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Last year we looked at what to expect from gaming in 2013 as consumers awaited the arrival of new consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Now that these next generation consoles have finally arrived, with strong launch sales, everyone is looking to see which direction video games will take this year. 2014 could shape up to be very different from previous years as publishers rush to fill their next generation software line-ups with sequels and a number of new intellectual properties (IPs). In addition to this influx of new games, new hardware is set to be introduced this year which could radically alter the gaming landscape.
At the end of 2013 Microsoft reported that it had sold over three million Xbox One consoles worldwide, while Sony announced it had sold 4.2 million PlayStation 4 units globally. With a large number of new consoles in consumers’ hands, 2014 is going to be the ideal time for many game makers to try to launch a new franchise. Consumers are far more willing to try new properties after they have bought a new system. This willingness comes in part from a desire to see the full capabilities of their newly purchased systems, which new games like Knack for the PS4 and Ryse: Son of Rome for the Xbox One are clearly geared towards. In addition, many consumers are eager to build up their fledgling video game collections for their new systems. It is therefore unsurprising that a large number of new IPs from major developers are set to be released this year. Games like Titanfall, Watch Dogs, Evolve, Dying Light and Destiny come from studios with prestige from previous successes and have the potential to become long-running franchises if they can find acceptance with these initial games. At the moment, many of the companies behind these games seem confident in their eventual success, with Activision CEO Bobby Kotick going so far as to predict that its new game, Destiny, would be the “best selling new video game IP in history”.
While 2014 will see plenty of attempts at founding new franchises, this does not mean that there will not be any sequels to established IPs. Many companies will count on their long-running franchises to balance out any new IPs that do not perform to expectations. New games from franchises such as Metal Gear, Dark Souls, The Witcher, Dragon Age and Hitman will be released across multiple platforms and will likely see fairly healthy sales in 2014 due to their established fan bases. Companies are also releasing sequels to existing console-exclusive games in the hope that this will help further encourage next generation console adoption, such as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for the Wii U and Infamous: Second Son for the PlayStation 4. These games are critically important for convincing consumers who currently have the old system and are fans of these franchises that the newest generation consoles are a worthwhile purchase. This is of great importance to Nintendo which saw significant success with its old Wii but has failed to capitalise on that momentum with its new Wii U, which, according to the company, only achieved sales of 2.8 million units globally in 2013.
New software will likely not be the only area for major innovation in 2014. Valve has announced that later this year it will release its own gaming hardware with the Steam Machine, a device that is capable of playing Steam downloaded games. It will be produced by a variety of PC manufacturers and due to this will come in a wide range of price points. In addition, the product comes with a custom controller that noticeably does away with joysticks. Steam commands a monumental share of overall digital sales through PC, and hopes that its own system will encourage consumers to make Steam their primary avenue for video game purchases. While the Steam Machine is currently garnering a lot of attention, the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality device, is tentatively scheduled for release later in the year, and may be one of the most hotly anticipated new products in video games. The device uses a head-mounted display with vision trackers and gyroscopes to fully immerse the vision of its user in a virtual environment. The Oculus Rift currently has a number of independent games being created for it, and larger game makers have expressed interest in the technology. The product is being hailed as a possible revolution in game interaction and has garnered investment from various sources, including US$75 million in December 2013.
2014 is set to be a very transformative year for the US video games industry as consumers continue to transition from old generation to new generation consoles. This shift offers the opportunity for many game developers to lay the foundation for new franchises or wring the most out of the new hardware to revitalise their old ones. In addition, the Oculus Rift and subsequent immersive hardware innovations could radically alter the way we play video games. It remains to be seen how popular the Oculus Rift will be after its release but it seems entirely possible that virtual reality may become the new reality for video game developers.