There isn't a lot we know yet about 2014 in gaming. We don't even have a firm release schedule for most of the year. But there are some larger trends and ideas that will come to define gaming for this year... and quite possibly the entire generation. Here's a look at where gaming in 2014 is going.
There are many games that you can argue "defined" gaming over the last few years, but there's no denying one of the most successful games of the last few years was Minecraft. Month in and month out, it's one of the most commonly played games on Xbox Live, and it seems likely to have similar dominance on the PS3.
One of the problems of AAA console development is as budgets bloat, the quality of the experience tends to head downward. That means more and more games fail, or "underperform", meaning more and more money goes to fewer and fewer franchises, and said franchises become more and more conservative.
What this means is that the breakout hit, the game that does something new and fresh and different, is going to be from an indie. Sony in particular has pretty clearly stated that indie games are not only welcome, but actively encouraged, which is likely due to Minecraft's success.
It's probably being coded as we speak. Heck, it might be on Steam Greenlight right now. But don't be surprised if the biggest game of the year is something that isn't even notable on Wikipedia yet.
This isn't a prediction that multiplayer games like Call of Duty are going to die, mind you. They're still going to sell lots of copies and be huge hits. But increasingly, developers seem more interested in creating more complex multiplayer experiences.
Two of the biggest shooters of the year, for example, aren't multiplayer in the traditional sense. Destiny is a "shared world" that you can solo if you want to, and in-game events won't be scripted, but triggered by user actions.
Titanfall, meanwhile, is an intriguing technical experiment. The real idea behind this game is less "multiplayer combat" and more "a team-based game with a full story." It's heavily reliant on Microsoft's cloud, and it seems unlikely it'll be the console killer app Microsoft and Respawn are hoping for... but it also seems likely that these two games will be offering cues that other developers will run with over the course of the next generation.
Bethesda builds great games that sell lots of copies. And, despite its utter unoriginality as a setting, it's not a stretch to say the Elder Scrolls franchise is beloved among gamers for its mechanics and gameplay, which are top notch stuff. So why is The Elder Scrolls Online going to tank horribly?
First, you would think that a subscription MMO based on a beloved franchise backed by an experienced developer with tons of gamer goodwill would be a huge success. And you'd be horribly wrong; just ask EA, and the debacle that Star Wars: The Old Republic turned into. It took EA less than a year to give up and make it free-to-play. The Elder Scrolls may be popular, but it's not Star Wars-grade popular.
And yes, before you fill the comments with rage, it will indeed sell a lot of copies. But keep in mind, the ultimate goal here is to get you to pay a subscription fee for years. "Oh, but I love Skyrim!" you say. But do you love Skyrim enough to feed it $180 a year? For years? Plus a $60 entrance fee? Plus expansions?
Secondly, Bethesda, as a publisher and a developer, is terrible at QA, worse than most developers and publishers. Keep in mind they shipped the last Elder Scrolls game with a game-breaking bug that it took them months to fix and that they finally admitted they knew all about and shipped it anyway. And this is hardly the first time this has happened. Bethesda's attitude, again and again, as publisher and developer is "Ship it, we'll fix the problems later." That's questionable for console games, but for MMOs, it's the death knell.
MMOs have launch issues; it's the nature of the beast. Connecting millions of computers and getting them to do enormously complex tasks together is hard and Murphy's law is in full effect, no matter what the task is. Furthermore, it'll be on multiple platforms, adding to the number of ways things can go wrong.
At absolute best, this thing will launch and be utterly unplayable for a couple of weeks, and Bethesda has to hand out a lot of free play time and goodies to make it up to you. At worst, it'll ship with some console-bricking bug. Either way, a lot of people will show up to the party, see the turds floating in the punch bowl, and discover something more interesting to play elsewhere. Bethesda had better hope Wolfenstein and survival horror can still move units.
Increasingly, all three console manufacturers are looking at their back catalogs and thinking "Hey! We could totally put these up for sale, and people would totally buy them!" This isn't anything new, of course, but consider that Sony is working on ways to add what amounts to DLC to old games without having to rebuild them completely.
Nintendo is already doing this with the bite-size, bizarre NES Remix, but expect to see this a lot more as time goes on... especially as those AAA budgets keep going up.
The Steambox is already moving closer to a reality, and the Xbox One and PS4 are both more PC-like than ever. Add to this that NVidia has what amounts to its own console, and you've got a pretty clear trend.
One suspects that developers will make this even more explicit. There's a lot of money in ensuring your game is on as many platforms as possible, and developers don't care about flame wars in the comments section. And, as it becomes easier for smaller companies to publish on consoles, expect to see the lines begin to blur... possibly to the point of old PC games being playable on consoles by the end of the year.
Those are our predictions: Let us know yours in the comments.
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