To finish off the year, here are five things I'm looking forward to in 2009. These are less predictions and more things I'd like to see happen. As always, I'm curious about your thoughts about these and what you think 2009 may hold.
Free-to-Play Games Coming Onto the Stage
Gamasutra identified this as one of the 2008 trends, but then referenced mainly unreleased games. Those games should be released in 2009 though and I think some very interesting things are going to start happening with free-to-play games (full disclosure: I'm working on a free-to-play game, Sugar Rush, that's launching in 2009). Despite some truly abhorrent marketing that has almost entirely soured me to the game, I'm very curious as to how people take to EA's Battlefield Heroes. I've got a vested interest here for sure, but part of the reason why I accepted the position at Klei was because I feel there's a lot of potential in the free-to-play model. With even The Old Republic talking about microtransactions being a serious part of the game's monetization (I'd be shocked if they went fully free to play, but I would definitely commend them if they did), I'm very much looking forward to seeing how high quality free to play games will affect the industry in 2009.
Developers Embracing the Wii
To reference Gamasutra again, they identified the Wii's lackluster catalog as one of their biggest disappointments in 2008. To be the eternal optimist, I think 2009 will finally see some solid progress in offerings for the Wii. Given that a gajillion Wiis were sold in November and December, publishers big and small would be absolutely mad to think there isn't a lot of money being left on the table here. Those buying the consoles may not be "traditional" gamers, but it's quite possible to create titles that will please them and veterans gamers alike. Imagine something akin to Katamari Damacy; I was hoping de Blob might do this, but it looks like it hasn't received a ton of attention. Regardless, titles like Zack & Wiki and Boom Blox have proven that publishers other than Nintendo can make the Wii purr and I hope they'll do so in 2009.
Tim and Ron's Glorious Return
I didn't think I'd call out specific games, but with both Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert releasing new games in 2009 (Brütal Legend and Deathspank respectively), I couldn't resist. When they hit, I think we'll have cause for much revelry. If you watch this and tell me you're not excited, you're lying.
Mobile Games Integrating with the Real World
This one is also pretty indulgent and a little hopeful, but I did my Computer Science Masters thesis in Ubicomp, so it's a temptation too hard to resist. I'm hoping 2009 will have at least one mobile game title that interacts meaningfully with the real world. This is the core of Ubicomp, the idea that the when, where and why of a computing device's usage will serve as an invisible form of input (in parlance, it's "context awareness"). The potential applications for this are myriad, but one fertile area is creating games that incorporate real world actions meaningfully into their gameplay. There's been a lot of acedemic research about this, such as this project from Nokia, but the games themselves are usually not terribly fun and certainly don't have any longevity. Giving these ideas and tools to a proper game developer, however, could result in something really compelling. With the DSi including a camera and the iPhone starting to look like a proper gaming platform, it's possible a game that interacts with the real world via media creation and the device's data connection could manifest itself in 2009. Here's hoping.
Seeing '09 Surpass the Mark Set By '08
2008 raised the bar in a lot of ways. Little Big Planet and Spore made signifcant advances for user-generated content in games. FarCry 2 showed us new depths in immersion, while Fallout 3 showed the possibility of a massive explorable, nonlinear world. Mirror's Edge showed us the "S" in FPS isn't necessary. Braid demonstrated new possibilities in integrating meaning, emotion and gameplay. World of Goo demonstrated two dedicated guys (with a little help) can produce a game that's more aesthetically pleasing and clever than the fruits of a multi-million dollar budget. Left 4 Dead has completely recalibrated what's expected from a cooperative game. There are countless other examples as well. Success or not, 2008 was extremely ambitious in a lot of ways. I'm very excited to see if developers rise to meet, and hopefully exceed, what the titles of 2008 have shown is possible.
And that's it for 2008 folks! I'm very new to this blogging thing, having started barely a month ago. I appreciate everyone making me feel welcome and I'm looking forward to carrying on ceaslessly with you all in 2009. Have a good (non-liver-destroying) New Year's Eve everyone!