2014 promises to be a bumper year for videogaming, with a new wave of next-gen IP, Steam charging into the hardware business and more. VG247’s Dave Cook runs down the likely watchwords and trends of 2014.
And so just like that we’re here, in 2014. The turkey may still be rotting in your gut and you might not have settled back into work mode yet, but we at the VG247 orbital news strike station are always watching, always trying to get a handle on where, exactly, the industry is headed.
Around this time last year I produced a ‘Watchwords of 2013’ article designed to predict some of the year’s big trends and commonly used phrases.
I wasn’t too far off the mark, highlighting the rise of services that would transform your consoles into entertainment hubs, rather than pure gaming machines. Microsoft took that particular bull by the horns when it announced Xbox One last year and the trend looks set to continue well into 2014. I also suggested that Transmedia would ramp up. Why hello there Quantum Break.
I also chucked in ‘Dynamic’ for the rise of dynamic effects – particles and all that jazz – as well as ‘Asynchronous’ technologies like SmartGlass, Wii U second screen and PS Vita to PS4 remote play. They all became something of a lukewarm novelty in 2013, but in 2014 they look set to infiltrate your living room with force. The Division and Watch Dogs are just two games promising neat methods of second screen play.
Then I suggested that ‘Indie’ would go large – PS4 and Xbox One have seen to that in the console space – and that more big name developers would be ‘Quitting’ large studios and set up on their own. Both of these totally happened, although CliffyB still won’t tell us what his mad new project is.
But what about 2014? Well as I said earlier, it’s a bumper year. Looking into it for too long is much like staring into the sun. Try to focus on it too much and your brain turns to scrambled egg because of how pissing bright it is. This is going to be a significant year for gaming, make no mistake, but here’s how I think it’s going to go down.
We just had PS4 and Xbox One launch, so we’re already back in the land of hardware scraps in the internet’s vast playground. How many frames does this game run at on Sony’s format compared to Microsofts? What’s the resolution. I could give a toss, frankly, but the raw hardware, that beating heart of the machines is going to fall under immense scrutiny this year, especially with the rate that PC tech is evolving and the incoming Mantle API from AMD that everyone is quietly raving about.
Can home consoles keep up with the PC rigs? How will Sony and Microsoft’s first-parties use that tech with increasing efficiency throughout this year and the next? It’s all valid musing, and pours a full barrel of petrol on the flame war, but these are rapidly-changing times and I think some people have already forgotten that the new consoles have only just launched. Compare the way The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion looked on Xbox 360 when it launched, then stack is beside Skyrim. Things will only improve from here.
Then you have Valve’s entry into the hardware market. We as a team aren’t so sure who, exactly, the Steam Machines are aimed at. Chances are if you’re a hardcore PC player you already have a costly, powerful and ‘future-proofed’ set-up at home, so you won’t need a Steam rig. You might even be a newcomer to PC gaming, in which case you probably want a cheaper, entry-level unit.
Valve’s licensees are making expensive, but attractive machines. Who will buy them? Will they sell well and could they detract consumers from the home console market? We’ve got a whole year to watch that particular story unfold. It’ll be interesting to witness, make no mistake.
The end of the last console cycle put a full stop on several franchises and trilogies. Some brands will endure for several years to come, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Need for Speed and Assassin’s Creed. They make too much money to be killed off, but this is why the coming of a new generation is always exciting. While there’s never a shortage of new IP coming from the indie and home computer markets, it’s time for the blockbuster arena to follow suit.
New IP is coming and it feels good to finally have something fresh and unseen coming down the industry pipe. Titanfall, Destiny, Quantum Break, The Order: 1886 are just a quartet of notable, big budget examples, and while they’re all shooters, they offer new worlds, stories and characters to experience. Sure, there’s comfort in a friendly, familiar face – that’s why franchises endure for so long – but new IP is good for the soul. Trust me on this one.
We’ve also got a slew of indie IP on the go, such as low-fi horror rogue-like Routine, Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne, Stoic’s The Banner Saga, Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity and much more. Sequels are often great fun and in many cases superior to the original release, so I’m not saying sequels are a bad thing, but new ideas are to be encouraged and so far, 2014 is teeming with them. As the cost of entry to PS4 and Xbox One lowers and the needless red tape is removed, we’ll see more of those games on the new consoles too. We all win.
