Another year, another set of Bold Predictions. I revisited and scored myself on last year’s predictions in my previous post and I did pretty much the same as last year, which is to say pretty good but not perfect. I’ve got another good batch lined up this year and though I have some safe ones as always, I’ve made a few that I think are a bit more risky and well, bold in the spirit of the event. I think this is going to be less a year of extremes and more of things normalising and shaking out but who knows, crazy stuff always seems to happen. As always, these are listed in the order I think of them and aren’t arranged any particular way beyond a couple of broad categories. Off we go!
- Both next-gen consoles will continue to sell well but PS4 will lead Xbox One by a healthy amount. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have sold far better out of the gate than most expected. Given their continued tight supply, I’d say even Microsoft and Sony were surprised as they both promised pre-launch that there would be no shortages. There’s been a lot of press led doom and gloom over the console industry and many still question if these machines will continue to sell after their initial thrust but I think they will and shows that yes, people do want more than just crappy tablet games and are willing to pay for better experiences. I think they’ll both keep doing well (by which I mean, enough numbers for Microsoft and Sony to keep bragging about them) but by the end of the year, the PS4 will have outsold Xbox One worldwide by a decent amount, giving Sony a solid early lead.
- The Oculus Rift won’t ship in its final consumer form this year. I’m still skeptical on the mainstream chances of this thing, despite the hype behind it, though I say that having never touched one. It’s definitely coming and with John Carmack behind it, you know it’s going to be a serious thing but given the continued technical challenges they’re having, I think 2015 is more likely.
- Star Citizen won’t come out this year and will begin to have some serious development concerns. I am so incredibly stoked for Star Citizen. Seriously, you have no idea. I kicked in some money to their crowdfunding initiative and can’t wait to see it. That said, the amount of money Cloud Imperium Games has raised has gone well beyond the realm of sanity. Despite it’s hardcore AAA ambitions, I can’t possibly see how they aren’t going to run into serious issues with feature creep or something else. They can’t just do the minimum they promised because people will wonder where all the money went but they can’t overscope too much or they’ll end up where Double Fine is with Broken Age. I don’t believe a ship date has been promised yet but there’s no way it happens in 2014 and I think as the year goes on and their funding goes up even further, more people will start asking serious questions of Chris Roberts. I so hope he and his team can pull this off though.
- This console generation reset will bring some new ideas but fewer than before. Everyone hopes that a new generation of hardware will bring fresh design ideas and perspectives to break AAA out of the creative rut it’s been in for the last few years. I’m confident that will happen (Titanfall looks like a step in that direction) but I think it will be to a lesser degree. AAA development has reached a ludicrous point where success is very uncertain but the stakes are huge and only getting bigger. Several publishers didn’t survive the last generation and things are only going to get tougher. The gaming public at large says they want new ideas but rarely steps up to support them and publishers are more risk averse than ever due to this. There will still be new ideas but less of them, at least initially.
- PC ports will suffer a bit but be much more at parity than before. Both new consoles are essentially modified PCs, a far cry from the highly customised architecture of the last machines. This will make doing quality PC ports much easier but good ports also require investment and expertise on the software side. As new engines start being used, I think PC ports will take a dip in quality again but it won’t be nearly as pronounced or offensive as last generation and it they will reach parity with the new machines and beyond much faster.
- The gaming press will continue to stoke the fires of controversy and fuel egos. Case in point, Polygon just hired Ben Kuchera, an expert in both stoking controversy and massive ego. I have another post ruminating in my head on this subject I may or may not complete, we’ll see. In the last couple of years, the “enthusiast” press in both gaming and tech has relied more and more on poking controversies with a stick and making new ones out of largely unimportant things to drive traffic. All the negative backlash they we saw against BioShock Infinite later in the year when it received glowing reviews at launch? The “enthustiast” press led that charge. In addition to that, we have a growing cadre of people in this field who think themselves the lord’s gift to the medium of writing about video games on the Internet, who author from a position of privilege and lord it over their readers, responding to any criticism the same way they’d respond to trolls. One only need look at almost any of Polygon’s editors since that site launched for proof of that (with exceptions of course, Charlie Hall being a big one of those.) Unfortunately, this method is having exactly the effect I believe it’s designed to and it will only get worse. Vox Media has expensive web sites to overdesign and that venture capital won’t last forever. Gotta’ get dem’ clicks.
