Ten to Eight
Yes, we know that 2006 isn’t quite done yet but with the holiday season now looming it seems likely that there won’t be much in the way of major announcements from now until the end of the year. With that in mind we decided to take a look back at the biggest game and hardware news items of 2006. We try to concentrate on the news announcements that had the most effect on gaming as a whole, both in console and in PC gaming. 2006 turned out to be an eventful year and this list comes nowhere close to summarizing what happened in the game industry, but this list is certainly a starting point for talking about where the industry was like in the past year and where it might go in 2007.
10. XNA Studio Express Announced; Launched
It’s always been the dream of many to develop a game and for PC developers it’s relatively easy to create game titles. Making console games, however, ultimately requires getting access to an expensive console dev kit. At least that was the situation until last August when Microsoft officially announced XNA Studio Express, a way to make games for both the PC and for the Xbox 360 without having to get a Xbox 360 dev kit. Microsoft officially launched the final version of XNA Studio Express just last week and opened the door for amateur game developers to use their PC to make games that can, when properly compiled, work on any Xbox 360 console (a license fee is required to make this happen).
This kind of program illustrates one of Microsoft’s biggest strong points in game development. Unlike Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft already has a strong background in creating software tools for game development. The ability for anyone with a creative bent to make a game for a console opens up game development in ways that the other two console makers haven’t even tried yet. While the full impact of XNA Studio Express won’t be felt until 2007, we think it will be not just a huge selling point for Microsoft’s console but for game development in general.
9. Live Anywhere Announced
At E3 2006 last May, Microsoft’s head man Bill Gates stepped up to the podium of his company’s pre-E3 press conference and officially announced Live Anywhere. The program, set for its full release in 2007 with the launch of Windows Vista, will allow people to play PC games alongside their Xbox 360 counterparts. So far there has been only Shadowrun has announced support for Live Anywhere, but according to Gates Live Anywhere can also be extended to mobile phones to download, say, a new car for Forza Motorsport 2 that can be added to the full game later.
This interoperability between Vista, Xbox 360 and supported mobile phones could be a pretty major development in games. There are still some questions we have such as how the PC and Xbox 360 gamers will play against each other (especially when it comes to possible PC cheating) but much like XNA Studio Express opens up game development to the masses, Live Anywhere could blur the definitions of PC and console gaming. We look forward to seeing how this will work in 2007.
8. Alienware and VoodooPC Buyouts
Anyone who thought that PC gaming was dead forgot to tell the gaming PC boutique makers such as Alienware and VoodooPC. Their machines as well as ones from other similar companies have gotten a lot of mainstream media attention as they became successful at catering to PC customers who want every last ounce of performance – and image – they can squeeze out of computer hardware. So it was a shock when it was announced in March during the Game Developers Conference that Alienware announced it was being purchased by Dell, the single largest PC maker in the world. Later this year, VoodooPC announced its own buyout by HP, Dell’s biggest rival.
While both Alienware and VoodooPC have maintained their independence for the most part after their sales were completed, these actions show that the large PC makers like Dell and HP appreciate the market for high end PCs made for hardcore gamers. Gamers are no longer some tiny niche market to them but a force to be reckoned with, and as we enter 2007 we will see just how seriously Dell and HP are willing to come down on the side of the PC in the gaming wars.