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2011 is only five weeks old as of this writing, but already it seems like we’ve got a pretty good handle on how the coming year is going to shape up for videogames. Good enough, at least, to make a bunch of wild, barely founded predictions about which of the four major gaming platforms (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and PC) will claim victory in the next 12 months. Not in terms of sales, of course, but in terms of what they’ll have to offer gamers.
Above: This fight may be closer than it looks
In the interest of maximum fairness, GamesRadar’s four senior editors – each with a vested interest in a different platform – got together to argue over which console (and yes, we’re aware PCs aren’t “consoles”) stands the best chance of victory, and then picked a winner based on which one made the strongest case. They might be wrong – there’s still plenty we don’t know just over the horizon, to be revealed at events like E3 – but based on what we know now, here’s our best guess at how things will go down:
The numbers are impressive: 1.3 million units sold in 10 days. 2.5 million units sold in 25 days. And the most recent announcement from Microsoft: 8 million Kinects were snapped up by consumers within the product's first 60 days of release, surpassing the corporation's own predictions and doubling the PlayStation Move's numbers during a similar span of time.
Much more impressive, however, is that the motion-control technology managed such success with what was widely mocked as a weak and kid-pandering launch lineup. Just think – at least 8 million people were willing to sacrifice $150 on the chance to play Kinectimals. Can you imagine the kind of money they'd throw at Microsoft for real games? Or how many additional systems will fly out of stores, which were already reporting shortages over the holidays?
We'll find out in 2011 with titles like Child of Eden (from the creator of Rez), Codename D (from the creator of No More Heroes), Project Draco (from the creator of Panzer Dragoon), Haunt (from the creator of Parappa the Rapper), and The Gunstringer (from the creators of 'Splosion Man and Comic Jumper). There's horror from Sega with Rise of Nightmares, mech combat from the Steel Battalion series with Heavy Armor, and serious racing simulation from the Kinect features in Forza 4. And none of these may even be necessary if the Star Wars and Michael Jackson games are any good. Hell, those two are destined for blockbuster status even if they aren't any good.
To summarize? If Kinect proves to have any staying power whatsoever in 2011, Microsoft might win with this advantage alone.
Last year, I argued that Microsoft could prevail simply on the power of Halo: Reach. Sure enough, the exclusive ended up selling over 3 million copies in the first month, making it only the third game to do so this generation. (The others? Halo 3, also exclusive to Xbox, and Modern Warfare 2.)
This year, Microsoft can rely on Gears of War 3, the next entry in a franchise that has already moved over 11 million units worldwide. Of course, the exploits of Marcus Fenix have not proven quite as popular or lucrative as those of Master Chief, but they're damn close, and after a three-year wait since the previous sequel, including a painful delay, anticipation for a Gears of War game has never been higher.
Don't care for chainsaws and Locust? Forza 4 is a big deal, especially now that Gran Turismo 5 has disappointed so many racing fans, and there's a small chance Project Gotham Racing 5 could be unveiled as well. The re-imagining of classic series XCOM, from the folks responsible for BioShock 2, won't appear on any other consoles. Nor will The Secret World, an MMO by the guy who made what some consider gaming's last great adventure, The Longest Journey. Finally, there's Codename Kingdoms, the mysterious (maybe) gladiator project from Crysis developer Crytek. We know almost nothing about it, but hearing the Crytek CEO claim that Codename Kingdoms will push the Xbox 360 "to its limits" has me optimistic, to say the least.
Yes, I've resorted to this. To be honest, I can't come up with a third clear and obvious reason why Microsoft will emerge victorious in 2011. This doesn't mean that I don't think the company will dominate… just that, if they do, it will likely be thanks to one of the two reasons above. Or to the continued convenience of Xbox Live. Or to the continued appeal of Achievements. Or to the fact that this year is an amazing year for multi-platform titles in general, which should help both the 360 and PS3 and industry as a whole.
Still, Microsoft must have something else planned if it wants to remain competitive. Sony's PS3 sales are quickly catching up to those of 360, and the announcement of the NGP (or PSP2) has gamers incredibly excited. Nintendo has a gimmick as cool or cooler than Kinect with 3DS, and analysts predict the Wii 2 will emerge in 2011.
Will Microsoft jump in the handheld arena as well? Will the next Xbox console be revealed? Will the current Xbox get a price drop? Will this year's dashboard updates include something as substantial as Netflix or Hulu that we haven't even associated with a console before? Will Xbox Live Gold suddenly be free? Is someone working on a secret Kinect game that will prove irresistible to the hardcore audience? Is 343 Industries working on a secret Halo game that will prove irresistible to an audience that already bought 30 million entries in the franchise?
The answer to most of these questions is undoubtedly "no," but if even one is a "yes," that could reshape this entire debate.
UPDATE: Would you look at the timing! The same day we post this feature, Joystiq reports that 343 Industries is indeed working on a new Halo – well, technically, a new version of an old Halo – for November 15, 2011. Head here for all the tantalizing details.