RKD on… 2010: Part 8 – The future

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All good things come to an end, which arguably makes this, the final instalment of RKD’s 2010 retrospective, something of a qualitative anomaly. In our ultimate send-off to the past 365 days of videogames, we look to the future, deal our predictions and play it cool like Nostradamus.

Evan: 2010′s the year I gave up trying to play everything and the year I realised we’re in for another industry crash of E.T. proportions.

Harry: Great Scott! *canned laughter*

Evan: Budgets and risk are too high, and developers have become complacent in simply making “good” games; unsurprisingly, the market’s oversaturated. 2011 and 2012 will see the industry collapse on itself.

My off-the-wall prediction is that by 2016, the videogame landscape will look like this:

  • Apple is vying with Nintendo for the dominant home console position (Apple TV + Apps versus Wii 2 + HD).
  • The 3DS remains the defacto dedicated portable gaming platform, but iOS and Android have significantly outpaced Nintendo in terms of volume sales.
  • Microsoft has exited the dedicated console market for a lower cost “home entertainment and social media” device.
  • Sony is selling two PlayStation 3s stuck together with duct tape and has almost exclusive control over the ever shrinking “hardcore” videogame market in all regions other than the US, where it’s competing against OnLive in major metropolitan cities.
  • PSP2/NGP remains largely irrelevant everywhere except Japan.
  • Steam is the primary distributor for all PC and Mac games.

Harry: I’m not sure how much of the above is you playing devil’s advocate (hey, that’s my M.O.!), or probable realities… but I enjoy reading it all the same.

Evan: I’m serious! Unless Kinect is a sustained success (as in, it’s still selling well from February through to June), I can’t see how Microsoft is going to be able to justify another round in the console hardware game. Same goes for Sony – it needs to recoup its PS3 investment given how badly the console has relatively sold, and I can’t see how the corporation’s board will approve another generational leap like there was from PS1 to PS2 and PS2 to PS3. The only option I can see for Sony is to do what Nintendo did with the GameCube to Wii upgrade and take the PS3, use what’s fundamentally the same architecture, make some minor upgrades to memory and the graphics processor while building Move in as an integrated component, and brand it the “PlayStation 4″.

If Sony scales back and refocuses on entertainment services, Microsoft no longer has a reason to fight head-to-head for the console market; The House That Gates Built’s goal was always about controlling the living room. Instead, the game shifts to integrated home entertainment, where Apple and Google are already moving – gaming becomes an adjunct, not the point. The irony is that Sony probably picked it right first with the way it marketed the PS3 and the way it built the XMB; the only problem being that it initially priced itself out of the market by catering to the console crowd instead of trying to make PS3 a mainstream product.

Nintendo’s a total wildcard – you can’t predict what it’ll do. It needs to do something in the next two years though as Wii sales are declining fast. Nintendo will hold for at least another year or so given marketing (and software) support, but it needs something new besides a heartbeat monitor.

Fraser: Nintendo also faces the risk that the longer it continues with its current hardware, the more people lose interest in it, and them. Compare the slow decline in excitement over Nintendo to the sustained hype for Apple: Apple has kept up consumer interest for years by continually releasing new or redesigned products before people have had time to get bored with the last one. I suspect if Nintendo had released 3DS last year (preferably right after James Cameron’s Avatar), when people were less bored with Wii, it would have sold hugely. Now I’m not so sure.

Daniel: I agree with regards to Wii. Nintendo will have to at least announce a new generation of its home console in the next year, otherwise the company will slip further than it already slowly has. In regards to handheld, I still can’t see 3DS being anything less than a runaway success.

Harry: What about PSP2/Neo Geo Pocket/(whatever the heck the next PSP will eventually be called)? You can’t deny that playing entries in the Call of Duty, Killzone and Uncharted franchises on the go is an enticing, yet entirely redundant prospect. Sony appear to have learnt from its mistakes with the PSP, because producing large-scaled, time-intensive console games for a portable battery-chomping, money-intensive system worked really well the first time around.

