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Best and Worst of 2013: The biggest surprises

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Check here for more from GamesBeat’s 12 Days of the Best and Worst of 2013

2013 was a year littered with pockets of genuine and hard-felt surprise. Between living up to our bittersweet expectations of layoffs and canceled game projects, a long-standing studio was shuttered — not for lack of funds but in the fallout of one of the biggest entertainment mergers in recent history. Corporate heads turned E3 into a reality show with some out-of-left-field sniping, and Nintendo made a 3DS without all that bothersome 3D.

But that wasn’t all that made 2013 a genuinely surprising year in the game industry. Let’s start from the top and break down the past 12 months of confusing decisions, regretful losses, and blindsiding reveals.

Disney shuts LucasArts down

LucasArts

Original story: Disney shutters publisher LucasArts

Mike Minotti already covered how we felt about this closure in his Worst of 2013: Announcements and screw-ups piece earlier this week, but there is more to this studio closing than just a few miffed fans. LucasArts hadn’t been the bastion of quality adventure and Star Wars games for years by this point, but it still had one potential ace up its sleeve at the time of its shuttering: Star Wars 1313. The loss of this potentially grittier take on one of the biggest entertainment brands in the world was deeply felt, especially after its strong showing at E3 the previous year.

There seemed to be enough in the LucasFilm vaults to keep LucasArts alive despite the merger with the media giant, even just as an HD-remake factory for its pantheon of classic games. But with Disney partnering with Electronic Arts exclusively for all future Star Wars releases, Disney simply no financial need to keep the old House of Three-Headed Monkeys around. It made sense from a business standpoint, but closing the book on such a storied label entirely — just when things seemed to take a turn for the better — was a bittersweet surprise few had prepared for.

Sony disses at E3

Smiling Jack Tretton

Original Story: Follow our Sony E3 press-briefing liveblog right here

E3 is frequently the peak of the industry’s yearly surprises, but they usually revolve around, you know, the games. This year might as well have been 1990, as Sony stole the show by saying it did what Microsoft doesn’t, and it didn’t even need to promise blast processing. Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO Jack Tretton dominated the expo conversation not with any mind-blowing announcements for the future but a slideshow embrace of the present.

Microsoft hadn’t weathered the rumors of the upcoming Xbox One’s draconian used-game policy well, and its E3 press conference offered more prerendered game footage than answers. Sony ran with it, and with a few choice allusions to Our Rival Who Shall Not Be Named, the PlayStation publisher had its E3 audience practically giving a standing ovation for allowing its players to use their existing disc-based games. It was an impressive bit of corporate subterfuge, Sony managed to slide the fact that PlayStation Plus was required for multiplayer access in between uproarious fits of applause and a $399 price. Giant Enemy what now?

Microsoft flip-flops at E3

Xbox One reveal

Original Story: The Deansbeat: Microsoft’s costly mistake at E3 and how to recover from it

In contrast, Microsoft could not hold an interview without igniting the fervor of the Internet. After an underwhelming first public unveiling more concerned with seamless media integration than game content, Microsoft continued to put feet in mouths at seemingly every opportunity. In a particularly meme-worthy gaff, then-president of Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick effectively told gamers that didn’t want an online check-in system to just stick with their Xbox 360s. This was right before the company backpedaled on many of those same features.

And backpedal it did. A week after E3, Microsoft released a statement effectively demolishing all of the touted connectivity features of the Xbox One in response to overwhelming negative consumer response. The online check-in system was pared back to a day and then cut outright, and gamers could now sell and loan out their discs at will and play downloaded games offline from their hard drives. If the early holiday sales figures were any indication, the change in policy seemed to have worked. But for a corporation of Microsoft’s size to trip up such a crucial PR initiative was a sight to behold.

Nintendo makes a 3DS without 3D

Nintendo 2DS

Original Story: Nintendo unveils the 2DS handheld, sans 3D, for launch on same day as next Pokemon game

Like many of Nintendo’s hardware announcements, what begins as a target for near-universal ridicule is proven absolutely genius once it hits retail. The $130 “Pokemon machine,” obscure, no-hinged shape and cheap plastic feel be damned, helped the Big N reach a key demographic — young children. By aiming for durability and ease of use, Nintendo hit up an audience too young for stereoscopic 3D but just right for the new Pokémon X and Y. Launching the handheld with one of their most proven kid-friendly franchises was a near Tetris/Game Boy level of brilliant synergy, and its low price made it an ideal gift for the holiday season.

