Owing to the incredibly lengthy development cycles of modern-day videogames, hot new trends in the gaming world are difficult to ignore and dispel. After the initial demonstration of a new technology, feature or design philosophy, it could literally take years for any new direction to come to fruition before going on to succeed or fail.
We saw a few new (and fairly new) videogame trends bubble to the top of gamers’ collective conscious over the course of E3 2013 and we fully expect these developments to continue to gain ground during gamescom 2013 this month, with one or two new directions due to take shape at the show, too.
The rising importance of independent developers in the coming console war
Sony showed just how important independently developed games are to the future of the PlayStation 4 at E3 this year, which earned the company a lot of cred both with independent game developers and gamers looking for something different to play alongside big blockbuster titles.
Microsoft has since scrambled to lure indie developers to Xbox One by announcing the option to publish games on Xbox LIVE without the need of a publisher, as well as the ability to use a regular Xbox One console as a development kit (which would normally cost thousands of dollars).
Make no mistake: Independent games, and the developers that create them, will be an incredibly important front in the coming console war.
The popularity of shared worlds and console MMOs
Journey demonstrated a miniscule sliver of the possibility of ‘shared world’ gaming, but Bungie is thinking a lot bigger with Destiny, while Ubisoft’s The Division and The Crew, along with Need For Speed: Rivals from EA, will more fully explore the potential of an always online virtual world that players can dip into with friends and strangers at will.
In addition, and with massively multiplayer games like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, The Elder Scrolls Online, Planetside 2 and Warframe all promised for next generation consoles, online gaming looks set to explode well beyond limited lobby-based systems that we’ve come to know with the current-gen.
The provision of ‘second screen’ gaming
A not-inconsiderable portion of the games shown at E3 this year boasted the option to enhance the experience with the addition of an application run on a tablet or smartphone, with examples ranging from calling in airstrikes in Battlefield 4, asking your friend to help you escape enemies in Watch Dogs by cutting power to your city using their phone, and the chance to make phone in-game calls and unlock additional content in Dead Rising 3 using an external device.
Of course, the Wii U GamePad and the PS Vita have held the same promise for a while, but being able to impact the outcome of a game on a console using another device miles away connected only by the internet is intriguing. Gimmicky, but intriguing.
The growth of open worlds
Ever other game announced and shown for next generation consoles thus far have contained an open-world element of some kind, and after Grand Theft Auto V launches in 2013 the path will be clear for known games like inFamous, Assassin’s Creed, Dead Rising, The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid and Watch Dogs to provide their own brand of sandbox fun.
Thanks to the power of next generation consoles, however, developers will be even more tempted to explore the possibilities of detailed (and enormous) virtual worlds, so expect a new wave of these sorts of experiences to continue to be announced in the years to come.
The furthering of free-to-play and mobile experimentation
One of the biggest surprises at E3 wasn’t the announcement of Killer Instinct, per se, but the method in which it will be delivered to the world: As a free-to-play micro-payment based fighting game. It’ll be a grand experiment for what appears to be a full triple-A Xbox One game, and if it succeeds it may just open the floodgates for similar projects of its scope.
Namco Bandai and Tecmo Koei aren’t waiting for the results of Microsoft’s experiment, however, having both announced free-to-play versions of Tekken and Dead or Alive, with Ridge Racer Driftopia also on the horizon as a micro-transaction based online game for PC.
Sony has conducted similar tests with Uncharted 3’s multiplayer, and with Capcom investing more heavily in smaller experiences and mobile games we’re sure to see a number of other publishers test the waters with experimentation of their own.
The support of Oculus Rift virtual reality gaming
Slowly but surely, the promise of virtual reality gaming has returned following dismal attempts back in the early to mid-nineties, except this time the potential of the technology is to be better realised with innovations at companies like Oculus VR.
As companies like Epic Games and CCP explore the possibilities of the tech with demonstrations, the reveal of a higher definition version of the headset at E3 and the recent acquisition of id Software’s John Carmack as the new chief technology officer, we can only expect more publishers and developers to announce support for the Oculus Rift in the months to come, as entertainment companies begin to see its potential, too.
The move to support streaming video
The rise of Twitch.tv as the defacto video streaming service for competitive online matches, and the reveal of a partnership with Microsoft for streaming Xbox One games like Killer Instinct, reveals a growing demand by gamers for the option to share their experiences with other players, while similarly enjoying high level play by professional players in Dota 2, League of Legends, StarCraft 2 and even Quake LIVE.
With the reveal of the PlayStation 4, Sony demonstrated its own plans to share game clips and screenshots with friends, and Microsoft will provide something similar on Xbox One. The sharing of game videos is only going to get easier in the future, and it’s possible that the potential for players to become stars in the world of videogame streaming may just replicate the rise of the YouTube celebrity.
The turning tides and changing fortunes of console manufacturers
Just because Microsoft has performed a few missteps with its Xbox One messaging while allowing Sony to capitalise on every mistake, doesn’t mean that the company can’t wipe away the past and turn the perception of its next-gen console all the way around. There’s also every possibility that Sony is found wonting, which will let Microsoft exploit a weakness in the PlayStation 4’s feature-set.
Similarly, the potential exists for Nintendo to transform the perception of its Wii U. Its first-party line-up of games will go a long way to retaining the faithful and hardcore fanbase, and exclusive games like Bayonetta 2, Wonderful 101 and Sonic: Lost World will continue to generate interest, but third-party support from Ubisoft and renewed development efforts from Activision may just convince more publishers and developers to look to Nintendo’s ailing home console as a viable destination for their games. Support from EA, in particular, would be key while the reveal of Shigeru Miyamoto’s next project might just be enough to persuade more gamers to invest in a Wii U.