2012 was a weirdly quiet year for gaming. With aging consoles, there was a predictable trend toward buying blockbuster titles and some expansion in digital sales.
Tablet gaming is still mostly Angry Birds, the big titles are incremental improvements - nothing earth-shattering. And E3 was pretty dull, too.
2013 promises to be more interesting. It will still be a transitional year for the industry, but those transitions will come faster and be a lot more obvious. Here's what to look for:
1. Sony Will Continue To Flounder
Nintendo's 3DS outsold the Playstation Vita 46-to-1 from November 5 to November 11. One more time: 46-to-1.There are plenty of reasons for that (the game catalog being the biggest), but the upshot is that Nintendo is crushing Sony in an already-brutal handheld market. Sony's PS3 lineup isn't doing much better, failing to generate any mojo in its later years.
The PS4 is still far, far away, and despite a predicted return to profitability, Sony as a whole is still in pretty rough shape. Beyond the usual franchise previews at E3 and some teasers about the PS4, don't expect to hear a lot from Sony next year. 2013 is about regrouping for one last big shot.
2. Free-to-Play (F2P) - And Some High-Profile Failures
The trend of Free-to-Play games is inevitable, but it's going to force developers to think – and build – differently. The frontloaded revenue of unit sales allows developers to go nuts in ways that Free-to-Play doesn't. That's fine for an indie shop building a small game and trying to make money on in-game sales, but the AAA publishers used to gorgeous cutscenes, pristine graphics and endless hours of linear content available at launch could find themselves in a bind. Creating Call of Duty isn't cheap.
It's guaranteed that someone will fail to learn from the Star Wars: The Old Republic flop (and that was with retail sales) and will overbuild a F2P ghost town.The good side is that, by the end of the year, we'll see a renewed focus on storytelling, with nonlinear narratives that encourage multiplayer cooperation and replay – the kinds of behavior that forgive corner-cutting elsewhere and ultimately lead to the in-game purchases the F2P model requires.
3. The Ouya Changes Everything, Even If It Fizzles
4. The Resale Market Lives Another Year
Digital downloads are already having an effect on the market for used games, but with no new XBox or Playstation on the horizon, there will still be plenty of low-cost playthrough on existing systems. That means a lot of swapping through back catalogs and playing the games you missed the first time around. That's good news for a banged-up GameStop, in the short term at least.
5. Augmented Reality Takes Off
Back in 2009, ReadWrite readers already knew Augmented Reality would be a big deal. Sony's Wonderbook was an interesting (if limited) foray into AR gaming in 2012, but the real push will be on the mobile side. 2012's AR Defender 2 (trailer video below) was a cool new take on tower defense, but 2013 will be focused on getting us outdoors.
Plan to see a slew of location-based mobile games like Ingress that also add full AR via smartphone cameras. Primitive-but-cool combat and cooperative mechanics will show up, as well. Just don't step into traffic while you're playing, and look out for the cops.