Seven Major Games Industry Predictions For 2021

Well, it might be a bit late. Yet it’s finally time to look ahead.

So what’s in store during 2021 for the games industry? A whole lot, plus some surprises. It should be another big one for Nintendo, with Zelda’s 35th anniversary plus the potential for a new Switch model on the horizon. In what I’m dubbing the Year of the Delay, better or worse I expect a number of dates to be pushed back amidst the usual challenges of game development compounded by the ongoing impact of a pandemic and remote work scenarios. After Microsoft snagged merger and acquisition headlines last year, my guess is that Sony ramps up its purchasing. Meanwhile, Tencent will continue its takeover.

What about size and spending in the market? I’m calling for double-digit growth both globally and domestically, driven by new consoles, a continued high digital share across the board and steady mobile performance. In a bit of a risk, I’m guessing we see a major collaboration between Marvel and Capcom to rejuvenate the latter’s fighting game history, then I bet we see what Rockstar has been working on besides the online versions of its biggest titles. And it might surprise you!

Finally, we can’t talk modern games without cloud streaming. After making the easiest prediction on the list, I’ll up the stakes by picking which of the major providers could be the winner this year. As long as it executes on a smart business model and expands to new territories.

Where will 2021 take us? For now, it has taken you here. Reading about the future. And a few minutes from now, you’ll know.

Pro Model & Zelda’s 35th Power Switch to Best-Selling Console of 2021

While we’ll get new figures next week, as of right now Nintendo has shipped over 68 million Switch hybrid consoles since its debut in 2017. This year, I not only expect this excellent momentum and the company’s best financial results in a decade to continue, both will actually accelerate with the introduction of a new, higher-powered model. How it manifests, what features it will have and what it will be called is anyone’s guess. (I say go all out. The New Nintendo Switch Pro Plus.) Four years after the original feels like the right time, especially now that other platform holders Microsoft and Sony launched their respective consoles last year.

To go along with a fancy new Switch iteration, I anticipate Nintendo will lean heavily into the 35th anniversary of its The Legend of Zelda franchise. This means I’m calling the launch of the sequel to Breath of the Wild simultaneous with its new Switch, periodic re-releases of classic games in the series throughout the year including Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask plus at least one off-the-wall, patently Nintendo idea. Like a toy Master Sword that somehow interacts with the Switch. It won’t be a surprise when Nintendo dominates headlines and its fiscal guidance again in 2021.

No Game Can Escape The Year of the Delay

While the games industry undoubtedly felt the impact of a global pandemic last year, 2021 will be even trickier when it comes to development challenges and hitting deadlines. It’s going to be like that in many businesses, especially as new projects start during a post-COVID era. We’ve already seen multiple games moved, Outriders and Returnal among them. Additionally, CD Projekt Red’s botched launch of the industry’s biggest game last year in Cyberpunk 2077 shows publishers that it’s better to move a title than risk all built up goodwill with a launch that’s lackluster at best, broken at worst.

What it means here is no game is safe from a delay, and I fully expect almost every single major title to have some sort of release date push, with some even slipping to 2022. And many of those without dates being next year or beyond. Think of a game, and I’m skeptical it meets its initial timeline. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Horizon Forbidden West. God of War Ragnarok. Resident Evil Village. Far Cry 6. Gotham Knights. Dying Light 2. Hollow Knight: Silksong. Overwatch 2. Elden Ring. Starfield. Bayonetta 3. Metroid Prime 4. Shoot, even something that’s slated for the Fall like Halo Infinite isn’t immune. The only guarantee in 2021 is that teams are going to take their time, and I really can’t blame them.

Sony & Tencent Highlight Another Year of Acquisitions

Mergers, acquisitions, investments and public offerings across the games industry totaled $20.5 billion thru the first three quarters of 2020. Deals like Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of ZeniMax, Tencent’s purchase of Leyou Technologies for $1.4 billion plus Embracer Group’s buy of Saber Interactive among many others headlined a busy year of consolidation. 2021 will be no different, as I believe we’ll see more purchases. Especially at the top-end. And I’m foreseeing a couple major moves from Sony and Tencent, in particular.

I bet Sony invests in at least two development studios to bolster its portfolio, one of them being long time collaborator Bluepoint Games who was responsible for PlayStation 5 launch game Demon’s Souls. When it comes to Tencent, the recent rumor is it may be targeting a major Western or South Korean gaming company. Unlike some, I don’t think publishers like Electronic Arts or even Take-Two Interactive are on the table. I’m putting my money on the latter, like a Pearl Abyss or Smilegate based in Asia. Either of which would still be major news. Otherwise, I think Microsoft solidifies a deal for Moon Studios, the team behind the Ori series, and of course Embracer Group expands its subsidiaries considerably again in 2021 as it continues the path of quantity over anything else.

