Ask Gamasutra: What can the game industry expect in 2014?
For 2014's first Ask Gamasutra, our staff tackles the question: What are your game industry predictions for 2014?
January 06, 2014
The game industry is driven by both creativity and technology, and when you mix those together, it makes for a very dynamic environment in which trends and inflection points are very difficult to predict.
But oh well, we're going to make some predictions anyway, and ask some questions of our own. For 2014's first Ask Gamasutra, our staff answers the question: What are your game industry predictions for 2014?
Feel free to also check out our predictions from last year -- some of them were dead-on, some of them were...a bit off. Onto this year's predictions:
Twitter: @krisgraftAmazon and Google debut their Android microconsoles
I actually expected one of these to debut late last year, but that didn't pan out. But you can count on Amazon and Google introducing their microconsole solutions this year, with some notable game developers on board with exclusive content. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft will still reign high-end family room game experiences for now, but cheap, easy-to-use game and entertainment boxes backed by giants like Amazon and Google will be good enough for your average consumer.
Sony shows off its PlayStation 4 VR solution
Another prediction backed by already-strong rumors here: Sony already has variations of VR tech in-house, and with the interest in Oculus Rift, the company has taken notice. Expect notable Sony games to implement VR, but don't expect Sony to make VR on PS4 a huge, costly initiative. This is something that Sony will put out there, see how it does and if there's enough consumer interest, it can ramp up its VR efforts. Low-risk and potentially high rewards are the themes here.
Landscape gets (more) complicated for small independent game devs
We've seen this happening already in 2013 -- and throughout 2014, finding success as a small, independent game developer will only become more difficult (as if it weren't tough enough already). Markets will continue to mature -- mobile will be crowded by established companies, Steam will get noisier as release frequency ramps up. In an interesting turn of events, new game consoles now have the potential to be a haven for indies, if the big three can make it so.
Everyone will be ok
We're finally seeing the fruits of the "democratization" of game development, and creators at studios large and small are creating such a wide range of games for a wide range of people and platforms. There will be high-quality games no matter where you look, or what your tastes may be.
Twitter: @ferricideBig console games are going to be bigger, less frequent
We've seen the trend, and it'll continue: Fewer big packaged console games are going to be released this year than in any year prior, and those games released will be bigger.
I am talking a really, really sparse release calendar -- a game or two a month. Months will go by where companies don't announce any big games, either, to the consternation of fans and the press.
Why? Budgets are going to balloon upward again; it takes a very long time to make triple-A games; as games get huger, it will become crucial for them to avoid each other on the release calendar.
The Wii U Goes into a holding pattern
There will be a moderate price drop, and Mario Kart 8, and an E3 press conference filled with (probably great!) titles that appeal to Nintendo fans.
And that will be it.
The console will not take off, but it will also not be abandoned. There might be a moderate redesign (which retains the GamePad). Games like Wii Fit U that appealed to mass audiences the last time around will have zero effect on the Wii U's fortune -- challenges from retail placement to marketing will hamstring them as surely as audience interest.
Mid-Size games will arise again
By the end of the year mid-size "indie" games will have become a significant slice of the industry. Think Broken Age from Double Fine: not a tiny indie project, but a game that cost multiple millions made over a course of years, not months.
More games like this will make an impact, and the "indie" movement will move into its adolescent phase, bringing back some of that middle ground between tiny and huge that was swept away in the last generation, as small studios expand in size and their projects expand in scope.
Twitter: @RaveofRavendaleThe mobile game development boom is over
Mobile game development is the place to be. It's where all the users are, and the money is, and mobile is killing games consoles, and... well, no actually. There have been plenty of murmurings for a while now about how mobile games are looking less and less like a free trip to the ATM, and I believe 2014 will be the year that mobile's dominance will level out. Whether it's the case that more casual mobile players decide to look for "proper" games on other platforms, or simply because everyone likes a change every once in a while, 2014 will no doubt see big changes for the mobile game space. My picks for platforms worth focusing on in 2014? PC, obviously, but the PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita are looking like pretty hot spaces too.
