The Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) hit that kickstarted a new era in video games was originally an easter egg in Bizarre Creations’ 2003 title Project Gotham Racing 2. In the game’s virtual car garage sits a classic arcade machine and if you’re curious enough to investigate, you are presented with the option to play Geometry Wars. Bizarre’s original arcade game was so popular the studio decided to sell Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved alongside the Xbox 360 (and Project Gotham Racing 3) launch on November 21, 2005 through XBLA. Little did we know this arcade gem set gaming trends 6 years later.
The Xbox 360 was criticized by gamers during its launch because its killer app, Perfect Dark Zero, didn’t live up to expectations set by Bungie’s Halo at the original Xbox launch and the rest of the software lineup was arguably weak. In a roundtable discussion on the 1UP Show, Dan Hsu (Dan now works at Bitmob) proclaimed that Geometry Wars and XBLA was Microsoft’s killer app. Wait, what? Sure, the twin-stick arcade shooter’s colors glowed brilliantly in HD and Bizzare Creations nailed the ‘easy to play, but difficult to master’ formula in games, but where was Halo? XBLA was originally a disc you inserted into your Xbox to play classic titles like Pac-Man and Frogger. With Xbox 360, XBLA morphed into a virtual channel and Hexic HD, a gem puzzle game, was heavily promoted by Microsoft. I’m sure most thought Dan was crazy, but looking back, Mr. Hsu was spot on.
XBLA is now a place where independent developers are breathing life into an industry whose high production costs and barriers to entry are getting lower every single day. 2D sidescrollers and platformers are no longer a forgotten genre and creativity is bursting at the seams. Sony followed up with their own downloadable game section in Playstation Network and we now have games like Flower, Limbo, Braid, Everyday Shooter, Super Meat Boy, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. It’s not just indie developers that are in on the fun either; Ubisoft published Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Square Enix published Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light on these networks.
Games are the #1 app category in the new smartphone and tablet platforms and Bungie Aerospace, Bungie’s indie publishing house, chose iOS to launch Crimson: Steam Pirates – their first game. iOS and Android represent 58% of all portable gaming revenue and both independent developers and traditional publishers are flocking to these devices. The game industry experienced explosive growth due to the new ‘casual’ gaming audience and it will be interesting to see how these trends will influence the next generation of consoles. Personally, I hope a bridge is drawn between ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ gamers. New distribution models made all these games possible and I’m more than happy that one of my favorite games, Geometry Wars, paved the way.