December 12, 2008 - As 2008 winds down, it's time to sit back, take a sip of fine port wine and reflect on one of the Xbox 360's best years to date. Over the next few pages, we'll revisit some of our favorite moments of the past 365 days, from monster events like TGS and E3 (strange as it was) to launches of long-awaited games and features like Gears of War 2 and the massive Dashboard update. Along the way we'll reveal your picks for the top Xbox 360 games of 2008 and revisit some of our early predictions. Exactly how right were we? We're guessing very. And before we take a peek into the future, we'll break down the year's biggest news and throw some of 2008's hottest game tips your way. So how did 2008 treat Xbox 360 gamers?
State of the Platform
Microsoft has an arsenal of ways to define its success in the videogame space. When the NPD Group releases its monthly report on the state of the videogame industry, Redmond is quick to respond with its own facts and figures, citing attach rates, Xbox Live subscriber numbers, and even peripheral sales to bolster its claims of living room supremacy. That's all well and good, but without great games none of that matters. And fortunately, 2008 was a blockbuster year for games on the 360.
Rockstar's epic immigrant tale Grand Theft Auto IV kicked things off in the spring, and the hits just kept on coming, many of them Xbox 360 exclusives -- Ninja Gaiden II, Fable II and Gears of War 2 to name a few. Major multiplatform games like Fallout 3, Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero World Tour and Prince of Persia round out 2008's impressive list. Even Xbox Live Arcade had a blazing hot year, most of it shoehorned into the month of August. The Behemoth finally delivered Castle Crashers, follow-up to the developer's popular game Alien Hominid, and indie dev Jonathan Blow gave us Braid, an innovative and absorbing puzzle game that took everyone by surprise. Add Galaga Legions, Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Portal: Still Alive to that lineup, and 2008 begins to look very good indeed.
Although both Sony and Microsoft like to act like Nintendo isn't a direct competitor, the truth is that the Wii, for the third year in a row, has completely dominated the broader videogame landscape. In November alone, the Wii sold 2 million units, double its numbers for same month last year. The Xbox 360 sold 836,000 units that month, compared to the PS3's 378,000. And although one month's numbers don't tell the whole story, it's a representative look at 2008. Over the course of the year, we saw the Wii own the market while the Xbox 360 held a respectable second-place position. With a few exceptions, the PlayStation 3 fell to third place.
So has Microsoft lost the battle for the living room? Hardly. Although the Wii is probably being played by millions of moms at this very second, it's the 360 that's come closer than any other current-generation console to the indispensible entertainment device that Bill Gates and crew so desire it to be. And that fact can be attributed in large part to the November launch of what Microsoft calls the New Xbox Experience. Now that it's not so new anymore, we just call it the Dashboard.
The updated Dashboard was a master-stroke of corporate copying that transformed the Xbox 360's interface into something glossy, modern and altogether more palatable to non-gamers. Part Windows Vista, part iTunes Cover Flow and part Nintendo Wii, the Dashboard does away with the old "blade" system and replaces it with a cleaner, smoother look. It also introduced avatars, which look conveniently like a mix between Nintendo's cutesy Miis and Sony's characters in Home, which launched in beta this week. But the update also snuck in a killer app –- a feature that integrates Netflix's streaming video service directly into the Dash. Xbox Live gold members who also subscribe to Netflix can now watch movies instantly, a move that's sure to give Sony a run for its Blu-Ray money. The service still has its glitches as of this writing, but once the wrinkles are ironed out, the potential is huge.
If Microsoft can build on the success of the updated Dashboard with new features and more updates (for both gamers and non-gamers), then the Xbox 360 will likely grab even more market share in 2009. On the games front, things look a bit murkier, a situation we'll take an in-depth look at later in this article. Overall, 2008 was a banner year for the 360 and we'll be playing some of the best games of '08 well into '09.