Double-Digital Consumer Spending Increase Led By 90% Digital

During a time when people stayed at home and played a ton of games together virtually, the games industry expanded nearly 20% to a total $175 billion in consumer spending according to Newzoo. Within the U.S. alone, sales expanded 27% to almost $57 billion per NPD Group as I wrote recently. Not only that, digital accounted for 91% of worldwide spending and 72% of the console market. Sony even reported that more than half of software sales on PlayStation 4 were digital each of the past four fiscal quarters, averaging nearly two-thirds from downloads. In reality, stay-at-home guidelines accelerated a trend that’s been building for years.

With supply issues easing in 2021 for new generation hardware, the potential introduction of a Switch Pro, the continued appeal of mobile even at home on devices like tablets plus the almost guaranteed surprise of another break-out hit like Among Us, I’m betting that both of these figures rise at least double-digits. That would bring global spending to at least $192 billion, with the U.S. generating $63 billion. And digital will account for roughly 90% again. Similar to all the games companies benefiting from this increased spending: take it to the bank.

Capcom Announces Blockbuster Marvel Universe Fighting Game

This is admittedly pure and utter speculation. Let’s have some fun! Marvel Games has already displayed a renewed appetite for video game collaborations. Sony with Spider-Man, Epic Games and Fortnite, Square Enix and Avengers among others. Capcom hasn’t released a fighting game in five years, since the underwhelming Street Fighter V. The brands have assembled in the past for Marvel vs Capcom projects. See where I’m going?

This time, I’m thinking both companies reveal a brand new fighting game this year set in the Marvel universe. One where it starts with a base of characters and villains from the cinematic universe then works over time to include almost everyone it can on its varied roster. It’s the type of game that could rival Capcom’s Monster Hunter series in terms of live offering, establishing an ongoing platform that can evolve, expand and, importantly, earn a steady stream of revenue through cosmetics and micro-transactions. If implemented correctly, a blend of great mechanics and a famous character roster, Capcom could revive its fighting game legacy. With the help of the world’s most recognizable entertainment brand, of course.

Rockstar Reveals Its Next Project, And It Isn’t Grand Theft Auto VI

Ready for another wild one? During 2021, I think we’ll finally know what Rockstar has been working on in between new content drops for the everlasting Grand Theft Auto Online and Red Dead Online. For that reason plus the fact it’s still shipping upwards of 5 million copies per quarter of Grand Theft Auto V nearly eight years after its initial release, not to mention how there’s a next gen version of the open world crime game slated for 2021 already, I don’t know if this next one is another Grand Theft Auto game.

If not, then what could it be? A sequel to Bully? L.A. Noire 2? Agent? More Table Tennis?! How about none of the above, and instead a new IP from one of the most talented and detail-oriented studios in the business. That’s not to say its older franchises aren’t valuable, it’s just I’d love to see them flex their muscles on something else. Imagine what Rockstar could accomplish with its near unlimited budget and time allowance from parent company Take-Two Interactive. The downside is, knowing its culture, staff could be in for even more crunch trying to create something from scratch as opposed to leveraging the familiarity of established brands. If its management could find a balance and ensure the mental and physical health of its employees, I’d always prefer to witness something we’ve never seen before.

Amazon Luna Flies High Above The Clouds

In terms of a general prediction, saying that cloud streaming and related services within the games industry will grow in 2021 is a cop out. That’s a given. It’s currently a small portion of the overall market, there are seemingly new services every other quarter and no one has found the right business model to make a substantial dent when it comes to spending or active players. We know nothing about engagement stats for Google Stadia. Microsoft’s Cloud Gaming is still in beta and leans on its bundling with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. NVIDIA’s GeForce Now is a genius idea, yet faces pressure from publishers that don’t want to participate. Sony’s PlayStation Now had 2.2 million subscribers at last count, a decent start yet nowhere near the market’s potential.

A bolder call is trying to guess which player will win. And I love Amazon Luna’s business model, even if it’s from a company that has yet to successfully break into the behemoth that is the games industry. Announced back in September, Luna uses in-house Amazon Web Services, immediately reducing costs. It boasts over a hundred titles, plus starts at an affordable 6 bucks a month. Not only that, Luna has the easiest path to integration with the most popular game streaming platform Twitch. Because Amazon owns that too. And my favorite feature is publisher “channels,” which is similar to buying HBO for a cable package. Ubisoft Entertainment is already on board, where Luna will boast a channel on which Ubisoft games will release simultaneously as other platforms for an additional per-month fee. It has a long way to go, it’s still in early access and only available in the States, yet I see Luna with the best upside and the most practical of models.

