Get your crystal balls out
Now that the dust has settled at E3 2013, we can take stock of what we've seen and start getting a clearer picture of what the next-generation will actually be like. Thanks to the wealth of games and tech shown this year, for both PS4 and Xbox One, some clear patterns are forming about the future of gaming, and what we can expect from the next 3-4 years.
With that in mind, we've isolated the biggest trends from E3, and used them to predict the future, crystal ball style. Who will win the first few years of next-gen? Where is the new 'trendy setting'? What is the next faddy peripheral? We reveal all.
PS4 will take a big early lead
We have it on good authority, from Captain Obvious, that Sony have got this one in the bag. Not only did they get chants of "So-ny, So-ny, So-ny" from the crowds when they announced their liberal approach to used-game sales, but they also undercut Microsoft on price by $100 / 80. Psychologically, that's a big advantage for the PS4.
It's too early to call the overall 'winner' of the next-generation. After all, Sony had a disastrous start with PS3, but ended up selling the same--if not more--consoles than Microsoft. A u-turn on DRM and game sharing could see the Xbox One come back into favour, quickly.
Want to see just how lop-sided the numbers are the moment? This Amazon Facebook poll is startling.
Everything will support tablets
The first peripheral fad of this next-generation will be tablet support. Battlefield 4, The Division, The Crew, even the Witcher 3--they all have tablet integration for either iPad, Smartglass or both. Tablets will be everywhere at the start of the generation, so expect to be using your $500 iPad as the most expensive map-screen ever.
Will tablets endure? Given the rapid growth of tablet sales outside of gaming, it seems very likely. However, unless games start to include tablet support that genuinely adds something to the experience, expect them to be a forgotten secondary feature--like Kinect controls in Mass Effect 3.
We'll spend our time in space or after the apocalypse
How do you like space? Hope your answer is: 'I love it, old chap' because you're going to be spending a lot of time in the great beyond. TitanFall, Destiny, Star Wars Battlefront, Halo 2014, Killzone Shadowfall--a big chunk of next-gen games are heading into the future (or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) and into space.
For those who want to remain on earth? It's the post-viral apocalypse for you. The Division, Dead Rising 3, Fortnite and Day Z have you covered like sticky fungus on a brain-stem. You can grab a taste of it today with The Last of Us. Other environmental trends? The sea is a new battleground (Battlefield 4, The Witcher 3, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and COD Ghosts) and flocks of menacing birds are everywhere (Battlefield 4, COD Ghosts, The Crew, The Division--just rewatch the gameplay footage).
Free-to-play and MMOs will become huge
Sony and Microsoft dipped their little toes into the free-to-play water with PS3 and Xbox 360. Now they're diving in head first. Although it's on 360, the fact that World of Tanks is coming to console is huge. Given that Microsoft has always exerted such tight control over Xbox Live, it'll be interesting to see how micro-transactions will work in WoT 360.
Looking at the next-generation, Killer Instinct is going free-to-play, which is a huge gamble for Microsoft. Massive MMOs like Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV are the vanguard of a large wave of games that will bring massive communities and micro-transactions to next-gen in numbers. We'd be shocked if the already confirmed Planetside 2 doesn't appear on PS4 very soon, and very surprised if MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA2 aren't on consoles within the next 3-4 years.
DRM will happen and spread
Ooh, the dreaded 'D' acronym. DRM is coming, whether we want it or not. Those publishers who haven't experimented with DRM are scoring massive wins at the expense of those who have, and right now anti-sharing policies are less popular than Hitler flavoured ice cream.
However, history teaches us that once a single game implements an unpopular feature without too much fuss, the floodgates open. Just look at Online Pass. No-one wanted it, but once Battlefield Bad Company 2 had made it 'acceptable' the majority of online games followed suit. Because publishers don't want to provide second-hand gamers with free online services. And they certainly don't want you to pirate their games.
Invading your friend's game will be the norm
Single player games are a wonderful refuge from the legions of squealing fools who hang around on the Internet, waiting to tea-bag your corpse. That's what it feels like sometimes. Well, wave goodbye to your safe place, because game invasion is coming.
