The 10-year challenge: Video game edition

Nintendo

Top product in 2009: Wii

Top product in 2019: Switch Lite

Progress report: In 2009, the Wii dominated the console market and changed the way people across the world interacted with video games. Today, the Switch and Switch Lite are on the same path, bridging the divide between living-room and mobile gaming. The House of Mario traditionally operates in its own universe, but that’s changing just a little. Nintendo launched its first service for online gaming in late 2018, and it’s been an early advocate of cross-console play, alongside Microsoft. Nintendo is still the home for strange and heartwarming gaming experiences with oddly restrictive policies, and it’s heading into 2020 with a strong console release at its back.

The last time it was in this position, Nintendo launched the Wii U. I’ll just leave it at that.

Activision Publishing

Top product in 2009: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Top product in 2019: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Progress report: No, that’s not a typo. Activision may publish other games, but Call of Duty is the company’s main money maker, and the franchise keeps on delivering, even when the naming structure gets confusing. Call of Duty consistently outsells the competition, and Activision has established a multi-studio development structure that keeps the games coming annually. Activision remains a major name in AAA gaming, but in the future, it’s going mobile — the smartphone version of Call of Duty came out in October and saw more than 100 million downloads in its first month.

Call of Duty: Mobile also represents Tencent’s growing influence over the video game industry. Massive Chinese technology conglomerate Tencent has a 4.9 percent stake in Activision Blizzard, following the company’s split from its former owner, Vivendi, in 2013. Tencent owns or has a stake in Epic Games, Riot Games, Ubisoft, Bluehole, Supercell, Grinding Gear Games and Paradox Interactive. China’s video game market is nearly four times the size of the US audience, and partially due to a lack of Western consoles in the country, Chinese players are really into mobile gaming. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is really into censorship, and these partnerships have already resulted in a few troubling situations for Western studios.

Blizzard Entertainment

Top product in 2009: World of Warcraft

Top product in 2019: Overwatch

Progress report: Activision’s partner in profit is Blizzard. World of Warcraft was Blizzard Entertainment’s main concern in 2009, and 10 years later, it’s Overwatch. Blizzard has been running PC-focused franchises, such as StarCraft and Diablo, for well over a decade, and it’s now a hub for popular esports titles including Overwatch and Hearthstone. While World of Warcraft has lost a significant portion of its audience since 2009, Blizzard has picked up new players with friendly looking competitive games and flashy, story-driven YouTube animations. When all else fails, use the Pixar method.

Ubisoft

Top product in 2009: Assassin’s Creed II

Top product in 2019: Far Cry: New Dawn

Progress report: Ubisoft’s publishing business has shrunk significantly since the early 2010s, and instead of churning out Rabbids titles, licensed games and experiments like ZombiU, it’s focusing on just a handful of important IPs. Even then, it’s struggling — Ubisoft just delayed basically every game on its 2020 roster after the poor reception of The Division 2 and Ghost Recon Breakpoint, this year. Personally, I miss weird, free-wheeling Ubisoft, though I’m happy to leave The Expendables 2: The Video Game in the past.

Electronic Arts

Top product in 2009: FIFA 09

Top product in 2019: FIFA 2019

Progress report: You know when someone posts a 10-year challenge and you can’t tell which photo is supposed to be the new one? Yeah, that’s EA. In late 2008, EA launched FIFA 09, and in 2019, it’s all about FIFA 19 and FIFA 20. Or, replace “FIFA” with “Madden NFL,” or “NHL” or basically any other athletic organization. EA Sports remains a crucial brand for EA, and the company’s catalog hasn’t changed much overall in the past decade. It still handles The Sims, Battlefield and the sprawling RPG franchises that spawn out of BioWare. Apex Legends, an online competitive shooter, represents EA’s ability to adapt with the times. EA is publishing new, familiar titles while slowly evolving its online services. This business model isn’t necessarily sexy, but it just might be sustainable.