Traditionally a gaming-news dead zone, the third quarter was brimming with revelations this year. Major headlines emerged right out of the gate, with the merger of Activision and Vivendi Games being finalized on July 10. The result was Activision Blizzard, the biggest third-party publisher, with $1 billion in Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft driving revenues each quarter. Though fantastic for CEO Bobby Kotick, whose stock options were worth nearly $90 million after the deal closed, the merger saw many former Vivendi developers made redundant and a number of high-profile projects suddenly without a publisher. (Luckily, most found homes in the fourth quarter.)
For the second year in a row, the E3 Media & Business Summit was held in July, drawing together much of the world's game-industry glitterati, illuminati, and paparazzi. Unlike last year's poorly received Santa Monica excursion, 2008's event returned to the downtown Los Angeles Convention Center, where about 5,000 people congregated at the exact spot that attracted 60,000 two years before. The venue underlined the contrast between this year's modest show floor and the Technicolor spectacle of years past, leading event organizers at the Entertainment Software Association to supersize their plans for E3 2009.
Though exhibitors would openly lambast the proceedings after they were over, E3 2008 still saw plenty of headlines. Even before the Big Three's preshow press conferences, word of Halo 3: Recon and a 60GB Xbox 360 leaked out. Microsoft quickly followed up with two widely rumored announcements--Netflix streaming and the Avatar-based New Xbox Experience--and one out-of-nowhere shocker, Final Fantasy XIII for the 360. Nintendo's presentation was heavy on financial swaggering and light on new announcements other than Animal Crossing: City Folk, Wii Sports Resort, the first Grand Theft Auto DS game, and the Wii Motion Plus. Indeed, the event will be likely best remembered for its finale, a public mangling of the Super Mario Bros. theme via Wii Music that presaged the game's tepid reception later in the year.
Finally, Sony used its event to officially unveil God of War III, the 256-player shooter MAG, and Resistance for the PSP. With an adorable Little Big Planet level standing in for PowerPoint, Sony Computer Entertainment America president Jack Tretton announced the launch of the PlayStation 3's long-awaited video store, and also revealed that the 80GB model of the console would replace the 40GB version at the $399 price point. What Sony didn't mention was that the 80GB PS3 has zero backward compatibility with PlayStation 2 games--a feature that Sony had heavily touted in the past.
Third parties didn't sit on their laurels at E3. Though it didn't officially participate in the event, Activision held a conference-party down the street, where it pulled the curtain back on Singularity and the new Wolfenstein. Take-Two Interactive showed off Gearbox Software's upcoming sci-fi action RPG Borderlands, and Ubisoft touted I Am Alive. However, it was Electronic Arts that made the biggest headlines with two BioWare-related revelations: Namely, that Dragon Age was coming to consoles, and that the Canadian studio's massively multiplayer project was set in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic universe.
Indeed, EA continued to dominate the news cycle during the third quarter. After shocking the industry at E3 by revealing that it--not Activision--would publish id Software's new postapocalyptic actioner Rage, the Redwood City, California-based company inked several more high-profile deals under its EA Partners program. In August, it announced plans to distribute upcoming games from Epic Games' Polish subsidiary People Can Fly and No More Heroes maker Grasshopper Manufacture, the first Japanese shop to sign on with EA. In September, EA subsidiary Mythic Entertainment's long-in-development massively multiplayer online role-playing game Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning finally launched, and it amassed more than 800,000 subscribers in less than two months.
Unfortunately for EA CEO John Riccitiello, the quarter ended with his attempt to take over Take-Two Interactive finally fizzling out after nearly seven months of deadline extensions. However, he wasn't alone. During the last week of August, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada launched a $200 million bid to subsume Tecmo, only to have the troubled Ninja Gaiden maker opt for a union with Dynasty Warriors factory Koei instead. Nevertheless, not all acquisitions short-circuited. After several months in limbo following Perpetual Entertainment's demise, Star Trek Online was beamed up by City of Heroes developer Cryptic Studios--which itself would be assimilated less than four months later.--Tor Thorsen
Best of 2008: Q3 Timeline
Activision Blizzard merger official
Business combination that unites Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft under one roof is now a done deal.
E3 2008: XBL Avatars, Netflix, and FFXIII top 360 slate
Microsoft's press conference reveals rumored Xbox Live overhaul and Karaoke game--then delivers Square Enix shocker; exclusive Fallout 3 DLC coming, Gears 2 touted.
E3 2008: Nintendo scores Wii Music, GTA for DS, Wii Sports Resort
Mario and Link were nowhere to be seen at press conference, but Miyamoto's outfit made waves with Animal Crossing: City Folk, the WiiSpeak peripheral, and more.
E3 2008: SCEA unveils $399 80GB PS3, God of War III
Sony's press conference sees SCEA president Jack Tretton reveal Resistance for PSP and MAG, an all-new massive action game from Zipper Interactive; PS3 video store launching tonight; full video inside.
Lifetime US Wii sales surpass Xbox 360
Nintendo points to latest NPD numbers as putting the motion-sensing system atop the domestic retail heap.
Rumor of the month: Next Halo squad-based, Master Chief-free?
Sources say Bungie's next project won't feature the helmeted hero, and will instead focus on a squad of UNSC Marines in a "darker, grittier" campaign with possibly eight-player co-op.
Epic, Grasshopper partner with EA
Megapublisher to distribute new IP from Gears of War-maker's People Can Fly subsidiary, forthcoming collaboration between Suda-51 and Shinji Mikami.
Study: Annual PC gaming revs hit $10.7 billion
In Leipzig, PC Gaming Alliance declares only 30 percent of platform's 2007 revenues were at retail; online income was $4.8 billion, digital distribution $2 billion.
GC 2008: PSP-3000, 160GB PS3, PS3 keypad unveiled
Mic-enabled portable hitting Europe Oct. 15 via eight 199-euro bundles; new 449-euro consoles coming Oct. 31; PlayTV launches Sept. 19, Little Big Planet Oct. 19; bluetooth keypad also due out by November's end.
NPD: NCAA Football sacks July
EA's collegiate pigskin sim scores top honors as 41 percent spike in total software sales push US industry to $1.2 billion in revenue for the month.
NPD breaks down gamer habits
Market-research group's latest Games Segmentation survey finds three percent of gamers play at least 45 hours a week.
Rumor of the month: Guitar Hero: World Tour rocking new peripheral?
Online report quotes Neversoft's Brian Bright as saying Activision Blizzard's upcoming rhythm game has one more device yet to be revealed, but what is it?
Xbox 360 Arcade officially $199
Microsoft announces game industry's worst-kept secret; 60GB model $299, 120GB elite $399 starting September 5.
Tecmo, Koei in merger talks
Spurning Square Enix's offer, the Ninja Gaiden maker is reportedly considering a union with the Dynasty Warriors publisher.
NPD: Gaming growth slows in August
US retail sales top $1 billion to show 9 percent growth for the month; Madden takes four of top 10 software spots with more than 2 million sold in all.
Take-Two shares plummet after EA deal sours
Grand Theft Auto publisher's stock price drops 28 percent after would-be acquirer walks away from formal discussions.
Following troubling rumors, EA confirms it has pulled the plug on the Command and Conquer-based FPS because it did not meet quality standards.
Rumor of the month: Microsoft to scatter Ensemble?
Two independent reports claim publisher has already begun canning staff at Halo Wars shop in advance of game's completion; publisher confirms.