Predicting the future is a tricky proposition. Miss Cleo got shut down, and late night TV commercials have never been the same. As much as I curse Denver, Criswell got it all wrong, and the city is not yet a jelly-encased wasteland. Yet. But as is the case with all things, some are delusional enough to peer into the crystal ball and attempt to foretell the future. I am one such person. Herein, some predictions for the gaming industry in 2007.
The PC Predictions
The MMOG Shakeout of 2007. While I'm tired of hearing about World of Warcraft - which, I predict, will be the next Second Life in terms of backlash - it's undeniable that it is a very polished, very good game. It has spawned a crop of aspiring imitators, possibly hundreds of them, gamely chasing the leavings of the behemoth, and 2007 is when the majority of them are going to fail. There will be more wailing and gnashing of teeth about WoW killing the genre, until industry types realize it's a matter of adjusting to the new rules: It's no longer acceptable to shove out a fantasy MMOG/DikuMUD/EverQuest clone that's incomplete, with most major features coming in "the first expansion, we promise." Buyers aren't going to tolerate a broken fantasy MMOG when they have a usually-working, quite playable fantasy MMOG that all their friends are already playing. Expect several high-profile flops and possibly one or two company shutdowns as the market proves smaller than anticipated.
You Buy Vista Whether You Like It Or Not. No one I know is excited about, or even very interested in, adding Windows Vista to their PC. But with Microsoft hitching Vista to Games for Windows (itself a huge initiative), they'll probably have to upgrade eventually, especially to keep chasing the graphical curve with DirectX 10. However...
A Thriving Indy Scene Will Pop Up For XP. First-adopters chasing the polygon-pushing power of DX10 may be inclined to chase the Vista dream, but there are a lot of regular people out there who will be completely happy with Windows XP and will buy games targeted at them. I predict a lot of The Majors will be jumping on the Games for Windows bandwagon, leaving The Indies to market to the Everyone Else who hasn't (or won't) upgraded. It may even get to the point of the early '90s, where you had to scrutinize boxes very carefully to make sure you had the Apple 3B and not the Commdore 64C, in addition to the 3 megabytes of RAM. Heads start exploding in store aisles.
The Rebirth of Mac Gaming. Call me crazy, but I didn't own any Macs a few years ago, didn't even like them, and now I own a Mini and an iBook, and that doesn't count my iPod or the iPhone I am lusting over. I'm not saying it will be huge, and I'm not saying they will dethrone anyone anytime soon, but I am saying with the iPhone running OS X and increasing market penetration of the desktops and notebooks, plus the Intel hardware switch, there's more and more incentive for developers to get on-board with OS X.
Spore. The internet will shake with gamer outrage as Spore turns out to be a fun game, but not quite the masterpiece pictured in years of hype and active imagination. "My expectations" usage will be at an all-time high.
The Handheld Predictions
The iPhone Forces Mobile Soul-Searching. Apple is getting sued for the name and analysts are clucking that no one would ever, ever pay $500 for a cell phone. Flop? I remain skeptical. Apple took the MP3 player, formerly a confusing and poorly made geek accessory - I know, I tried to mess with a pre-iPod MP3 player and shudder thinking about it - and made it a fashion item. The white headphones are iconic now. And I'm just going to guess that people who will pay $250 for an MP3 player will pay $500 for what is essentially an MP3 player and a cutting-edge cell phone in something slightly bigger than a credit card. More importantly, a major player in the field with a phone using an actual operating system like OS X will finally force the mobile industry to settle on a standard if they want to compete. BREW, Java, Windows CE, I couldn't tell you what my RAZR runs; all I can tell you is that I am quietly terrified of the notion that I might have to install software on it at some point, which means...
Mobile Gaming Gets Better. I'm also imagining a world where I'm going on a long trip, say, and I can't take my game with me. Except, since my Mini and my iPhone run OS X, I can beam my save file over via Bluetooth and play a less intensive version of the same game on my phone while I travel. And I weep with joy. Unlikely? Not really. I know at least one developer working on a cell phone compatible version of their game client that's stripped down some, but would still let you play, and MS is trying to force gaming into every niche of your life with LiveAnywhere.
The PSP Becomes The Dreamcast Of Handhelds. A few good games, not enough to save it. I quit taking the PSP seriously when I started looking for one to borrow and everyone was more worried about their homebrew software and ROMs than about playing the actual games intended for the system.
The DS Has Lots Of Neat Games. I think the battle is pretty much over here.
The Console Predictions
Microsoft Consolidates Its Position. The 360 is selling well and will continue to sell well as the exclusives fall like a house of cards. And sales figures so far do not include the monster that lurks over the horizon: Halo 3 is coming.
Sony Continues To Stagger. I know I'm not exactly original for jumping on the anti-Sony bandwagon, but their business strategy of late seems to be yelling, "Guys, our console is really powerful! Guys?!" In the meantime, my EBGames has two signs on the front: a desperate looking "We have the PS3 in stock!!" and an angry "We have no Wiis in stock!" I don't want to bet completely against them, because they may just pull a fistful of must-own games out of their hat and retake the lead, but I think they need to spend some wandering time in the desert and rethink their strategy. A price drop could give the PS3 the kick it needs, but I need to see some games coming out that I'd really want to play, first.
Nintendo Quietly Slips Into Your Home While You Sleep. The Wii is still out of stock everywhere, and even your grandmother can understand how to work it. When you can get your hands on one, you will. Or it will just appear in your entertainment center one day without you knowing it. Aging GenXers will overlook a somewhat sparse initial lineup to play the games they grew up with by themselves or with their kids on the Wii's Virtual Console. The Wii will really take off when they launch the Wii 2.0 - much like the DS - which is even more fun than the original. You still won't be able to find one in a store.
From Hell's Heart, I Stab At Thee, Denver. Denver will become a jelly-encased wasteland. That's one I'm willing to bet on.