- We will see more restrictions placed on capture and streaming functions of the new consoles. Given the recent furor on YouTube about copyright and fair use for gaming content, the video functions put into both new machines seem like something that was done before anyone in the industry got their head around it. Microsoft and Sony have been coy when talking about their ability to restrict these functions but have said when pressed that they can indeed be locked off at publisher request. This whole phenomena is so new that no one’s fully grasped it yet but until they do, I think we’ll see more games restricting how you can use these functions with them, at least when they’re new.
- Free-to-play on PC will have a reckoning and will continue to test people’s limits on mobile. I love free-to-play when it’s done right and many PC games are doing it right. Unfortunately, the market’s become so saturated with free-to-play titles, there’s just too much out there for everything to succeed. I personally have half a dozen or more such titles installed right now that I keep wanting to play but just don’t have time to, much less to put money into. Things are oversaturated and where free-to-play used to be a money press, it’s going to have a major correction, just like MMOs did. As for mobile, people are still willing to put up with some pretty gross, exploitative tactics on those platforms because the general public doesn’t know any better but they’re starting to wake up and the backlash against things like Angry Birds Go is showing that. These companies will test the limits until they go to far but I’m not sure if they’ll hit the threshold or not this year.
- More indies will launch first on PC rather than mobile since they can charge money up front, creativity in the mobile space will suffer as a result. There’s potential for great creativity in the mobile space but it’s suffering because people have been beaten into believing that anything which costs more than $0.99 on an iPad they paid $500+ for is a rip off. This is to say nothing of the massive discoverability issue on all mobile platforms. It’s insane but it’s the way it is. On PC, people are happy to pay money up front for a quality, complete experience. As a result, more indie developers who used to launch on mobile first will start launching on PC because though competition is fierce, they know they can just make a complete game and charge a set price for it, rather than twist their visions into some free-to-play bastardization. As a result of this, we’re going to see less complete mobile experiences and more free-to-play junk.
- Pricing variability will be tested further on consoles but won’t happen to the degree it does on PC. When you can get a AAA game for 50% off on Steam sometimes only a couple of months after launch but you still have to pay $60 to buy it on a digital console service a year later, something’s busted. Both Microsoft and Sony have said price flexibility and sales will be much more common on the new machines. I imagine so, it’s not something they can avoid if they don’t want to lose more hardcore gamers to PC. That said, we won’t see the frequency of sales or discounts on console we do on PC as Microsoft and Sony will foolishly believe that since they have fewer overall games, they need to keep the prices higher so they can keep taking the revenue cut they want.
- The Wii U will find a small niche but it’s mainstream prospects are over. This breaks my heart. I really do love the Wii U and hate how little software there is for it. I think Nintendo will make a lot of big announcements this year and I think their games will save the platform and make it a small limping success for them but with the Wii U being both a year old and now having new machines to contend with, it has no chance for mainstream success any more. Hopefully they can chug along for a bit and come up with a better idea next time. I think Nintendo should stay in the hardware game but this isn’t the way to do it.
- At least one Android console maker will fold. Maybe not a stretch given how all these machines have landed with a thud, especially the OUYA. It’s a shame, I like the idea of Android microconsoles but it’s clear they weren’t ready for prime time yet. None of them are successful and there’s too many of them for that market to continue on. I’m not sure who is going to fail but one of them will.
