Now that the calendar has turned to January, it’s time to say goodbye to 2022. Which means it’s also time to, yet again, claim that I can accurately predict the future!
As I’ve done in recent years, I tend to kick off the new year by listing out a few predictions for the games industry across the next 12 months. These expectations can range across a number of topics: hardware, software, services, acquisitions, workplace trends and the value of the global games market.
Before diving into the new piece, I like to check back to hold myself accountable for the prior year. Here were my main predictions for 2022, where I successfully called that there would be more unionization, Nintendo wouldn’t announce a new Switch, Sony would rebrand PlayStation Plus and the impact of NFTs and blockchain would be felt in various places.
Misses included the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, now known as Tears of the Kingdom, launching (which it didn’t), the global games market would grow slightly (it declined slightly) and a new BioShock being announced (total long shot, I admit).
Focusing on the future, here’s a list of seven predictions, and a little bonus, for 2023. Let’s see how I fare this time around!
Microsoft & Activision Blizzard Deal Closes in Calendar 4th Quarter
I’ll rip the band-aid off right away. Apologies to everyone who is sick of hearing about Microsoft’s pending purchase of Activision Blizzard: This story isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Especially now that regulators around the globe have sunk their teeth into the details. Rightfully so, for a deal worth upwards of $69 billion. Currently, the companies still expect the deal to close in June. Personally, I’m skeptical and think it moves back to around an October to December window.
Why? Inquisitive regional regulators in the United Kingdom and United States combined with a glacial legal system. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the U.K. will publish the results of its investigation in April. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking action to potentially block the acquisition, kicking off a legal battle that will commence trial in August. These things alongside delays due to likely appeals if the decisions go against Microsoft mean that I don’t think it meets the current estimate. I do, however, think it ultimately will close before year-end.
Nintendo Goes Another Year Without Announcing a Switch Successor
Continuing my main hardware prediction from a year ago, I’m not betting on Nintendo announcing any major Switch hardware in the upcoming four quarters. One of the best-selling consoles ever is still moving units quite well for this point in the life cycle. It’s trending towards being the top-selling console of 2022 in the United States by units according to The NPD Group as demand continues, especially from households that want multiple devices and a record-setting November start for Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.
While Nintendo reduced its fiscal year shipment target from 21 million to 19 million, plus the technology is certainly outdated, I don’t see much upside in executives revealing a new device in a year where The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and potentially other flagship titles (Mario? Pokémon?) hit market. The transition to a successor will take a delicate touch, notably when it comes to backwards compatibility with the current library of games and usage of accessories. I’m targeting an announcement for what I hope is called Nintendo Super Switch sometime in 2024, with a release in first calendar quarter of 2025.
Global Games Industry Value Returns to Growth & Passes $188 Billion
Last year, I was more optimistic on the global games market value than I should have been when I thought it could increase a bit. According to NewZoo, the industry’s annual value is trending down 4% to $184.4 billion. This is driven by downward pressure from mobile and console segments, declining 6% and 4% respectively. The weakness in mobile is what I didn’t anticipate, and this category has an outsized impact on the overall figure since it makes up half of the total. Then there’s the limited supply of hardware throughout most of 2022, which didn’t really recover until the fourth quarter.
I expect the industry’s worldwide value to bounce back towards growth over the next 12 months. I could see 2% to 3% growth, which would translate to roughly $188 billion to upwards of the $190 billion milestone. Underlying this recovery will be a reversal of trends including a mobile spending rebound, improved hardware inventory, demand for consoles continuing, PlayStation VR 2 and a much more robust AAA software calendar due to previously-delayed games hitting storefronts. Indicators point to strong console demand alongside titles from major publishers, especially Xbox Game Studios, including various holdovers from the past couple years such as Hogwarts Legacy, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Street Fighter 6, Final Fantasy XVI, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and, hopefully, Starfield.
PlayStation 5 Wins Best-Selling Console in the U.S. Yet Misses Sales Targets
While we won’t know until this week’s full-year report from The NPD Group, PlayStation 5 is currently on track to be 2022’s best-selling console in the United States by revenue. GfK Entertainment said Sony’s latest was the top-selling device in the United Kingdom by units. I expect PlayStation 5 to outpace all peers and earn the win for both dollar sales and units in 2023 in key markets (other than Japan, where Switch is dominant). Supply data shows drastic improvement in the fourth quarter of 2022, and Sony’s own comments point towards further growth. Microsoft’s latest Xbox family isn’t generating as much in dollar sales because its high-end Xbox Series X is still tough to find, and Nintendo’s Switch is in its twilight years.
On the flip side, I’m skeptical Sony can reach its fiscal hardware shipment targets for the next couple years. I don’t see how it achieves a highly ambitious forecast of 18 million for the year ending March. At last count back in September, PlayStation 5 lifetime shipments were at 25 million. Sony announced during last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the PlayStation 5 family passed 30 million sold-through to consumers, implying at least 5 million shipped in the quarter ending December. That would bring the current year to 10.7 million, requiring upwards of 7.3 million during this month through March. Which isn’t going to happen. Going forward, speculation points to an even higher target for April 2023 to March 2024, where executives might guide to 30 million shipped in the year alone. Even if its suppliers are ramping up production as much as Sony claims, and consumers keep showing interest, that’s too lofty of a goal. I’m much closer to a 22 million to 23 million annual range.
