There are some things we know are going to happen in 2012. For instance, you can bet on a new Call of Duty arriving this November. But, what are some of the other trends that are set to play out across gaming this year? This month, I'll take a look at what I see developing across all genres and platforms.
Cross-Play Goes Big
No longer are we going to be playing games on just one screen. The idea of "cross-play" is becoming an increasingly important trend. Maybe it's an iPad game talking to an Xbox game, or a PS Vita game that will link up with its PS3 counterpart. Developers are realizing that gamers want to experience their favorite worlds across multiple platforms - and have their successes in one game impact the other. Mass Effect 3 is even doing this with its multiplayer, where your progress online will influence your single-player campaign against the Reaper aliens.
Mass Effect 3 will push gamers to play multiplayer to improve the single player.
The Last of Us is a brand new world coming from Naughty Dog.
When you think about it, a "multi-screen" gaming experience makes sense. Call of Duty Elite already lets you check your stats on your iPhone, but why can't you design your character for an RPG on your phone and then have it pop up on your Xbox 360? Or, play an iPhone game that boosts your in-game stats in an RPG? A few years ago, Fable had a series of pub games on Xbox LIVE that would earn you in-game gold; I think we will see more of this going forward.
Multi-screen gaming is going to happen in a big way in 2012. Just look at the Wii-U, which features its own Touch Pad screen on the controller. Sony is talking about using the PS Vita as a "mini PS3" that can let you stream real PS3 games to your handheld with remote play. These new systems will get gamers comfortable with the idea of experiences spanning multiple screens, but the real innovators will be the developers who create game universes that bleed across multiple platforms and genres - and link them together in a meaningful way.
The Genre Mash-Up
For many years, the game industry has been defined by its genres. Do you like shooters? RPGs? Action games? Indeed, many game review sites and all the game industry awards are organized by genre. But, there's a problem: Today's games are blending genres more than ever before. Is Mass Effect 3 really an RPG when its action is as intense as Gears of War 3? Is BioShock Infinite really a shooter when your choices matter and your character's abilities progress throughout the game? As you can see, the differentiation between genres is blurring like never before. Every game is some kind of genre hybrid, taking the best of all worlds. Even the last Assassin's Creed game included its own Tower Defense scenarios.
In 2012, the blending of genres is going to continue to a point where I wonder if it makes sense to change how we classify games. Or perhaps we need to come up with one "Action" genre that is all-encompassing. Naming issues aside, it's a positive step to see so many games bridge genres - but it sure is confusing.
The Missing Exclusives
Years ago, the console war was won or lost based on which system had the best exclusive games. Of course, the internal teams at Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are always working on exclusives for their platforms, but in the past you'd see big third-party exclusive games. Think of titles like Splinter Cell or Mass Effect for Xbox, Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation, or Resident Evil 4 for GameCube. If you haven't noticed, the idea of third-party exclusive games has all but disappeared. Now, franchises like Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty come out for all systems at the same time - and that's not going to change.
Why is this? Well, it comes down to the financial numbers. Today's games are way too costly to justify releasing on just one game system. At the same time, game publishers also want to make sure their competition doesn't reach an audience they can't get to because of exclusivity (imagine, for instance, if Mass Effect was still just on Xbox 360. That would open the way for another sci-fi RPG series on the PS3). The most interesting wrinkle in this trend will come when Nintendo launches the Wii-U later this year.
Will third parties really create unique exclusive games for the Wii-U system? I have my doubts. We know there are a few games in production like Ubisoft's Killer Freaks from Outer Space, but most of the Wii-U games I'm hearing about are updates to existing PS3 and Xbox 360 games with a few new features.
New Worlds Arrive
The common wisdom in the game industry is that you should launch any new "intellectual property" near the start of a new console generation. This is why you saw Uncharted launch with PS3, and franchises like Mass Effect and Gears of War launch with the Xbox 360. By year six or seven of a console system, you end up getting a lot of sequels. And, while there are certainly a lot of games with sequel numbers due in 2012, I'm also excited that some developers are bucking this trend by introducing new worlds.
Perhaps the best example is Naughty Dog's new intellectual property The Last of Us, set to release on the PS3 later this year or in 2013. This post-apocalyptic thriller will be a departure for Naughty Dog in that it will be M-rated and grittier than Uncharted. Two characters, Joel and a young girl Ellie, will venture through Pittsburgh and have to fight for their survival.
Another game that feels entirely new is BioShock Infinite. Sure, it shares the same master-brand as the underwater BioShock series, but this new game - set in Columbia, a city in the sky - seems like a complete re-imagining of BioShock with new characters, a new world, and new secrets.