2007 was a record year for the game industry. Between the success of the Wii and the amazing games that came out this year it was a banner year. Sure there were a lot of controversies (Manhunt 2, "Gerstman Gate") but the industry grew by leaps in bounds. As the year ends it's time to start looking forward at 2008 and seeing what the New Year will bring.
Instead of doing the standard predictions article I thought it might be interesting to ask a series of questions and then re-visit those questions at the end of 2008. Without further blather here are some key questions for 2008.
1. Could 2008 be a better year for games than 2007?
2007 will be a hard year to top for the industry but looking at the lineup of titles due in 2008 makes me think 2008 could be an even better year. With Silent Hill 5, Resident Evil 5, Fallout 3, Haze, Killzone 2, Alan Wake, Metal Gear Solid 4, Smash Brothers, Grand Theft Auto IV potentially hitting shelves next year it could be another banner year for gamers. If you throw in the possibility for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 and Gears of War 2 then 2008 could easily top 2007. Of course some of those titles could get pushed into 2009 but that's still fairly solid list of games.
2. Does Microsoft have anything left in the tank?
There's no doubt that the Xbox 360 has the best line-up of games in 2007. Some of them may not have been genre innovators but if you look at the number exclusive titles the 360 ruled the roost. 2008 is a bit murkier though as outside of
Alan Wake, Lost Odyssey, and Too Human there really aren't a lot of big name exclusives. Sure those titles will be solid (well Fallout 3 and Alan Wake at least) but there really aren't a lot of titles that are going to sell hardware. We could see Gears of War 2 next year but outside of that there's not a whole lot on the table for Microsoft.
Update: Fallout 3 is not an exclusive to the 360, my apologies
3. Can Sony build on their momentum?
Heavenly Sword, Ratchet and Clank, and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune were all games for the PS3 and helped Sony end the year on a high note. The real question now is if Sony can build on that in 2008. With Metal Gear Solid 4, Little Big Planet, Haze, and Killzone 2 coming out for the system next year it certainly looks like the PS3 could make up some ground on the Xbox 360 and the Wii. If Final Fantasy XIII hits then all bets are off as that game will sell hardware like nothing else.
Another key will be the launch of Home. If the new online service can live up to half the promises made by Sony it could be the answer to Xbox Live that Sony has been looking for. I don’t think the PS3 will overtake Xbox 360 in total units in the marketplace but it should setup a nice dog fight for 2009.
4. Will anyone other than Nintendo make money off the Wii?
There's no doubt that the Wii was THE gaming story of 2007. Originally picked to be the number three console in the current console war the Wii has vaulted into first place and become a media darling. The only thing holding the Wii back is Nintendo's ability to manufacture the units and get them to stores. The problem is that Nintendo seems to be the only one making any money off the system and even then it's just on the hardware (compare sales of Super Mario Galaxy to those of Halo 3 for proof of that).
The question for 2008 will be if there will be any third party games that sell well for the system or if Wii Sports will continue to be the dominant game for the system. Nintendo likes to tout all the new gamers who are buying the Wii but the majority of those people aren't buying games for the system. This isn't like the DS where developers struggled to adapt to the new control system (the Wii has that problem as well) but Nintendo now needs to Wii owners into the stores to buy a new wave of games.
5. Will there be any reason for gamers to upgrade to Vista?
Saying that Vista hasn't lived up to expectations is a bit of an understatement and Microsoft has yet to come up with a solid reason for gamers to move over to the new operating system. DirectX 10 was supposed to be that reason but developers have been slow to pick it up and even some of the big DirectX10 games like Crysis don't look that much better than their DirectX 9 counterparts. Live for Windows was another reason to upgrade but Microsoft has now enabled XP users to play games online using the service.
The hurdle for Microsoft is going to be finding a reason or reasons for gamers to upgrade to their new OS. At this point Microsoft is trapped in a bit of a chicken and the egg situation. Gamers won't upgrade until they have games to play and developers won't create games for an audience that isn't there yet. Normally I wouldn't worry about this as gamers will upgrade as they buy new PC's but a lot of manufacturers are still offering XP as an option Microsoft still has to come up with a good reason to get people into Vista.6. Will anyone finally start developing games for the Mac?
Apple made a big splash earlier this year when they announced deals with Electronic Arts and a few other game developers to bring games to the Mac. Those games have come and gone and there really hasn't been a lot of movement on the Mac front since the announcement. Apple still represents a small (but vocal) part of the computing world but the lack of modern games for the platform is holding a lot of people back from moving to the platform (at least on the gaming side).
I still don’t see a lot of developers developing exclusive or day and date launches for a platform that represents less than 8% of the PC market and Apple doesn’t really seem to consider this to be that high of a priority.
7. Can EA recover from a bad 2007?
In 2007 EA changed direction a bit. Instead of cranking out sequels and unleashing crappy games based on licensed properties they went back to work on creating new franchises. Sure there were the usual collection of annual sports games but we also got a lot of new games like Boogie and Crysis. These games weren't huge hits but with Army of 2, Dead Space, and Spore scheduled for release in 2008 there's a chance that EA could turn the ship around and actually come up with some new and innovative games.
8. Will Activision remain the #1 company in 2008?
Activision that took over the reigns as the #1 game publisher in the country passing long time rival Electronic Arts. The irony is that they did it using the old EA practice of sequels and licensed games. It doesn't look like that practice is going to change in 2008 as “Activizzard” is going to be cranking out more sequels (Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero) and more licensed games (the new James Bond game) with nary a new property in sight.
