Happy New Year! Alrighty, now that I’ve judged myself on my Bold Predictions for 2012 (and done not so badly overall though always with room for improvement), it’s time to spit em’ out for 2013. I’m hung over, have a sore back, haven’t slept and oh yeah, have to head back to what will be an insane merger-induced grind tomorrow so I’m actually not in a blogging mood but dammit, predictions must flow! I’m going to try to put in everything I can think of before posting this but I do these kind of off-the-cuff and with no pre-planning so I am going to reserve the right to add to the post for up to 48 hours after publishing it in case I remember anything. These are also tech and gaming predictions. I have predictions in the economic and political arenas too but these will be long enough and frankly, I don’t have the time or the energy for political arguments.
And away we go!
- THQ’s new private equity owner will ensure all their games in the pipe come out but the company will be split up and sold off shortly after. This is honestly a shame because despite the absolute idiocy of that company’s management (Jason Rubin being very much an exception), they’ve managed to keep a lot of talent and put out some pretty good games. That said, the AAA industry is in a state of massive flux right now (more on that later) and even the big boys can’t figure out how to reliably succeed in it so I can’t see who would want to fund another go for THQ in that arena. There’s a lot of mystery around this eleventh hour deal but from what I’ve read, it looks like vultures who want to ring out whatever profits they can from the nearly finished games in the pipe and then sell the studios and IP for some additional profit. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.
- Mobile gaming will continue to grow but the honeymoon is over. This is kind of an extension of a prediction from last year but I’m declaring it to have a bigger effect this year. I’ve banged on about how the meteoric growth of this industry (and the companies whose platforms it runs on) is a fashion trend, that the growth is unsustainable and that a big equalisation adjustment is coming as it already has in the social space. Mobile has quickly been usurped by big companies and the only games that are attaining mass scale success are from big companies with the occasional fluke like Angry Birds was. It’s a super hit driven industry just like AAA is and the press will no longer be able to ignore that as they’ve been doing for a while now. This type of gaming’s not going anywhere and that’s a good thing but this is the year reality hits and people realise it isn’t all milk, honey and guaranteed riches. Mobile will continue to exist and thrive but it’s not going to replace other ways of gaming any time soon if ever. To tie into this…
- The general public will start to tire of free-to-play Skinner Box mechanics. This right here is why I can’t stand most mobile games. Everything’s filled with microtransactions, nags to spend money and a damn store front between every level, whether it makes design sense or not. It’s a terrible, exploitative way to design games, I hate it and I’ve already heard more than a few other people who are tired of it too. When people look at their credit card statements and realise those 5 $0.99 games they bought actually cost more like $25 in total in order to make them good and not just grind fests, they get frustrated and I think we’ll see more of that. This mechanic isn’t going away but I do think we’re going to start seeing mobile games that offer complete experiences for a higher price.
- The Wii U will be a modest success. I’m sure Nintendo realises that much like mobile is now, the Wii’s growth was fashion driven and I’m sure they have no such expectations with the Wii U and have budgeted accordingly. I got one of these for Christmas and despite some dumb decisions they made (largely regarding patch structure, DRM and the GamePad’s battery, all of which can be fixed), this is an amazing platform that offers a lot of promise and uniqueness. This isn’t a Wii with a low-rent tablet attached and anyone who thinks so is either uninformed or more likely an Apple fanboy. I still don’t see Nintendo winning over third parties in a big way with this but as always, their own stunning developer talent will carry the Wii U to profitability.
- The Vita will go from limping to crawling. Naming the Vita one of my disappointments of 2012 hurt because I love this thing so much. It’s incredible hardware and it’s a steal at $250 and it shows how you can do good portable gaming without compromise but no one’s making games for it. Even when they’re hurting bad though, Sony’s not one to throw in the towel and I don’t think they will here. They’ll keep pushing it and I do believe it will continue to sell small numbers and probably will never be a runaway success but I do think it will advance enough this year to keep owners like myself in some decent content. I also believe Sony’s next home system will give it a big push but more on that later.
- Console shovelware is dead. It’s already happening and good bloody riddance! The Wii and DS were kind of the last bastions for the vulture publishers who make their living cranking out cheap, garbage games for $30-$40 in the hopes of catching suckers at Wal-Mart. The increased development costs of the new systems (which many believe to be 2-3x what they are now at a minimum) will make this slimy practice an impossible model. These publishers won’t simply move to mobile either because there’s already too much garbage in that space and because they were run by scummy businesspeople who didn’t really understand the industry as a whole, they won’t know how to adapt to the realities of the mobile market and will likely just up and die off. They deserve to rot.
