The new console generation is here, so what video game trends can we expect to see from gaming in 2014, its first full year? The trends I’m watching this year are all, at their core, driven by how new consoles are reshaping the gaming market.
1: Used next-gen games and diversification will not halt GameStop’s decline.
GameStop was given a stay of execution when both Microsoft and Sony decided to allow game discs for the Xbox One and PS4 to be compatible with a used-game market. Being cut out of the next-gen market would have been devastating for GameStop’s business model, but what we have instead is not a world in which GameStop will thrive. The current console generation will still strangle GameStop, just more slowly, by means of digital distribution. Rather than telling gamers they can’t buy and then sell game discs, console and game developers are simply making it much more attractive to reject game discs altogether in favor of digital game downloads. Both the Xbox One and PS4 require a subscription service (Xbox Live and PS+) to play online games, but to make those deals sweeter, they both, to varying degrees, give subscribers access to free or discounted digital game downloads (PS+ is by far the more lucrative service for this at the moment). The new consoles, with their better launch-day hard drives and web connectivity, also make downloading and streaming games much quicker and more convenient than in the past. As Microsoft and Sony get players used to downloading and streaming games, GameStop’s game disc market will dwindle away – not completely, but enough that if the company wishes to survive to the end of this console cycle, I predict that its business model will look very different then than it does now. They’ve already begun to change that model by adding used electronics to their portfolio, but I suspect this alone will not be enough to keep the company viable for eight to ten years.
2: The rise of free-to-play console games
Online, social play and networking are built into the new console generation like never before, and as a result, the game ecosystem accessible through a next-gen console is going to look more like a PC gaming environment than in the past. To keep players happy with the subscriptions they have to purchase to play online multiplayer, I predict the Xbox One and PS4 will start offering a sizeable line of free-to-play (F2P) games in addition to the occasional premium and indie games given to players through these subscriptions but built on the pay-to-play model. Even though I hate most existing F2P games, I think there’s room for them in the world – there are clearly people who enjoy them, and I won’t be forced to play them on my console, so whatever.
More importantly, I think the full incorporation of F2P gaming into the console ecosystem will produce a new breed of F2P games that cater to more traditional console gamers like myself instead of, say, the FarmVille audience (Who are fine. Honestly. Live and let live, is my motto). Getting a console-gamer-oriented F2P game on Xbox Live Arcade or the Playstation Store will be a valuable way for small and indie developers to get noticed in a competitive market, and big developers will use it more seriously as a venue for keeping big IPs (intellectual properties) in gamers’ minds between AAA releases (in addition to releasing companion mobile F2P games along with those AAA releases, like GTA V’s iFruit mobile app or Mass Effect 3’s Datapad app (decommissioned last summer in favor of the apparently mobile-friendly N7HQ website). Microsoft and PS4 will like it, because it will be one more thing they can point to when pitching the value of their online subscription services.
For the most part, I predict console F2P games won’t be too annoying for those who want nothing to do with them. Occasionally, a AAA release will punish players for not using a related F2P game—I mean reward those who use them—but I don’t think this will go too far, because there’d be too big of a backlash from AAA games’ core audiences. Instead, console F2Ps will be an additional option for console gamers, not a major intrusion in our existing gaming lives (like FarmVille notifications in our Facebook feeds were until we blocked them). Game and console developers were, presumably, as annoyed by F2P spam on Facebook walls as the rest of us, so I don’t think that problem will repeat on our next-gen consoles.
These are two trends that I predict will be influential in 2014 and beyond. For the rest of my predictions on video game trends to watch, check out video game trends 2014 Part 2!