Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Called it! - Gaming Predictions for 2015

The future of gaming?
As I took down the non-denominational festive ornaments scattered around my home the stark realization that another year had entered the history books was ever-present. It’s a natural time to reflect and I took the opportunity to revisit my tepid predictions from the end of 2013. Given my goal to be unambitious, it's unsurprising that most of my predictions were vindicated. In fact, all but my overzealous exceptions for Titanfall came true. This year, I've decided to swing in the opposite direction and elaborate my boldest gaming desires that, while within the realm of possibility, are virtually guaranteed to miss. For interest's sake, I’ll also elaborate why I don't think these predictions are in danger of coming to light any time soon.

Re-imagined Call of Duty/Assassin's Creed Franchises
The latest Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed titles are perennial best sellers but seldom innovate on their tired mechanics. An argument can be made that the formula that drives them has been perfected taking the adage that if it ain't broke don't fix it. I don't buy it. Shadow of Mordor riffed on the Assassin's Creed formula and demonstrated that the structure of the single player experience can be overhauled to great success. Further, the Arkham series has consistently demonstrated a higher brand of combat that is fundamentally the same as AC. On the FPS side, indie shooters like Screen Check are showing that even the oldest genres are concealing some untapped ideas. I don't know exactly how I would reinvigorate these franchises, but I do know that the running joke that they've gone stale hasn't been funny for years.

Why it won't happen...
Simply - money. Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed are licenses to print money and no publisher would dare mess with the formula as long as gamers are willing to pay for ostensibly the same gameplay year in and out. This doesn't mean that Activision and Ubisoft aren't aware that their franchises are stagnating, it's more that they won't do anything about it until it affects their bottom line.

I'd play this.

A True World of Warcraft Killer
Speaking of licenses to print money, despite waning numbers, World of Warcraft is by far the most popular MMORPG ever and still boasts around 7 million paying monthly subscribers. Despite numerous efforts to emulate it's success, no foray into the genre regardless of brand appeal (Star Wars) or innovation (WildStar) has come even close. I don't begrudge WoW - it's deservedly held it's place atop mount MMO for over a decade but the underlying engine is buckling under it's own weight of patches. The latest expansion has upped the polygon counts on player models but they still look pretty ugly when shown next to modern titles. Beyond graphics, the mechanics of hot keys and cast bars are long past their prime.

Why it won't happen...
Before Blizzcon this year, I assumed that the only way World of Warcraft would be toppled would be by Blizzard's own hand. Now that the beans have been spilled and Project Titan has been cancelled, I've reassessed my feelings on MMOs. The MMO boom of the late 2000s has long passed and most companies have realized that the genre represents significant financial risk. EVE online is probably the only MMO that can tout a growing population but I doubt they will get much bigger given the niche market of sociopaths they're serving. No - it won't be another MMO that topples WoW with a bang but waning interest in the genre that ultimately kills it with a whimper (sometime next decade).

You and what army?
An Awesome Kinect Game
Unfacetiously, the Kinect is an amazing piece of technology. The use of two cameras backed by robust software to accurately track human movements without the need for any sort of controller is a true feat of engineering. Unfortunately, the games we've had to make use of it suck. The Kinect promises to provide control on an unprecedented level but the best we can muster are a few dancing games and a slew of fitness titles? Surely we can do better.

Why it won't happen...
For as amazing as the Kinect is technologically, it's still a generation or two behind making good on the promises of genuine immersion. I want the holodeck and no matter how hard marketing tries to sell 'me as the controller' I can't escape feeling goofy while I move around my living room in front of the television. Moving my arm and watching an on-screen avatar swing a sword isn't the same tactile experience of swinging a sword itself and can counter-intuitively have the effect of breaking immersion rather than enhancing it. It's as if the Kinect is in the uncanny valley of controls where something just doesn't quite feel right and for that reason their will never be a must-own Kinect title.

Pictured: Natural fun.

Bonus Prediction (that may actually have a chance...)
We finally get a good spiritual successor to TIE Fighter. Oh please make this happen! The space-sim has been long overdue for a resurgence.

While any of predictions coming true would make 2015 a remarkable year, I won't be holding my breath. Call of Duty makes too much money for the formula to be reworked, MMOs will probably fade away before World of Warcraft suffers a hay maker, and the Kinect (for all it's power) isn't capable of giving us true immersion. That said, I don't need my predictions to come true to be satisfied and I'll settle for some solid games and maybe a few announcements to whet the appetite for the future. Game on 2015!