- The first major Kickstarter disaster will happen and will test people’s faith in the crowdfunding model. I think this model of funding games is brilliant and I spent way too much on Kickstarters this year. However, at least one of these projects is either not going to come out and zero out everybody’s “investment” or it will come out, be far below the majority’s expectations and people will feel ripped off. There have just been too many projects and a big portion of those are fuelled by rose-tinted nostalgic expectations. I know I’m probably going to hate at least a couple of the finished projects that I backed. No disrespect to Brian Fargo and I so hope Wasteland 2 is killer but inXile’s track record is not good. The Peter Molyneux and David Braben projects are also just gross and while perfectly legit, abuse the Kickstarter spirit in my opinion. The thing is, I fully knew what I was getting into when I backed them and the whole point of Kickstarter and that you roll the dice and take your chances. Most people don’t know that though or they say they do but don’t really mean it. When one of these games comes out to poor reviews or worse yet, doesn’t come out at all, a lot of people are going to feel burned and run away from crowdfunding. The people that do get it will continue to make it a viable means of indie development which is awesome but much like mobile, we’re still in the honeymoon phase.
- The OUYA will come out and find niche success. I don’t really think the OUYA folks believe this is going to be the thing that overtakes Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo but I also think the fanboy press who largely hated on this thing not because of it’s ideas but because it’s Android and called it no less than a scam were dead wrong. None of them will do the right thing and eat crow of course but I didn’t expect that. Developer kits for this have already shipped whereas the press’ golden boy project I’ll talk about next is delayed until March, maybe. There seems to be a lot of developer hype for this and I think it’s a really cool idea. I actually backed it but had to reduce my pledge due to money issues but if this makes it to market, I’ll happily grab one to try it out.
- The Oculus Rift will come out late and underwhelm. The same press outlets who have been dumping on OUYA have used such fashionable terms as “the future” to describe this thing. I think it’s very cool and if it does what it does well and gets game support, I’ll totally get one. However, all attempts at virtual reality have proven cumbersome and not generally worth the experience and I’ve seen nothing to indicate this will be otherwise. I do think this could find niche success but I think the press’ own hype of this will be to its detriment when normal consumers start getting their hands on it. I’ll be happy to be wrong about this.
- Layoffs, studios closures and the viability of AAA development will be a bigger story than ever. This was one of the dominating themes of 2012 and as we go through yet another year waiting for new consoles, I think it’s only going to get worse. Sales are falling (no one’s 100% sure of why but many think it’s not just the normal end-of-cycle downturn), costs are set to skyrocket and anything that isn’t a sure fire hit is a recipe for financial catastrophe. Any studio that hasn’t consistently pumped out critical and commercial successes can’t get work anymore and we now have fewer publishers able to fund new AAA projects than ever before. I love AAA gaming and it pains me greatly to see it in such decline but unless people get bored of mobile games and come running back to it, I don’t see how they fix this going forward. My hope is that this is an adjustment and the industry will realign itself and come out stronger but that requires new players to enter the space and no one is.
- Valve’s Steam box will not release this year but will enter the promised beta phase. My feeling is it will be a standardised PC design that runs customised Linux with Steam on it. And for that reason, I will probably not care because it will have a fraction of my library available to me and most of it is going to be indie stuff I don’t need to play on my TV or that I can play by running an HDMI cable from my laptop. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a cool idea and from the way they’ve talked about it being able to run competing software, it might even be Valve’s own attempt at an OUYA-like thing which could be something special indeed.
- Steam on Linux will remain niche at best. Despite the hypocrisy of Valve and others towards Windows 8, I do get where some of their concerns are rooted and I share them. However, to think Linux is going to ever gain mainstream adoption of any kind, especially gaming at this stage is a pipe dream. Even the versions of it that are designed to be “desktop friendly” are a nightmare to maintain, drivers are a mess and the community as a whole is still full of elitists who drive the mainstream away and like it that way. All that’s fine, I’ve got nothing against any of it if that’s the way you want a platform to be but all of those things mean it will never take over Windows. Kudos to Valve for making a concerted effort to make the platform viable for gaming and I do hope they can succeed in some way. But if they do, it won’t be for a long time to come.
