Welcome to 2009. We have seen the future of gaming, and it looks a lot like its for your mother, grandfather and ADD-afflicted pals. Cheerfully, there’s still hope for hardcore PC and console enthusiasts. It just doesn’t come in a shiny, shrink-wrapped retail box.
Expanding the medium’s reach to include women and seniors, Nintendo’s family-friendly DS and Wii systems continue to dominate hardware sales. To meet demand this year, publishers will focus even more heavily on mainstream titles from_ Grey’s Anatomy_ to Wii Fit-inspired workout simulation EA Sports Active. Championing socialization and community, free-to-play massively-multiplayer online universes targeted at teens, tweens and social butterflies like Habbo Hotel and zOMG!_ are expected to fast outpace traditional offerings’ popularity too. Even next-gen console manufacturers are keen to tap the market, predicted to top $13 billion by 2011 by analyst group DFC Intelligence. See Sony’s new PlayStation Home cyberspace realm, and Microsoft’s Avatars, which join Nintendo’s Mii virtual alter-egos online.
Courtesy of increasing interest in user-generated content, tomorrow’s next superstar designer is also staring you right back in the mirror. What LittleBigPlanet and Spore started (by making it simple and intuitive to build and share original game types and evolvable creatures) titles like Skate 2 and LEGO Universe continue. The former allows aspiring Tony Hawks to assemble and swap custom obstacle courses. The latter, encourages submissions of brick-based designs via its Web site for possible digital inclusion by developer NetDevil in the online realm.
Never mind upcoming high-profile, DVD or Blu-ray based titles like Halo Wars and Street Fighter IV either. Digital is this year’s watchword, as innovative Internet-only offerings like PlayStation Network’s Flower—where you play the wind, blowing floating petals across verdant plains—take top billing. Thanks to downloadable custom level editors and expansions, yesterday’s bestsellers are also promised second winds. See Fallout 3, presently benefiting from the free G.E.C.K. toolkit, which lets fans create new adventures and in-game objects. It’s also receiving three online add-ons (Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt and Broken Steel), one per month, respectively, from January-March. Grand Theft Auto IV‘s downloadable episode “The Lost and Damned” arrives for the Xbox 360 on February 17. Casual portals like BigFishGames.com and MSN Games, and mobile platforms like the iPhone, whose App Store boasts over 3,000 digital diversions, will also heighten interest in value-priced, on-demand delivery.
For software makers and enthusiasts, the rules of the game are quickly changing. That means for us, the desktop computer- and HDTV-huddled masses, there’s never been a better time to come out and play.