- SteamOS will release this year and not take off initially. This is another thing I like the idea of but I’m not convinced of its necessity. Windows is fine for gaming and contrary to the hypocritical stance Gabe Newell has taken on the matter, Windows 8’s closed portion is no threat to the entire closed system that is Steam. Do gamers want to switch to a Linux-based system with all the headaches that entails when there’s only a fraction of the Steam library available on it and everything’s going to come out on Windows anyway? I’m not sure but it’s definitely worth trying out and Valve has the means to do it. SteamOS is a long play from them so while I think it will come out and most people won’t use it full-time this year, that’s not to say it doesn’t have a shot going forward. This year however, it will not be a big deal.
- The first Steam boxes will land with a thud but no one will give up on the idea. The concept of a Steam machines is cool if you’re an enthusiast. If you’re a mainstream consumer, the messaging is confusing, there are too many options and price points with no clarity on why you’d want one over the other and all the prototypes are high end and too expensive. So far, these look like boxes aimed at the hardcore and that audience already has a gaming rig, they don’t need these. The first ones will impress enthusiasts but won’t catch on with mainstream consumers and won’t sell a ton as a result. However, just like SteamOS, this is a long play and the idea will evolve as time goes on. 2014 will not be the Year of the Steam Machine though.
- The next generation of cross-media gaming will still not resonate. I am already sick of the term “Second Screen Experience.” All these various companion apps for AAA titles this past year were all dumb and pointless. Some of what’s coming this year for games like Watch_Dogs and The Division look interesting but still generally appear to be pointless add-ons no one asked for that are designed to make sure you’re never not somehow involved with your game at all times because you must never not be playing! It’s taking up the time and resources that used to be dedicated to shoehorning pointless multiplayer modes no one played into otherwise single player games. I don’t think any of these new ideas for this coming in 2014 will be any more successful.
- Valve will announce and ship Left 4 Dead 3 this year, we’ll still hear nothing about Half-Life 3. Valve’s gone without a new game announcement for too long and if Half-Life 3 is even in development, it’s a long ways off. A lot of people have been craving a new Left 4 Dead and I think it’s a good move for Valve as it’s an easier series to iterate on than something like Portal.
- A new breed of smaller publishers (i.e. the likes of Deep Silver and Nordic Games) with new ideas and models will start to come into their own. Deep Silver’s been around for a while but made some bold moves in 2013, buying up Volition, Saint’s Row and Metro from the ashes of THQ. Similarly, Nordic Games has been quietly amassing quite the stable of strong IP from both THQ and others and is just starting to talk about ramping up development. More publishers have failed in the last few years but several others who have new ideas of how to sell and price games as well as how to interact with customers are starting to appear and the all-digital age we’re heading into is their time to strike and make their mark on AAA gaming. We’ll see some big announcements from these companies this year.
- At least one smaller PC digital distribution service will shut down this year. I’m not going to guess which one but there’s a lot of them out there and with Steam commanding near monopoly levels of market share, they can’t all survive indefinitely. More competition is important but the reality is, this is Steam’s market and everyone else is fighting for scraps. I don’t think there’s enough to go around.
- Most AAA titles will continue to struggle. Despite the healthy sales of the next-gen machines, AAA games are still too expensive and not popular enough as a whole for most of them to succeed. Until this industry learns to adjust their expectations and as long as these games are still being sold for $60, I think we’ll still see this being a hit driven industry where most games are financial failures.
- Rumours of a Kinect-free Xbox One SKU will persist but it won’t happen this year. People don’t really care for Kinect and they want Microsoft to offer an Xbox One without it to bring the price down. I’m one of those people. Microsoft is solidly behind this technology though and they know the only way to get people making games for it is to guarantee a large install base which is what including it with the Xbox One gets them. This may still happen but unless Xbox One sales go off a cliff, they’ll stick to it for this year.
- Sony will unveil and launch Gaikai-based backwards compatibility this year but not with a subscription model. Sony has all but said without actually saying that a big part of their Gaikai streaming technology will be used to offer backwards compatibility of some sort on PS4. I believe we’ll see them announce and launch something to this effect in 2014 but the subscription library model everyone including me is salivating over won’t happen. There are just too many third-party licensing issues to make that a reality.
