Gaming trends for 2017

Early signs suggest 2017 will be a conservative year for gaming. The PS4 and Xbox One have little to prove, with an already robust library and huge user base. VR will be fascinating to watch, but mainstream adoption isn’t happening anytime soon. And the disappointing sales of several AAA sequels (Dishonored 2, Titanfall 2, Watch Dogs 2) will make major studios cautious with their output.

Despite all this, several factors may shake up the industry. PC and console gaming have been inching closer together for years; strong PS4 Pro and Scorpio sales should speed up this trend. And Nintendo continues to play a wildcard role. They could transform iOS and Android gaming and revitalize dedicated portable gaming devices.

The line between PC and consoles continues to blur

PC and console gaming have moved closer together over the past few years. Consider where modern PCs and consoles share common ground:

  • Hardware. Since the debut of the PS4 and Xbox One in 2013, consoles and PCs have the same X86 architectural underpinnings. This makes development work across platforms far easier.
  • Build options. PCs have always allowed for complete customization. You’re able to pick a video card, RAM, and other components to match your budget. Consoles have taken their first small step in this direction with the PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio. Gamers can buy higher end hardware for enhanced performance on Xbox or PlayStation games.
  • Game library. Console exclusives are a rarity this generation. Microsoft ended their first party exclusives with Xbox Play Anywhere. Once Xbox only titles now release on both Xbox and PC platforms. At the same time, many popular PC-only Steam titles are now ported back to console. Furthermore, console digital stores (PSN, Xbox Live) offer a much better selection of games this generation. It’s still not to the breadth and variety offered on PC, but it’s competitive among better funded titles.
  • Digital sales. Games are shifting from physical to digital distribution across PCs and consoles. Back in 2013, 92% of all PC games sold were distributed digitally. Consoles still rely mostly on physical disc sales. Estimates put digital sales at only a third of all revenues by 2020. Yet physical sales are dropping while digital sales are growing rapidly. Digital console sales report a 35% bump year over year.

At this point, price is the main differentiator between console and PC. In exchange for a higher price tag, PC gamers get extra horsepower and open-ended customization.

Both platforms should benefit as console and PC gaming come closer together. I can see more “cross pollination” for both camps. Console-based gamers and development studios have more incentive to dip into PC gaming and vice versa.

The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio are natural extensions of this movement. If either of these consoles sell well in 2017, especially the higher end Scorpio, more PC-console partnerships will follow. For instance, Steam could open up a subset of “console ready” titles to the PS4 and Xbox One. More games would likely invest in cross PC/console play and shared save progress.

Nintendo’s gambles on mobile and Switch

Super Mario Run was just the start for Nintendo’s investment in mobile gaming. According to recent interviews, the company is considering two to three games on iOS and Android every year.

Super Mario Run has already set App Store records for downloads and revenue. Yet it’s unclear if SMR foreshadows a long term opportunity or is a fluke success. The Mario brand and heavy marketing push by both Apple and Nintendo drive sales in a way that few other titles could hope to replicate.

If Nintendo can sustain strong sales across several titles, we’ll see many other PC and console-only studios jump into mobile gaming. That could reshape expectations for gaming on the go. I’d expect more variety in genre and deeper gameplay at higher prices.

I’m also curious how gamers and the larger public react to the Nintendo Switch. I’m skeptical the Switch will make a lasting impression with mainstream audiences; there’s too much competition with consoles, PCs, and smartphones.

Never count Nintendo out though. The right PR, pricing, and first party lineup could produce a big hit out of the gate. In the process Nintendo will bring the dedicated portable gaming market back from the dead. In the short term the Switch will dominate dedicated portables. But if it’s a long term trend, Sony, Microsoft and others could jump in as well. We could see more dedicated remote play devices (PlayStation Vita 2?) or mobile apps for tighter PC/console integration on the go.