- Cross-media gaming will be attempted multiple times and never take off. Frank Gibeau from EA as well as babbling heads like Kevin Dent say that big gaming franchises have to have components everywhere. Beyond your console or PC game, there has to be a tie-in product on your phone, your tablet, your browser and anywhere else in order to keep you engaged at all times. I think this is a dumb idea and a waste of developer talent and resources. EA tried it with Mass Effect 3 and all the tie-in content sucked and no one really cared as far as I can tell. I won’t talk about this too much here because I have a future blog post about it planned.
- There will be no new games announced or released from Valve this year (Dota 2 excepted). Forget Half-Life 2: Episode 3, we will get zilch from them in 2013. Between their new hardware experiment, Steam for Linux and whatever else, they aren’t going to be in a rush to put anything out. I excepted Dota 2 from this because it’s technically out to anyone who wants it already but it may exit beta.
- DayZ standalone will launch late and be a buggy, hacker ridden mess like all Bohemia Interactive launches. Don’t get me wrong, I think the ideas of DayZ are absolutely fantastic, even if I burned out on the game after a month and I respect Bohemia as a developer a ton for finding a super tight niche and thriving in it. But the fact remains that their launch track record is abysmal and I don’t expect that to change with the standalone DayZ game. I hope they buck the trend this time because they might have the birth of a new genre on their hands and they’d be foolish to burn it right at the start.
This gets its own section because there’s just too much to talk about regarding the next Xbox and PlayStation. There’s no doubt in my mind that these machines will be radically different from anything that’s come before. They have to be because making themselves stand out against phones and tablets (for better or worse) is a must.
- Both the next Microsoft and Sony systems will be announced and shipped this year. Rumour is the next Xbox was supposed to come out in 2012 and got delayed for major retooling. The industry can’t wait any more, new hardware has to happen this year or there will be no one left to make stuff for it.
- Both platforms will use far fewer specialised parts and be more like PCs than ever. It’s cheaper, most of the off-the-shelf parts are more powerful and most importantly, it’s much easier and faster to develop for. The days of Cell processors and weird memory allocation issues are over, they have to be. I’m guessing each system will have a minimum of 4GB RAM and hard drives will be standard but not SSDs.
- Both platforms will offer every title in every tier for sale digitally on day one. Sony’s already trying this with select PS3 games. We’ve reached a tipping point where despite the telecartel’s best efforts, broadband is becoming a viable way to get large content and video game retail is losing its stranglehold on publishers and platform holders. By selling games digitally, the useless middleman who rip off the industry and consumers with used games gets cut out, pricing flexibility and sales are easy obtained and everyone makes more money. Retail is the only reason this wasn’t done before and Microsoft and Sony realise it’s time to throw caution to the wind and just do it. Whether I embrace this depends on whether they do DRM intelligently. They can look to Nintendo for how not to do it.
- Free-to-play will become a big deal on consoles. Again, Sony tried this first with DUST 514 and Microsoft tried it with an XBLA title that wasn’t very good. However, they both know how much money there is to be made here, Sony especially since free-to-play is where Sony Online Entertainment makes most of its money now. The ability to handle microtransactions will exist at the system level and seamlessly integrate into both platform’s store front systems. For this to work though, another major change must happen and that is…
- Console certification processes will continue to exist but will significantly lighten and be sped up. Free-to-play titles live and die on how quickly they can iterate. PlanetSide 2 has probably had a dozen or more patches since it left beta and it’s a better game for it. If each of those patches required weeks of sitting in certification limbo, it would have been disastrous. One of the big complaints from developers big and small over the last year has been how expensive and unnecessarily burdensome the console certification process is. Given that numerous games still ship completely broken or in some cases unfinished, it’s clearly not working as it is. Games shouldn’t have to wait weeks to make sure they prompt you to select your storage device and specifically tell you “Don’t turn off your console” when they’re saving data. I don’t know enough about the current processes to know how they will be streamlined but this must and will happen.
- SmartGlass will be a big deal for Xbox and Vita integration will be big for PlayStation. Being able to have your console content interact with your phone or tablet is largely a dumb gimmick right now but Nintendo is showing how you can do it in unique and interesting ways. Microsoft will expand their SmartGlass platform to make this a much bigger (yet still optional) component of the gaming and media experience on Xbox. I believe Sony has plans to do something similar but on a more unique scale with the Vita due to the things it offers that phones and tablets can’t. I don’t know if tightly integrating the Vita into the home PlayStation experience can save the platform but I really hope it breathes new life into it.
