Fresh off of CES 2010 and announcements that Microsoft’s Project Natal (a motion-sensing 3D camera system that uses your body as the controller, eliminating the gamepad entirely) will be arriving this holiday season, we couldn’t help but take note. As a bevy of industry insiders so eloquently pointed out in our recent Video Games Are Dead documentary, the PC and video game business is quickly undergoing a striking metamorphosis. Never mind that a new Nintendo DS handheld is reportedly in the works, 3D gaming is reputedly on the rise (buoyed by the impending launch of numerous 3DTV sets), and smartphones (Android-powered or no) are suddenly angling for a piece of the market. “There are major innovations soon to arrive on virtually every gaming front,” says DT’s in-house editor Scott Steinberg, who labels it an industry that’s today in constant flux. From games for social networks to Internet connected TV apps and the rise of cloud computing services such as Gaikai and OnLive, which promise to transform the way we play, we asked him to predict where the future of interactive entertainment is headed:
Software Sales Recover Slightly, Publishing Giants and Indies Flourish
According to Steinberg, despite recent dips in franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Guitar Hero, there’s still money to be made out there selling traditional boxed retail games for set-top consoles. “It’s expected that we’ll see sales of game software, e.g. upcoming titles like StarCraft II, Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Final Fantasy XIII rebound along with the recovering economy,” says Steinberg. “However, I’m also betting that audiences in 2010 will be thinking savvier, and utilizing more options (digitally distributed games, downloadable content (DLC), GameFly rentals, microtransactions, free-to-play titles, etc.) to extend their gaming dollar further than ever.” As such, he says, sales of even several major releases such as BioShock 2 will prove perfectly respectable this year, but not up to the success of their forerunners. You can also expect to see hardware sales take a slight dip, more major studios folding, and a greater number of startups launching to service a variety of platforms from smartphones to the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, WiiWare and PC download services such as Steam, Impulse and GamersGate. Steinberg says that he anticipates seeing games flourish at the extremely high (read: AAA blockbuster) and low (Flash, micro-team, indie/DLC, etc.) ends of the spectrum, which should gain in prominence, while everyone in the middle continues to get crushed in-between.
Online and Social Network Games Rewrite the Playbook
Yes, there have been some challenges with monetizing games for social networks (titles that play on Facebook, Bebo, etc.) and apps for handsets like the iPhone, as well as major issues with piracy in the latter case. But Steinberg says that these types of games will continue to blossom as “a new breed of player that demands instantly gratifying experiences playable anytime, anywhere – preferably alongside friends – flocks to more intuitive, streamlined titles that better fit their more hectic, mobile lifestyle.” Expect to see more traditional publishing houses experimenting with these formats (see: EA’s Dante’s Inferno titles for Facebook or free online Dragon Age Journeys outing), he says, and most likely stumbling, but learning much from the results. “This is the year to experiment, learn and grow,” Steinberg suggests. “As such, by 2011 or 2012, we’ll be seeing much more polished efforts in all online spaces from free-to-play to casual and MMO, including a bevy of premium efforts for smartphones and Web browsers.”