Sony’s PlayStation Vita
The Vita looks increasingly like a device that might’ve been groundbreaking four or five years ago, when gamers were snapping up dedicated gaming handhelds (specifically, Nintendo’s DS) in droves. It’s incredibly powerful at a time when “incredibly powerful” doesn’t matter as much. It has a 5-inch screen at a time when mobile gamers are shifting to 10-inch tablets. It’s designed for gaming exclusively, when consumers are snapping up less-bulky smartphones they’re carrying everywhere and that are capable of producing just-as-impressive visuals (Infinity Blade 2, anyone?). And the Vita’s expensive: $250 to $300 for the handheld itself, with (required) memory cards that’ll cost from $30 to $120. You’ll pay considerably more for a souped-up Vita ($420) than a new PS3.
The Vita’s chief innovation? A backside touchpad that sounds cool on paper, but lacks the marketing snap-crackle-pop of stuff like “3D without glasses!” (as per Nintendo’s 3DS). The Vita’s biggest asset may in fact be its most mundane feature: dual thumbsticks, enabling the sort of sophisticated simultaneous movement and camera control that’s impossible on a touchscreen. With Nintendo’s 3DS selling well below Nintendo’s expectations and the Vita off to a lackluster sales start in Japan, 2012 may be the year we remember as heralding the beginning of the end for dedicated handheld game devices.
The Death (and Life?) of PC Gaming
PC gaming isn’t dead dead, but — speaking in terms of its traditional audience — it’s been on life support for years. Forget the nonsense spouted by interest-driven advocacy groups, who willfully conflate business and consumer hardware sales and fail to distinguish between game-type demographics, and listen to luminaries like Peter Molyneux, who got it right years ago when he described the PC-gaming market as being “in tatters.” Warned Molyneux in 2008: “There aren’t that many releases on PC. There are some high points like Crysis and what Blizzard is doing, but other than that you are restricted to the Sims and World of Warcraft.”
What’s different in 2012? Absolutely nothing. Consumer PC sales (not to be confused with business sales) slumped in 2011 for the first time ever, as tablet and smartphone sales surged. The casual PC-gaming market (Facebook, Facebook and Facebook) notwithstanding, we have a new major MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic (just launched), a couple of tedious-sounding sequels that’ll eventually appear on consoles and probably tablets (Diablo III, Doom 4), and the usual console ports (Mass Effect 3, The Darkness II, Syndicate, Borderlands 2). The bright lights: new graphics hardware from AMD and Nvidia (though who wants to cough up over $500 anymore for a video card that nothing’s taking advantage of?), Kinect for Windows, which could crack wide the motion-control paradigm (though it’ll have less to do with gaming) and stuff like Razer’s Blade laptop, with its clever, dynamically mutable LCD keys and touchpad interface.
Farewell, World of Warcraft
After seven years as the pinnacle of gaming (in terms of player base) on any platform, World of Warcraft’s star is finally setting. Say what you will about its virtues — hardcores claim its PvP endgame is brilliant, naysayers call it relentlessly bland — it’s hemorrhaging subscribers by the million (WoW lost 2 million subscribers over the past year alone). Oh, it’ll be a long death, with periods of resuscitation (the Mists of Pandaria expansion, possibly coming in 2012, should arrest the subscriber decline temporarily), but look for the WoW exodus to continue in 2012, and possible successors — Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2 — to benefit, though it’s hard to imagine either of those reaching WoW’s heyday heights.