Predicting the big stories of 2017

Yesterday we checked on our predictions for 2016 to see how they fared, and today we're looking ahead to what we expect from 2017. It'll probably be a low-key year for VR as many wait for price drops and new hardware models, esports will continue to flourish, and given that the Cubs won the World Series, sending our timeline off in some strange direction, let's say that Half-Life 3 will be announced. Weirder things happened in 2016 than that.

New versions of the Vive and Rift will be announced 

Or maybe even released. Old and new versions of the VR headsets should still work with the same games, so we expect an iPhone-like model of yearly or bi-yearly releases—at least for as long as it can be sustained. The main goal of Valve, HTC, and Oculus should be to produce better quality, cheaper headsets. Even if the best game in the world were released for VR, $600 on top of a gaming PC would still be too much for widespread adoption.

Changes at big publishers

French media conglomerate Vivendi now holds 24% of Ubisoft’s shares, signaling that it isn’t backing off of its hostile takeover attempt. It’s hard to say how a Vivendi-controlled Ubisoft would change, but Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot is not happy about it. He’s suggested that Ubisoft would consider selling to another group before being controlled by Vivendi, and that he may step down if Vivendi does take over the board. He also suggested that Ubisoft may “lose some of the key talents" in the wake of a takeover. If Ubisoft manages to remain independent, we may see no big shift, but the other options—selling to another corporation or ceding to Vivendi—could see its strategy shift considerably in 2017.

Meanwhile, Activision has seen a drop in Call of Duty sales year over year (though perhaps that will be made up for in time), suggesting it must reimagine the series’ design, development, and marketing to keep its cash cow alive. It might be too late to turn the next CoD around, but Battlefield 1’s success could see a big return to historical warfare soon. Recall how the popular shooters of the '90s—Doom, Quake, Descent, Duke Nukem, Half-Life—prompted a wave of World War 2 games in the 2000s, including Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty, and Battlefield 1942.

And finally, Valve will do something. Let’s just say, uh, that it’ll announce that Steam now works underwater.

Uncertain futures for many games-as-services

The end of 2016 saw major updates to Paragon and Battleborn which were intended to reinvigorate their fortunes. No small task in Battleborn’s case, given that when we wrote about the incoming changes the concurrent player count was peaking around 200 on Steam. As for Paragon, it’s not on Steam and still technically in open beta, so doesn’t release numbers—but Epic has been candid about the need to recover from early missteps, and the changes in the Monolith Update are substantial. For both games, 2017 looks to be make or break.

There’s also a case for saying Heroes of the Storm should also be on the endangered list. However deep Blizzard’s pockets are, how long does it keep banging its head against a wall marked “like a more accessible League of Legends”, while simultaneously trying to carve out a future as an esport? Game director Dustin Browder sounds confident the game isn’t going anywhere, but if the lure of the company’s own characters combined with user-friendly mechanics hasn’t been enough to see it explode, it’s hard to know how that changes.

On the other side of the same equation, Bethesda faces an uphill climb when it comes to challenging Hearthstone with The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Like Paragon, Legends classifies itself as being in open beta, but that seems like little more than a naming convention to avoid reviews and awkward questions about a frail player base. At this point, the marketing campaign is going to have to be spectacular when it finally arrives to breathe life into what it should be noted is an excellent CCG.

Nor are these questions over long term viability confined to new projects. The (also excellent) Titanfall 2’s tribulations are well-documented, and despite heavy end-of-year discounting, a turnaround again feels like a tall order, casting substantial doubt over any third installment. The unifying factor here is how fierce the competition for each of these games is. To the surprise of precisely no-one, it transpires that trying to stand out in a genre already dominated by one or more behemoths is tremendously difficult and expensive. Developers looking to take inspiration from Overwatch, be warned.

'MOBAs, minus laning' will be the new free-to-play trend

We're going to see another copycat boom like we did with League of Legends a few years ago. With a twist, of course. The hero-based multiplayer game is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but we're on the verge of that concept evolving past the boundaries of the MOBA. With Dota and League so firmly established, and most challengers to the throne now dead and gone, more developers are taking the Overwatch approach, moving their heroes into other genres. I think the next fad will be the 'not quite a MOBA' genre, which already has two up-and-coming games: Battlerite and Amazon's Breakaway. Both games stick to the hero teamfight combat, but ditch laning and in-match leveling and some other key MOBA elements. 'Hero brawler' is as good a name as any.
One of these games will likely be the next big thing in esports, and we'll likely see a few more by the end of 2017. By 2018, we'll have lived through another round of copycats that try and fail to make a big splash in this now-established genre.

