Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
#10 MMO Minus RPG And For Free – For those rich enough to afford Internet access, but not rich enough to afford video games (let's face it, porn is more important than Halo), there were a lot of options in the form of free-to-play, micro-transaction MMOs that offered more than just your average WoW experience. Games like Battleswarm, Evony, and Heroes of Newerth gave gamers a chance to play games that were both engaging and unique in concept without having to pay a monthly subscription.
#9 Mormon Acts Rationally– In between picketing against gay marriage rights in California and doing bake sales, those wacky Latter Day Saints found time to pass bill HB 353, which “prohibits a person from advertising that a good or service will not be sold to a certain age group and then selling [it] to that age group.” They even got our old friend, Jack Thompson, behind the crudely phrased piece of legislature. So crude in fact that it never specifically mentioned video games in any of its guidelines and would have undone a lot of hard work that retailers had already into voluntarily educating parents about ESRB ratings.
Fortunately, Utah Gov. Jon Meade Huntsman, Jr. (who once dropped out of high school to be in a rock'n'roll band) is not an idiot. He vetoed the bill, which passed unanimously in the house stating ”...the unintended consequence of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children’s potential exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.” Yeah, what he said.
#8 E3 Didn't Suck (As Much) – The slowly dying behemoth that was the Electronic Entertainment Expo started to show signs of life this year, returning to something more akin to its original splendor. The public at large was allowed back (I'm sure much to chagrin of hard working game journalists) and that meant that companies put out some schwag and spectacle to attract enthusiastic fanboys to their booths. Even the booth babes were back!
On top of that, there were some exciting announcements, such as New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii and the only two living Beatles stopping by to endorse their Rock Band game. If E3 continues to add this kind of panache, it may just have a shot at regaining the glory of days gone by.
#7 Gaming Goes Mainstream – Gamers are getting older and as that happens the mainstream market starts to pander to us more and more. Probably the best examples of this are late night talk shows. A very observant or very, very high Conan O' Brian viewer noticed that his new backdrop resembled something out of Super Mario Bros. 3. Conan then reciprocated this by poking fun at the coincidence on his show. Even the eternally awkward Jimmy Fallon has gotten in on the fun and has pledged to incorporate tie-ins with games into his show... although I really, don't know if playing DJ Hero with Rosie O' Donnell is the right way of going about it.
#6 Duke Nukem 4 Ever Never – After trying to make the same game for years and years (and years), and failing miserably, 3D Realms had to shut its doors and call it a day for everyone's favorite trash-talking, cigar-smoking, alien butt-kicking hero. This is the darkside of indie development. Without anyone telling them how to spend their money or make a deadline, DNF became nothing more than an excuse for them to hemorrage money and piss off their distributors and employees.
Imagine making real progress on the game, only to be told it was all being scrapped for a new engine. Now imagine that happening over the course of several years. It's enough to drive even the most hardcore programmer insane.
The money finally ran out and fans were given a sense of closure that they deserved... at least we hope they have. With luck they'll just let sleeping Dukes lie.