Looking back at some of last year's biggest trends, who could've predicted that Double Fine was going to blow the door open on crowdfunding? Or that Valve was going to let Jane and Joe Schmo decide who gets onto Steam? Or that everyone would go nuts over an Android-based video game console?
Pretty much no one. And the vast majority of the time, the people who are directly involved in delivering major happenings have no idea about the impact they might have.
The point is, predicting the future is... really hard. But we're going to try it anyway.
So for this first Ask Gamasutra for the new year, the question is simple and open: What are your game industry predictions for 2013?
The Kickstarter craze gained momentum in 2012 on the back of the notion that The People--and their wallets--can turn ideas into reality. Now that Kickstarting has become so "normal," the focus will shift away from funding, and increasingly towards results. The games and game hardware that were Kickstarted will have to deliver on their promises, and do it in convincing volume, lest backers lose faith in crowdfunding.
Mobile to TV games won't impress--yet
As compelling as hardware like the Ouya and GameStick are (who wouldn't want a tiny, connected mobile console that can hook up to a TV?), I feel like this won't be the year for mobile-to-TV video games. But it's going to be a pivotal year--one in which these devices and their creators get their bearings. There are so many questions, such as standardization, fragmentation and software support (where are the killer apps?) that will only begin to be answered once the first wave of these devices go public. This year will have a steep learning curve, but it'll be a necessary step if mobiles and their OSes are to invade the living room.
"Dedicated" game consoles? Nah.
Like most industry watchers, I expect Microsoft and Sony to clue us in on their video game plans sometime later this year. I'm probably building it up in my mind too much, but I'm expecting to be floored by their next moves--where do Microsoft and Sony go from here? One thing that I'm fairly confident about is that video game consoles will continue to consolidate entertainment, hosting an ever-wider array of non-game apps and functionalities. The term "dedicated game console" will become even sillier, and soon we'll each have...I'm gonna say it...a true "set-top box." What year are these predictions for again?
Sales of the Wii U will fall well below the company's expectations as consumers remain unconvinced that its offering is enough of an excuse to buy another new video game console. No, this isn't a "Nintendo is doomed" prophecy, the company could turn things around again, but I expect a rough start akin to what we saw with the 3DS. Analyst checks at retailers (and my own experience these last couple weeks) indicate that the Wii U is still in ample supply in stores: we won't know for sure until NPD data comes out next week, but it looks like the original Wii's mania just isn't here this time around.
iOS device sales will slow down (finally)
I think our love affair with our iPhones and our iPads is finally starting to die down as competition with other manufacturers heats up (not to mention as people start losing faith in the company following the iOS6 debacle). Again, like Nintendo, I don't think this is a "beginning of the end" scenario, but I do think 2013 will be the year that "iPhone" stops being synonymous with "smartphone."
People who aren't console players won't play games on their TVs (still)
Smart TV, Ouya, GameStick, Green Throttle…these are all neat ideas, but I don't think console game players are dissatisfied with what they have, and I don't think there's an untapped market for people who don't already own one but secretly want to play TV games anyway. The type of person who wants to take the time to sit down in front of their televisions and get absorbed in a video game is already invested enough to have a dedicated console and, frankly, 2013 is not the year we're going to see any disruption to that dichotomy.
After the Wii U launched, what I expected to happen, happened: consumers staunchly avoided the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 games released for the console, opting instead to pick up pretty much exclusively Nintendo's games. Over the course of this year, ports of PlayStation 3 and 360 games for the Wii U will dry up. It won't help that resources will shift to games for next generation consoles that are far above the Wii U in capabilities.
The thing is, we've seen the constituent elements of this before. Those who like these kinds of games already have consoles that will play them; the GameCube had many of the same games as the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and it didn't mean squat. More importantly, the Wii's only third party successes were games that appealed to the players of that system, not others.
Same for the 3DS, but for different reasons
This is a little less sure, but if the recent news that hackers are close to cracking the 3DS' copy protection explodes into full blown piracy, that console is going to be all but cut off from new third party game releases.
Even the Japanese third parties that currently support the system (like Square Enix, Atlus, and Namco Bandai) will probably back off from Western releases of all but their most popular games. Everybody's resource-strapped, and pouring money into localizations doesn't make sense if the games don't sell.
The Vita gets Dreamcasted:
Unless Sony can figure out some way to tie the Vita absolutely essentially into the next home PlayStation console, I have a really hard time seeing how it's going to survive. I mean this literally: it may be discontinued altogether in 2014. Making these things and then not selling them is not a reasonable way to spend capital that this money-losing company just doesn't have.
Sure, there might be some big game announcements we don't know a thing about that will turn the tide, but I'm skeptical. If things continue this way, sales will get slower and slower and slower. With an incredibly important home console launch (and its attendant software lineup) on the horizon for later this year, Sony doesn't have the bandwidth to save the Vita.
Patrick Miller (@pattheflip)
Editor, Game Developer magazine
New indie studios will struggle more than ever
I think we're going to start seeing a bit of a squeeze in the independent developer population -- 2012 saw so many excellent independent and small-studio games that it can be easy to forget that literally dozens of independent studios release games every day on mobile platforms. Indies with a strong creative vision will still get their due, and devs that have attracted a following and established their track record will continue to succeed, but newer studios that have had a hard time standing out thus far will have a hard time hacking it--especially if they're relying on VC or bootstrapped funds.
