The Days of Future Past: Gaming in 2017
Hello one and all.
Apologies for the radio silence as we raced toward the end of 2016, but life, and my day job, intervened and kept me from the Inner Circle. Hopefully, I will be able to keep this blog on more of a consistent schedule in 2017 and give you a few things worth reading/thinking about.
So, with that being said, what say we close out 2016 by taking a look at what to expect from the core gaming platforms in 2017? Let’s start with the market leader…
I think it is safe to say that, with the launches of PlayStation Pro and PlayStation VR in 2016, Sony Interactive Entertainment in all-in with the 8th console generation. They have pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table and there is next to nothing that we can expect from them, on the hardware side, in 2017. Or, for that matter, in what remains of the current hardware cycle. Going forward in the new year, the platform holder will rely on hardware price drops and bundles, third-party software sales and sales of first-party games that, with a few notable exceptions (Uncharted 4 being the most prominent), have failed to move the needle much over the past three years. You know… straight from the PlayStation Sales and Marketing Playbook.
With the debut of PS Pro and the ushering in of mid-cycle hardware iteration, it is not even clear at this point that there will be a “PlayStation 5.” While it is fairly common knowledge among my colleagues that the Pro has made a limited impact on the marketplace, I believe it is only a matter of time (and dropping component prices) before the Pro becomes the PlayStation family’s base model and the next, even more 4K-y, more-HDR-y Super Pro becomes their high-end entry – thus ending the idea of the 5-7 year hardware generation life-cycle and any thought of SIE delivering a true Gen 9 PS 5. With regard to PSVR – color me “disappointed.” Actually, I can’t even say that I am disappointed. The hardware has done exactly what I thought it would do at retail and the “experiences” have been underwhelming. Like prior adjunct technology attempts by the company (Move, Stereo 3D, Vita, Wonderbook, etc.), it looks like any dream of continued long-term support and/or deep, AAA core games coming from SIE’s Worldwide Studios, let alone major third-party publishers and developers, is a pipe dream. As I own both PSVR and Oculus Rift, I get a close-up view of their respective ecosystems, and there is a lot of crossover. The vast majority of the titles are simple wave shooters, cockpit racers and games that really are tech demos – ranging in price from $2-$20. While there are a few standouts – Arkham VR, Lucky’s Tale, Edge of Nowhere and a handful of others – the vast majority of available software could be classified more as time wasters than AAA type games. With the exception of the tip of the spear gaming consumer, there is no market demographic that seems to be interested in relatively high-end VR – and the next big thing… isn’t.
Microsoft and the Xbox brand were able to have a decent bounce back year in 2016, thanks to the launch and second half surge of the Xbox One S. While their first-party and exclusive game releases failed to cause much of a stir, they did do enough to keep them in the Gen 8 hardware race, even if they are going to finish a distant second when all is said and done in this round. Like SIE, the Xbox division is counting on their current user base to come along for the iterative ride when they launch Xbox Scorpio in 2017. And, like the latest PlayStation, it is likely that they are only going to be able to get a small percentage of the current Xbox One user base to take the upgrade path. That being said; I think what the PTB at Xbox HOPE will happen is that Scorpio will be such a technical powerhouse that PlayStation 4 owners might make the switch, or that at least the company can get them to take on Scorpio as their “second” system. Again… I think this is, given the roughly 90% crossover in available games between the PS and Xbox platforms, a highly unlikely outcome. When it comes to second systems, or making the “switch” in 2017… well, there is only one platform holder that is all-in on that approach to the marketplace and that is in a better position to make that case to the gaming consumer.
Nintendo and its current platform, the Wii U, were comatose in 2016 (many owners, myself included, would make the case that both the company and its Gen 8 platform have been that way for a number of years now) and the platform will be pulled off of life support and pushed toward the bright white light in the first half of 2017. That is when the hybrid console/portable Nintendo Switch will be riding into town to convince Nintendo zealots and non-zealots alike that there is still a reason for all of us to pay attention to the once-dominant and now third-horse-in-a two-horse-race platform holder/game publisher. With no Metroid Prime, no new Zelda, and no Mario that could be compared to 64, Sunshine or Galaxy, the Wii U was, without question, Nintendo’s biggest failure in its corporate history (please don’t throw the Virtual Boy at me… NOA didn’t want it to begin with and had ZERO expectations for it – besides, I still LOVE mine!) With the Switch, the company is hoping it can make amends for past sins with its very loyal base, and do enough to get PS and Xbox consumers to consider adding it to their play lists.