Now, if only Nintendo could work that same magic on the Wii U. …

Sega buys Atlus

persona-4-golden

A few years ago, Sega barely had its own house in order, having to downsize internally to just remain afloat. But after outbidding 19 other companies earlier in the year, Sega purchased Index Corp., parent company of — among other things — the video game publisher Atlus. The move sparked worry from those familiar with Sega’s finicky handling of porting hit Japanese games to West — and intense anticipation from those already picturing the Yakuza/Persona crossover possibilities. It’s far too early to tell how or if the management styles of the two different gamemakers will affect either company’s productions, but the purchase points to at least an immediately more stable future for both.

Watch Dogs delay leaves next-gen lacking a hit

Watch Dogs

Original story: Watch Dogs open-world action game delayed — fate of PlayStation 4 launch bundle is unknown

Delays of major game releases haven’t been that surprising a headline for the past few years now (no one really thought South Park: The Stick of Truth would release before 2014, did they?,) especially with the annual migration of holiday games moving to the next year to avoid the Call of Duty blitz. But Watch Dogs left some hardware in a serious lurch with its jump to next year. It was one of the prominent titles debuting with the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, and the absence of Ubisoft’s cyberthief action adventure lead to some pretty confused consumers and hectic release rearranging by the console-makers.

The PlayStation 4 in particular found itself hard up for promised games at its November launch. Not only was every box adorned with a character from a game that wouldn’t even make the so-called launch window, but having the Watch Dogs PlayStation 4 bundle with no copies of the game to give meant a lot of vouchers for other games or IOUs. Whether the delay will bring that extra layer of polish to Watch Dogs remains to be seen — Ubisoft certainly made the most of the release gap with the surprising return to form of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag — but keeping it out of our shiny new boxes for their first holiday on shelves took a deep bite from both launches.

Carmack trades id for Oculus

John Carmack

Original story: Doom, Quake guru John Carmack officially leaves id Software for Oculus Rift maker

High-profile departures aren’t too out of the ordinary in an industry as mercurial as video games. But John Carmack, a key player in the ’90s shooter market and creator of some of the most legendary game engines ever produced, dropping his long-held post at id Software for the up-and-comers at Oculus VR was cause for more than a raised eyebrow. Initially reported in April as a secondary position to the one he held at id, id studio director Tom Willits confirmed in late November that it would be a permanent switch. A man whose resume could land him in some of the most prestigious engineering positions imaginable sided with a crowd-funded project by a still unproven virtual reality firm. It was a move few expected, and it closes out a year of legitimate surprises.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Nintendo of America is consistently amazed and humbled by the passion and loyalty of our fans. Our hope is that this Page can be a place where that excitement can live, thrive and be shared. And while we love your creativity and are he... read more »

Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. is a major video game company specializing in a variety of areas in the video game industry, and is a wholly owned subsidiary and part of the Consumer Products & Services Group of Sony. The company was... read more »

As one of the leading interactive entertainment companies, SEGA cultivates creative talent worldwide with offices in America, Japan and our European HQ in London. Our acclaimed UK based studios include Sports Interactive and The Creati... read more »

LucasArts Entertainment Company, LLC is an American video game licensor. Until 2013, it was also a video game developer and publisher. LucasArts is best known for its graphic adventure games, as well as games based on the Star Wars and... read more »

Oculus VR™ was founded by Palmer Luckey, self-described virtual reality enthusiast and hardware geek. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund development of their first product, the Oculus Rift, a ground-breaking vir... read more »

Microsoft Studios is the video game production wing for Microsoft, responsible for the development and publishing of games for the Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Games for Windows and Windows Phone platforms. They were established in 2002 a... read more »

Disney Interactive, one of the world’s largest creators of high-quality interactive entertainment across all platforms, is the part of The Walt Disney Company responsible for the global creation and delivery of interactive entertainm... read more »

Don A. Mattrick (born 13 February 1964) is the CEO of social gaming company Zynga,as well as a member of its board of directors. Previously, Mattrick was the President of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft.In this role... read more »

John D. Carmack II (born August 20, 1970) is an American game programmer and the co-founder of id Software. Carmack was the lead programmer of the id video games Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, Rage and their sequels. Carm... read more »

Jack Tretton has more than 30 years of consumer product expertise, including 27 years of direct experience in the video game industry. A recognized industry veteran, Tretton provides a wealth of corporate business experience, including... read more »

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