It's almost the end of 2012, and with a potentially exciting 2013 on the horizon for the video game industry, I've decided to toss in some predictions for where the Big 3 and the industry may go from there. We're likely to have two new console launches, a load of new IPs and a potential challenger in living room PCs, but what does it all mean? Let's prognosticate and in one year, laugh at how wrong I was...
Sony and Microsoft will announce new consoles featuring "unique" controllers
Let's set one thing straight here -- Nintendo pioneered the motion controller craze of the 7th Generation. Sony and Microsoft merely tagged along, with varying success, and all three have seen the idea that motion is the new way to game die off a bit.
But don't think that's going to discourage the Big 3 from trying something different. Nintendo's WiiU is already experimenting with a hybrid Tablet/Controller and prototypes of a Move/DualShock have been patented for the "PS4". What I really expect to see is something more along the lines of the WiiU controller where instead of simple buttons to input commands, there will be more to it -- think the Sega Dreamcast controller's VMU, but with more functionality, or rather a straight up copy of the WiiU.
Plus, if the WiiU tablet/controller is a hit, why wouldn't Sony and Microsoft take a swing at it with their new systems? It seems like an obvious route given the rise of iOS/Tablet gaming and with a tablet controller of their own, Sony and Microsoft can woo some of those devs to produce content for their PSN/XBLA marketplaces.
The hardcore player will be the focus of the next gen
In case you missed it, a recent Games Industry article cites that of the $50 million the video game industry earned in 2012, only 10% of that comes from the "Casual" audience.
That casual gaming craze that dominated the early part of the 7th Generation has diminished to the point where it's mostly contained on tablets, phones and iOS devices. In short, it's almost over and for gamers who were crying that the Big 3 were abandoning them for Mom and Dad and Just Dance, get ready to be catered too once again and in a big, big way.
The 7th Generation lacked personality. If you owned a PS3 or Xbox 360, you had access to at least 85% of the games released this gen. That's not uncommon (having a majority of games multiplat), but the few true console exclusives eventually went multiplat (Mass Effect) and by the middle of the generation exclusives were trimmed down to just a few series for each consoles (Uncharted -- PS3, Gears of War -- Xbox 360, etc.)
It just seemed that there was real difference between the PS3 library and Xbox library to an outsider -- they're near identical save a few titles here and there.
With a new batch of consoles coming, there should be a need for real identity for these machines and early on I think we'll see a swath of new IPs, revived IPs and pushes to keep old, established titles completely exclusive (see Bayonetta 2). The winner in all this? The hardcore audience.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will spend 2013 announcing title after title to generate interest, and grow an install base, for the new consoles. If the Big 3 don't try to create an identity for their machines and capture the hardcore audience early, we'll have another stagnant generation like this past one.
Indie games will influence AAA developers and be a focus of the console online marketplaces
Faster Than Light, Hotline: Miami and MineCraft are just a few of the indie games that have captured gamers' eyes in the past year (even more than that for MineCraft). For a brief while, MineCraft was the most played game on Xbox Live and the Steam service on PC is a goldmine for affordable indie gaming.
Recently indie games have been taking chances AAA devs would never take. They've proven that high res graphics don't matter when gameplay is so good and they've created strong communities that remind me of the mid 90's adoration some people had for certain titles.
In short, indie games are a sleeping giant and one of the Big 3 is going to cater to them. Now here's why.
The goal of indie game devs are to eventually get their title to the living room, but the barrier to do that are high right now. Steam has proven a boon for indie devs, but the real success -- as seen with MineCraft -- is when one of the Big 3 puts the title on their system. MineCraft is a household name not just because it was a great PC game, but now because another 50 million people on Xbox 360 have access to it.
I expect all three console players to make their online marketplaces more open to the indie scene in an attempt to win over the hardcore audience that enjoys both the AAA game and the low-fi indie games. They're going to want to keep great indie games from releasing only on iOS/Android (Where they can't capitalize on it), but instead have them on their systems -- and it could even be exclusively.
If the Big 3 ignore the indie scene, then PC gamers win out and get some of the most innovative and unique experiences that consoles currently don't provide gamers.
Indie games are getting bigger and better, and whoever can be the most "indie friendly" system is going to get oodles of amazing games for their fans and their online marketplace. Even more so, whoever woos the indie scene now has a talent pool to hire from as well.
A "SteamBox" will fail because PC gamers are already content with their computers and consumers are happy with consoles
There's been a lot of rumblings about Valve's Gabe Newell commenting that living room PCs -- not the tower that you dragged into the living room for Steam Big Picture -- but actual smaller and affordable PCs with Steam loaded on them, will compete with next gen consoles.
The idea is great. In theory. Here's why it could fall flat on it's face.
First, the console market is already crowded with very capable machines that offer more than gaming. Steam is a gaming platform and while it could one day included the services you see in Xbox Live, such as NetFlix, the proposed idea of a PC that plays only Steam doesn't have those. It reminds me of the Ouya. The Ouya wants to bring Android games to your TV, but there's already 100 million people with Android phones, so what's the point?
Second, it's a confusing concept to non-gamers. Why not just buy a PC? Is it a console or a PC? What does it really do other than offer a great service and PC games on the TV? Why can't I just hook my current PC to the TV? To us, it makes perfect sense. I don't expect non-gamers to look at it and fully understand it. Of course this all would depend on how Valve marketed it, but even then, do you market it as a console or PC?
For the record, it's a great idea and I love it and would consider it (but I already have a gaming PC so what's the point...), but I just don't think it's going to be an instant win button for Valve like so many people beleive. Now watch me be wrong.
Last, but not least, the WiiU will be fine.
I see a lot of people nay-saying the WiiU for it's power, it's odd design and it's lack of third party support. I'll quickly list why none of that really matters right now.
1. It's going to be the cheapest of the new systems next year. Sony and Microsoft are announcing what we assume will be monster systems, on par with today's top end PCs. Those aren't going to be cheap, and then you add in the gizmos and gadgets that will likely need to be purchased with them.
It's going to cost a lot of money and I find it unlikely they can sell them at the golden $250 price. I'm expecting more around $500 for these new systems. PS3 released at $600 and has a miserable start, so unless they're sacrificing some power for price, expect Nintendo's WiiU to be the cheapest system at holiday 2013.
Oh and don't count out the potential ability to redesign and price cut with a WiiU XL or WiiU Lite. That sound you heard? Early adopters groaning.
2. The WiiU is less gimmicky than the Wii was, so third parties my actually give it an honest go-round. The Wii suffered from it's very limited controller and the fact that third parties found the gimped hardware, and controller, not worth the effort. The WiiU may not be as powerful as the next systems, but it's a more traditional console and it will be cheaper to develop on. If the install base hits the right number, it would be silly to ignore the system. They're not all on board yet, but I think you'll see them flock over post E3.
3. Nintendo still owns Microsoft and Sony in first party titles. The Wii survived almost solely on Wii Sports and first party titles. With a more traditional style console, these games will be far better than their Wii counter parts and will sell systems. Don't ever count out Mario or Zelda. Ever. EVER.