Newcomers will invade your living room
In 2013, we're going to see more and more startups aimed at trying to draw the living-room TV game experience away from the big three console devs. Maybe it's Ouya, maybe it's an opportune partnership between a cloud games service and a smart TV platform, maybe it's an upstart we haven't heard yet. I don't think we'll see any of them get critical mass with consumers yet -- it's much too early for that -- but I think by the end of the year we'll have a pretty good idea of who has the potential to seriously move in on Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft's turf, whether it's an Apple or Google or someone who is still getting stuck in my spam filter.
Cross-platform will become the new standard
If you're a medium-sized developer and your game isn't cross-platform in 2013, you better have a darn good reason (hardware/input device limitations, platform-exclusive publishing deals, etc.). Thanks to ever more powerful mobile devices and handy crossplatform development environments, the cost of covering 4-5 platforms is lower than ever, especially if your game is designed from the outset to be playable on a phone and a tablet and a PC and a console equally well. Consumers will come to expect that if they hear about a game, it better be available on every device they own (and if they can pay extra to have it available on each device with cloud-synced saves, even better).
Brandon Sheffield (@necrosofty)
Sr. Editor Gamasutra; Editor Emeritus, Game Developer
More inclusive tools lead to more inclusive games
The rise of Twine, Unity, MMF, and Gamemaker games have opened the floodgates of different games being made by different kinds of people, telling different kinds of stories. The easier tools are to use, the more people will use them, and even Epic is trying to up its user experience with Unreal Engine 4.
More big publisher, triple-A angst.
It's getting tougher and tougher to make triple-A games. Indies know that risk can pay off - but indies have no overhead. Big publishers simply can't take as many gambles, or try as many new things. And they're going to feel the hurt for it, as games grow into something bigger and better. Call of Duty will still sell on the new consoles - but what else will, in the triple-A space? Big games are interesting, but their risk aversion is ultimately quite risky.
This is a hope, more than a prediction, but I've seen a lot of odd indie games come out in the last year, stretching the definition of what a game can be (Dys4ia, Goblet Grotto, Bonkey Trek, Vidiot Game). I am sure more games of this curious nature will emerge - the hope part is that they can be financially successful enough to support more.
Let's all do our best and make some awesome interactive software that makes people think and feel things, okay? That would be real cool of you to do.
Android consoles will succeed...for a little while
Various Android-based home consoles will be released (including ones that haven't yet been revealed yet), and we'll care for a short while... but then the next Xbox and PlayStation consoles will be announced at E3, and we'll forget that Android consoles were even a viable thing. They'll then become a running joke in 2014.
The dawn of Kickstarter buyer's remorse
Numerous Kickstarter-funded games that we're all still waiting for will finally be released -- and while many of them will be great, plenty of them will be not so wonderful. This will lead current mega-backers (like myself) to question whether backing games on Kickstarter is actually worth it, when we could have easily just waited until the game was out, sought opinion on the title, and then made a more informed decision regarding whether to put money down for it. Hence, 2013 will be the year that video games on Kickstarter begin to lose traction.
The Vita will finally sell. Maybe. I hope.
The PS Vita will suddenly sell by the bucketload, and we'll all wonder why we ever had a bad word to say about it. OK, so this is more of a prayer than a prediction -- but honestly, the PS Vita is still the best handheld experience you can currently have, and all it needs is a more suitable price point for both the console and the memory cards. If Sony will finally stop the charade and cut the price, Christmas 2013 could be far more pleasing for the Vita.
Saturation and slow sales for traditional AAA plus game of the year acclaim for titles like The Walking Dead and Journey that felt unexpected in 2012 paint a picture of what the most passionate game consumers want that even big companies won't be able to ignore anymore.
Expect more games that try to focus on meaningful choice-driven storytelling, probably featuring more "name" writers and actors, in an attempt to address the growing demand for sophisticated narrative experiences.
I bet we'll be able to spot this trend from the commercial space all the way down to indie and fringe, where experimentation with Twine and other accessible text tools is increasingly popular. Now that we can point to some games that offer meaningful story through stripped-down mechanics and emblematic visuals we may even see interactive storytelling rise on mobile platforms, too.
To lead with the obvious, we'll finally see the next generation conversion start before the end of the year, with Microsoft and Sony joining the battle - or at least announcing their next gen systems. This generation of consoles is already long in the tooth - and the way information has been flowing is too advanced for either company to delay their launch much longer.
Zynga finds its voice
To go out more on a limb, though, I'll predict that Zynga starts to right the ship after an absolutely horrible 2012. The toe dipping into casino games won't hurt matters, but I'm expecting the company to finally figure out the mobile market and quickly make up lost ground, eventually (though not this year) weaning itself from Facebook. The stock won't show a major recovery (to the point of its IPO price, since this year's blunders have made investors skeptical, but it will get out of the Red Zone it has been nearing in recent months.
More creators will abandon games
Finally, I suspect - no... I fear that we'll see one or more big name departures from the industry. 2012 saw Bioware founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk leave the industry's ranks for good, but I fear that's not it. Gaming is changing - as its its audience. And many studios don't really know what to do with the talent they have - especially legacy talent. Those wonderfully creative people could find themselves either the victim of studio ignorance or reach a frustration point with the limitations set up around them - and I'm afraid we'll see more take their efforts elsewhere.