Xbox Game Pass Price & Subscription Base Increases
Here’s a classic two-for, combining a couple of big Xbox predictions in a single entry. At first, these may seem at odds with one another since I believe both the monthly cost and overall user base for Xbox Game Pass will increase in 2023. Starting first with the bad news, it’s inevitable that Microsoft bumps the price of its subscription service. The last time Microsoft raised the monthly price of Game Pass was during 2020, when the PC version doubled from $5 to $10. Recently, Microsoft said full-game prices for Xbox Game Studios releases are going up to $70 this year. I’m thinking the Ultimate tier moves to $18, from $15, while the base version moves from $10 to $13 by next holiday season.
Even considering this, I bet the audience of Game Pass also grows in 2023. How many users did the service actually have in 2022? Sony claims it’s at 29 million. Microsoft told everyone it’s at 25 million almost a year ago. While it might be ambitious, I think Team Xbox will provide two updates on its flagship service during 2023. It can pass 30 million by its June fiscal year end, then achieve 35 million by December. There’s a number of benefits boosting the user base towards these milestones. It’s the prospect of first party projects like Starfield and Redfall, maybe a suite of Activision Blizzard titles, plus additional external partnerships especially with Japanese publishers that prove value will continue to rise even if the cost does too.
Special Year of Fighting Game Releases & Announcements
When it comes to genres that may define 2023, I expect fighting games to punch their way back into the spotlight. Relevance here will be boosted by a couple massive launches from legendary teams like Capcom and Bandai Namco alongside newcomers like Riot Games, in addition to select announcements of future titles. Starting with games set to launch, Capcom will produce another mainline entry in its Street Fighter series with Street Fighter 6 in June. Based on anecdotal evidence from its beta testing, people are way upbeat on this one after the disappointing predecessor. Then there’s Tekken 8 from Bandai Namco, which debuted a new trailer at The Game Awards and executives said could launch in 2023. Adding to the calendar might also be Riot Games’ Project L, an exciting twist on the League of Legends universe.
In terms of announcements and reveals, SNK said in August that Garou: Mark of the Wolves 2 is currently in development. Of course, the elephant in the room is Warner Bros’ NetherRealm, which hasn’t released a game since Mortal Kombat 11 back in 2019. If it sticks to the usual schedule, its current project should be Injustice 3. Back in October, NetherRealm’s Ed Boon said the team will share information “in due time.” I expect that time to be mid-year. Finally, I’m anticipating a surprise fighting game hit within the casual space, along the lines of last year’s MultiVersus. Could it be the return of PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale? Will Epic Games partner with every single brand and make the ultimate metaverse fighter? Which title will be the next to surprise the FGC and solidify 2023 as the Year of the Fighting Game? Your guess is as good as mine, though I certainly expect at least one breakout banger.
Amazon Games Makes Massive Studio Acquisition
First off, I have no real basis for this. There haven’t been rumors or speculation. It’s not based on inside information. It’s more of a hunch with the way Amazon Games has been aggressively pushing into the space, especially the past couple years with releases like New World and Lost Ark alongside a deal with Glowmade for a game based on original IP. It’s collaborating with the likes of Bandai Namco on the MMORPG Blue Protocol plus Crystal Dynamics for a future entry in the long-running Tomb Raider series. It partnered with Riot Games to host a Valorant event. The multinational retail conglomerate also owns streaming platform Twitch, and its Prime Gaming service continues to offer incentives for gamers to keep up Amazon Prime subscriptions.
I think Amazon’s level of investment accelerates in the next 12 months, during which it might even outright purchase one of the remaining independent gaming companies. Targets could include the likes of Electronic Arts, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive or even Ubisoft, the last of which already has an acting relationship for streaming service Amazon Luna. If I had to bet, I think Ubisoft is a prime candidate. From a cost perspective, it’s more attractive than the likes of Electronic Arts. Square Enix has been selling off assets and refocusing towards NFTs. Take-Two seems to pride itself on remaining independent with its 2K Games and Rockstar units. It sounds like Ubisoft has fielded offers in the recent past, so Amazon might very well be looking into a potential buy already.
Bonus: Bungie Announces & Launches Destiny Universe Transmedia Property
You know I couldn’t finish the list without a fun bonus prediction! I think there’s a really good chance that we see what non-gaming projects Bungie has been working on within the Destiny universe. It’s no secret the developer is ramping up hiring for its transmedia offerings, including adding former Riot Games animation director Derick Tsai to become Head of Development for Destiny Universe Transmedia. Plus, now that Bungie is owned by Sony, I’d imagine there’s active chatter amongst Sony’s film and television divisions to adapt Bungie’s popular science fiction IP into different types of media.
To make this prediction better, I bet Bungie both reveals and launches a transmedia property based on Destiny in 2023, whether it’s a movie or show. The game has rich lore and great characters which I think could translate well into an episodic format. Similar to how the live game does seasonal content and weekly story drops. I’d love to see its world represented outside of gaming, exposing the excellence that is Destiny to an even broader audience than ever before.
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year and monetary values are quoted in US Dollars unless otherwise mentioned.
Sources: Foureyes Furniture on YouTube (Image Credit), Getty Images, GfK Entertainment, NewZoo, The NPD Group.