Thus concludes my major predictions for the upcoming year. Am I out of my mind? What about you? Have any predictions of your own? Feel free to drop a line here or Twitter, and we’ll look back a year from now to know just how well we did. Thanks for reading.

Sources: Company Investor Relations/Media Sites, InvestGame, Newzoo, NPD Group.

-Dom

Days Gone Is Mostly Mediocre, Morbidly Mundane And Will Still Sell Better Than Many PS4 Exclusives

Disclaimer: This is not a review, as I have not completed the game yet. It’s a series of impressions and sales predictions. Minor spoilers follow.

I went into Days Gone, the latest in post-apocalyptic PlayStation 4 exclusives, mostly curious. Minimal expectations, hoping to be surprised. I’ve felt this way since Sony revealed it back during 2016, when it was featured prominently during its E3 stage show.

Turns out that the open world biker game did in fact surprise me. Just, not in a good way.

Made by Sony’s Bend Studio out of Bend, Oregon, a team known for the Syphon Filter series and handheld Uncharted titles, Days Gone checks all the boxes for features in a standard “AAA open world” game, though fails to deliver anything extraordinary with any one of them.

The third-person game opens on the semi-ridiculous premise that the protagonist, Deacon Saint John, leaves his wounded wife Sarah to fly away to a government camp while a mysterious outbreak occurs around him, to stay behind with his best bro Boozer. I appreciate the “no man left behind” mentality, though couldn’t help feel both contempt and indifference towards Deacon after seeing him abandon his helpless lover. A main character doesn’t have to be likeable (see: Joel from The Last of Us, Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV), though I should at least give a damn about him.

Fast forward a couple years, the Pacific Northwest setting is overrun by infected (I refuse to call them Freakers and I’m mad that I just did), scumbags, settlers, wildlife and “drifters” like Deacon, who considers himself honorable because of an ambiguous code which I gather is mostly that he doesn’t kill women. Unless he has to, of course.

What follows is a classic example of bloated modern game design, flooding the player with crafting, skills and systems to satisfy the endorphin rush of seeing an experience bar increase or watching numbers go up.

Within the first half hour, I was forced to smash infected children (who Deacon specifically said would mind their own business if I left them alone), because they were in my way to an objective. The game said I could avoid them then put them right in my path, overwhelming me with enemies. In fact, main missions so far have been overly restrictive to the point of “Leaving Area” signals alerting you incessantly if you stray too far.

Movement is rigid, which means Deacon is occasionally difficult to control, especially when enemies are off-screen and the camera can’t quite catch up to controller inputs.

Driving the bike is mostly competent, though the gas mileage is unforgiving early on. Who wants to stop constantly in a video game to fill up their virtual gas tank, when we do that enough as it is in real life?

Thing is, I’d be mostly forgiving of flaws if the actual content was fun. Turns out, there’s not much to it outside of the campaign. See that infected nest? Throw a molotov cocktail into it. See that outpost? Murder everyone. See that government checkpoint? Cut down the speakers, fill the generator with gas and open its doors. Then do it again. And again. Until you find another one, where you can do it all over again.


Then there’s the camp system. One of the early camps is run by a freedom fighting gun nut, whose worst offense is that he feeds obnoxious radio blasts into your ear. Which you can thankfully skip.

It’s the other camp that bothers me. It’s run by effectively a slaver operating a “labor camp.” You’d think Deacon would want to capture this camp and free its prisoners, based on his apparent moral compass, but I don’t think the game allows for that decision. You can, however, gain access to new guns when you help its leader by doing jobs or sending random survivors to work in the digging fields. And from what I can tell, there’s no consequence of choosing to work with one group over another. So morality be damned, in the name of sweet guns and bike upgrades!

I haven’t even mentioned the technical issues I’ve faced or heard from impressions online. From enemies disappearing, characters and the bike getting stuck on geometry or falling through the world, slow loading times and severe audio glitches, it’s not deal-breaking though can be annoying when considering the game’s other flaws. (Fingers crossed for more patches, since the game was already updated multiple times in classic day-one tradition.)

I’d be remiss to mention that there are certain aspects I’m enjoying, or at least aren’t interfering with my progress. It isn’t all negative, I want to make this absolutely clear.

It’s mostly stunning when it comes to visuals and art design. The setting is picturesque, and the attention to detail in parts of the world is exceptional. The artists and animators at Bend did a heck of a job. Tire treads kick up mud with a slogging sound. Light shines through tree branches before glinting off water. A foreboding sky reveals infinite stars as dusk approaches. For a dreary game, it can be remarkably majestic.

The infected horde tech is impressive, showing dozens upon dozens of distinct enemy bodies all at once that flow together like rainwater down a drainpipe. Bike customization is cool, though I wish there were more stimulating visual options. There’s a good variety of weaponry, throwables and traps for your forays into the wilderness, and shooting is competent enough. Crossbow bolts that cause enemies to turn on one another is an especially fun toy.