- Motion gaming is over. The Kinect was a fad and it’s largely dried up and almost no one’s making games for it any more, certainly nothing with a decent budget. Move died even quicker. The public’s got over motion gaming and I don’t think putting it in the box with the next systems is going to make it popular again. No matter how precise you make it, it’s still not the best way to play games. The next Xbox might support the current Kinect but I don’t think we’ll see another one.
- Like on PC, AAA games will be only a single segment of the gaming experiences available on consoles. This industry simply can’t afford to focus on AAA content exclusively, especially since costs and risks are only going to get more insane. But variety is good and despite some incredible gems coming out of console downloadable services (including half of my top 10 games of 2012), there’s really only the AAA stuff and the high-end downloadable stuff. I believe that with free-to-play and a newly refocused effort on promoting and fostering smaller indie development, consoles are suddenly going to have the wide variety of game types, production values and price points that you could previously only get on PC and on mobile to a lesser extent. I think this is going to be the single biggest paradigm shift in the history of the console industry and it’s sorely overdue. This is what’s going to keep it relevant against up and coming platforms.
- Sony will offer backwards compatibility via their Gaikai acquisition at some point but likely not at launch. They bought that company to probably eventually make PlayStation a platform that isn’t dependant on hardware but for now, I could see them using it this way since the rumoured radical hardware changes in the next console will likely make built-in backwards compatibility impossible. I don’t know if you’ll buy individual games or a subscription service or maybe some kind of hybrid tied into PlayStation Plus. Personally, I’d happy pay a few bucks a month to get access to a huge PS2 and PSP library. I do sincerely hope people who made PSN purchases on PS3 will get automatic Gaikai versions. I’m not counting on it though.
- Microsoft will not offer retail game backwards compatibility but will offer it for certain XBLA titles like the 360 does with original Xbox games. I don’t think they want to risk pissing off people who will lose access to everything XBLA but they also aren’t going to go through the headache of making every game work. Most XBLA titles never pushed the 360’s processing power very hard so in theory, software backwards compatibility could be enough for most of those titles. I imagine they will also keep the 360 on sale and the Live system for that system up and running for a while.
- PC gaming will keep getting bigger and challenge the notion of whether many hardcore gamers even need a console. Due to the PC-like architecture rumoured to be powering the new systems, making quality PC ports will be easier than ever and with that goes the reason many PC gamers had for also owning a console. If I could be assured that the majority of AAA PC ports were well done and more like they’ve been in the last year, I’d seriously consider only buying the next consoles when they were cheaper for exclusives.
- The Apple fashion trend will finally begin to normalise but the press will ignore it. I’ll say it again before fanboys lose their minds: This does not mean I think Apple’s going away. They aren’t and despite being a mean-spirited, greedy company riding a choreographed public and press perception, it’s a very good thing that they’re around. However, between market saturation, maturing competition and people realising that a lot of their products are underpowered, overpriced and riding hype and form rather than function, their growth is going to start to go from bubble to something more realistic. This is what happens with bubbles. Their stock price has already slid 25% in 2012 but you know how many stories about it I’ve seen from the numerous tech sites I follow? Zero, even though many of these sites live blog their earnings calls. There’s a trend in modern media to build people or companies up high and then kick them back down but that’s never how it’s worked with Apple. They always get a huge free pass that others don’t and I think that’s going to continue. The market’s waking up though and whether fanboys like it or not, a lot of people still don’t use Apple products and many more realise their stuff isn’t necessarily the best at everything.
- The Apple television is not coming. I made this prediction last year but the rumour won’t die so I’m reserving the right to make it again. Nearly everyone who is big in the TV business is bleeding to death right now. The HDTV market is saturated with people who see no compelling reason to upgrade. Paying 30-50% more for a screen with an Apple logo and the guts of a $99 Apple TV box (especially when many already have iPads you can plug into any TV) is simply not going to happen. Steve Jobs had one line in his biography where he said he’d figured out how to innovate in the TV space. Only for Apple does that one throwaway bit of information lead to an endless stream of speculation on how they’ll somehow revolutionise the TV space. It’s not going to happen.
- The iPhone 5S will be the next model but in the Fall, not the Spring. Many think that after Apple burned their hardcore by announcing a newer iPad only six months after the previous one that the same thing would start happening with the iPhone too. Aside from the fact that iPhone sales are down because the 5 doesn’t offer anything worth upgrading for, the 6 month iPad debacle was I think just an experiment to see how far they can push people. I don’t think they’re going to keep doing that.
