My dear PC gamers, it is a new year, and so it is time for me to don my sparkly purple soothsaying hat and let you know what you should expect over the coming twelve months. It's a bit hard to make predictions of what all will occur in 2015 that will make you super happy/sad/smirk that you saw it coming, but I'm going to do it anyway. Despite all the disparate genres, hardware setups, and subreddits that PC gaming adheres to, there're still a few things almost all of us care about. Stuff that I'm going to predict the hell out of.
With that in mind, it's time for my soothsaying hat to do its magic. I hope it works, because it was kind of expensive and the kiosk at the mall had disappeared by the time I got back from the food court
Oculus Rift ships, doesn't change the world (yet)
Oculus has fallen into a comfortable little cycle of showing off a new development kit, sticking around to hear the lustful sighs of tech bloggers, then going quiet for a quarter or two. But even with bookoo Facebook bucks keeping Palmer Luckey, John Carmack, and crew working in comfort (it's a good thing, too, since that Kickstarter cash had to run out long ago) they can't wait too much longer to ship an actual consumer version.
Luckey's previously said he'd be 'disappointed' if the first version of the device didn't hit retail by 2015. That said, I don't think the grand consumer release is going to change the world to the degree that Snow Crash-reading, Second Life-tolerating virtual reality diehards may expect. The consumer Rift will garner the most public interest VR has enjoyed in decades, but it's not going to take over our lives until we have a better way to interact with it than 'sit in a chair and hold this Xbox gamepad'.
Valve's Steam Controller releases, is just another gamepad
Remember the first time you saw a mock-up of the Steam Controller? Valve's bizarre creation looked more like a robot owl than a traditional gamepad, complete with a big ol' circular trackpad for each thumb and a glowing touchscreen set right in the middle. It was meant to satisfy the diverse demands of PC gaming while delivering the couch-friendly comfort you'd want from a living room computer.
But every time we've seen it since then, it's looked more and more like a regular old controller - away went the touchscreen, in came a four-button face layout and joystick, and now it looks like one of those crrrrrazy trackpads will sport a traditional D-Pad overlay. I was tempted to say that Valve would drop the project entirely, but Steam Machines will still need some kind of bundled input device if they're ever going to take off. Said device just won't be nearly as interesting as the robot owl I was hoping for.
Valve doesn't announce Half-Life 3 (sorry)
Divide and factor the number of letters in this sentence to arrive at the number '3' any way you want, Half-Life 3 isn't coming in 2015. A projected release date for Half-Life 3 isn't coming in 2015. Any official statement about Half-Life 3 from Valve beyond 'yeah, we still want to make that' isn't coming in 2015. I'm terribly sorry, I really am.
But I didn't have to tell you that, did I? You already knew it. Just look at what Valve's keeping busy with these days - virtual reality experiments, taking over living rooms, expanding the scope of the Steam store, keeping free-to-play games like Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 worldwide phenomenons years after their release with frequent tweaks and updates... I'm not saying Valve will never pick up the crowbar again, but it's time to move on for now.
Facebook reveals it's getting (back) into gaming
There was a time that the average PC gamer was an avid player of Farmville, or Mafia Wars, or any number of other Facebook games. They spread like literal viruses, infecting users who accepted invites from their friends. These new users were encouraged to spread the game further. Ever since Facebook clamped down on those vectors (and casual gamers started flocking to mobile devices for their puzzle/farming fix), its gaming side has withered.
Facebook isn't going to let Oculus, its wholly owned VR subsidiary, just be a passive source of income. Just as Amazon Game Studios arrived soon after the Fire TV, I can easily see Facebook betting on a new publisher/developer division to help expand the reach of Oculus Rift and maybe even take another stab at mobile gaming. All first-party - no more weird, independent-yet-co-dependant business relationships (again, just ask Zynga).
4K resolutions put consoles in the rear-view
PS4 and Xbox One looked pretty fly for their first year on shelves, boasting 1080p resolutions and the kind of ultra-clear textures that let you stop and read a street sign or poster in between gun fights (if that's your thing). For the first time in years, the visual differences between a game running on a high-end PC and a game running on a new console weren't all that appreciable to the average consumer.