Will they? Recent history would tell us “no.” If everything we think we know about the Switch is accurate, Nintendo will once again deliver a platform that is technically at least half a generation (in terms of graphic display power) behind its competitors, and the company has shown in recent years that it is virtually incapable of understanding what the core gaming consumer wants from them and that their software development studios are out of step with the times. In addition, I question their hypothesis that gamers will want to unplug and take the console with them on trains, planes and automobiles (fans of classic ’80’s cinema… you’re welcome.) Truth be told – my guess is that most 3DS owners (and there are a lot of them) would rather that Nintendo continue to support them with a steady flow of quality games then make the switch to Switch as their portable gaming solution. My fear for those of us that love our 3DS’ is that, in spite of the portable’s continued success in the marketplace, Nintendo will not have the quantity of development talent to effectively support both Switch and 3DS and that 3DS, like Wii U, will simply be left to wither and die. A positive note for Switch? Well… Nintendo seems to have (finally) seen the error of their ways and have given third-party publishers and developers a platform that requires much less from them in porting their games from PlayStation, Xbox and/or PC. But, is it too little, too late? As much as I wish for better prospects for Nintendo, I can’t help but feel that Switch represents the end of the line for the company on the hardware side. If it doesn’t make it, then their future success will be tied to their software running on the machines of others – be it consoles, PC’s or portable devices.
PC (OR NVIDIA – WHICHEVER YOU PREFER)
As Sony and Microsoft look to bring their hardware platforms into an iterative world where the consumer is asked to upgrade/purchase a new box every two to three years, they are really only taking a page from the classic PC (as dictated by GPU manufacturer, NVIDIA) playbook. Thanks to NVIDIA’S rapid business growth, aggressive pricing and non-stop graphic display technology evolution, the PC not only represents the most cutting edge home gaming experience, but possibly the best long-term value in gaming as well as we approach 2017. Consider this; I have had my Alienware X51 R2 for almost five years. Up until about 6 months ago, it was powered by the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 660. At that point, I upgraded to the GTX 1060 for less than $300 – bringing my system up to snuff for VR and 4K gaming. If we assume the original cost of the PC as a sunken cost (after all – it is also the epicenter of my business, personal and social activities), then we can safely say that, in the future, I will need to spend $300 every five years or so to keep up with the virtual Jones’. Given that it looks like the plans of SIE and Microsoft’s Xbox division are to have us spend $400 every three years or so, the script, and market dynamics, seem to be flipping – making PC gaming the cheaper, more powerful alternative. Add to this the exceptional value and staggering number of games available through Steam as the undisputed center of PC gaming e-tail/multiplayer/social networking, and you have the gaming solution that is best positioned to continue substantial market growth in 2017 and beyond.
2017, in general, does not look to be smooth sailing for any of the console platform holders or their third-party software partners. Physical sales of Q4 2016 titles are way down, and digital sales have not performed well-enough to offset the downward trend of disc sales. This has resulted in heavy discounting on titles like Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2, Battlefield 1, CoD: Infinite Warfare and many other “must-have” AAA titles. Heck, Final Fantasy XV was just released two weeks ago and can already be found for $35! As I have been saying for many years now, there are still too many games shipping on a weekly basis and the losers far outnumber the winners. This market dynamic simply can’t continue or it will only be a matter of time before the big publishers start to crumble. This same glut of games is also affecting the house of cards that is “Indie” gaming. There is so much crap – and precious few Indie titles are actually making any money – particularly on console. While all is not doom-and-gloom and there were some individual titles that saw great success across all hardware platforms in 2016, the warnings are apparent and the writing is on the wall. The industry needs to take a thorough and honest look at itself in 2017. If not, the year could well be a watershed for all of the wrong reasons.
There you have it – the gaming world as I see it in 2017. Well, with the exception of iOS and Android gaming… LOL – the cesspool of gaming… pass…