2019 is starting off with a bang, as hotly anticipated titles like Resident Evil 2 Remake and Kingdom Hearts 3 finally find their way into the world, and Epic games continues to change the gaming landscape on account of its hit title, Fortnite. Looking ahead at the year to come, the writers here at Lords of Gaming have chosen the nine stories that will define gaming in 2019.
- The Next Generation of Games as a Service
Arguably, the two most important titles of the year are coming out in the first quarter, approximately one month apart: Anthem and The Division 2. Like it or not, the current trend in gaming and technology, is to produce ongoing services that engage consumers on a daily basis. Everything from Fortnite, to Netflix, to Hello Fresh are predicated on the idea that you view their service as an ongoing and evolving resource. The hottest titles of the year are taking that concept to the next level. Let’s talk Anthem first.
Anthem is coming off of multiple demo weekends plagued with bugs, sign-in issues and server crashes. However, with each subsequent demo, stability and the overall experience has improved, and the game has dominated headlines as it builds hype and nears its February 22 release date. If you’re reading this, chances are your community, your timeline, and your Discord was full of people experiencing and enjoying the game. Anthem is a gamble in more ways than one. It represents EA’s first major step into games as a service, outside of things like FIFA Ultimate Team or dedicated MMOs like The Old Republic. Do they, as a company, have the patience necessary to support the game through what will undoubtedly be a rocky launch, as games of this type tend to have? Does the developer have a pipeline of content ready for release in the coming months? Destiny and Fortnite have shown that sustained, long-term content drops are required to keep the player base engaged between large expansions. So far, there has been little word about specific post-launch DLC support outside of the acknowledgement of ongoing content in a community letter from Bioware General Manager, Casey Hudson. Speaking of Bioware, this is their first new IP launch since Dragon Age in 2009, and they are coming off the tremendous disappointment of Mass Effect: Andromeda. This is an opportunity at redemption for Bioware. Will the story elements and characters that have defined their past success carry into a genre that is not really known for either? We can only hope.
The Division 2, in many ways is even more ideally positioned to succeed than Anthem, despite its relative lack of hype when compared to Anthem. Ubisoft has somewhat quietly become one of the premiere publishers of games as a service. Between Rainbow Six: Siege, For Honor, and the original The Division, Ubisoft has shown that they have the dedication to continuously support games, and actually evolve and revitalize them in significant ways, months after launch. When The Division launched in 2016, the lack of a compelling endgame was an enormous turn-off to many of the hardcore players. Ubisoft has certainly learned many lessons about what the player base needs to continue logging in on a daily basis, but that isn’t to say that they won’t make mistakes. Vanilla Destiny 2‘s launch and Curse of Osiris DLC, should be enough to prove that even the most experienced developers can make ill-advised decisions. However, given Ubisoft’s track record, I give The Division 2 the benefit of the doubt, and expect it to offer a compelling and complete package at launch. When it launches, it will also be the first major release that exemplifies…
- The Increasingly Competitive PC Storefront Space
Epic Games Store, Discord, Origin, Microsoft Store, Bethesda.net, Battle.net. It seems like every other a week a new storefront is being launched and a new app is being added to my PC home screen. Valve once owned this space, but companies are seeing profit and opportunity in capitalizing on Steam’s poor curation and high publishing cut, to jump into the business of digital game sales. The latest, and most high profile of these, is the Epic Games Store. In the last few weeks, Metro Exodus and The Division 2 have both defected to Epic’s platform. These defections should serve as a warning to Valve. Previously, individual storefronts were limited to first party efforts to differentiate them from one another. Bethesda’s games launched on their own store and EA’s games launched on Origin. Epic is actively courting third parties, and more importantly, they are successfully courting third parties. On the strength of Fortnite’s 200 million user base, Epic has expanded in dramatic fashion. Their announcement that they will charge only a 12% cut of the profits as opposed to Valve’s industry standard 30%, has ignited a fascinating battle between these titans of PC gaming.
Steam has been the default storefront for PC gamers for 15 years, but their position atop the mountain has been slowly eroding. Valve will have to make some concessions to both publishers and consumers if they want to keep their spot as the premier PC digital storefront. A good starting point would be to match Epic’s 12% cut. It doesn’t look good for the bottom line, but neither does having two of the biggest games of the year abandon your storefront. Epic’s store has a long way to go before it matches Steam in terms of functionality, but having the biggest games in the world should do wonders for the patience of your consumers. The moves made by each company this year will determine the landscape for years to come. Will that landscape change, or will we see…
- Fortnite’s Continued Dominance and Evolution
We have been dancing, though definitely not flossing, around Fortnite throughout the first two entries on this list, so it’s time to address the 800 pound llama in the room. Love it, hate it, understand it or not, Fortnite has become an inescapable part of the gaming landscape. The best part of Fortnite is not the gunplay or the building, or even the social aspects, it’s how weird the game continues to be on a weekly basis. Whether there’s a giant cube rolling through the landscape, a meteor strike causing gravity to go wild, or the appearance of a giant ice king that turns the game into a winter wonderland, Fortnite is anything but stale.