- BlackBerry 10 will sustain RIM, not catapult them forward. By all accounts, it’s a fantastic operating system and their stock has been reflecting the buzz. The problem is that all 3 of the other major mobile platforms all tie into something bigger. iOS ties into Apple, Android ties into Google’s many services and Windows Phone ties into PCs. All RIM has is mobile and that’s going to make things tougher for them. I imagine that it’s extreme manageability, security features and flexibility will still make it the ideal corporate platform and most of their current corporate and government base will continue using them, as will a niche group of others. But their previous leadership was too short sighted to see the consumer battle approaching and they’ve lost it. I think they’ll refocus on what they have and serving that well.
- PC sales will slide a bit as the industry normalises but the slide will not be huge and it will settle. While I think tablets are a horrible way to do anything but the lightest computing tasks, there’s a big segment of the population that only has to do the lightest tasks. Those people are buying tablets instead of PCs and with good reason. In addition, a weakening global economy means enterprise spending is slowing across the board and that’s where a lot of PC sales come from. The PC will be the dominant computing platform for the foreseeable future, anyone who says otherwise is clueless. But the industry has been red hot for too long and some cooling should happen. I hope this will thing out some of the garbage vendors and maybe stop the race to the bottom for a while.
- Windows 8 will sell well below expectations. I think the hyperbolic hate for Windows 8 is way overblown but I get and share some of the big concerns about it. I’ve used it but not full-time and at some point soon, I will be upgrading my gaming rig to it so I can properly judge for myself. Depending on who you ask, it’s either selling OK or worse than Vista which was a dud as Windows sales go and for good reason, it was garbage. Some sales softness can be attributed to slowing PC sales but there has rightly or wrongly been some poison injected into the mainstream consciousness about Windows 8. Microsoft’s been desperate to chase the anti-choice, closed ecosystem model that Apple made popular and I think that’s stupid. They should be running the other way, embracing the opposite side and evangelising that. I believe that the poor sales of Windows 8 and the Surface tablets will cause them to re-evaluate what they’re doing with Windows and maybe back off or make optional some of what people hate about it.
- Windows Phone 8 will rise to a respectable market share. I was wrong about this last year with Windows Phone 7 but my girlfriend is in love with WP8, as is everyone who buys a phone with it. There’s been lost of buzz slowly building about it and when the platform launched in China, it sold out everywhere in 2 hours, far outpacing the iPhone 5, even though it also set a record. Android is decimating all right now and that’s not going to change, nor are a sizable number of Apple faithful going to jump ship. But there’s still a big market out there of people who don’t own smartphones or who want to switch away from BlackBerry or older Android devices and I think there’s a big chance for Windows Phone there. After playing with my girlfriend’s Lumia 920, it makes my BlackBerry 9900 look last century and if I could afford a new phone tomorrow, it’s without question the one I would get.
- The TV industry will make a new push from 3D TVs to 2K or 4K TVs. I said we would see no mention of 2K/4K TVs last year and I was right, as I was about 3D dying off. However, the Japanese TV manufacturers are bleeding out fast and they need something, anything to resuscitate their fortunes. I don’t think the market is ready for 2K/4K yet but damned if they aren’t going to try to make it ready.
- Sharp will go bankrupt and Panasonic will have a massive restructuring. Whether Sharp goes the Japanese equivalent of Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 I don’t know but there’s no way for them to recover from the death spiral they’re in. Panasonic is already talking about shedding Sanyo and I think that’s only the tip of the iceberg for them. Sony is well underway with it’s restructuring now but Panasonic’s going to announce some kind of similar radical plan that will involve much deeper cuts due to them not being as diversified as Sony.
- We will start to see more mainstream PCs come standard with SSDs or a combination of SSD and hard drive. SSDs have gotten so incredibly cheap that it’s becoming worth it for PC manufacturers to put them in medium-class models just to boast about how fast they are. There are even low-end SSDs that are so inexpensive, they could even make it into some of the cheap big box systems.
And after another epic length post, there’s all my predictions for 2013! There’s a lot of uncertainty in not only the tech and gaming industries but in the world in general. Still, I think there’s a lot to look forward to and I’m very curious to see what lies ahead. I hope your 2012 was good to you and yours and that your 2013 will be even better. I’m very stoked for a lot of things coming in my life this year and may only my good predictions be the right ones. Happy New Year once again!