Hot console, 'hot coffee'
On the evening of Nov. 21, in a hangar in California's Mojave desert, more than 2,000 game fans eagerly waited to get their hands on the brand new Xbox 360.
At precisely 9 p.m. that night, three trucks rolled into the hangar, and when their doors opened, the next-generation console era had begun.
Microsoft, of course, wasn't the only company with next-gen in mind this year. Sony plans to launch its much-hyped PlayStation 3 next spring in Japan. Nintendo's Revolution is also slated for a 2006 release.
Next-gen consoles--with their high-definition graphics and online multiplayer capabilities--have graphics and multimedia purists salivating. Still, this year's E3--the video game industry's monster convention in L.A.--was marked by fear that the incredible consoles won't amount to much if the games that are available don't live up to the next-gen promise.
And the new Xbox--which launched with 18 solid but unspectacular games and sold out immediately at stores in the U.S. and Canada--got hit with bad news as reports spread that at least some of the machines were defective. Microsoft said the problems were few and far between and promised quick repairs or replacements, but a seed of doubt and anger was already planted.
Game enthusiasts cheered in March, when Sony set the handheld video game console world on its ear with the release of its PlayStation Portable, or PSP. With its ability to play movies as well as sophisticated video games, the device quickly sold out in stores nationwide.
But the PSP also attracted hackers intent on defeating its software that prohibited owners from running homebrew applications like a PDF reader or an FTP client. Sony quickly updated the device's firmware, but the hackers lost no time in defeating those protections as well. Sony turned around with a new version of the firmware, and the cycle continued.
Taking center stage as the year progressed was Rockstar Games, publisher of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" after it was revealed that an easily downloadable modification to the best-selling title added explicitly sexual scenes to the game.
The so-called "Hot Coffee" scandal--named after the modification itself--prompted the video game industry's governing body, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, to change the GTA: San Andreas' rating from M (mature) to AO (adults only).
The change had real consequences for the publisher, as many large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, won't carry AO-rated games.
At the same time, the Hot Coffee scandal, as well as a general reaction to violence in video games, reached the halls of Congress, and of state legislatures across the country.
New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton slammed the video game industry for allowing explicit content to get into children's hands, and several states passed laws banning the sale of violent or extreme games to minors. While it's not clear whether those laws are constitutional, there's no doubt politicians picked up on the issue as a way to make hay with voters.
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