— James Jarvis (@James_Jarvis) January 19, 2019
The current season of Fortnite ends on February 28th, and no doubt, there will be an in-game explanation for why. Think about how this affects the meta of Fortnite. The concept of seasons was originally introduced as a way to provide themed cosmetic items for purchase on a limited time basis, but now, the reason for these season changes has become a part of the in-game lore. That’s bonkers in the best possible way. Yes, the current seasonal event is similar to what was done in Fortnitemares, but each new season brings a twist of some kind that makes it worth it to return to the game. How Fortnite continues to evolve and engage its player base will be one of the most fascinating things to watch over the coming year. The flexibility of the team and their willingness to radically alter the landscape of their world, has kept millions of players engaged, either through playing the game or watching streams. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this time next year, Fortnite is still in the top five games on Twitch. Unfortunately, you won’t see Fortnite at a Playstation press conference this year because of..
- Sony’s Absence from E3
“As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community. PlayStation fans mean the world to us, and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019.”
What you just read may very well mark the end of E3 in its current incarnation. After opening the doors to general consumers two years ago, E3 seems more poised than ever to become a consumer focused show, more in the vein of PAX, than the E3 of old. The traditional press outlets don’t carry the same weight as they used to, and legions of streamers and influencers are readily available to evangelise for a game or company. With their absence from E3, expect Sony to make announcements in a format akin to a Nintendo Direct. Days Gone will be out by April, which leaves Ghost of Tsushima and Last of Us Part 2 as their two big releases, despite neither game having a confirmed 2019 release date. Dreams, from Media Molecule, should also take some screen time, as well as the usual crop of unannounced indie titles. After a banner year with Spider-Man and God of War, look for Sony to take a bit of a step back in 2019, especially if any of the aforementioned titles are delayed into 2020.
Last year, Microsoft participated in E3, but at a bit of a distance, with the majority of their games and kiosks hosted at the Microsoft Theater nearby, while Mixer took up its convention center floor space. With Sony stepping away from E3, expect Phil Spencer to talk about engaging gamers on a personal level and focusing on the fact that they are the only console first party publisher still delivering a press conference. Don’t be surprised to see a special good will gesture for those attending the press conference. A year of Game Pass perhaps? Microsoft’s current initiatives may be the result of desperation, but that desperation is producing truly interesting work. Microsoft has a chance to dominate the narrative surrounding the press conferences, especially if they come out talking about…
- The Next Generation of Consoles
Given the light first party offerings by Sony and Microsoft this upcoming year, it is no surprise that all eyes are focused on the future. While there have been rumors of Playstation 5 dev kits circulating, and development by first party studios seemingly shifting to the next platform, Microsoft has been more forthcoming about their future plans. Many reports have come out in the last six months regarding Microsoft’s Xbox Scarlett and Anaconda architectures, the code names for the next wave of consoles. Anaconda is poised to be the high end successor to the Xbox One X, while Scarlett is positioned as the Arcade version of that harware. Microsoft has to deem the current hardware generation as a failure, especially after the success of the Xbox 360. Executive Vice-President of Gaming and the Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, is a darling of the Xbox community. He is everything that his predecessor wasn’t: upfront, personable, and laid back. Spencer doesn’t sound like a suit, and he has the gaming pedigree to back up his demeanor. His refocusing of the Xbox brand through initiatives like Game Pass, cross play with PC and Nintendo Switch, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller has shown that he believes in appealing to the core constituency of the player base. This is a key message for those who were disillusioned at the start of the generation and abandoned the Xbox in favor of the much more hardcore friendly Sony console. Microsoft has its work cut out for it, and if their Xbox One X design tells us anything, it’s that they are determined to stay on top of the power curve. The narrative of “most powerful console” has been front and center since they topped the Playstation 4 Pro, and they will be attempting to maintain that dominance.
Despite this push from Microsoft, Sony isn’t going to be complacent. They have much more to lose by an early start to a new console generation. With the install base of the PS4 approaching 100 million, there is no reason for Sony to be the first to market with a new machine. The continued success of the PS4 and its decreasing manufacturing costs, is much more profitable for Sony than pushing out a console with slim or no profit margins. This success, combined with their push for VR adoption, could push back Sony’s launch window and allow Microsoft to launch their next gen hardware first. The biggest issue with this course of action, is that they risk losing their position as the console of choice for third party titles. Sony has dominated this generation in terms of premiere first party studios and games, but they may finally face some worthy competition next year as a result of…
- The Fruits of Microsoft’s Studio Acquisitions
Microsoft is definitely focusing on the future. The Xbox One stumbled at its launch and has never recovered. Sony has dominated this generation with third party exclusive content partnerships and its first party lineup which includes some of the best games of this generation (God of War, Uncharted 4, and Spider-Man to name a few). Meanwhile, Microsoft has struggled to recapture the best days of the Xbox 360. The Halo series is not the juggernaut it once was, and 343 Industries has struggled to live up to Bungie’s legacy. Halo 4’s multiplayer was a mess and Halo 5’s single player campaign was lambasted for straying away from the Master Chief story. Forza Motorsport, and its spin off, Forza Horizon, maintain a high bar of quality, but the player base for those franchises is not growing. New titles like, Ryse: Son of Rome, Quantum Break, and reCore, never saw the success that Microsoft had anticipated, leaving the publisher in a place where it really doesn’t have a new exciting franchise to propel them through the generation. Microsoft seems hell-bent on ensuring that is not the case with the next generation.