The Nintendo Wii U will give up the ghost
After Nintendo pulled off a miracle with the 3DS, swapping dire sales for explosive ones in the space of six months, it became clear that betting against Nintendo was a fool's game. Fast forward to now, and... well, it looks like the days for potentially saving the Wii U in similar spectacular fashion are over. We already knew that the Wii U is selling incredibly poorly -- but check out this report from Gamasutra's resident numbers guy Matt Matthews, in which he suggests that if the Wii U's first year sales correlate with every other games console ever (which, let's be honest, is very likely), then it's going to be a rather embarrassing few years for Nintendo. A well-placed price cut, coupled with Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros., could very well significantly boost sales -- but it's going to take the most ridiculous miracle to save the Wii U.
Next-gen isn't worth concentrating on...yet
Those people hoping for an explosive 2014 in the next-gen console department should probably keep those fireworks locked up for another year. If history has taught us anything, it's that video game consoles are rather boring for at least the first year of their lives -- and this'll be the very same for both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Sure, you might get a Destiny or Titanfall here and a Project Spark there -- maybe even an Uncharted if you're lucky -- but in general next-gen will be very sparse and empty for a while, especially considering that many of the biggest next-gen games like Watch Dogs, Octodad and The Division are also coming to PC. Things will properly kick off in 2015, you mark my words.
Sr. Contributing Editor Gamasutra; Independent Game Developer
Twitter: @necrosoftyThe well begins to dry for indies
Right now publishers are being pretty kind to indies, funding a lot of our projects and getting traction for their new consoles. This is really more of a 2015 prediction than a 2014 one, but I feel like we're going to start to see publishers cool on this a bit as they run low on cash. Ouya, Sony, and others are really helping indies out right now with the funding they offer, but I am just not confident it will last. I think there's a bit of an indie gold rush right now, with everyone trying to get some good funding before they can set up on their own terms. That said, publishers that still want to give any of us money are totally welcome to!
Online stores do real work on discoverability
As digital game sales surpass retail, online stores are going to have to get a lot better. I think they're doing this, but it's a slow process. Now that Steam is much easier in terms of the Greenlight process, it's also going to get more crowded, and Valve will have to deal with this problem. Ouya has been revamping its store, and Sony learned a lot from its lessons with the PS3. Nintendo will continue to shrug its shoulders and say "we have games, you'll buy them, maybe!?" Microsoft had a great headstart with its XBLA store -- it wasn't perfect, but it was a lot more functional a lot quicker than its competition. Now it has to push the envelope a bit more, so Steam doesn't eat its lunch.
The year of four-player, single screen 'eSports'Towerfall, Samurai Gunn, and Sportsfriends are just the beginning. People are really enjoying these local competitive experiences, and I foresee them being a big trend for the year. I may be a bit biased, as I'm making one myself (called Gunsport), but I think it's the fact I'm making one that lets me see the zeitgeist. I only worked on the dang thing for a month so far, and yet it has the most interest out of everything I am making, has been shown at a couple conferences already, and was invited to be part of the IndieCade East eSports showcase. People are hot for these things right now.
Twitter: @krisligmanNintendo will have to eat its hat
There were plenty who pronounced the Wii U dead on arrival when it launched in 2012, and plenty more who anticipated Nintendo's poor console would either pack it in by the end of 2013 or enjoy a miraculous turnaround. Neither happened, and the Wii U's corpse is beginning to putrefy. It would be in Nintendo's interest to swallow its pride and give the Wii U up as a bad job and focus efforts instead on the frankly stellar 3DS -- which remains the company's only real horse in this race.
