[Looking back at 2011, several analysts discuss the game industry's best highlights last year with Gamasutra, from the mainstream's acceptance of mobile gaming to subscription service risks paying off.]
Ask a gamer about the best thing to happen in the video game industry in 2011 and you're likely to get a title as the answer. That's natural, since players are generally more concerned about the final product than industry trends.
Ask a Wall Street analyst, though, and that's not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind. So once again this year, we polled some of the highest profile and most respected industry analysts to get their thoughts about the most exuberant and disappointing events to happen in gaming this year.
We start on a positive note -- looking at the year's best events. (The group's thoughts on what went wrong will run in the near future.)
Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities
The industry's most quoted analyst says he was actually happy with a number of things this year, but the one that he was most optimistic about was the explosive growth of mobile gaming, something that has long been bubbling under the surface.
"I think the best thing to happen to the industry is [people are] able to play games anywhere now," he says. "Actually, the best thing that happened is probably the iPad. It made gaming everywhere mainstream. And while the games aren't necessarily good, anything that makes gaming more mainstream is good for everyone [in the industry]."
Pachter also says the growth of the multiplayer phenomenon was a good thing, but that carried some disadvantages, too. (We'll explore that in our "Worst Of" article soon.)
John Taylor, Arcadia Research
Taylor was the only analyst to call out a specific title as one of the best things to happen this year -- and if you're thinking it was the hot-selling Modern Warfare 3, think again.
"Skyrim, as far as I can tell, is the surprise breakout hit of the year," he says. "Everyone expected it to be good, but it's really, really rocking."
Games aside, Taylor cites Sony's August decision to cut the PlayStation 3's price to $249 as a good thing. While most people saw it coming, the decision has spurred PS3 sales and kept Sony a viable competitor this generation.
P.J. McNealy, Digital World Research
McNealy points to Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, not because of the gameplay necessarily, but because the game was accompanied by Activision taking a risk. That came in the form of subscription service Call of Duty: Elite, which convinced players to pay more to get more -- something that could have repercussions for the industry in years to come.
"Gamers will become accustomed to paying for a service aspect, above and beyond paying for a $59 packaged good, and seeing the real value in online play and connectivity," he says. "Everyone in the video game industry will benefit longer term and make it a more stable industry while 'gaming' proliferates on multiple platforms such as the iPad or mobile phones."
Eric Handler, MKM Partners
Handler's thoughts were in line with what McNealy posited. The fact that you can no longer have a major release without a substantial online component showed the continued expansion of game companies, he noted, citing the success of Elite, Call of Duty: Black Ops downloadable content, and the episodic content that accompanied Red Dead Redemption.
"The continued expansion of online initiatives -- such as DLC content and subscription services shows the increased inertia from online revenue streams," he says.
Billy Pidgeon, M2 Research
While most analysts chose to focus on the console and mobile markets, Pidgeon's attentions were on the PC world. For the first time in long time, he said, it's getting interesting again.
"Some companies that have specialized in PC gaming are now leaning toward consoles (like id), but that has the added effect of leaving it up to new companies to dominate in PC," he says.
"I'm seeing more good indie games. That's where I see the real innovation in game play and art, and that's where new mechanics are coming from. Instead of franchises, we're seeing new, cool types of games that are niche. ... There's a lot of fun to be had there."
Jesse Divnich, EEDAR
Divnich and Pachter were on the same page, cheering the continued spread of interactive entertainment. But while Pachter focused more on mobile, Divnich cast a wider net.
"Regardless of one's theory on whether mobile and social gaming are eroding traditional packaged good sales, one thing is for certain, the maturing of these emerging markets are increasing the slice of the pie for the industry," he says.
"Developers now have a more diverse selection of canvases to paint on, which has led to new business models, new brands, and of course a larger selection and availability to experience quality interactive entertainment."