Now that 2013 falling deeper into the past and the Game of the Year has been crowned, it is time to look towards the future and try to predict where the gaming world is headed over the next 12 months. While unfortunately Game Rant isn't in possession of a crystal ball, this list will make up for that in recognizing trends, figuring out what they might mean and where they might lead the industry.
With a new generation of consoles now available, 2014 is bound to be a nestling year for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One as they get cozy in gamer-friendly living rooms. With games like inFamous: Second Son and Titanfall dropping early this year and developers getting more experience with each system, gamers are bound to get better and better new generation games.
Although, besides 'better experiences' on the new consoles, what else can we look forward to in 2014? Here is a list of things to keep your eyes out for in the coming year.
Free-To-Play Comes To Consoles
Free-to-play has quickly become an essential and popular distribution method for new games. The mobile and PC market is full of examples of successful free-to-play games, from Angry Birds to Warframe. It has proven invaluable in the success of several franchises on the market and it will only continue to get bigger and more popular now that it's becoming a staple for home consoles as well as PC and mobile devices.
For those who console game exclusively though, the pay method might be something that they are encountering for the first time. While it existed on consoles in the last generation with games like Ascend: Hand of Krul and Spartacus Legends, there titles didn't hit mass audiences.
That changes with this generation. Popular PC titles like War Thunder, World of Tanks and Warframe are already ready to download and play for free on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This is one trend that is definitely going to grow over the coming year, with new free-to-play games being tailor made for the console experience.
When the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were being announced in early 2013 and trying to entice consumers, there was a lot of the talk of "the cloud." There 's been speculation about what exactly the cloud will do for gaming services, but as the year goes on, we are going to be getting a decent picture of the power of streaming video games over a centralized server.
Sony just unveiled PlayStation Now, a service will allow players to experience older games on PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Bravia TVs and could expand to include other smart TVs and mobile phones in the future. Think backwards compatibility through streaming.
Microsoft also claims to have over 300,000 servers waiting to be used and it would be shocking if they don't launch a similar service later in the year. Industry analysts have predicted cloud gaming for years now, but it seems that 2014 may well be the year it goes big.
Steam Grows Even Bigger
Steam really has been a revolution for PC gaming, changing the way gamers interact with and buy their games. What was a massive gamble for Valve paid off, prompting other publishers like EA and Ubisoft to launch Origin and Uplay services respectively. Steam eclipsed Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network in terms of active users.
The service is going to be expanding even further in 2014, tackling the one place that it hasn't been able to compete with consoles thus far: the living room. While Steam is massive with 'core' gamers, it hasn't ever quite been able to crack the casual market because of its dependence on the more 'complex' PC platform. This year, with multiple Steam Machines hitting the market, they are hoping to challenge the console space in your living room.
While the confusing variety of Steam Machines may still be a barrier for the most casual of consumers, these new consoles, along with Steam's new OS, will at least push the reach of Steam further.
Single Player And Multiplayer Begin To Merge
Games traditionally feature both single player and multiplayer as separate entities. With the rise to prominence of PSN and Xbox Live, the two modes have been competing with each other. Underwhelming multiplayer in strong single player experiences and lacking single player gameplay in exciting multiplayer focused games were all too common in recent years.
At last year's E3, there was a clear tide shift in the game industry as the two modes began to harmonize. Destiny,The Division and Watch Dogs offered glimpses into games that acted like MMOs with players in huge connected worlds and raids, but all with the polish and mechanics of a top-tier AAA action game.
While The Division may not end up hitting until 2015, expect to see more and more games that are both announced and released featuring this melding of single player and multiplayer. It's another way to effectively make games "always-online."
The Rise of the Wii U?
The Wii U has struggled since its inception. Despite having had a year head start on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the two powerhouses are flying past Nintendo's console in sales.
There is still hope for the console yet though as the Wii U will likely fall back on some of its biggest franchises. In just the coming months, Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers will (finally) be debuting on the console with support from Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. There is also the Dynasty Warriors and Zelda mash-up Hyrule Warriors on the horizon. There are bound to be more and more announcements made this year as Nintendo try and capture interest in their flagging console. Could a core Zelda and Metroid game be on their way in the near future?
One thing is sure though, success of failure, 2014 is going to be a huge year in deciding the Wii U's future.
Games Could Get Cheaper
It's no secret that Steam hosts crazy good sales for players. If and when Steam can break open the casual market, these sale prices could spread to a wider audience making it increasingly hard for publisher-run digital distribution clients like Origin to keep their traditionally higher prices.
Although, it won't all be driven by Valve's service. Even Steam itself will have growing competition as services like Good Old Games, Amazon Digital and Green Man Gaming come into their own, making sure that Steam doesn't monopolize the digital market.
This does come with a disclaimer though, as it's unlikely that the RRP on major AAA games will drop. It is possible that there may just be more sale prices, so perhaps while brand new games may not get much cheaper, 'specific' digital games may see massive price cuts due to the healthy competition that is only growing stronger.
Early Access is the buzzword of the moment. Steam is awash with the new trend and it's proving incredibly popular. DayZ and Starbound have sold over a million copies each using the method. Early Access gives players a game in its alpha or beta form, allowing them to become a part of the development process.
With such success, you can be sure to see this already infectious distribution model spreading across all areas of gaming. While it is mostly localized to the world of Steam at the moment, it's certainly possible we will see major publishers get in on the act. In fact, we are already beginning to see franchises like Ghost Recon adopting the model.
Is that a good or bad thing? That isn't entirely clear yet, but this is going to be an issue that will likely rage on all year.
This has long been a pipe-dream of the game industry and after some awful experiences in the early 1990s, it looks like virtual reality is poised to make a searing comeback. This trend, ushered into the forefront by the Oculus Rift, has begun to spread across the industry like wild fire.
The Oculus Rift has been making the rounds for over a year now and will hit the consumer market in late 2014. Games like Eve: Valkyrie are being designed for VR specifically while there is already a library of existing games like Skyrim and Mirror's Edge that are getting retrofitted for VR by those who bought developer kits early.
It's not just Oculus Rift getting its toes wet in the virtual reality pool either. Sony is working on a headset too, which supposedly would be exclusive for the PlayStation 4. There are also a number of other VR alternatives set to hit the market over the next year or two, so gamers will more than likely be spoiled for choice when it comes to a total immersion headset.
So What Is In Store For Us?
While 2013 will be in the gaming history books as the start of a new generation, 2014 is looking like it could be more important still. It will be the year that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One begin to come into their own, but both will be surrounded by other hardware innovations that could change the world of gaming.
VR and cloud streaming are aiming to make major strides in the gaming world and it will be fascinating to see how both are received and adopted. It will also be a big year for software as more and more games play with connectivity and blurring the line between single player and multiplayer.
2014 could be a landmark year with new innovations in software and hardware set to launch as well as experimentation with how we interact in digital worlds. With so many experiments, it could all backfire, but there is certainly something exciting about the prospect of what the next twelve months could bring.