Let the games begin!
2013 is bound to be an interesting year for the games industry: Sony and Microsoft will likely introduce their new consoles, Nintendo could bring its A game to the Wii U, Apple might finally embrace hardcore gamers, and, maybe, Valve could finally pull the trigger on its rumored Steambox.. There are so many potential game changers on the horizon that the gaming landscape could be almost unrecognizable by the end of the year.
With such an exciting year ahead of us, its the perfect time to throw out predictions for 2013. To prepare for the year weve laid out our reasoning for why each of the big companies may or may not win 2013. After the arguments are done, you can vote on who you think will be on top as of December 31, 2013. On to our first combatant
Why Nintendo will win 2013...
Nintendo has a distinct advantage going into 2013 because, unlike its competitors, the publishers next console isnt theoretical--its already out. The Wii U hit store shelves last November alongside a decent launch lineup, and its immediate software future looks surprisingly strong. Promising launch window exclusives like Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101, Rayman Legends, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate should keep most players busy till at least April. The 3DS is similarly hot in the first months of 2013 thanks to Fire Emblem: Awakening, Luigis Mansion: Dark Moon, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf being more than enough to tide over fans until E3.
If all that pans out, Nintendo can ride that wave of positive buzz straight into E3, and that might be make-or-break time for Nintendo. With Microsoft and/or Sony likely showing new hardware, Nintendo needs to bring huge game reveals if it hopes to compete with new consoles that are almost certainly more technically advanced than its console. Few Wii U games outside of the launch window titles have been shown thus far, and brands like Zelda, Star Fox, Metroid, and Smash Bros. will need to make their Wii U debuts at E3 if Nintendo expects to rise above the buzz of new consoles. If Nintendo can get some AAA entries in its biggest series out by fall, its holiday releases will almost certainly have the edge in quality against the sexier launch software for the PS4 or Xbox 720.
unless it doesnt
We talked up Nintendos strong lineup of first party games because thats potentially the only edge the company has against the upcoming competition. Given what weve seen of the Wii Us graphical horsepower so far, its quite possible it will be outdone graphically by Microsoft and Sonys new systems. When Black Friday 2013 rolls around, the bells and whistles of truly next-gen systems could make Wii U look gimmicky by comparison if Nintendo doesnt have the strongest exclusives this fall.
Then theres the possible scenario that Nintendo winning 2013 wont make a difference in the long run once next-gen development takes off. Once third parties move their resources to the PS4/Xbox 720 development and stop making games for current hardware, the Wii Us support could dry up--just as it did on the original Wii. If the Wii U loses in tech and third-party support without capturing the same casual market the Wii had, the console might follow in the modest footsteps of the GameCube. At the same time, as good as the 3DS is doing in Japan, it's international market still seems to be shrinking thanks to smart phones. It is handily outselling the Vita, but that's likely little comfort for the N.
Why Sony will win 2013
Platform exclusives. We know, we know, we always bring up exclusives, but Sony's got some major ones in its 2013 lineup. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time kicks things off in February, with Naughty Dog's The Last of Us launching in May. Then there's Beyond: Two Souls and God of War: Ascension, while Guerilla Games--the team behind Killzone--seems to think 2013 will be its biggest year ever. And we haven't even touched on the exclusive indie Pub Fund games we'll certainly see this year.
But 2013 will also be huge for the Vita. Why? Because it has to be. Either Sony will get its first-party teams cranking out some high-quality games, or it'll introduce a price cut to get more interest circulating and third-party developers on board. Oh yeah, and we'll likely see more Cross-Play support, even stronger PlayStation Plus offerings, and the initial brunt of Sony's Gaikai streaming service offerings (PS2 games, perhaps?). No big deal.
unless it doesnt
So, in regards to the Vita, there's a third alternative we didn't mention in our either/or scenario from the previous slide: Sony might just let it fester in limbo. Right now, the device is caught in a rather paradoxical situation. It's a great piece of hardware, but its sales are suffering due to a lack of third-party support. Worse yet, third-party developers are hesitant to jump on board because the Vita's sales pale in comparison to that of Nintendo's 3DS. And that's to say nothing of iOS/Android.
The only way Sony can generate more sales is by producing several quality games internally, or by introducing a price cut--and so far it has done neither. No, its future certainly doesn't rest on the shoulders of the Vita--but its position of dominance in 2013 would definitely be fortified by a strong year in the handheld market.
Why Apple will win 2013
Know what's kind of funny but also sort of sad? Apple is destroying Sony and Nintendo on the handheld front right now. Outright humiliating them. iPads, iPhones, and iPods are flying off the shelves faster than overworked Chinese workers can make them, and owners are using these devices to download tons of cheap games. And what is Apple doing to enable this? Absolutely nothing. Apple is beating the competition's portables handily without even trying, and that's a trend that likely wont slow down in 2013.
