Predicting 2014: Gaming’s Biggest Stories and Trends

Every year seems to have a narrative to it.  Sometimes, it’s the games; other times, it’s the controversies or the emergence of something new that attempts to add new wrinkles to the medium. Call of Duty. DLC. Micro-transactions. These were some of the most influential game-changers of the last generation of consoles. With 2013 already becoming a hazy memory, the games industry is turning its eyes to what the future might hold. This is the year where next-generation consoles are the prime focus for the industry and with that, the biggest players will attempt new strategies to win big.

The first few years during a console cycle are undoubtedly some of the most exciting, as new ideas and innovations are trotted out to persuade consumers about why they should invest in the latest hardware and software on offer. The losing ones will be forgotten. But the winning ones? They have the potential to alter the foundation of the industry itself.

Fellow GE staffers Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin and Jason Rose have teamed up to predict which emerging trends in 2014 will be what the year is remembered for, as well as the stories you’ll likely be talking about come December.

The Evolution of online multiplayer – Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin

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Online gaming may never be the same

Dylan once famously sang that the times they are a-changin’. Though his folk-laden melody was perhaps speaking of the changing political and social values of the 1960s, his lyrics are usually taken out of context and hamfistedly inserted into articles in order to make them seem like they’re edgy and cool.

Regardless, the statement is still true. Online multiplayer is changing and 2014 may be a perfect storm for multiplayer titles to move beyond the “deathmatch-formula.” Since 2007, nearly all online components has been influenced by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. That is to say that nearly all games have had competitive modes where players level up, unlock perks and weapons, obtain killstreaks and prestige before doing it all again. Although certain developers have toyed with the formula in order to make their offerings more unique, it feels as though the formula led to homogenization and a lack of innovation.

But with the likes of Titanfall, Destiny, and Evolve all set to release this year, it appears that developers are attempting to redefine the idea of what multiplayer is capable of achieving. New ideas like Titanfall‘s incorporation of narrative elements, Evolve‘s simplification of Left 4 Dead‘s asynchronous gameplay, and Destiny‘s promise of an entirely explorable universe are all using next-gen technology to create online games that are so much more ambitious in scope and design. Whether they’re successful or not remains to be seen, but for what feels like for the first time in years, multiplayer designers are really pushing the envelope.

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PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360 aren’t dead  Jason Rose

Not yet
Not yet

With the longest generation that gaming has ever seen finally nearing its end, consumers may be quick to want to ditch that deadweight and sell the old to put towards the new. Well, I’m telling you not to — at least, not this year.

First of all, it really isn’t worth it. For the measly $75 that your local GameStop will give you, it’s best to hold on to them and their vast libraries of great games. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traded up, only to vehemently regret the decision in a few short months. Also, your old consoles are going to do the ancillary things better than your PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can for quite a while. Media playback and video, music services, and streaming are all readily available with your PlayStation 3 and 360. The fact you can attach external hard drives promotes these aspects all the more. These features are eventually being added to the X1 and the PS4’s hard drive is upgradeable out of box.

However, games are the biggest reason. Sure, next-gen offerings are going to look gorgeous and grab the headlines, but it’s the last-gen software that has me salivating the most. Many simply won’t be playable on your new technology as well. Huge titles, like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, The Wolf Among Us series, Dark Souls II, and awesome exclusives, like Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD, Persona 5, Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, Drakengard 3, and Kingdom Hearts 2.5 ReMIX. Even DLC for 2013 greats like The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite is still coming in 2014, all of which you’ll miss out on and much more that’s not listed by selling your old consoles!

When 2014 is all said and done, don’t be surprised to find that last-gen consoles are still giving us the best game experiences.

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The Growth (and fall?) of Early Access – Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin

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How much of an impact will early access make?

