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My Punditry Brings All The Boys To The Yard

It’s that time of year. Last post I linked you to my MMORPG.column where I described a little of how the year that was was. But one of my more masochistic habits, before making predictions, is to call myself on my own windbaggery. So let’s see how I did last year in the predictivating!

PREDICTION 1:

The video game industry is not going to be immune from the Great Recession. The MMO industry is especially not going to be immune, as the only proven path to success for MMOs is in huge budget gambles that have missed more often than not. There will be a couple of high profile announcements next year, but they are all games that managed to secure funding before the global economy fell over in a drunken stupor. There will be major, major consolidations between companies (“EA buys Ubisoft! No, wait, Ubisoft buys EA!”) which will result in consequent massive layoffs – layoffs which have dwarfed any to date. A not insignificant number of people, burned by the consequently flooded job market, will leave the game industry entirely for safer climes, and the usual incestuous job hopping will come to a screeching halt as everyone lucky enough to have a paying gig holds on tight to ride out the storm. Austin, Vancouver, and Boston will depopulate (not entirely – but significantly, as has already happened in Austin) as game development hubs as consolidation moves everyone towards California. The impact of this hammer blow will be felt over the next 3-4 years as new development slows to a crawl and the large publishers focus their efforts on safe, secure investments. Hope you like fantasy RPGs and Madden games.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

munch_scream.jpg

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Oh God, if I say I got it wrong, will it go away?

PREDICTION 2:

Those unemployed game developers have to do something – expect something of a boom in iPhone and web titles, both platforms friendly to small teams (in the iPhone’s case, sometimes talented one-man teams). Some really surprising and technologically sophisticated titles will be released there, and that will be where all the technical and design innovation is centered around. There’s movement by hobbyist/unemployed developers in semi-open platforms such as SL’s Opengrid and Metaplace as well.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

There have been a lot of iPhone, web, and especially Facebook titles released last year. Innovative? Um, not so much. In fact, most of them have been fairly crappy. And, uh, Metaplace just shut down.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

We’ll call it 50/50.

PREDICTION 3:

World of Warcraft will not deliver an expansion next year, focusing on live patching (effectively, the raid-level instances left out of WotLK’s release) as the company focuses on delivering its first Starcraft title and moving Diablo 3 into beta. Blizzcon will see an announcement of a new MMO that isn’t World of Starcraft, World of Diablo or World of World of Warcraft and everyone will glom to it as The Savior Of The PC Gaming Industry (which by this time will be pretty painfully obviously in desperate need of saving). Wrath of the Lich King will still be in the top 10 PC titles at the end of the year.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

You can rarely go wrong by asserting that Blizzard won’t release something. Although Blizzard did announce Cataclysm, it’s still not even in beta, much less close to release. The much-rumored “Project X” MMO Blizzard hasn’t been announced, aside from a few tantalizing hints here and there that “it’s really different!”. Starcraft II hasn’t come out yet. And according to the September NPD retail PC sales charts (the most recent I could find), Wrath of the Lich King is comfortably ensconced at number 4, almost a year after its release.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Pretty much! (Although you still can’t see a bare-bones website teasing you about a new MMO.)

PREDICTION 4:

Aion will do well in Korea. It won’t do well enough (like Tabula Rasa, Aion has been a high-profile and high-budget project in development for far too long). NCsoft will undergo serious retrenchment (related to the general global downturn) in Korea, although not in the West, because, well, they kind of already did that and there’s not much left to cut (though currently unannounced projects may disappear from lack of funding). Given the cutbacks from Webzen and Nexon earlier this year, this will mark the high water market of Korea’s investment in the US market, to be replaced as 2010 begins with Chinese investment, as the Chinese MMO market will continue to boom, unlike the West or Korea.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

Oh, hi. I work at NCsoft now, again. On Aion support.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

I’m fairly glad I got this basically wrong for obvious reasons. Aion hasn’t been a million-selling success but it is successful and NCsoft, at least from this worker bee’s perspective, appears to be in it for the long haul.

PREDICTION 5:

I think Battlestar Galactica’s final episodes will be pretty cool!

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

munch_scream.jpg

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

The soundtrack was pretty good.

So tomorrow, I’ll post some predictions for next year. Given how totally awesome I did last year, maybe I can predict global nuclear apocalypse or something.