And though Apple doesn't have a console, it does have OSX, which has more gaming content every year. Again, this isn't thanks to Apple's work--it's because of Valve, who is taking it upon itself to make sure Steam for Mac works well, incentivizing developers to make Mac versions of their games. Most people aren't going to talk about it, because Apple doesn't flash its gaming numbers often, but when it comes to money earned because of gaming, Apple will likely outpace its competition with little effort in 2013.
unless it doesnt
If the next year goes like the last few years, then Apple will indeed win 2013 without batting an eye. But theres a catch: Apple will have to succeed without Steve Jobs. The death of the legendary tech guru didnt really hurt Apple too badly in 2012, but that's likely because the products being released had still been touched by him. Jobs was a notorious perfectionist, and kept Apple aloft as a paragon of perfection in the tech industry.
Since his death, the company has released a smaller iPad, a taller iPhone, and a new version of its Maps program that is, for all intents and purposes, totally awful. Not the greatest year for the tech company. Apple is still making money hand over fist, because thats just what Apple does--but that gravy train might be ending if it continues to miss obvious mistakes like it did in 2012.
Why Microsoft will win 2013
Here's the good news for gamers: Your next-gen home console will be not so much an engine for playing games, but a conduit for receiving them. Proliferating high-speed broadband and cloud computing means instant, always-on gaming (not to mention increased security and revenue for publishers). The days of beefy home hardware are over, and that's why Microsoft will win the next generation.
See, Microsoft's a bit dim when it comes to hardware. Lucky for Microsoft, it arguably does software better than anyone else in the world. Yes, there's the House of Halo at 343 Industries and the promising Black Tusk Studios up in Vancouver, so we know the exclusives will be there. But it's the nerdy stuff--firmware, netcode, and all those other unseen moving bits and wobbles--that will give Microsoft the edge. Plus, with Windows 8, Microsoft finally seems to have cracked the elusive Live Anywhere nut. If there's one trend that's going to hold true for a while, it's that gamers want their everything, everywhere, all the time. In that respect, Microsoft will deliver.
unless it doesnt
Microsoft has hubris coded into its DNA, and that fact's cost it in the past. Dominant in the realm of desktop-based computing, Microsoft failed to identify the cloud's potential (Google capitalized) or the ubiquity of mobile (Apple capitalized). As a result, the company's Ballmers have been left flapping in the wind, and it's now desperately playing catch-up with Windows 8.
So here are some important questions: Will Microsoft double down on Kinect and continue to over-prioritize the social and casual gamer? Will Microsoft brute-force the Next Xbox and release two 360s duct-taped together? Will Microsoft dawdle in complacency with Xbox Live, focusing on new content partnerships instead of future-thinking functionality? If the answer's "yes" to any of these questions, then the company's going to need a new window out.
Why the PC will win 2013
The mouse-and-keyboard master race platform has two super-secret weapons that you console fools can't match: a invitingly accessible indie scene that fosters self-starters' creativity, and the ever-expanding free-to-play market. These arms of gaming saw explosive growth in 2012, with a momentum that could take 2013 by storm--and nobody does indie or free-to-play better than the PC. F2P gaming (see: League of Legends, Planetside 2) offers as much game as you want with no money down, yet consoles seem to have barely grasped the compulsive power of microtransactions balanced with free content. And while indie superstars like Limbo and Fez are few and far between on consoles, the PC is positively inundated with stellar projects by small teams, with pricing that ranges from $20 all the way down to free.
PC gamers also won't have to worry about the graphical arms race that will inevitably break out between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Provided you're upgrading some choice parts every so often, you'll be able to play the best-looking games for a fraction of a new console's cost. Add in the fact that used game sales are gradually going the way of the dodo, and digital distribution platforms like Steam will look all the more inviting in the coming year.
unless it doesnt
It's a long shot, but if alternate methods of control, like the Kinect, Move, and Wii U gamepad, finally find their footing in 2013, they could potentially offer experiences that the PC cannot (at least, not without some hacking workarounds). For instance, the PC can't easily offer the party-pumping jams of something like Dance Central 3, or the atmospheric stress evoked by having to check the gamepad during tense segments in ZombiU.
The console big three will also continue to secure choice exclusives, like The Last of Us, Gears of War: Judgment, and Smash Bros. Wii U--though thats as much a knock against each other as it is the PC. Plus, the two paragons of PC gaming, Blizzard and Valve, seem to have little to offer in 2013. If youre not rabidly anticipating StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm or the full release of Dota 2, then you might not have much reason to branch out of your console borders. And definitely dont hold your breath for the announcement of Half-Life 2: Episode 3--that games nearly at the laughable point of Duke Nukem Forever in terms of radio silence.
Winner: Too close to call!
Sorry if this seems like a cop-out, but we have so few concrete facts available that its impossible to predict a winner. We dont even know if new consoles will be out this year from Sony or Microsoft, let alone what their features will be or how much theyll cost. Apple and Nintendo are almost as hard to predict, and with PC gaming further complicated by systems like the Ouya and Project Shield, the landscape seems to change on an hourly basis.
Still, even though we cant pick a winner, wed like to see who you think will win, so please vote in the poll below, then feel free to explain your choice in the comments!
Need more thoughts on 2013? Check out our the top 7 New Years resolutions every gamer should follow and the games of January 2013.