We're going to have to talk about Kevin
Online harassment and toxicity is nothing new if you happen to be anything other than white, straight and male -- and dare to mention it. What's changed in the last year or two is the prevalence with which we discuss these virtual mobs and intimidation tactics. Whatever you may think of her videos, the staggering amount of violent and threatening backlash Anita Sarkeesian has endured for her (actually quite mildly-stated) critiques has brought the conversation of safety in online spaces into incredibly sharp focus.
Now we're faced with a new year in which both major consoles have baked-in pervasive social features, more and more websites are adopting proactive comment moderation policies or disabling comments altogether, and even call-out culture in activist spaces is coming under scrutiny and possible revision. In the midst of all this, we're going to have to have a real, meaningful conversation about managing online behavior -- among players, viewers, and our own readerships.
Twitter: @awawroVirtual reality is going to be a thing this year, I swear
Between reams of positive press, tremendous funding from investors, and a few high-profile hires in 2013, betting against Oculus VR in 2014 seems like a fool's errand. Playing the fool is often my go-to move, but not this time: I believe the company will bring a high-quality Oculus Rift headset to market this year, and I think it’s going to fundamentally change the way we experience "games."
I threw on the silly scare quotes because in 2013, titles like Gone Home and Proteus challenged us to think about what level of interactivity constitutes a "video game." It was a welcome challenge, and in 2014 I think the success of the Oculus Rift will spark a wave of VR software development large enough that developers will be empowered to further push those boundaries. Forward-thinking companies are already preparing -- Valve, for example, is prototyping VR headsets and adding a VR category to Steam -- and while I’m sure the lion’s share of VR content will be traditional games, I bet a few creative developers will take advantage of the Rift’s immersive nature to put us through some absolutely gut-wrenching experiences.
Your couch is going to see a bit more action
I’m convinced local multiplayer games will undergo a gentle renaissance this year. Competitive online juggernauts like Titanfall will do gangbusters, I’m sure, but 2014 has more promising games best played on a couch with friends than any year in recent memory.
You’ll find the usual suspects on the release list -- a new Harmonix music game, fresh iterations of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. -- alongside a bevy of new challengers like Nidhogg, Videoball, Gunsport and Sportsfriends. Throw in a few rounds of modern classics like Divekick, Towerfall or Samurai Gunn and you’ve got everything you need to get a party started or keep it going for one more round.
Anyone who could really tell what the year in an industry will bring would probably be much wealthier than I am and very much-sought. I mean. I was sort of right last year, about the increased focus on story-driven experiences in every tier of game-making. This year, though, I'd rather ask questions than make predictions, and hypothesize rather than prognosticate.
I'm wondering what will happen now that crowdfunding platforms, as well as the social media channels used to signal-boost campaigns, seem to have matured. The field of who can fund a game via, say, Kickstarter has definitely narrowed. Even known quantities and brand names don't bestir wallets like they used to. While the occasional new, cool idea can succeed at reaching goals if those goals are modest, and while passionate niches are willing to come out in force, what will others do?
There are more platforms and tools available to game developers than ever before, and yet it looks to me like the choices for actually earning a living or building a business are consequently fewer. I expect we'll see more games that release very early and evolve in public, more (and hopefully smarter) F2P, and more companies focused on publishing, funding, curating or otherwise supporting the gems in crowded mobile markets. And more people making little games for fun and for creative expression without quitting their day jobs, which might not be a "market force" -- but the companies that emerge to make low-cost and increasingly-accessible tools for those people might be. When will Unity have a rival?
Is the annualized "core" franchise fanbase big enough to keep sustaining consoles? If hardware makers can build rich downloadable channels of unique independent games, will that move units, especially when at least some of those games are going to be available on Steam? Is Valve prepared for its foray into the hardware market? What needs to happen on the mobile market for microconsoles to take off? It'll be an interesting year.
Readers: What are your predictions and expectations for 2014?Do you have a question you'd like to see the Gamasutra team tackle? Email editor-in-chief Kris Graft at [email protected].