Rumor Killers’ Crystal Ball for 2010

Disclaimer: Rumor Killers is a speculative opinion piece and is by no means intended to disclose as fact whether a rumor is true or false – even though the Rumor Killers team are usually right (usually…)

Welcome to 2010! January is cold, gloomy and dark. It’s not all bad, though; I’m insulated from the chill thanks to the extra weight I picked up over Christmas and can spend my time indoors playing through the sack of games I got for the holidays. All the gaming news, company rivalries and juicy rumours are still yet to hit full swing, though I doubt it’ll take long for our beloved industry to pick up the pace. Meanwhile, here are some predictions for the games industry in 2010. If you’ve done some of your own speculating, or you’d just like to argue with my picks, then don’t be afraid to leave a comment. But, before you say it: I think we’re all hoping 2010 is the year they finally invent the jetpack.

Publishers will Release Games in Empty Holiday Period to Escape Jam-packed Spring Schedule

Street Fighter IV took advantage of a quiet opening to 2010. How will SSFIV fare?

Modern Warfare 2 was massive: the biggest game launch of all time, shifting approximately 4.7 million units across the USA and UK in its first 24 hours of sale. It’s understandable why many publishers relocated their competing titles to a breezier late winter/spring launch window – there are just too many games. Even with multiple high-profile releases heading off to the greener pastures of 2010, 2009 saw an even higher number of new titles released than the already ridiculous figure from 2008. It’s hard to keep up, which is why Capcom recently wrote off the 09/10 fiscal year to bump its upcoming stable of titles further into 2010. With publishers still seemingly unwilling to release games in the summer – despite the fortunes of summer hits like BioShock and Batman: Arkham Asylum – the only possible option left, ironically, seems to be retreating back into the now-vacant holiday period and braving heavy-hitters such as the year’s inevitable Call of Duty and Guitar Hero iterations.

The po-faced logic behind Capcom’s move – thanks, TVG – was to ensure the “introductions of [Lost Planet 2, Dead Rising 2, Monster Hunter Tri and Super Street Fighter IV] will be spread across all four quarters of the fiscal year to prevent an excessive contribution from new titles in the 4th quarter.” Capcom has been releasing their games in the first quarter for a while, and until this year the three months have been vacant enough to allow titles such as Lost Planet (329k: numbers first-month sales sourced from NPD data), Devil May Cry 4 (528k), Street Fighter IV (849k) and Resident Evil 5 (4.4 million copies sold worldwide in its first month) to achieve a respectable level of commercial success. And I didn’t even think the first two were that good.

The reality is, of course, that niche titles will always attract a loyal crowd: I would buy Super Street Fighter IV regardless of what day it came out, even if it was the same day as the Lost season finale. But with ballooning development costs, challenging sales expectations and difficult economic times, that stalwart fan base simply isn’t enough. Publishers need to sell-through as many of their games as possible. Ensuring maximum exposure by setting up base in a quiet part of the calendar can only help. Sadly for the Capcom executives, finding those times of the year is becoming an increasingly rare commodity – maybe they’ll have to settle for the summer after all.

Human Cloning will be Perfected, Allowing for Nolan North to Provide Voiceover Work for 75% of the Year’s Games

All pretty self-explanatory, really.

Game Prices will Fall

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that I’m from the United Kingdom. Here, at least, we saw 2009’s hyped-up blockbuster games receiving ludicrous price cuts on their day of release: FIFA 10 was available for £24.99, and Modern Warfare 2 could be picked up for as little as £20. Activision notoriously set the game’s RRP (recommended retail price) at £54.99 – the standard here is an RRP of £49.99/$80, with most retailers selling new titles for roughly £39.99/$64 in some supermarkets. On top of these RRP-defying prices, plenty of other recent releases can easily be snapped up for £20-£25 in the holiday sales; my buy of the season was a limited edition copy of the Forza 3(RRP of £54.99) for £24.99 a mere three weeks before Christmas.

For retailers, such blatant loss-leading and bargain price points puts everyone into a complicated situation. It lowers the value of games for a start; buyers will expect to purchase more of their games at a reduced price. People are becoming hesitant to buy a game at launch after seeing so many recent games have their price severely reduced mere weeks after release.
Big EA Canada executive Jason DeLong recently mused on the answer to this problem being downloadable content. “We’re going to start to see – maybe not in the next year, but in the near future,” he told GameInformer, “games go down the route of smaller up-front experiences and lower prices at the beginning, and then the ability to extend the game through episodic material or future feature material.”

Another route to consider, though, is the recent trend of severe seasonal discounting of games delivered digitally. Many of the TGR staff were sucked back into PC gaming over the holidays thanks to the bargain-tastic frenzy that was the Steam holiday sale (Yes and yes again – Ed), with some older games like Mass Effect and Dead Space receiving up to an 80% discount. We also saw indie hits like Torchlight and Trine going for $5 and $8, respectively. It also encouraged me to buy a third copy of Street Fighter IV (Yes and yes again – Ed). The end result of this, though, is that titles outside of their peak sales window (games make the bulk of their profits from the first month) receive a second lease of life whilst making bundles of cash for the developers.

I also think we’ll see more games developed with digital distribution in mind. The summer successes of Chair’s Shadow Complex and Red Lynx’s Trials HD showed that gamers are more than prepared to fork out on smaller, less technologically advanced games that still offer oodles of playability. The trend has simply got to continue. And don’t even get me started on how many hours I’ve sunk into the iPhone’s Canabalt and Flight Control, either.

What’s clear, though, is that consumers are not in an economic position right now to buy the amount of games at £40/$60 a pop, the price that publishers deem suitable to warrant the budgets of the average 360/PS3 title. But the 360 is also four years old and the costs of development have inevitably decreased since the console was first introduced. Whether the solution turns out to be more DLC, fewer games produced or lower prices, something’s got to change. And fast.

The 360 and PS3 will see a Deluge of ‘Family’ Software

It’s a big year for Sony and Microsoft, what with the release of the PS3 motion controller and Project Natal respectively, and it’s clear where they’ve got their inspiration from: the Wii. The main purpose of both – regardless of what is said in press releases – is to replicate the Wii’s with games that cost far less to produce a joyous side-effect, all to get a sweet, sweet taste of that delicious casual market.

The future of the so-called hardcore consoles?

And the low production costs of family-friendly software mean publishers will attempt to cash in on this potentially lucrative market for the ‘next-gen’ consoles – and who can blame them? You only need to glance at the amount of ‘party’ shovelware on the Wii to understand the scale of the issue. I fully expect to see ports of both Carnival Family Games and Big Game Party on both.

Still, cynicism aside, there’s a big market for family-family software. My blood relatives and I had so much fun over the holidays playing Wii Sports Resort we completely forgot to watch any drab, repetitive Christmas telly. Result. It’s easy to see why so many developers are trying to get their foot firmly in the door when it comes to the genre.

Oh, and I fully expect to see Nintendo reveal a new instalment to one of their beloved franchises. Fingers crossed we’ll also see a version of Wii Fit that makes good use of the upcoming Vitality Sensor. Can’t wait.

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