One of the latest trends on PC has been the sale of games that are still in the early stages of development. It’s undoubtedly been a response to the success of both Minecraft, Day Z, as well as a deluge of Kickstarter titles. Once the project creators of various Kickstarted games realized they had miscalculated their budgets, an early release was required in order to shore up more money to ultimately finish their projects. However, it seems like this has been well received for the most part. In both December 2013 and January 2014, reported sales of both Rust and Day Z — currently in their alpha states — have been very positive with Day Z creator Dean Hall saying that his open-world zombie survival game had reached over one million sales in a matter of weeks. Both remain at the top of the Steam bestseller lists.

The larger question that needs to be asked, therefore, is how much of an impact could this have? For indie developers, it seems like a positive trend; not only can they release their game early, but they can make a good amount of steady revenue as they continue to work on it. On the consumer side, they can play a hotly anticipated title earlier, as well as have an input on the development process itself. Looking at the Steam Early Access page itself, we can see that non-finished titles are being released upon a nearly weekly basis.

This trend may not be overly positive, either. Though both Day Z and Rust have had massive success and aside from the success of a number of other titles, it seems like the majority are being swept under the rug. Not only that, but what if a consumer purchases a title that’s never finished? It also puts media outlets like ours in a negative position as well — should we review a non-finished, but purchasable product, to only have it entirely change the week after?

For now, it seems like Early Access is a positive experience, which means more PC developers will sell users access to their games for a price and then, use their feedback to finish it. If it continues to be positive, maybe this will soon become the norm. It’s also possible that consumers may tire of it; game development isn’t an easy business and hundreds of projects die before they see the light of day. It will only take a number of notable failures to drive away consumer goodwill and with critics unsure how to even recommend them, they may simply save their money for actual finished products.

Thus, this makes it possible that this year may see the very rapid rise of Early Access, as well as its very rapid fall.

LineSeparatorThe Advent of the Cloud Jason Rose

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We’re as confused as you are

We’ve all heard the promises, but it’s been difficult separating the PR rhetoric from the real story. Microsoft has Azure and now, Sony has gone public with its revamped Gaikai venture, coining their Cloud offering as PlayStation Now! But what does it all mean? Well, we’re about to find out in 2014. It’s tough to see the end result of all this technology floating above our heads. Much of the talk has been obtuse, some even flat-out improbable, but there are a few things we know.

Sony wants to offer pseudo-backwards compatibility with theirs out of the gate. Whether that includes your past digitial library from the PlayStation 3 or not remains to be seen, but being able to access the great Sony libraries is a plus to any owner, especially when you pair it with the Vita’s Remote Play feature. There’s also the aspect of added TV functionality, but how that materializes is still unknown. PlayStation Now! just isn’t a PlayStation 4 service, either, but a feature to encompass and access all of Sony’s universe akin to a symbiotic relationship. Of course, Sony has made huge statements like this in the past but failed to follow through. We’ll see.

Microsoft’s Azure is the bigger service in terms of size. The added storage that it provides is an absolute necessity with the Xbox One, due to the lack of an upgradeable hard drive. The offer of dedicated servers for exclusive games is enticing, although that’s happened in limited scope during the Xbox One’s launch. Many are confused as to when and how these servers are being used, but expect Microsoft to really push this point when Azure use ramps up. Beyond that, we really don’t know for sure what the service is going to be used for. The promises of offloading processing power and improving technological capabilities have been made, but experts counter the validity of these statements with obvious latency and bandwidth bottlenecks. Rest assured, Azure gaming won’t suddenly make your Xbox One more powerful than it is. That’s nigh impossible, barring a complete overhaul of our known network infrastructure, but it may ease some background processes for software that is constantly accessing the Internet.

Recently, there’s even been rumours of Nintendo joining the Cloud gaming fray. With very little to go on, it’s unknown if this will come to fruition in 2014.

Never has such a feature been so talked about and yet, so mysterious in its endgame. Truly, we know little of these Cloud services, but this will definitely be a huge story as we move past E3 this year.

line-separator-shadowThere are other possibilities, such as the fate of the Wii U, the rise of the SteamBox and its various iterations, and the list goes on. Although these are the possible stories that stick out to us, be sure to add your thoughts below and continue the conversation. Regardless, 2014 will be an exciting year for gaming!

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