Will 2015 redeem the games industry?

In a lot of ways, 2014 felt like a transitional year for games, and like any period of change, it wasn’t without its pains. Even discounting the ugliness of the GamerGate movement and the accompanying furore, we saw more developer closures, as Nintendo’s woes continued, Microsoft struggled to adapt to having conceded the lead in the new-gen console race, and Sony laboured to keep its online services stable, a noticeable problem for players of Destiny and first-party hopeful DriveClub. Elsewhere, the big publishers delayed many of their games into the New Year, and we saw strong signs of crowdfunding fatigue, with much-touted KickStarter projects failing to meet their goals.

With all that in mind, it’s hard not to see 2015 as a potential Renaissance period for the industry, a new beginning of sorts that will hopefully see many of last year’s problems all but eradicated, and a medium finding itself in rude health. Reading the future, of course, is a fool’s errand, though it’s possible to make a few educated guesses. Thus far, only a select few have been able to experience the pioneers of Virtual Reality gaming: Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus, but 2015 is the year that they will both see mainstream releases. Of course, there’s already a VR product on the marketplace, in the form of Samsung Gear VR, but so far it’s exclusively available only to owners of the company’s Galaxy Note 4 handset, while Samsung is quite purposely marketing it towards “innovative consumers, specifically VR enthusiasts, developers, mobile experts and professionals, and early technology adopters,” and not the gaming masses.

SIMON FLESSER, OF IOS darlings Simogo, has spent some time with the Gear VR and has mixed opinions about Virtual Reality gaming. “There’s a cool demo where the menu is controlled by looking at stuff, and when you move your neck round it makes a click sound. So when you look at someone using it, they look like a cyborg! I think you could make something social built around that, but I don’t know I just feel a little uncomfortable personally with VR. It’s so isolating, I don’t like that the outside world is closed off.”

Wedbush Morgan’s Michael Pachter, meanwhile, believes that mass market uptake could be a little while off. “I don’t think VR is a 2015 event,” he says. “We might have hardware launches, but I don’t think they will become mainstream for several years. [It’s] sort of analogous to HDTV, which was invented in the late Nineties, but penetrated from 2003 – 2007.”

Still on the hardware front, industry analysts are predicting a strong year for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. “The biggest driver of growth is likely to be the rapid penetration of next generation consoles,” Pachter continues. “They are priced far lower than last generation at the same point, and both manufacturers appear intent upon defending their turf. The $349 Xbox One comes with Assassin’s Creed and last year’s game for free in the box, so we should see massive holiday sales. Sony is likely to counter with something, setting up a great 2015.”

“We view 2015 as being a tremendous year for the industry,” adds Edward Zhao, of EEDAR. “A confluence of positive developments are in play as multiple platforms are primed for big years. Firstly, the eighth-gen consoles have already sold exceptionally well, [even] though year over year software sales have been down. Historically, there’s a transition period when one platform generation gives way to the next, leading to some softness in game sales as consumers adopt new hardware. We expect that by 2015, eighth-gen install bases will be large enough to support robust software sales, especially with so many high-quality titles releasing next year.”
If you have a great idea, remember that the platform owners want you just as much or more than you want them
TALKING OF QUALITY titles, Zhao makes a very safe guess that Call Of Duty and Assassin’s Creed “will perform admirably”. EEDAR also has high expectations for Halo 5: Guardians and Batman: Arkham Knight, but its final selection may be more of a surprise. “Mortal Kombat X [is] tracking highly in terms of consumer aided awareness, and is poised for success. Historically, the first triple-A core fighting game of the generation goes on to obtain significant market share.”

As well as those likely hits, we’ve got plenty of games that were originally due at the tail end of this year to look forward to. Rhodri Broadbent, of indie developer Dakko Dakko, is intrigued by Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege: “Of all the gritty shooters, this one surprised me and managed to grab my attention during E3 due to the strategy and team-play. It may not have the camp humour of Ghost Squad, instead continuing the genre’s recent obsession with the Terribly Serious, but it looks like a lot of tense fun nonetheless.” Alongside that, we can expect Battlefield: Hardline to benefit from an extra few months’ worth of spit and polish, and on a more inventive first-person tip, there’s Turtle Rock’s Evolve.

And what of Nintendo? It’s kicking off the year in fine style with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, but Silent Hill: Shattered Memories writer Sam Barlow whose forthcoming game, Her Story, is due out next year is looking forward to two more expansive adventures. “Wii U seems to have found its footing this year and the two biggest titles I’m most excited for are Zelda and X” he says. “The 3DS Zelda showed Nintendo finding some new ground to cover with the franchise and if they take that and run with it on Wii U it’s going to be a genuine next step. Xenoblade remains one of the most beautiful, innovative JRPGS ever made and so they’ve earned the right with X to not have to innovate much more, just give us more of that experience, that rich generous exploration.”
Every new year starts with me believing that this is the one that will see videogames mature into a heterogeneous and inspiring medium
AS FAR AS broader industry trends go, many of our interviewees predict another strong year for independent developers. One such studio is Swedish dev Image & Form, which is releasing SteamWorld Heist in 2015. CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson says he hopes smaller developers have a strong year, “not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of invention, growth and balls. Fellas, if you have a great idea, remember that the platform owners want you just as much or more than you want them. Be fun! Be interesting! Be brave!”

Nadim Haddad, meanwhile, from Pix The Cat developer PastaGames, goes one further, predicting nothing short of a revolution. “Because I am a natural born optimist, every new year starts with me believing that this is the one that will see videogames mature into a heterogeneous and inspiring medium.”

Haddad says that the current market conditions are the right ones to spark a creative new era for games, suggesting that the rift between conservative and progressive tendencies and the abundance of cheap, accessible development tools will entice fresh minds to games. “They are the ones that will bring videogames out of its egocentric circle,” he adds. “They are the ones that will make games about themselves, [and] therefore about us. I hope 2015 will get us to understand that we are ripe to craft and to play games about everything, made by people from anywhere, for players everywhere.”

Finally, Jonathan Burroughs, from Virginia developer Variable State, is excited about the wider games culture in 2015: “Although 2014 has been sullied by the firestorm of bigotry and misinformation raging on social media, it began hugely positively with Manveer Heir’s powerful speech at GDC championing diversity and inclusivity in games. One year on I anticipate we’ll start to see works emerging which have been directly influenced by his words.”

In lots of ways, it’s been a rough 12 months for the industry, but it’s clear that the current crop of games developers and analysts believes there’s cause for great optimism as we head into 2015. Gaming’s best year ever? It’s a little too early to call, but already it feels like everyone’s ready for a fresh start.

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