Who could have predicted that 77 million PlayStation Network accounts would have been compromised last April? Who could have known that 3DS would at first struggle, then fly? Who could have guessed what the Wii U would be? Why, an analyst of course!
These future-gazing mystics are paid to try to discern the future from their money-shaped tea leaves. They weigh in on hot topics, declare the fate of companies; they watch, they listen, they never sleep. Who better to peer into the shrouded year ahead and tell Eurogamer what to expect?
Introducing: Jesse Divination! Michael Predicter! Peers Harding-Rolls! And Nicholas Lovesalloutcomes!
OK, back to reality. Michael Pachter analyses for investment firm Wedbush Morgan; Jesse Divnich analyses for research company EEDAR; Piers Harding-Rolls analyses for media research company Screen Digest; and Nicholas Lovell founded respected games business blog Gamesbrief.
Tell us of consoles in 2012
"The Wii U is the big story of the year," prophesied Pachter, "but without knowing specs, price-point and the level of software support, it's hard to predict how it will do. My bias is that it's not significantly more powerful than the current HD consoles, its price-point will not be significantly lower, and software support will be light.
"If I'm right, it will probably have a lukewarm reception at launch."
Harding-Rolls' hunch read: "At this stage, and until we have concrete intelligence on pricing and content for the Wii U, we do not expect Nintendo's next generation console to generate as much interest as the ground-breaking Wii.
"My own view is that the Wii U's product message is more complex and, as a result, will not engage with as wide an audience as the Wii."
"I don't think we'll see anything from Microsoft other than a bigger hard-drive and a lower price-point," Pachter pursued, "and I don't think we'll see anything from Sony at all. The Apple console is probably a 2013 event, so nothing to look forward to this year other than price cuts.
"With that said, Microsoft has a lot of room to cut price (they could probably make money at $199 for a 250GB Xbox 360 with Kinect bundle), so that will be the biggest driver of console sales this year."
Divnich divined: "I wouldn't expect any new hardware announcements from Sony or Microsoft. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 continue to drive substantial profits for the third parties, and given our industry's historical inability to transition between hardware cycles profitably, I don't think the third-parties are quite yet ready to face a new hardware cycle."
"I don't expect a new Xbox to be launched in 2012," Harding-Rolls ran on. "Our expectation remains 2013, but with information on a new Microsoft console hitting the market this year.
"We're currently forecasting 2012 declines in hardware sales for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii on a global basis."
Tell us of portable gaming in 2012
"[PlayStation] Vita will struggle," reckoned Lovell. "The key question will not be whether it sells some initial units, but how it does for software tie-ins, and whether its appeal stretches beyond core Sony fans."
Presaged Pachter: "Sony's PS Vita appears aimed at the hardcore gamer, and will likely have limited success because of a relatively small addressable market.
"The 3DS has broader appeal (both casual and hardcore), but the price-points for casual games are not particularly compelling when measured against $9.99, $4.99, $0.99 and free smartphone games. And the quality of games like Infinity Blade and Dead Space makes the smartphone competitive among even the hardcore.
"I see modest sales for 3DS, good enough to be profitable for Nintendo, but not good enough to offset the inevitable decline in DS hardware and software sales."
Recited Harding-Rolls: "Continued momentum of the 3DS in the first half of 2012 will help decide its future at least with regards to third-party support. If momentum stalls, I fear third-parties will continue to look elsewhere for investment opportunities.
"I expect Vita to get away relatively strongly at launch because of its strong content line-up but, like the 3DS, may suffer due to pricing after the initial rush has subsided. I expect Sony to be reluctant to make any significant pricing move, outside of value bundles, until at least 2013."
"It's true that the sandbox for dedicated portable gaming devices has shrunk as mobile and tablet technology increases its market penetration," Divnich divulged.
"But I believe the market for dedicated portable gaming devices is still large enough to support two competitors - 3DS and Vita. And it is certainly large enough to support healthy profits from the third-party publishers that support them."
"Without question," pressed Pachter, "the biggest-selling portable gaming device will be the smartphone. The number of gaming apps for iOS and Android is increasing exponentially, and although many are free-to-play, the mobile games sector should still see greater revenue growth than any other."
"Tablets will fly and fly," Lovell harmonised, "although price-points need to fall. The Kindle Fire is interesting, but I am not yet ready to predict that it will be a success.
