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The Crystal Ball

January 6th, 2013 by

So here we are. 2013. Welcome to the future. Don’t worry, Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite will be with us shortly. In fact there are quite a few big hitters due before the summer, including The Last of Us, The new DmC, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. We’ve got Dead Space 3 up very soon, Aliens Vs. Colonial Marines, Crisis 3… It all looks like a healthy year ahead, plonked on the sofa being unhealthy.

But look beyond the first six months of this year, it all goes rather quiet. Are there new consoles on the horizon this year?  Well for some reason or another Xbox community supremo Major Nelson has just put a countdown on his site. Currently at 159 days, it’s counting down to some event or other held in the second week of June. So, time then, to gaze into the all-seeing MLG crystal ball as we take a look at what might just be…

Everyone is expecting new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, it’s certainly about time. So we’ll go with the lazy guess that both will be revealed this year, and that at least one of them will be on sale before Christmas. But let’s have a closer look at the business models and practices that these firms have adopted over the past few years, and see if these give us any clues as to how our online services might develop.

Which way we gonna SKU this?

Perhaps there’ll be a simplified XBLA and streaming content only Xbox alongside a more powerful model. Perhaps it will have a Blu-Ray drive; perhaps it will have something more proprietary. It’ll certainly have a ‘better’ Kinect. For Sony I’d like to see the Vita become more integral to PS4 overall.

Sony to charge for online services

Almost a no-brainer in my opinion. For years they’ve watched Microsoft rake in millions and millions from Xbox live subscriptions so expect a PS+ Gold style account as standard, which will give you free games and access to online play. Above all else, platform holders and publishers love your money.

Having had some considerable success with PlayStation Plus offering a cheap and ever changing list of games to play, the recent acquisition of Gaikai certainly implies that an on tap supply of streamed PlayStation/2/3 games is in the offing. The fact that the acquisition cost $380 million tells us that they are not going to give that away for free. Charging around £10 a month for unlimited access to the Gaikai streaming library, with new titles added all the time may be an instant win for Sony.

The only box under the telly

With Sky already available on Xbox and the full gamut of internet media streaming services already available on every console, why not subsidise my costly console with my Virgin Media or Sky subscription and have that service run straight from the console? These machines are going to have large hard drives, so why not be able to allocate some of that for TV recording?  The recent trial of a Xbox “Gold Contract” in exchange for cheaper hardware could tie into this and would interest a lot of people who back away from early adoption due to the cost. Significant long term investment has been made in bringing these services to our consoles and with more and more folk using them for movie streaming and catch up TV services, we may soon be able to ditch the PVR.

One screen just isn’t enough

Given the popularity of the WiiU ability to play games solely on the gamepad, I wouldn’t be against being able to do the same thing with the Vita, or even a tablet and an Xbox gamepad. In fact, being able to do that whilst in bed will become the best thing you could ever do in a bed. (Editors Note – I’m not sure if this is a lot of bad sex historically or the possibility of a lot of good games in the future.)

Where are all these rich second screen, smart glass, Vita, WiiU experiences? Expect some clever ideas that get copied by everyone else. For example, a Skyrim map on my tablet which tracks me and allows me to fast travel with a simple tap of the screen. Where I can customise my inventory and do all my trading and crafting on a touch screen. EA have tested the waters slightly with the ability to manage and trade your FIFA Ultimate Team cards on both a PC and mobile devices.

Whilst we’re on that subject, will Win8 allow cross PC/ next box play? We already have cross platform Xbox achievements, whether they’re on a Windows phone or the more recent, welcome addition of Wordament to iOS. Is cross platform play even important?

3rd party Subscription MMOs

I think the only reason we haven’t seen MMO’s working successfully is because the publisher hasn’t work out how to monetise it properly. They get no revenue from live or PSN. The best they can hope for is to get you to buy map packs, DLC, and in game passes to cover losses on preowned games. Season passes are the latest big thing of course, with publishers eager to extract a further £20 out of you after you’ve already stumped up £40 for the game.

So how about a game that costs in the region of £20 – £30 with a monthly fee of a fiver to play it, with guaranteed monthly new content. This is already being tested to some extent with Halo 4’s Spartan Ops missions, so why not make it the model for a whole game. Some may say that this fell flat with DC Universe Online but I think some of that failure has to be attributed to Sony promising a Free to Play model for so long before changing their mind at the last minute.

The success of The Walking Dead’s episodic structure shouldn’t be underestimated here either. Whilst episodic gaming is nothing new, what worked for The Walking Dead was in making the additional episodes effectively DLC; Additional episodes couldn’t be played unless you had purchased episode 1. This meant that Telltale were able to sell the next 4 episodes at a lower price, than they would have if they had been released separately (as was the case with their Wallace & Gromit games, at 800 points per episode). So whether this is a perpetual world MAG style shooter, or even maybe The Elder Scrolls Online coming to Next Gen consoles, we can likely expect publishers finding ever more ingenious ways to part us with our cash.

So we’re back in the present and shiny world of the early days of 2013. One thing’s for sure, get saving.


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