Games that blend single player, co-op and multiplayer--like The Division--are getting more and more common. Now, we're being a little melodramatic: in most cases, you won't have to play online, and when you do it'll usually be friends showing up to the party, like in Destiny. However, games are getting increasingly social (some games even let you invade other people's play sessions via tablet) so be ready.
Particles will be EVERYWHERE
Nothing screams 'LOOK AY HOW MUCH POWER WE HAVE' quite like a screen full of particles. So, as developers wave their virtual willies to show us how awesome they are at The Graphics, expect particles to be everywhere. See a fire? It'll have hundreds of embers floating away in the breeze. Taking a dip in the sea? Water and seaweed everywhere. Making a headshot? You won't have seen quite so much pulp and bone.
In all seriousness, particles are great, and most E3 game demos looked impressive when they started to throw the little stuff around. Expect the next few years to be particle overload, until more subtle methods of looking visually superior are discovered.
60 FPS as standard, 4K is coming
If you're going to look at all those particles, you'll need a good TV to view them on. Sony has already shown off its first 4K resolution TV (the current standard is 1080 lines) and outlined its plans to bring 4K to gaming. Given that the first 4K TVs currently cost $25,000, don't expect this to happen for the next 3-4 years.
More immediately, though, expect 60 frames per second to become standard from the start. Current-gen consoles have struggled to show games at 60fps, especially at 1080p, but the added grunt of next-gen will make this very, very possible from the start. Battlefield 4 is already locked at 60fps, making for a much smoother man-blasting experience.
Troy Baker is the new Nolan North
You know Nolan North, right? He's the guy who voices all your favourite gaming heroes, from Nathan Drake to Desmond Miles in Assassin's Creed. Well, Troy Baker is the new Nolan North. Ok, Nolan North isn't going anywhere in the next-generation, but Troy has started to build up an enviable body of work.
The 37 year-old has already voiced Booker in BioShock Infinite, Jake in Resident Evil 6, and Joel in The Last of Us. His next jobs are Joker in Batman Arkham Origins, Ocelot in MGS V, and Delsin Rowes in InFamous: Second Son. We'd wager good money that he's got plenty more work lined up, too.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley
Expect these games by E3 2014...
What we saw at E3 was the first wave of next-gen games. More importantly, though, the majority of them were strongly rumoured just before the event. We knew Dead Rising 3 was coming, and that it would be exclusive to Xbox One. We'd heard about Mirror's Edge 2, knew an old Rare franchise was coming (Killer Instinct) and strongly suspected that DICE would show us something on Star Wars Battlefront.
Well, given the list of absences from the show, we can get a pretty clear picture of what to expect at next year's E3. Fallout 4? Gears of War prequels? Uncharted 4? A new Media Molecule game? These have all been rumoured, and--as this year's E3 proved--there's no smoke without fire.
Kinect and PS Eye will have zero killer apps
Notice anything about Kinect and PS Eye during E3? They didn't get much love at all. Sure, Microsoft told us that certain games would feature exclusive Kinect controls, and that Kinect is a vital part of the Xbox One experience but... on the whole, motion control was sidelined. In fact, several games that were exclusively for Kinect have been retrofitted with standard pad controls, like Crimson Dragon and Ryse. Kinect Sports and Dance Central? They weren't even part of Microsoft's show.
You get the feeling that Sony have simply cooked up the new PlayStation Eye to ensure hardware parity with Microsoft. Again, Tretton and friends didn't show anything at the Sony conference that really championed the device. Yes, motion control will be part of the next generation, but for the next few years it'll be a very small one...
Back to the future
Thanks E3. Thanks for showing us the future of games. We had a wonderful time, and we promise to call next time we're in town. Of course that's our real phone number. Sorry, we don't have time for breakfast--we really need to go.
Think we missed anything? Let us know below. And once you're done with that, why not check out some of our other incredo-features from E3 2013. Here's a list of Every Next-Gen Exclusive Game. And look--over here is a feature about 8 Ways It Could Be Worse For Xbox Chief Don Mattrick.