At the beginning of 2018, I wrote down a bunch of prediction for the industry I expected to see based on all the stuff which happened in 2017. Today I write to you from the position of a parent who isn’t mad, just disappointed. And that’s because almost all my predictions turned out to be inaccurate. And I had so much hope and belief that the wayward industry would change its wicked ways and return to the light. I think I’ve lost track of the metaphor along the way, but the point is that trying to be even moderately optimistic shouldn’t have been the way.
Let’s see what this year’s shenanigans and kerfuffles in the industry may tell us about what’s to come in 2019. Be afraid?
The advent of good video game movies
Not of MGS or David Cage variety
To start on a positive note, here’s a hot take for you: movies based on video games are not very good. Shocking, I know. At best they are mediocre but still fun. At worst: they are barely watchable. Sometimes a director doesn’t give a damn and releases Bloodrayne. Other times, the director is a fan, but something doesn’t click and we end up with Resident Evil and probably the upcoming Monster Hunter. Sometimes the studio wants to get a slice of that gaming money-cake, so they license a hot franchise, throw in some trending actors, and tell some poor guy to make it work. It usually doesn’t.
But this year, this year may show us a new quality. The trailer for Detective Pikachu is something else entirely. First of all: Ryan Reynolds is the voice of the inquisitive electric rodent, and it’s almost perfect (he isn’t Danny DeVito after all). The designs of the pocket monsters are out of this world, although Mr. Mime is now even more haunting. Who hates humanity so much? But other than Mr. Creepy Neighbour, they look amazing.
Anyway, the trailer is positively dripping with easter eggs referencing the broader Pokemon universe. It suggests that people making it actually know enough to make it work as a piece of a universe familiar to and/or beloved by millions. If Detective Pikachu end up being a success, and it has a good chance at that, it might show other studios that being faithful to the source material is a good idea. On the other hand, Wes Anderson is apparently afraid to make a fully-fledged fantasy movie, so he’s putting portals and soldiers from our world in his Monster Hunter movie. I hope he sees the error of his ways.
Switch continues to grow
Nintendo Switch is slowly turning into one hell of a beast. Even if Nintendo’s excellent in-house games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey were not enough, there are tons of third-party games coming to it— both ports and originals. The ports themselves aren’t just some low-spec indie productions either unless you consider games like Diablo III or DOOM as such. In November 2018 Digital Extreme’s Warframe entered the Switch library, and at the moment of writing this article has already gathered 3 million registered players.
Bayonetta 3 is going to be a Switch exclusive, as well as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 announced on The Game Awards in December. Oh, and, of course, Skyrim is there too, because of course, it is. Fans of mindscapes and heroic schoolkids have Persona 5 to wait for. More and more games come to Switch, and so far I think there’s yet to be a single real stinker. Whether Nintendo knew what was going to happen or was taken by surprise: no idea, but this handheld console doesn’t seem to be slowing down and keeps drawing the attention of big developers.
More competition forces Valve to rethink Steam
For a long time, Steam‘s monopoly on digital game distribution was an undisputable fact. But then developers started to split: EA’s games ended up with their own launcher—Origin, while Ubisoft has Uplay. Good Old Games (now: GOG) used the public dislike of DRM protection as a core point in their marketing and the platform offers games completely free from it. Activision seems to be slowly phasing out of Steam, launching Destiny 2 and the latest Call of Duty on Battle.net in a bold move. And then there’s the new menace of Epic opening their own store. Things are definitely heating up for Steam.
The only way for Steam to compete (other than banking on gamers being too lazy to switch their primary platform) is to improve its offer. The visual redesign is supposedly incoming, and it’s sorely needed because Valve’s platform looks dated. Clean and legible, but very dated. Valve took the first steps towards reducing the cut it takes from each transaction, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement—it’s available only for certain high-profile and high-profit developers and publishers, not across the board. How much is going to change in 2019 is anybody’s guess, but I suspect we’re going to see at least some changes to Steam, whether they affect the customers or developers and publishers. Keep your eyes peeled.
Microsoft works on its selection of exclusives
Open the box
It’s no secret that PlayStation 4 had Xbox squarely beat in terms of exclusives. Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Spider-Man and many more are highly-rated, widely appreciated games which were the talk of the month they were released in. Xbox One could just stare at the steaming corpse of Scalebound and try to figure out what went wrong.
But now things may change. Microsoft has bought several studios recently: Obsidian (of Pillars of Eternity and Fallout: New Vegas fame, also: half the classic RPGs from late 90s early noughties), InXile (Bard’s Tale, Wasteland), and Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West). Two studios famous for their complex (narratively or mechanically) RPGs and one who regularly makes fantastic action games (DmC despite being a questionable reboot of DMC was still a pretty cool slasher).
If this doesn’t spell the advent of single-player exclusives for Xbox (and PC) then I don’t know what does. Depending on the licenses Microsoft manages to secure, we might have some cool adaptations on our hands or a bunch of well-funded games developed with the support of people who know their systems’ infrastructure inside and out. Depending on how patient MS turns out to be, and how much of a leeway it leaves to the developers, we might just get some amazing games. Or we’re going to face the crushing defeat and see the Scalebound‘s fate unfold a few more times.
Governments will look deeper into the gaming industry
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Despite my predictions from January, publishers and developers have clearly decided against going towards more subtle methods of monetization and instead doubled down on everything people were already sick of in 2017. To many people it’s still frustrating, to say the least, but it seems that the general sentiment shifts towards “this topic is getting boring” and “I don’t mind”. Well, here’s the thing: governments are not bored yet, and given how slow the wheels of bureaucracy typically turn, they are only gaining momentum now.
The governing bodies in several countries around the world, like Australia, Belgium, or the UK have taken interest in the video game industry’s exploitative practices and some new regulations will be proposed. Whether governmental intervention is going to be beneficial in the long run is yet to be seen, but now that some effort has been put into it, I doubt it will just blow over without repercussions. And I’m sure other industries are glaring viciously at gaming for drawing attention to certain practices.
Triple-A business starts to run out of money sources
The AAA gaming industry seems to be bursting at the seams, ready to blow. The companies are chasing the white rabbit to reach the pot of gold on the horizon. Here’s the thing: we keep seeing reports regarding games “failing to meet expectations” despite selling an almost abstract number of copies and earning a stupid amount of money more than making up for production and marketing costs. It starts to feel that unless the profit incline is incredibly sharp, it’s not good enough for the studios.
The problem is that there’s only so high the numbers can realistically go, there are only so many people interested in any given game, and there’s only so much time any of us have for putzing around with games. Theoretically, you would need to fold a sheet of paper only around 42 times for it to be thick enough to fill the space between Earth and our Moon. That’s what the AAA industry is going for, metaphorically, but you just can’t physically fold a piece of paper so many times.
So here’s the question: what happens to developers when their games fail to meet the publishers’ expectations? Well, when Fallout: New Vegas failed to reach the Metacritic score necessary for the dev to receive a promised bonus from Bethesda, the studio almost collapsed. Other developers have been closed by their parent companies because of “poor results” despite making critically acclaimed games. When publishers make unreasonable and unattainable expectations developer studios are getting closed and the audience is getting sub-par experiences.
That concludes my predictions of things which have a higher than zero probability of happening in 2019 in this boiling pot of madness that is the gaming industry. I may very well be wrong, despite curbing the optimism that doomed my previous prophecies and regarding certain things I do hope I’m wrong, but only time will tell. Looking at the start of 2019 right now, who knows will ever happen…
And you, what do you expect to happen in the gaming world in 2019? Let’s hear it in the comments.