HBM2 graphics cards will finally arrive 

Nvidia's Pascal graphics cards (like the beastly 1080 and 1070) were originally rumored to be moving to the super-fast High Bandwidth Memory 2 RAM, the successor to the HBM memory AMD used in its Fury graphics card. HBM2 seems like the point at which this new memory architecture will really shine, with bandwidth that blows away GDDR5, and, crucially, support for more memory per package than HBM1. Like any cutting edge technology, it's not going to be cheap, and yields will likely be low. Perhaps that's why Nvidia skipped the technology for the 1000 series graphics cards. But that sets up 2017 to be the year of HBM2.

AMD already has experience with HBM, which makes the Fury's successor in early- or mid-2017 a likely candidate. Nvidia is slightly harder to predict. They have the development budget to push for a new technology, and are already using HBM2 in a very expensive data center GPU. But given the success of the 1000 series, Nvidia is probably in no hurry to launch a new GPU line anytime soon. If they release an HBM2 graphics card this year, expect it to launch about 18 months after the 1000 series (the same amount of time that passed between the GTX 980 and 1080 launches). That means something like November 2017.

Destiny 2 will be announced for PC 

This feels like one of the more certain pieces of soothsaying, with multiple sources, including our own, pointing to a PC release for Destiny 2. The fact Activision has enlisted two additional developers (High Moon Studios and more recently Vicarious Visions) to help Bungie also suggests an expanded scope for the sequel. Hopefully the extra hands will mean the follow-up suffers less of the content droughts that has blighted the ambitious shooter-RPG hybrid between expansions. To that end, don’t be surprised if Bungie also implements tools that enable players to create and share their own missions. Something along the lines of an enhanced version of Halo’s forge mode would make total sense. With no formal announcement yet, little concrete is known about the project beyond the fact that story duties are being headed up by Christopher Schlerf, who was formerly lead writer on Halo 4 and Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s currently unclear what, if anything, will transfer over from the first game, but from the perspective of PC players, a fresh start would be ideal. Don’t be shocked if the release slips into 2018 though.

 E3 will open up to consumers 

Gaming’s annual paean to all things new has actually been letting in small numbers of non-industry people since 2015, when around 5,000, and this is the ESA’s word not ours, “prosumers” were given entry to the LA Convention Center’s sprawling smorgasbord of new software. But that wasn’t enough to sate the big publishers, who still want to see the event evolve into something much more consumer-facing. Last year EA held its own show for gamers at the adjacent LA Live, and intimated to us that they wouldn’t return to the main venue until the ESA made much more substantial efforts to let gamers actually get involved at E3. With so many greenbacks on the line, expect that to happen this year and a much larger number of tickets made available to the public. See you there!

More Fallout 4 

Nuka World may have been the final installment of Fallout 4’s DLC, but is Bethesda really ready to wrap the game up completely? Most of the expansions were small workshop additions, with only Far Harbor standing out both in size and quality, and Bethesda is also attempting to bring the game to VR. This all makes us think there’s still potential in Fallout 4 for new stories to be told. A rumor (a very thin one) surfaced earlier in the year about Obsidian working on a New Orleans expansion, and seeing as how Obsidian recently wrapped up Tyranny they might just have the time and interest to join forces with Bethesda again. Even if it’s not Obsidian, we’ve got a sneaking suspicion another developer might be tapped for a New Vegas-style installment.

More predictions 

  • Valve will finally edit this page so it doesn’t read “The most recent game we've added to the list is Portal 2,” which it has erroneously read since the release of CS:GO over four years ago.
  • Lots more games about Donald Trump.
  • After 12 long months of waiting, we’ll finally get a new Call of Duty game.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 will be officially announced for PC, right before the announcement that it’s been delayed until 2019.
  • After six more mysterious trailers for Death Stranding, someone on the dev team will finally suggest they start working on the actual game at some point instead of just making creepy movies.
  • A game that has been remastered and sold will be re-remastered and sold.
  • Following the unexpected updates for Age of Empires 2 and Diablo 2, Wacky Wheels will receive its first patch in 22 years, adding new animal racers as DLC.
  • Instead of a dozen different Warhammer games being released this year, everyone will take a breath and tone it down and there will be only ten. Eleven, tops.
  • Telltale will land another movie franchise for adaptation into a series of adventure games: Jason Bourne. Jason won’t remember this.
  • The end credits for Watch Dogs 2 will finally finish scrolling up the screen of a guy who finished it on December 16th.
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