news winds down for the year, at my "day job" I've been able to focus attention on looking at how some key games publishers performed. The approach taken: giving pubs an "annual report card", rating them on criteria resonant with gamers.
In case anyone's interested, I'll be copying over these annual report cards here over the next few days as well - making edits or notation where there's regionally specific references.
First cab off the rank: EA
EA's distribution rights for Valve games (in Australia) would normally automatically give the giant a massive push, but the debacle that was the censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 was a big blow that seems to have rocked all parties concerned. But even with that setback and the closure in all but name of once proud Pandemic Studios, it's a mean person that doesnt argue EA hasn't done a good job in a rough year. In a tough environment for gaming, EA demonstrated some sound decision-making, as well as a willingness to invest in properties it thought were viable.
The Beatles: Rock Band got plenty of people talking even if it didn't revitalise the music games industry. As a showcase for the ability of games as a cultural medium it proved one of the year's high points. Further, the workhorse of the EA Sports lineup - FIFA - finally managed to triumph definitively over plucky Pro Evolution this year.
The Battlefield series has made some top inroads for EA as well. Battlefield 1943 was wisely pushed out in digital form well ahead of Modern Warfare 2's blitzkreig, and don't underestimate the potential of Battlefield Heroes to make the company some coin. The company recognised the future isn't entirely housed in a console and pulled off a remarkably dextrous feat: placating concerned PC gamers while actually giving them very little of substance - at least for now.
While plenty of promises have been made, it was left to Dragon Age: Origins to fly the flag for the PC crew, and that it did remarkably well. The Saboteur on the other hand appears to be stronger on console than on PC, with a scary array of bugs mainly (but not exclusively) affecting ATI owners.
EA facilitated a bloodless coup that resulted in the merging of BioWare and Mythic studios into a massive RPG division. It was a ballsy move - putting outspoken Mythic boss Mark Jacobs out to pasture and handing over the reins (and the pressure) in the hands of a credible, proven performer in Dr Ray Muzkya, co-founder of BioWare. Developers don't tend to like having their visionary boss vanish and find themselves working for a semi-rival, but that's what's happened without any substantive grumblings leaking out from the Mythic team so far.
EA slashed jobs across the board, but not anywhere where it could provably cost them money down the track. Pandemic's last bastion - Los Angeles - became a victim of the cost cutting measures and now has been reduced to the bizarre status of existing in title, but having what few remaining staff integrated into the EA Los Angeles fold.
There's arguably only one game publisher who had more to lose in the recession than Electronic Arts, and that was Activision Blizzard. While you could never accuse EA's corporate team of being sentimental, the majority of the moves they have made this year have been reasonable based on past performance, and even more importantly, decisive and with an eye to the future.
One fly in the ointment for us is EA's ongoing obsession with shelling out exorbitant amounts of money on online/browser/flash gaming outlets. The latest foray: dropping US300 million on Playfish, a casual online gaming service. We wonder when (if not already) that's going to go into the black for the company.
The 2010 Outlook: A
We'd have to say pretty promising. Mass Effect 2 is likely to be one of the victors in the viciously contested opening months of the year, plus Battlefield Bad Company 2 rides into next year on a wave of unprecedented goodwill from both PC and PlayStation 3 owners in particular (admittedly for different reasons).
Dante's Inferno - obnoxious marketing stunts or not - looks like a quality God of War clone not hampered by platform restrictions, and don't forget Command and Conquer's final instalment might ride a wave of gamer sentimentality to some unexpected bank before EA turns off the lights on the series.
The X Factor: A+
Star Wars: The Old Republic. A rumoured October 2010 release date if achieved could really have a massive impact on EA's fortunes. However with no official confirmation of a date, and the notorious difficulties in launching a big scale MMO on time, if Dr Ray and his team pulls this off in 2010... it's hard to not think we'll be praising EA this time next year.
Original situated at http://www.gamearena.com.au/news/read.php/5047448