But the honeymoon period is nearly over. The ever-growing power of the PC platform already supports 4K resolutions for many games, and as super-high-res displays get more common it will become apparent that consoles just can't keep up. Sure, we could see some games with minimalist visuals running at 4K on consoles with smooth results. But more graphically complex games still cling to 30 frames-per-second while running at 1080p. You'll never see this generation replicate those kinds of visuals while trying to render four times as many pixels.
Ubisoft abandons Uplay for PC distribution
Ok, so this one is mostly a wish on my part with some circumstantial evidence to back it up. But if Ubisoft was ever going to stop the mad bid for digital distribution/loyalty rewards/social networking/DRM that is Uplay, 2015 is the year to do it. Seriously, look at how its perception among avid gamers suffered last year between Watch Dogs disappointment, Assassin's Creed Unity glitches, and network problems keeping The Crew offline, then consider where it goes from here.
Ubisoft could instantly generate some goodwill by just dropping Uplay and selling on Steam - no more of this buy-it-here-play-it-there nonsense. Hell, it could start selling PC games exclusively on Origin and it would still be an improvement. I've never met a single person who enjoys dealing with Uplay on PC, so why not take this moment to simplify operations, eliminate some strain on Ubisofts servers (pray for The Division, you guys, pray for it), and end the suffering?
The second wave of Kickstarters crashes in
Last year was pretty scarce in terms of high-profile Kickstarters. You could say that's because people are more wary of the platform after some crushing disappointments, and you wouldn't be wrong. But there was another factor at play: so many of the old-school, feel-good creators that folks supported en masse in years past were already working on a Kickstarter project.
Just look at all the Kickstarter projects that are set to release in 2015: Pillars of Eternity, the second act of Broken Age, Mighty No. 9, Shroud of the Avatar, and many more. All those creators will need something to do after they complete those projects. Assuming they don't all suck and burn up years of consumer goodwill, why wouldn't those creators return to Kickstarter for the next one?
Space sims get even more massive
Elite: Dangerous is out, and people seem to love it (including us). Star Citizen is um. Well, you can play parts of it, which seem cool, and I can only imagine that more bits and pieces will be made playable throughout 2015. No Man's Sky is riding hype from Sony for its 2015 release, but it will be just as enigmatic and enticing on PC. And as we wait for more body awareness and input solutions for virtual reality, stuff like Oculus Rift is best suited to making you feel like a head floating in space.
In other words, the old flame between PC and space sims has been rekindled. The decade-dormant genre is seeing a new wave of relevance for old-school PC gamers and tech junkies alike. Expect to see a bunch of new contenders emerge to capitalize on this happy confluence, each with its own new take on the formula. Thankfully, there's plenty of room up in space for everybody.
ESPN gets a League of Legends beat
If you pay attention to eSports, you already know this, but if you don't, it's time to start: League of Legends' 2014 world championship finals were watched by 27 million people. That's 3.5 million more than watched the last game of the 2014 MLB World Series. Many of those viewers watched the match on online streaming service ESPN3 - which also aired Dota 2's The International 4 in July. That's right, eSports on ESPN.
It's just a short leap from there to regular coverage for LoL, Dota 2, Counter-Strike and other competitive stalwarts on mainstream sports channels - a leap I expect many of them to take in 2015. Traditional/physical sports will still be their primary focus, but they'd be daft to ignore one of the fastest growing competitions in the world... even if it uses goofy screen names instead of jersey numbers.
Kentucky Route Zero's last episode ends human suffering
It wouldn't be a holistic look at the near future of PC gaming without an enthusiastic endorsement of some high-falutin game that relatively few people have played. In this case, I'll direct your attention to Kentucky Route Zero, an episodic point-n-click adventure in five parts. The first three released from January 2013 to May 2014, so I'm hopeful that we'll see the finale to the quietly poignant story in 2015.
And when we do, that will be the end. Everyone will acknowledge that Kentucky Route Zero is so damn good that there's no point in making anything else. Purpose-built laptops will be airdropped all over the world, and there will be no more war, disease, or starvation. We'll all just derive our nutrition and warmth from Kentucky Route Zero. A few billion years later the sun will engulf the planet, but we'll too busy talking about Conway's relationship with Lysette to notice.
Never tell me the odds
Those are my top predictions for 2015, but what do you think? Will I be eating some of those words this time next year, or will I be enjoying my new career as a PC gaming prophet? Let me know in the comments!