"Free-to-play will continue to dominate mobile/tablet gaming. 'Paymium', meaning an upfront purchase price together with IAP [in-app purchases], will also gain ground. I wouldn't be surprised to see over 90 per cent of the 100 top grossing apps in 2012 having IAP, and more than 34 of them being free."
"In relation to smartphones and tablets," hastened Harding-Rolls, "I expect the biggest news to be centred on IAP, improving Android device monetisation of content and the launch of a new iPad and iPhone from Apple."
But, warned Divnich: "We are likely to see lay-offs and studio closures in the mobile and social markets. It has been nearly three years since Wall Street wrote blank cheques to a lot of social and mobile start-ups. In 2012, investors will begin to demand profitable results and while the mobile and social markets will remain healthy, we can all agree they are a little over-saturated."
Tell us of smart TVs and set-top streaming in 2012
"I struggle to believe in streaming services as a replacement for the console," lipped Lovell.
"They offer the same fundamental experience as a console with a different business model. They are red herrings that are more interesting to publishers trying to defend their existing business models than to companies trying to innovate to create a new business built from the ground up on internet economics."
"2012 will be characterised with TV manufacturers, distribution platforms and content companies jostling for position," Harding-Rolls' runes revealed, "but its impact on overall consumer spend on games will be limited.
"Gesture and voice control will become more commonplace, which in the future could help the industry overcome some of the challenges of interfacing with games apps using unresponsive and clumsy existing TV controllers."
Pronounced Pachter: "This is the most impactful area for 2012, although it's not focused on gamers, per se. Rather, the focus is on converting other members of a gamer household to users of the home console, and Microsoft has a lot of things planned this year.
"Ultimately, the Xbox 360 and PS3 could be used as TV tuners (we'll see that this year), and will continue to beef up their content offering for over-the-top internet TV."
Declared Divnich: "Expect Google to continue to invest into new technologies that make video games even more accessible. This could include a push into internet-ready televisions and cloud-driven devices."
Tell us of Facebook, browser and social games in 2012
"In 2012, the debate over whether free-to-play works will move on. It clearly works," Lovell let us know.
"Now the issue will be how to do it better, how to bring it to new genres, how to address the ethical issues of over-exploitation and how to balance fun and creativity with revenue and metrics-led design. Unfortunately, costs are spiralling (both in development and marketing) so innovation will get more expensive.
"The biggest influence will be that social games will pursue better graphics. This is both creatively and financially pointless, but is inevitable, so I guess we just have to accept this enormous waste of time and money."
Put forward Pachter: "Zynga seems really focused on broadening the appeal of its games, and EA appears focused on keeping up with Zynga. Disney won't stand still, and several developers are trying to figure out how to crack the social game code.
"Sim City could be the runaway hit of 2012 on Facebook, as the original 1990s game should work well in the browser, and think that will end up as the story of 2012.
"But Zynga won't rest on its laurels, and we have as yet to see the first game from Steve Chiang, who joined Zynga in late 2010 as head of game development. Steve is a hardcore developer, and we'll see something cool from him this year.
"I'm not a big believer in Google+, as nobody uses it regularly, and it can't be a focus of developers until it attracts a large and sticky audience."
"Browser-based gaming will continue to grow," decided Divnich, "especially as developers unlock the potential of HTML5. But I don't believe HTML5 gaming really begins to capture mainstream attention until 2013/2014. There are still plenty of bugs to work out in the HTML5 technology."
Harped Harding-Rolls: "The mobile social network games opportunity in the West has yet to burst into life - 2012 looks a safe bet for this to happen. "
And that's it for 2012
"We didn't talk about games," Pachter proclaimed.
"The length of the current cycle is unprecedented, and most publishers are reticent to introduce new franchises. We'll see a few as-yet-unannounced new franchises this year, as well as the next record-setting game (GTA5).
"It will be interesting to see if Respawn and Bungie can get something out this year and, personally, I'm looking forward to Kingdoms of Amalur from 38 Studios."
"In 2012, the best-selling game will again break records," Lovell levelled, "but outside the very top tier of games, publishers will struggle.
"I'm not sure anyone will actually go bust in 2012, but anyone who isn't in the top seven publishers globally (excluding first parties) will struggle."
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