Looking at trends from the gaming industry in 2009, here are predictions for the new year and the odds of them happening.
1. At least one new major console or portable system will be announced — 3:1 odds: We've heard hints that the follow-up to the Nintendo DS is in development, and Microsoft has said the next Xbox will launch in 2011 or 2012. This puts both systems on track for some sort of vague official announcement at one of the 2010 trade shows, with an initial hands-on demonstration some months later.
I wouldn't count out the possibility of Sony announcing a true follow-up to the PSP, either, especially if the system's sales don't pick up fast. Expect Nintendo and especially Sony to be a little slower to announce their follow-up consoles, the former because the Wii is still going strong and the latter because Sony has loudly insisted that the PS3 is meant to be on the market for 10 years.
2. No PS3 motion control or Natal- exclusive games will be on the shortlist for Game of the Year — 5:4 odds: For all the hype surrounding the unveiling of Sony and Microsoft's camera-based motion controllers at 2009's E3, I think the technologies are bound to be disappointments when they come out. After a burst of interest surrounding their releases, I expect both controllers will be inundated with gimmicky, shallow, motion-controlled games (i.e. the majority of the Wii's software lineup).
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Both will lack the best games needed to really drive widespread adoption. Without that sort of critical mass, most developers and publishers will support the devices grudgingly, adding half-hearted camera-control support to games that also have more traditional controls, which critics and consumers will continue to largely prefer.
3. Nintendo Wii sales will decline year-over-year in North America — 2:1 odds: The Wii has nowhere to go but down after dominating the North American sales charts for so long. But this prediction is also driven by the fact that Sony and Microsoft are making a serious push for the market niche Nintendo has carved out — with lower prices, upcoming motion controllers and a focus on family friendly gaming.
4. PlayStation 3 sales will increase year-over-year in North America — 2:1 odds: Sony's powerhouse is already starting to see a sales bounce thanks to a lower, $299 price point, holiday releases like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and an effective new ad campaign. This trend should continue well into 2010, when anticipated exclusives like God of War III, Gran Turismo 5, MAG, Heavy Rain and The Last Guardian start rolling in.
5. Rhythm-game sales will decline year over year — 3:1 odds: There's a chance that a new idea could come this year, but it seems more likely the genre will start to stagnate under slowly growing disinterest in the same old karaoke, guitar- and drumming-based games. That said, I expect the market for downloadable songs for existing Rock Band and Guitar Hero platforms will remain strong throughout 2010.
6. Industrywide game sales will go up, year over year — 5:4 odds: Everyone knows the recession caused the game industry to hit a bit of a slump last year, so some sort of bounce back along with the slowly recovering economy seems likely. But an industry recovery seems even more obvious when you look at the blockbuster-heavy lineup of releases set for the first half of the year. They include Mass Effect 2, God of War III, Heavy Rain, BioShock 2, Alan Wake, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Final Fantasy XIII.
7. At least one download-only release will be on the short list for the Game of the Year awards — 10:1 odds: The downloadable-games market went a long way to breaking free of its image as retail's neglected cousin this year, with console releases like Flower, Shadow Complex and the Bit.Trip series. Maybe "Game of the Year" contention is a bit lofty, but regardless, I expect the downloadable-game market to continue its march toward relevance in the new year.
8. The PSP Go will drop in price during the first half of the year — 4:1 odds: Depending on who you listen to, the initial sales numbers for the PSP Go have been "in line with expectations" (according to Sony) or merited "strong reservations" about the PSP's chances in the United States (according to a Gamasutra analysis).
The Go's main problem seems to be the competition, not from Nintendo's DS, but from Sony's own PSP-3000, which offers more functionality, albeit in a clunkier form, for a lower price. As PSP Go inventories start to clog Sony's warehouses, expect it to attempt to clear out the excess by pushing the Go's price to be more in line with the original PSP.