- eSports will start to get some mainstream coverage from a “traditional” sports outlet. I’m not an eSports guy but the growth of this thing can’t be understated. It will still probably be relegated to ESPN12 or whatever their lowest-end channel is now but I think we’ll start to see it getting coverage beyond just the niche online outlets that cover it now. Hell, half of sports coverage is of bloody poker now. If that’s considered a sport, so can League of Legends and StarCraft.
- More indie games will fail due to saturation and discoverability issues but the successes will be even bigger. The amount of indie games coming out is fantastic but there’s too many of them and it’s becoming damn hard to get noticed. This is going to continue and as a result, we’re going to see more indie games than ever fail financially. However, the audience for indie games is skyrocketing and as a result, the titles that do succeed will be even bigger successes, perhaps finally allowing their creators to profit significantly, rather than just make their investments back. This is a very good thing.
- Social gaming will continue to struggle, Zynga will retract further. This sector’s cratering, partially because of mobile games and partially because it was a fad that’s worn off, more so as people use social media less on average. We’ll see more games close, more developers struggle and Don Mattrick’s not going to fix Zynga’s continuing issues due to Mark Pincus’ terrible leadership, especially since their attempt to get into gambling has stalled.
- Call of Duty will continue to decline and Bobby Kotick’s Activision will start to be revealed as one-trick pony that it is. Beyond Call of Duty and Blizzard stuff, Actvision has little else. They have Skylanders which is doing well but not incredible and beyond that, pretty much all they release is licensed stuff, a business that is quickly evaporating. The rumour is that Call of Duty sales are down 20% over last year. Some think this is because Call of Duty Ghosts is bad even when stacked against other recent entries (I played it, it is) and others think it’s because people are finally getting sick of this regurgitated series that’s devoid of innovation. I think it’s probably both. Blizzard is big but they don’t make Call of Duty money, especially with World of Warcraft declining at the same time and nothing big on the horizon. Destiny could be big but it’s Bungie’s IP and they’re independent so even if it sells Call of Duty numbers, it won’t make Activision the same money. Kotick has systematically laid off all the best talent he had to make new ideas for that company because nothing they made sold as well as Call of Duty. When Call of Duty goes away, he has no one to make the next big thing for him and the long-con he’s been managing to sustain for the last several years will come crashing down. This isn’t all going to happen this year but 2014 will be the start of it. I suspect Kotick already has a plan to exit Activision well before the true reckoning starts.
- Apple’s iOS controller support will go nowhere significant, as will Android’s. Despite what the fanboy press keep trumping as the biggest gaming news of last year, no one cares about this. People don’t want to buy expensive, bulky controllers for their phones just to play games differently and since Apple requires that all games still have touch screen functionality anyway, no one’s going to want to have to design their games around two vastly different control systems, one of which 90% of their users won’t have. Controller support on Android has been around for over a year and has gone nowhere. Similarly, this will be one of those “innovations” that like Siri and Maps, Apple will just quiet stop talking about, hoping no one realises that it was a flop. Mobile gaming’s succeeding on its own merits, it doesn’t need to be like console gaming.
- The current YouTube insanity will stabilise but at least one prominent channel or entire network will announce they’re moving elsewhere. The latest round of Content ID nonsense and the majority of partnered channels losing copyright protection in the middle of their contracts has woken the YouTube community up to what I always knew: Google doesn’t give a damn about any content creators that aren’t incredibly popular. The thing is though, many of the ones they’re screwing over still have large audiences and some of the biggest ones who are protected still don’t like the precedent this sets. Some have already grumbled about going elsewhere or possibly even starting their own sites. Make no mistake, some of the biggest channels and networks have the financial and social reach to make this happen and I think we’ll see at least one of them try it.