I listed this watchword in last year’s article and I’m doing it again here. Why? Well, because it’s apparent that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo each have independent talent firmly in their cross-hairs. During my interview with Nuclear Throne studio Vlambeer, founder Rami Ismail and I discussed why Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program is welcome, if not slightly flawed. Regardless, it shows that the big players are now taking heed of the indie scene at large.
This increased interest in indie titles is going to make our console experiences far richer. We’ll be offered a greater range of artful, thematically challenging and thought provoking titles deemed too ‘risky’ for the big budget circuit. Our gaming palates will grow and in the end we’ll have a broader outlook on the medium. There’s a reason PC indie games like Papers, Please, The Stanley Parable and Gone Home get discussed so often in the games press and among players online, and that’s because they offer something different, something compelling, something that invigorates.
In 2014 we’ll get a chance to see just how far Sony and Microsoft embrace indies in particular, and whether or not the masses invest in these new ideas, but it’s both exciting and heart-warming to finally see smaller teams with incredible ideas being pushed to the fore. It might make time for Johnny Q. Call of Duty and FIFA-Stein to actually give a shit about those kind of titles, but simply being on PS4 and Xbox One will surely help.
This might seem like an obvious choice because hey, digital is already a big thing, right? Well yes, but I think digital marketplaces will change a bit in 2014. Going back to my interview with Rami Ismail from Vlambeer for a moment, he told me that he thinks Valve is gearing up to give developers their own branded stores on Steam, rather than simply throwing all of their games into the same pot, which arguably stunts their visibility. He also feels that the company will nuke Greenlight because it’s simply saturating the market to an iTunes degree. Keep an eye on Steam this year, that’s all I’m saying.
The rise of digital-only releases will continue as expected, but I reckon it’ll spike this year. Retail is still important to an awful lot of people, but I think we’ll start to see more retail and ‘on demand’ digital releases launching on the same day, and that trend of digital day-one bonus content will expand. Just look at Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes for one, with two different pieces of bonus DLC depending on which format you buy it on. It’s not a new practice, but it’ll really boom this year.
Season passes, pre-order extras, pre-purchase incentives, expansions and full games are now a fixed part of launching games, and won’t be going away any time soon. ‘Digital’ also applies to exclusive media, such as Xbox One’s original programming, entertainment services, embedded apps and services such as Twitch, Netflix and more. We’re moving away from our dependence on physical media slowly, but surely. This year will be no different.
Out of this list, I feel that ‘Microtransaction’ is most-likely to split opinions. I recently had a big-ol’ rant about why Forza 5’s micro-currency model casts a dark shadow over the monetisation of blockbuster titles, and you can be sure that Turn10’s racer is only the beginning. Despite paying £50 for your game discs, you can now pay your way to completion using boosters in many games.
This makes sense in free-to-play titles, but for many of you out there, the sight of paid boosters in Forza 5, Gran Turismo 6, Ryse: Son of Rome and other fully-priced games is simply a step too far, and I agree with you 100%. This is a personal thing of course, we all decide how to spend our own money because hey, we worked to earn it, but for me this whole thing stinks. Sure, charge for extras in a free game – studios have to pay the bills after all – but don’t make games laborious in an attempt to force hands in pockets.
The example most-commonly cited is that Forza 5’s top-tier vehicles were priced far too highly at launch, meaning that you’d have to grind the same tracks for many, many hours before being able to afford them – unless you pay for a booster to speed things up. Of course you could say, ‘no one’s forcing you to do this,’ or ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it,’ but I agree with the naysayers. It’s okay if you disagree of course, but yeah, I’m not liking it.
That said, I guarantee more developers and publishers will use this model to test just how much they can get away. Times are changing and the value of a dollar online never stays static for too long. In 2014 it’ll be thrown around often as companies try out new pricing models, in an attempt to find out what you, the consumer, are willing to pay for. There’s also the matter of EA titles being priced at £63 on PS4, but I’ve rambled long enough.
Happy new year everyone, I hope 2014 brings you much gaming joy.