Survival elements aren’t overly difficult or constrictive, though it involves searching. A lot of searching. And holding down the search button. Which can break up the pacing of the game, especially when running low on materials. This was one of the main critiques of Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s just as bad here.

Excitingly, I finally hit a narrative beat that opened up a level of intrigue. Enough so that I will be playing more to see where it goes and if the game can change my mind at all.

Here’s the thing. I’m fine being an outlier when it comes to my tastes or experiences. This time, I’m far from the only one who feels this way. Consensus on review aggregator OpenCritic is sitting at “Fair,” with less than half of the 90 critics recommending it.

One particular piece that expresses my overall hesitation is authored by Patrick Klepek at Waypoint. He writes:


Days Gone refuses to settle on what it wants to be or what it wants to say. Rather than settling on a direction, it proceeds in all directions, hoping a more-is-better philosophy will prove blinding. This is true of both the clumsy mechanics, which are ever present and impossible to ignore, and its story, following the boring moral compass of biker Deacon St. John, who roams the world in the years after an event turned the whole world to shit, claiming to operate by a “code” but refusing to allow said code to operationally manifest into action.

Marvel’s Spider-Man is currently the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive.

Mine and Patrick’s thoughts aside, where does this leave us in terms of commercial potential?

I’ve joked about it in the past, and said that I started tepid on its sales prospects. The irony is that, despite my impressions and the average critical assessments, I now actually think it will sell relatively well. Better than many games exclusive to the platform, if not becoming one of the three fastest-selling to date.

This distinction currently belongs to 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War, which sold 3.3 million and 3.1 million units respectively during their first three days on market. These are excellent figures, though I wrote last year that I expected a licensed property like Spidey to perform that way.

Next up, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End moved 2.7 million units in a single week during 2016. Ever so slightly behind that was 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn at 2.6 million copies, though it was across two weeks.

Right about here is where I expect Days Gone to settle at launch. Between 2.5 and 3 million units, within say the next two weeks. Which means it will beat out games like Killzone Shadow Fall (2013), Bloodborne (2015), Detroit: Become Human (2017) and Nioh (2017), which all saw a million units near launch except for Killzone, which hit 2.1 million within a couple months on sale. (Detroit and Nioh are no longer platform exclusive, though were near launch.)

Sony has intensified its marketing push lately, not just in retail but also online and traditional media. Big networks like ESPN have been steadily running promos. Plus if there’s one thing that people like these days, it’s post apocalypses and zombies. Early rumblings are positive in terms of shipments from Sony, according to my bud Benji. And I expect demand especially from casual buyers will be enough to purchase most of those inventories going to retailers.

Similarly, I predict it will be the best-selling game of April in the United States, when NPD Group reports sales results next month.

After this mostly successful launch, how will it sell longer term? I can see it maybe settling right at the bottom of 2019’s Top 10 sellers, though as an exclusive it’s already at a disadvantage compared with multi-platform titles. The more titles hit release dates in this year, the tougher it gets. Lifetime units sales of 7-8 million is feasible, especially as the console’s user base approaches 100 million.

It’s always a question if single-player games can maintain strong momentum over time. At least out of the gate, I think Days Gone is more likely to.. accelerate to success than not.

All this said, should you play it? (I know many of you will, just look at my sales prediction.) Well, depends on what you like. The ultimate problem with Days Gone is that it tries to do so many things, then loses any semblance of focus. Maybe it suffered from feature creep, trying to do much more than originally intended. Or it bolted on too much close to launch. Perhaps a lack of decisive leadership during its earlier stages. What’s clear is there are other games that do these things, and do them very well, that I’d rather play.

Do you like a massive, beautiful world to explore? Play Red Dead Redemption 2.

Want stealth action and engaging character arcs? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Like storming enemy encampments and taking over areas? Pick a Far Cry.

Zombies and crafting with a dynamic night-and-day cycle? Dying Light.

A sprawling world with expertly-written side quests? The Witcher 3.

Ranged combat encounters with unique enemies? Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Cinematic narrative in a post-apocalypse: The Last of Us. (Seriously if you haven’t played it, you should be doing so instead of reading this.)

Technical hiccups, repetitive side content, stiff movement, serviceable shooting, laughable enemy AI plus lots and lots of rifling through cars or houses to find crafting materials? Which are used to get caught in a tailspin of monotonous gameplay loops which serve only to make experience bars fill up, all the while questioning why you should empathize with its characters?

Shoot. Then I’d still probably play something else.

Sources: Sony Interactive Entertainment. Internet Games Database. Bend Studio. Quantic Dream. Insomniac Games. Team Ninja. From Software. Waypoint. Open Critic. Benji-Sales.

-Dom