9. Will GTA IV be enough to lift Take Two?
Take Two desperately needs Grand Theft Auto IV to be a smash hit to help right the company’s balance book. The game should see a larger release than previous games as the game is coming out for the 360 and the PS3 and Take Two should be able to earn some money with the DLC episodes they are releasing exclusively for the Xbox 360 version.
I do hope somebody is going through the game with a fine tooth comb and making sure that any additional content is expunged from the game before it reaches store shelves as the company can ill afford another “Hot Coffee” scandal.
Of course that might be a moot point as the company could be bought out before the game ships to stores.
10. What will Jack Thompson do next?
The industry boogieman was certainly busy in 2007 and 2008 will certainly keep Mr. Thompson busy. With Grand Theft Auto IV due out in 2008 you can expect Mr. Thompson to be getting a lot press as he tries to get the game pulled from shelves. There’s also the matter of him trying to prove collusion between the game industry and the Department of Defense and I’m sure he’ll be tilting at a few other windmills while he’s at it.
Of course the year won't be all roses for Jack as we should find out if he's going to be disbarred in Florida in the early part of the year. I'm not sure how much impact this will really have on his activities but I do worry that if he is disbarred he's going to have a lot more free time to go after the industry.
11. Who buys who?
2007 saw a lot of mergers and acquisitions. With EA buying Bioware/Pandemic and Vivendi bought Activision there seems to be some consolidation activity brewing in the industry. Sega, Ubisoft, and Take Two are all potential buyers and sellers and it will be interesting to see how much the industry changes by the end of the year.
12. What will the new/old E3 bring?
With E3 returning to the LA Convention Center this year I'm wondering how the event is going to play out. Will it be held strictly in the private suites in the convention center with a play area in one of the halls? Will the ESA loosen the entry requirements in order to boost attendance? What will the guys at Gamecock come up with this year? I’m already planning the trip out there but I’m not sure what to expect right now. Hopefully it’s the best of the old E3 (one central place) with the best of the new E3 (quiet, civilized, and booth babe free)
13. How bad will PAX kick E for All's ass this year?
For some reason the ESA booked the 2008 of E for the same weekend as the Penny Arcade Expo. I'm not sure why you would try and force gamers to choose between an event that was sparsely attended last year and one that that's been getting bigger and bigger for years. Not only are they forcing gamers to chose between events but publishers are also going to have to pick which event to go to and I have a feeling they are going to go where the gamers are…and it’s not going to be in sunny Los Angeles. 14. Will video games get dragged into the 2008 election?
With 2008 being a major election year in the US there are going to be a lot of politicians looking to score easy points with voters and Video games are easy political capital. With Grand Theft Auto IV hitting next year it's another big target for politicians who are looking to pick up easy votes with the "Won't someone think of the children" crowd. I guess the real question of if but how much impact they’ll have.
15. What will Harmonix do next?
Rock Band was one of the top games on everyone's list last year and it will be interesting to see what the developer does next. Backed by big money at MTV and the recent success of their games the company should have carte blanche to do whatever they want to. I don’t know if we’ll see a final game in 2007 or not but I’m hoping we’ll get some sort of announcement and demo at GDC or E3.
16. How will Sony market Little Big Planet?
I've seen Little Big Planet twice now and I'm still not sure how to describe the game to people. On one hand it's a puzzle game and on the other it's a puzzle creation game. I do know that the game is one of the more original games in development right now and it could be yet another killer game for Sony in 2008. It’s going to be tricky to sell gamers on such a quirky game but if they figure that out I think the game could be huge.
17. Will we finally see Duke Nukem Forever this year?
We got a teaser trailer the end of 2007 and a promise of a bigger trailer in 2008...could this be a sign that we may finally we see Duke Nukem Forever in stores? Could the game industry's longest running joke finally come to and end? If it does will the game be any good?. The teaser really didn't show us much and I do wonder if time has passed Duke by or not (I hope not as Duke Nukem 3D holds a special place in my heart). We’ve been through this song and dance before so I’m not exactly holding my breath for the guys at 3D Realms.
18. Can Spore live up to the hype?
While we are on the subject of long awaited games it looks like Spore will finally hit stores in 2008 (of course we said that last year). There's a tremendous amount of hype around Spore as the game has promised so much and the early impressions have been so positive. It's hard to remember ever being let down by Will Wright but the scope of the game is huge.
19. Is this the year Microsoft introduces a handheld?
Rumors of a Microsoft handheld gaming system have been swirling for years. The pieces of the puzzle are already in place. It's not hard to see how Microsoft could mix one part Windows Mobile operating system with a heaping of Zune technology. Stir in Xbox Live and a dash of the Zune marketplace and you could have a very nice multimedia device that could compete with the Sony PSP. If you really wanted to make things interesting you could add a dash of the Surface and Tablet technology and have something that could go against the DS.
20. How awesome will Fallout 3 be?
Every time I say the words "Fallout 3" to John he gets a faraway look in his eyes and a broad smile crosses his face. It's kind of creepy but after seeing the E3 demo of the game I can see why he's excited about the game. I'm not as in touch with the franchise as he is the game looks amazing and is probably a shoe-in for one of the best RPG's of 2008. I don’t have any real backing for this except for an implicit trust of the guys at Bethesda.