- Apple’s meteoric growth will plateau, Android’s will continue and Windows Phone’s will accelerate. People are slowly realising that Apple products are overpriced and lag behind a lot of what the competition offers, beyond the fashion value. iOS devices will continue to do very well but the fact is the iPhone 5C flopped, Apple hasn’t been bragging about how well the iPad Air is doing (which means it’s not doing as well as they hoped) and Mac sales are trending downward faster than overall PC sales. They’re going to continue to grow but at a sane pace. Android has been steadily outpacing Apple’s growth because it offers variety and choice, including low cost options for emerging markets and now Windows Phone is doing the same. Both are heartily outpacing Apple’s market share growth on a year-on-year percentage basis and Windows Phone is starting to pick up speed. This is going to be an even stronger three-way race.
- The Apple television is not coming. As long as the fanboy press keeps pulling this out every time they don’t have stellar sales numbers to gush over, I’m going to continue to say they’re full of it. This product is undoubtedly something Apple’s tested but I’ll say it again: People aren’t going to pay 50% more for a fashionable looking TV with the guts of a $99 Apple TV inside it and Apple is all about high margin products, something TVs are not if you look at the fortunes of Sony, Panasonic and Sharp. One line in the Steve Jobs biography about how he cracked the formula means exactly squat. This isn’t going to happen.
- Apple’s stock price will continue to slide into normalcy. Their stock overall slid a considerable amount last year and with good reason: Apple was insanely overvalued. It was a trendy stock and like all trendy stocks, it went way too high and once their sales became more realistic, the market got bored and moved on. Their stock will still be very valuable and they’ll continue to be a very valuable company but the days of $1,000+ per share rumours are long gone.
- BlackBerry will attempt to pull an IBM and reinvent itself as a software and services company. Another heartbreaker for me. BlackBerry had the world on a silver platter and a string of arrogant, inept leadership pissed it all away. They’ve handed off most of their hardware development to Foxconn and while they’ll keep a few devices around as long as the enterprise market lasts, they’re done making phones for the most part. They still have a valuable stable of software and services (QNX is still something very special) and I think they will try to do what IBM did which is minimise hardware and focus in the intangible stuff. IBM realised their need for this strategy much earlier than BlackBerry did though so it may be too late.
- We will see more formerly retail software adopt subscription models than ever before. Like it or not (and I don’t), the idea of owning software is going away. Companies don’t want to sell you something once, they want to keep you on the line indefinitely. Adobe did it with all their stuff, Microsoft’s doing it with Office and we’re going to see more software makers do it this year because by all accounts, it’s working out nicely for them. There will be the usual transition period where both types of licensing are available but this is only a step towards a subscription only future.
- PC sales will more or less remain stable. The PC industry has taken some major broadsides the last few years as the low margin but reliable low-end of the market realised they don’t need a full on PC to do e-mail and Facebook when a tablet does it more conveniently, even if they do cost significantly more for what you get. However, PC sales largely leveled off in the second half of 2013 and I think the bloodbath is over. This is an industry that’s still trying to reinvent itself but anyone who thinks the traditional PC is going away any time soon is just clueless or worse, an analyst looking for attention.
- At least one newsworthy Mac and/or iOS security exploit will happen this year. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: Macs are no more secure than Windows PCs, just no one attacks them because even now, they’re still barely a 10th of the market. Viruses and security exploits are a business now and you don’t go after tiny targets, it’s an inefficient allocation of resources. That is of course, until they’re no longer so tiny. Apple has shown many times in the past that they don’t have the security response measures in place that Microsoft does and as a result, I think we’re going to see a major security exploit or malware occurrence on the Mac or even iOS platforms this year that will be big enough to make the news, if for no other reason that there hasn’t been a major outbreak on Windows in years. Funny that.
