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2012 Gaming Uncertainty

posted on January 2nd, 2012 by christian

I wanted to write a 2012 predictions piece about how uncertain I am about what gaming in 2012 will look like.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to format such an article.  By sheer coincidence, Tim Bray recently wrote a similar piece on his personal blog (albeit about topics much more serious than gaming).  I liked his approach so much that I had to unashamedly use it as a template for my own attempt.  Here then are my Bray inspired 2012 Gaming Uncertainties.

Playstation Vita – Will the West embrace it as tepidly as they did the PSP?  And will it perform as well in Japan as everyone thinks (and hopes) it will?  Already the analysts of the world are framing this as Sony’s fight for survival, and if their words really do have an impact on the business world, then should we be afraid that they seem to have their minds already made up about the Vita’s chances?

Personally, I think the Vita is a fantastic piece of hardware for the price, and it should have legs for years.  But what I think doesn’t matter one bit.  The only thing I’d dare to suggest is that Sony will be in trouble if all they focus on is portable versions of PS3 games.

3DS– The 3DS is doing better than the DS did at this point in its life, so all the proclamations of failure are kind of silly.  I wonder, though, if the market has changed so much that the measure of success has shifted as well.  People still expect Nintendo to prove themselves, and I’m no longer sure what the hell they have to do anymore to accomplish this.  Wait, I do know – smartphone versions of Nintendo franchises.  Since that won’t be happening any time soon, let’s move onto the next topic…

Smartphones – The market is there, and growing.  There’s no more debate as to whether they are legitimate, or whether they are a threat.  The only thing left to ponder is whether their influence will be better or worse for gaming as a whole.  The “traditional” industry, as it were, was already on the path towards monetization of its products.  But I feel that the app store gurus have accelerated the speed at which bad practices take root in the industry.  We now have publishers who are ready and willing to use the same tactics as Vegas in order to con people into parting with their money (and keep them coming back).  What else might we see?  And will the trend toward cheap, quick, brainless games lead to another crash?  The consumers being targeted by App makers are the most fickle of them all…

Wii U – The details are still sparse, and the hardware looks like it might be out of date upon arrival.  In a world which relies more and more on devices featuring ARM processors and low power consumption, the latter fact might not actually be a problem.  There seems to be two versions of Nintendo, one which focuses on pleasing fickle/hyporcritical/conservative/confused fans, and another which ignores everyone and shows us what we want.  I don’t think we can say anything about the Wii U until we see which face of the company shows up for this next console generation.

Microsoft – Microsoft is not afraid to throw things away and force people to move on.  They did it with the Xbox 1, and the most recent 360 dashboard update essentially has no patience for anyone without a Kinect.  And yet thanks to the success of the Kinect, the 360 could theoretically survive for a couple more years.  Microsoft could go down one of two paths by year’s end.  I have a guess as to which it will take, but I’m not quite certain enough to say it with confidence.

Indie gaming – I love the idea of indie games, and the options it grants to players and developers alike.  I can’t stand the types of navel gazing, vague, occasionally hostile products which indie game design so often churns out.  The word “indie” has taken on a meaning wholly separate from “independent”.  Where will the “scene” decide to go next?

Consumers – What is it we want from games?  What kinds of experiences do we like, for how many hours, and at what price? And can we accept the fact that we might not be able to have it all exactly the way we want?

5 Comments

  1. Matt said on January 3, 2012:

    “And can we accept the fact that we might not be able to have it all exactly the way we want?”

    Fantastic final sentence, I love it:)

    I remember having an argument with my ex-boss about the idea of indie and what it meant. He insisted that it was simply doing whatever you want, without being dictated by a publisher or other entity. It definitely has that basis, but I fought back, saying it was more of a mentality. Be it a one-man team or a AAA dev, you can be indie. It’s doing something expressive and odd, against the grain, but that sort of being the point. You’re doing something unique, a redefinition of interactivity, or at least a re-evaluation of it. Or maybe you’re invoking emotions/experiences that are wholly yours alone. That’s still my stance, but it’s open for argument/criticism. But while playing big console games, I’m sensing this vision that most would label indie had it been done by an independent studio. Sadly that console game would never be labeled as an indie game, and it’s sort of a shame, really. In the end, I hope that they’ll blend into one another, where both ideas will be as expressive, with the AAA games simply being on a grander scale. I can hope, anyway;)

  2. Michelle said on January 3, 2012:

    I really want the Vita to succeed too, I agree the technology is my preferred setup (when compared to the 3DS at least). But that’s no guarantee of success and I’m still waiting on the announcement of games that’s going to wow me.

    Will be an interesting year for sure.

  3. christian said on January 3, 2012:

    Thanks for the comments folks

    Matt – That’s a fair assessment of what indie should be. I should specify that I have no issue with indie devs who use their game as the vehicle for genuine exploration of design concepts, or as a way to convey specific emotions or feelings they have in mind.

    However, these two goals can cover quite a lot of ground, and it seems to me that many indie devs pigeonhole themselves into a very narrow area. We see many of the same themes being covered (such as death and the passage of time), games that make lazy statements about existing design (see Achievement Unlocked), and games that deconstruct elements of game design in ways that are often hostile to the player.

    Michelle -Have you tracked any of the current sales numbers for the Vita? I’ve heard bad things, but I don’t know of any concrete numbers.

  4. Alex said on April 24, 2012:

    The idea of design being “hostile” is an interesting wording. I agree, I think, if what you’re referring to is a level of self referential cynicism, wherein the user is in fact the target of the developer’s ire. Perhaps it’s partially a problem of the navel-gazing audience for these projects – I personally quite enjoy a game that challenges my perception, but having a preference for these types of games does tend to dissolve one’s filter. For example, indie film audiences who will watch anything, even if it is consistently painful and is the product of a disaffected, antisocial filmmaker who is directly trying to annoy them, rather than say something profound. I guess my point is, to some extent perhaps game-art proponents are letting this happen by jumping on anything that *seems* creative.

    Smartphone games vex me. I do think they are steering “casual” audiences toward cheaply made, disposable entertainment.

  5. christian said on May 5, 2012:

    Alex – you got exactly to the heart of what I meant by the word “hostile”. I very much agree that we should see more games that challenge our perceptions, and make gamers on a whole become more discerning in their tastes. I believe there’s a way to make players think that involves inviting them to do so, to encourage them to give it a chance. Rather, the sentiment among some developers is that the audience needs to be educated, and that they are exactly the right people to play the role of teacher. But this medium is still too young for all but a very select few to lay claim to the title of master. I want to see all sorts of ideas, but I don’t want to be told that it’s the way to think about gaming. If the ideas are strong, they’ll convince me on their own.

    (On a side note, I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that people these days are deathly afraid to be wrong about anything. We do not see mistakes as an opportunity for growth, but as sins that we must atone for. We get embarrassed by the fact that we didn’t get it right the first time, so each time we come up with a newer, seemingly better idea, we convince ourselves that this time we have it right. I’m pretty sure I’ve used this example before, but this mindset is so bad sometimes that you see people on the Internet who are afraid to admit they liked a shitty cartoon or show or band when they were young, because they think saying “I was six years old” isn’t an excuse for bad taste.

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