Best of the Twenty Aughts - Most Important Games

Yes, it really has been 10 years since Y2K.  As we enter the brave new decade where Back to the Future promised us hover-boards, flying cars, and geoengineered weather cycles, I'm going to start with an extremely generic list of games that drastically shaped the industry.  It's a boring start to celebrating 10 solid years of gaming, but why not?
 
There are a lot of games that aren't going to make this list.  A lot of great games.  The four lucky titles on this list are absolutely critical to the current course of the medium.

List items

  • If there was no Halo, I'm not convinced that there ever would have been a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Simply put, this title showed that FPSes were not only possible on consoles, but surprisingly awesome. Beyond that, it was the title that made one company relevant in the console market. Without Halo, I doubt Microsoft would be in the market at all. If not the game of the decade, it is certainly in the top 3.

    You could try to make the case that Perfect Dark, released in 2000, was more paramount in bringing FPSes to the thumbs and button crowd. It controlled better than Goldeneye and had more interesting multiplayer. However, at its core it was still the same game as Goldeneye, and was not yet on a console that had dual thumbsticks, which have become a key component of FPS controls. The pacing of the two games are also dramatically different, with modern shooters following the faster pace of Halo. The ability to play Halo over LAN with up to 16 players created a dramatically different type of competition than had been seen previously on console, something that Xbox Live later took hold of and expanded drastically.

  • Half-Life 2 almost didn't make this list. In fact, I'm still not sure that it should have. The title is an amazing piece of work, practically un-duplicated. The great variety of levels from the start of City 17 to killing an Antlion Queen on a beach all with a silent protagonist. Reflecting on it I am still amazed. But the real reason it is here is the unreliable product it launched with.

    Steam.

    In the 5 years since the birth of Steam it has entirely changed the PC gaming world. While its initial launch was highly criticized it has grown to become the leader in digital distribution with an estimated 70% of the market share. One of the primary reasons PC piracy had become so high was that it was far simpler to download a game off of a torrent than to go to the store and purchase the title. Steam gave you no excuse. When you buy a game, it's yours, all you have to do is wait for it to download. It's also entirely portable (unless the developer put DRM in there), meaning you can take it to whichever computer you want and install it there. The addition of Xbox Live-like achievements and a solid social component give it more features than the competition and a solid lineup of first party titles ensure that it will always be around.

    The other major platforms have followed Steam's digital distribution approach, but limited by the continued reliance on brick and mortar retail for sales. With no such limitation, Steam is blazing the path for the rest of the industry.

  • The Wii has irreversibly changed the face of gaming. The simple reality is that most people bought the Wii only for Wii Sports. The title is incredibly accessible and even years after release still fun. I played the title with my wife's 89 year-old grandfather a few months before his death and even he had fun with it once his 6 year-old great grandchild gave him a quick tutorial.

  • I personally struggled deciding between Dark Age of Camelot or WoW as the most influential MMO. At its core, WoW is a dramatically simplified verison of DAoC with a extra spit-shining. Dark Age was much more quest-heavy than Everquest and excelled at faction-based PvP. But the truth of the matter is that WoW's refinement and streamlining of the quest system, easier to use interface, and quality of content set it apart from any other MMO to date. It is a juggernaut and will continue to be so.

    But edging out DAoC is not enough to make this list. The real reason it's here is the cultural impact that it has had. The world's most addictive game is responsible for college dropouts across the globe, Night Elf Mohawk commercials, and South Park spoofs. Pastors even give whole sermons about WoW. The amount of money that WoW brings in monthly is larger than half of the world's GDP. It is a beast the likes of which have never been seen, and although it has been attempted numerous times, never duplicated.