- Windows 8 will claw its way to a half-decent market share, people will still hate it irrationally. There’s several things to dislike about Windows 8 but all of that can be pushed aside with no effort now and the good that comes with it outweighs that. Unfortunately, the press and FUD flingers have conditioned the mainstream public to believe otherwise. Nonetheless, as it gets harder and harder to get Windows 7 on new PCs, the result is that just like Vista, Windows 8 will end up with a decent market share just by default. People will still hate it and whine about the things they can easily step around but it will still sell OK in the end.
- Windows 8.2 will bring back the Start Menu, people will be happy about that and still never use it. No one uses the Start Menu. Everyone thinks they do and was insulted when Microsoft removed it but no one actually uses it. They brought back boot to desktop in Windows 8.1 and rumour is the Start Menu will officially come back in 8.2 when it releases this year. Microsoft has empirical data showing no one uses it but they’ll bring it back anyway because they want Windows 8 to start selling better and if this makes people shut up, why not?
- Twitter will still not turn a profit but their stock will not suffer for it. Facebook’s IPO flamed out because of a lot of half-truths and outright fraud being spewed about it beforehand. Twitter was straight up about their prospects when they went public: They don’t make money and still can’t figure out how to. Make no mistake, I guarantee you the founders and employees of Twitter didn’t want to go public, this was just because their impatient venture capital backers wanted a way to cash out. I still don’t think Twitter will make money this year but because everyone who bought the stock did so knowing they weren’t profitable, the stock price won’t suffer much.
- There will be more stories this year about people scaling back their use of social media. There were already curious rumblings in 2013 about people as a whole using Facebook a lot less, partially because it’s a lot of work and partially because they were sick of the toxicity of it. I think that’s going to accelerate and involve not just Facebook but all social media. These services are supposed to connect people and instead of just become havens for snark, abuse and the worst elements of when people are allowed to spew whatever they want with no accountability. They’re sick of it and I think that’s going to become a big story in 2014.
- Windows and Android tablets will sell more than even but still lag far behind iPad. I said before that iOS is plateauing but even a proud anti-fanboy like myself can’t deny that the iPad still claims the majority of the market. Android 4 has made tablets with that platform a real competitor and based on how hard it’s been to get the latest edition of Microsoft’s Surface, it appears Windows tablets are finding their feet too. I think we’re going to see a lot more people buying these, especially since there are many more choices and price points but I don’t think either will overtake the iPad for a long time yet.
- Intel’s “Dual OS” strategy will be a colossal flop. I don’t understand this at all. Android and Windows on the same PC? Hunh? Android’s not even made for PCs! This sounds like a desperate ploy for Intel to come up with something off the wall to grab press attention away from the fact that a lot fewer people are buying PCs than before and that Intel really has no foot in the tablet CPU space yet. No one asked for this, there’s no mainstream benefit to it and it’s going to go nowhere. It’ll get some attention for a while though.
- Technology will continue to get more dumbed down to appease the dumbest of us. When you buy a router now, it’s hard to find one with lights that indicate what it’s doing. A startling number of PCs don’t come with hard disk activity indicators any more. Why? Because Apple has taught stupid people that you don’t want to know what your equipment’s doing, have faith that “it just works.” Screw that. It’s become a nightmare to troubleshoot these devices now and given that they all had these lights and features for years before now, I think it’s safe to say people were fine with it. But nope, some dumb people might not know what they mean so let’s take them out and make everything a more frustrating experience when it has issues! Unfortunately, there are a lot of stupid people in the world and tech companies would prefer to have to deal with as little of their stupidity as possible. I suspect we’ll see more of this trend this year and it will continue to drive both enthusiast like myself and anyone with half a brain nuts.
And there we have it, another big old wordy batch of predictions for 2014. I hope you found these interesting a perhaps a little bolder than in years past. Some of these I’m hoping to be right about and some of them I would be very happy to get completely wrong but we’ll see what happens. 2013 wasn’t a great year for me overall but I have hope that 2014 will be a lot better in many ways. I hope it is for you too! If you have predictions of your own for the year, post them in the comments. I’d love to hear them and talk with you about them. Have a great year everyone!
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