Last year, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Ninja Theory (DmC, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Undead Labs (State of Decay), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few), Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas, Knights of the Old Republic 2), and inXile (The Bard’s Tale). With these aquisitions, Microsoft has shown its determination to not lag behind Sony in producing premium content for their next generation platform. The question becomes, do we start to see the initial fruits of that labor this year? With a projected 2020 launch of the next generation, Microsoft would be well-served to show some kind of concept trailer with planned titles from these studios. Last year, it seemed certain that a Fable game was set to be announced by Playground Games. Could this game be a launch title for the Xbox Anaconda? Is it possible that it could debut alongside Halo Infinite as well? A new Halo game hasn’t launched alongside an Xbox console since the original. Combining that with a Fable title would be a massive gesture of good will for longtime Xbox fans. Ultimately, it has been a tough road for first party Microsoft Studios this generation, less so for…
- Nintendo and Its Plans Beyond of the Switch
While the other two first parties are racing towards the future, the Nintendo Switch was the best selling hardware last year on the strength of releases like, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. The big question is, what does Nintendo do to diversify? For the first time in decades, Nintendo’s development efforts are centered around a single system, as opposed to a home console and a handheld. This dynamic has the potential to have broad implications, as it puts all of Nintendo’s eggs into one proverbial basket. In order to expand its offerings, I fully expect to see Nintendo make another push into the mobile market. While Super Mario Run was hardly a juggernaut, it was an important first step for the company. Ubisoft made good on its partnership with Nintendo in the form of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and a second game from this partnership exclusively for mobile devices makes alot of sense. Nintendo has found success in the micro console business, but that success may not be sustainable for much longer. A Game Boy Mini has long been rumored, and would probably be the logical next step for Nintendo, especially given the lukewarm response to the Playstation Classic. Games from the first polygonal generation don’t hold up nearly as well as the sprite based graphics of the 8 and 16-bit console generations, so an N64 Classic would be a bit of a riskier proposition. Although, given the number of N64 titles that have gotten rereleases on the DS, having a mini console full of those ports would actually be appealing. However, the Switch may not be the only mobile first party platform, as a new competitor may see the light of day in the form of…
- Microsoft’s Project X-cloud
Is it OnLive 2.0? Is it Gaikai 2.0? Is it Netflix for games? Is it a pipe dream? No one outside of Microsoft has any idea what its new streaming service will actually be like. The concept video from their E3 press conference last year, showed Xbox quality games streaming to phones with Xbox One controllers attached to them. Network infrastructure is dodgy across the United States, and WiFi penetration is still not as ubiquitous as many would believe. Network latency will destroy any chance of success for this initiative, so that’s a problem that has to be at the forefront of the minds of Microsoft’s engineering team. Microsoft does have its Azure cloud servers as the backbone of this service. These servers provide the necessary raw computational power to make the idea of cloud gaming plausible, but until it is comercially available, I remain extremely skeptical about Microsoft’s ability to deliver on this promise, despite the confidence expressed by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella. Although the library of games for this service is currently unknown, that library will undoubtedly include…
- EA Star Wars Games
To be blunt, EA’s handling of the Star Wars franchise has been a complete and total disaster. Two underwhelming Battlefront games have been greeted with high sales, but critical derision. More importantly, Battlefront 2 spawned a huge community backlash over its abysmal microtransaction system that hamstrung the game and nearly brought Congressional oversight to the entire industry over the perceived predatory nature of loot boxes. This is not the kind of attention anyone wants. Beyond the two Battlefront games, EA has released a mobile Star Wars game and nothing more. Star Wars is the most valuable franchise on the planet, but EA has been unable to leverage their exclusive contract to produce any quality titles. Recently, it was announced that a second Star Wars game has been drastically reduced in scope after it was determined that the game would not be ready by 2020. As of now, the only confirmed upcoming Star Wars project is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from Respawn Entertainment (Titanfall). Disney, the owner of the Star Wars license, has to be feeling a bit burned by the current state of this arrangement, and the future of this partnership may very well hinge on the quality of Respawn’s game. Honestly, if EA is going to bet on any of their studios to produce an excellent Star Wars product, Respawn is a pretty good bet.
Speaking of good bets, we probably forgot to mention many big stories from the coming year, so please let us know what you think, and what we’ve missed in the comments below.