Welcome to the new year in games. I made my predictions about the game industry last week, but this week I’m thinking about what will happen in 2013 on a month-by-month basis. The pattern of the game industry is somewhat predictable, based on the major events that happen every year. But social, mobile, and online game companies have changed the business and the patterns of the year as well.
If you’re used to the old annual cycle, what follows below is more like what you can expect from the disrupted game business. As you can see, 2013 promises to be a very different kind of year. No longer is the cycle driven simply by the announcement of new games and their launch in the fall. Call it the drumbeat of disruption. But the cadence of news will be steady all year long.
Next week, we’ll make our way to the Consumer Electronics Show. Sony will have a press conference, but don’t expect it to announce the PlayStation 4. We’ll see all sorts of game peripherals from companies like Mad Catz Interactive (launching its GameSmart devices), but CES is losing its luster as a big event for the game business.
Still, there is a huge amount happening behind the scenes. If the console companies really want to release new consoles this year, the major chips have to be shipping from the chip manufacturer already, according to Charlie Demerjian at the chip blog SemiAccurate. The debugging process and the subsequent creation of launch titles happens so far in advance that the chip makers have much earlier deadlines than anyone else making components for the consoles.
The new game release schedule for the month is light, with smaller titles such as DmC: Devil May Cry coming out. In mid January, market researcher NPD Group will release sales figures for the full calendar year of retail video game sales, and we’ll find out just how weak a year it was for the core business in the U.S. That will coincide with earnings season for the major U.S. publicly traded game companies.
We’ll be delighted to see the release of some major titles such as Sony’s Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Konami’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Electronic Arts’ Dead Space 3, and EA-Crytek’s Crysis 3. We’ll be traveling to events such as Casual Connect in Hamburg, Germany, and the Dice Summit in Las Vegas to capture the pulse of the industry. At Dice, we’ll see major talks from David Cage, head of Quantic Dream, whose major game Beyond: Two Souls should be one of the big titles of the year. The Dice Summit is a great place for game industry leaders to stir up a lot of news and focus the world’s attention on the big issues.
This year, many of the speakers will hail from tablet and mobile game makers. One of the speakers is Gabe Newell, head of Valve and a man who supposedly has his own Linux-based game console in the works.
Yet the game business is spilling over into different industries. Titles such as Skylanders, which offer both toy and game products, have seen their debut at the Toy Fair show in New York. As toys go digital, they’re becoming much more game like.
The Game Developers Conference will keep us busy for a whole week in San Francisco. And we’ll finally see a gigantic month for core games with the scheduled releases of Tomb Raider, God of War: Ascension, SimCity, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Gears of War Judgement, and BioShock Infinite. Apple will probably try to upstage the game companies at the GDC by holding a launch of its own, either a new iPad or a new iPhone. Ouya also promises that its Android-based $99 game console will launch during March. The company is hoping to disrupt the traditional consoles with free-to-play games that were born on mobile devices.
Disrupt the disruptors! PlayJam hopes to disrupt the likes of Ouya with its own GameStick, a game console that sells for $79 and fits on a universal serial bus stick. For some reason, there aren’t many big games coming out, except for the Dead Island Riptide sequel. If you’re thinking about delaying a major game release, April is a good time for it to launch on a revised schedule. The Gamification Summit may offer a nice distraction for those who believe that making work more game-like can make people more productive. The Neuro Gaming Conference and Expo might also be cool for folks who want to see the mind and body meet through game play. Meanwhile, the Global iGaming Summit & Expo will highlight the intersection of social casino games and online gambling — a big growth area for games.
The industry will be full of next-generation rumors as it approaches E3. But the blockbuster titles expected this month include Sony’s The Last of Us and Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V. Gamers will be in a state of heaven. Rockstar and its parent Take-Two Interactive have consistently launched big games during May in recent years. For all other developers, beware the Ides of May.
At the E3 show in Los Angeles, we’ll probably see Sony and Microsoft unveil their new game consoles. Sony’s PlayStation 4 will hopefully make use of cloud gaming technology acquired with the $380 million purchase of Gaikai. Microsoft’s Major Nelson, aka Larry Hyrb, has a timer showing that the event is only 158 days and some fraction of a day away. Some folks took that to mean that Microsoft will introduce a new game console at that moment, but Major Nelson does that every year. E3 will still be huge, but the changes wrought by new business models and distribution systems will be evident.
This is a quiet month, but Zynga sometimes holds its Unleashed event to describe the big new games coming on social and mobile platforms. Our own MobileBeat event will highlight the growth of mobile platforms and the app economy. And in Shanghai, the ChinaJoy conference takes place to highlight all things gaming in one of the fastest-growing markets for free-to-play games.
The Gamescom event in Cologne, Germany, has become Europe’s biggest game fest. And the Pax Prime event in Seattle is another show where the fans will come out by the tens of thousands.
The first games of the fall will start hitting the market, and the game developers who managed to get their games out on time will see the benefit of a longer selling cycle up through the holidays. This month is also home to the Tokyo Game Show. With the rise of mobile social game companies Gree and DeNA, don’t be surprised if the Japanese companies start making a lot more money from mobile games compared to what they make on the traditional consoles. Apple usually unveils its new fall platform launches in this month.
Super hero games will debut at the New York Comic-Con. But social and mobile games are likely to account for a bigger slice of these titles in contrast to superhero console games in the past. And this year, our GamesBeat 2013 conference will take place during October. We’ll line up dozens of speakers for this event. And we don’t know what they are, but there will be lots of games launching this month.
This is still the big month for blockbuster game launches. You can expect to see Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4 (or something like it) debut this month. Ubisoft typically releases a new Assassin’s Creed game, Microsoft cranks out a Halo, and other big titles typically hit just before Black Friday. But this month will also likely see the debut of the Sony PlayStation 4 or the Microsoft Xbox 720 (as it has been nicknamed). In Korea, you can expect another Gstar conference to take place.
The Spike TV VGA game awards have distorted the calendar so that many new games that were once announced at CES are now revealed in December instead, after all the big games have already launched for the holiday season.
The industry will feel the impact of smartphones and tablets as game activity peaks in the last week of the year. But chances are that some of the biggest game playing will happen on mobile devices, as consumers cash in their gift cards and download mobile titles on their new devices. That was how Angry Birds saw more than 8 million downloads on Christmas Day in 2012. The days after Christmas may actually turn out to be the biggest days for game sales for the whole year one of these days.