Evan: iOS is a juggernaut, especially when you throw Apple TV into the mix. Pair it with a series of applications for bluetooth controller integration, and you’ve got something that’s capable of playing most indie games on your TV. I’m already having great fun with Broken Sword, the Monkey Island Special Editions, Puzzle Agent, Infinity Blade, and 100 Rogues on my iPad. And, it only launched last year! I haven’t touched my DS at all so far. For the vast majority of the market, that’s perfect. For the tiny minority that’s left, there’s Sony and Microsoft.

No matter which way you cut it, I’m picking that the next generation of “consoles” are going to enter the market at somewhere between 50 to 75 per cent of what previous generations have launched at. They need to if they’re going to have a hope of attracting a broader audience. Nintendo was right: the market’s hit saturation. The console will do more, but there won’t be anywhere near as big a generational leap; the hardware’s major focus will be on integrating with first-party and third-party media services to provide a seamless social media and content delivery experience.

Daniel: You mean we can expect more ads like the “Foxtel on Xbox 360″ one? Kill me now.

Fraser: There are signs that Microsoft and Sony understand this, with their preference for building on their existing hardware rather than engaging in the typical five-year console cycle. Sony’s insistence that the PS3 will have a ten-year life cycle is looking pretty accurate.

Whether Nintendo thinks the same way or is just distracted from releasing a new console by counting its enormous piles of money is an open question.

Evan: I believe that indie games are set to become the ‘main market’ over the next few years. Developing for iOS is easy, and the returns are great. Apple already matches Steam when it comes to digital distribution; the biggest difference is that Apple’s ecosystem is huge and cross-platform. It covers mobile, Mac, tablet, and now TV. That last one makes it directly rival Steam for indie game distribution – I’d rather have bought Super Meat Boy for Apple TV if it had a controller, simply because it would have meant I could play the game on my TV. And I’m already committed to the ecosytem: I own an iPad, my work’s given me an iPhone, and I have a Mac. At $6 to $10 per game and a large active marketplace, Apple is set to become the dominant digital games distribution platform as soon as it grants us the ability to play games on Apple TV.

Daniel: It’s only a matter of time before Apps are available for Apple TV. Apple has been struggling for years to find the right application for the device, and this year it finally found the right form factor for it. And it’s putting Apps on everything else – in fact, as of now the Apple TV and ‘clickwheel’ iPods are the only Apple products that don’t have their own App Store. Apple seems to be wedded to not putting memory into it at the moment though, so it might take a while to reverse that line of thought – or some sort of cloud-iTunes to get things moving on that front.

Fraser: The vitality of the indie games market is a key difference to the industry crash of the mid-1980s. When the major videogame companies started to implode in 1983, there was virtually nobody to replace them, because making game hardware and software from scratch was hard and the longevity of the market demand was in question. If every company we’ve mentioned here went bankrupt along with Activision, EA, Ubisoft and all the other big game publishers, there would still be hundreds of smaller developers churning out games, with easy access to consumers through the Internet. The market would take an enormous hit, but it would build back up faster than it did in the mid-’80s before Nintendo rebooted the industry.

There’s also the cultural shift. Videogames are an ingrained part of life to a far greater extent than ever before, which means that however the business models of game production might change, the market for games will remain strong.

Daniel: The only problem I see is actually similar to one of the causes of the 1983 crash: on the iTunes store and on Android, there is frankly too much crap to wade through. The ’83 crash was partially caused by third parties releasing so many terrible games on the market that it looked like everything was rubbish. Nintendo solved that problem with their ‘Seal of Approval’ policy – will we be looking at a similar process in the future to halt the overload, or do the hundred thousand games on the App Store already have the Apple Tick of Quality? My guess is that on these sorts of indie games channels, the gulf between the top of the kingdom and the bottom of the table will only continue to grow and cause headaches for the market.

Will our predictions come true? Only time, and next year’s RKD retrospective, will tell. If you’ve missed any entries in the 2010 series — or happened to stumble across these ramblings while Googling for that horrid ‘Foxtel on Xbox 360′ commercial (viewable here!) — please refer to our tagged archive for the complete collection of posts. See you next mission!


Related posts:

  1. RKD on… 2010: Part 4 – Portable preferences
  2. The future of digital distribution
  3. RKD on… 2010: Part 1 – The “meh” year that was?

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Harry Milonas

A writer from Melbourne, Harry prefers you follow him on Twitter rather than home.

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