The New Year is upon us. In the aftermath of the Xbox 360 launch and its 19 games, what is left? Given that we're in January 2006, and this is Microsoft's first full year supporting only the Xbox 360, you can expect a lot. This is the year that things heat up big time. We'll see the second wave of Xbox 360 games, and Sony's PS3 and Nintendo's Revolution culminating in an enormous winter holiday bonanza this fall. Sony's strategies, its console, and its boomerang controller will finally manifest. So how will Microsoft fend off its one-year lead and with what games? Will Microsoft's first-year strategy pay off? Will Xbox Live explode with greatness? Will the potentially new IPs take off? Will we see Halo 3? And can Microsoft really take Sony's two-gen crown?
In this, our second prediction piece, we'll look deep into our crystal ball and speculate about what this year will bring. (If you missed the first article, check IGN Predicts the Future 2006, Pt. 1) If you don't believe how good we are at it, check last year's predictions (IGNXbox Predicts the Future, Pt. 1 and IGNXbox Predicts the Future, Pt. 2), we did well.
BioWare's New Empire
Though BioWare has made the extraordinary merger with Pandemic Studios, the Canadian RPG maker already was in a state of growth (see BioWare Expands for Next Gen) with four teams working on multiple games on various platforms. Mass Effect was announced in October (at X05), but what about that sequel to Jade Empire? One rumor suggests that Jade Empire 2 would go to Sony's new system, PS3. BioWare has remained mum on the specifics, and when directly confronted with the question about whether Jade Empire 2 will hit Xbox 360, BioWare has declined to comment. In an earlier conversation with IGN, BioWare hinted that Jade Empire 2 was already in the makings, and at E3 Microsoft Game Studios executive Shane Kim said that MGS plans to create sequels to game they've already invested heavily in -- such as Jade Empire.
But is BioWare bringing Jade Empire solely to Xbox 360?
While BioWare might have envisioned the sequel to Jade Empire for Xbox 360, BioWare's growth and prowess may have enabled the company to pitch it to both Sony and Microsoft with success. Is Sony, which hasn't seen any BioWare games on its popular system in this generation, finally courting BioWare? Is BioWare flirting back? At the same time, Microsoft has invested an enormous amount of money, time, and effort in supporting BioWare's entirely new intellectual property. Will BioWare repay that support with loyalty in the sequel? Or is the sequel to Jade Empire merely a matter of business?
"We do own the IP (intellectual property) to Jade Empire," said Craig Priddle, director or marketing, who IGN spoke with today. "It's hard to say anything about this subject, so let me say this: We've been thrilled by the fan response to our work on Jade Empire, and we'd like to bring it to as many gamers as possible as soon as we can. With Jade Empire, our goal from the beginning was to build a new successful IP and we're always looking at new opportunities."
With its own IP in hand and the possibility of publishing this game on multiple systems, BioWare can certainly reach as many people as possible as early as possible -- this holiday season. Our prediction (again, this is just our prediction): Jade Empire 2 is coming to Xbox 360 and PS3 by year's end 2006.
Xbox Price Drop, 360 Remains the Same
With the PS3 launch looming on the horizon, wouldn't it be great if Microsoft dropped the price on its Xbox 360 consoles? This could be especially helpful from a competitive standpoint, especially considering how it's rumored that the PS3 have an astronomical price tag. Though this would be sweet from a consumer's perspective there's no way it's ever going to happen this year. After all, why would Microsoft want to lower the price of their console when as of right now, even with the $399 SKU, it might be cheaper than a PS3.
That being said, it's about that time the good ol' Xbox experienced the sales orgasm that results from a price drop. Microsoft has already dropped their first-party support and the game prospects beyond the first half of this year look pretty slim. A price drop seems to be one of the only things Microsoft could really do to get the original black box back onto consumer wish lists.
While there are still plenty of Xbox fans out there loyal to the system, there isn't all that much incentive for a dough-eyed market newbie to pick up an Xbox when they could save up for a couple more months and purchase a white, curvaceous slab of the next generation. An announcement at E3 would make sense, so let's say come this May, Microsoft announces an Xbox price drop to $99.99.
Microsoft Brings Larger Hard Drive
With all the demos, trailers, patches, themes, gamer pictures, Live Arcade games and who knows what else in the future, we're going to need more storage space. Let's face it, 20 GB of space minus all the preloaded data is just not going to cut it even six months down the road. Hell, some people were trying to fill up their hard drives right after the launch. Given that with an increasing stream of HD downloadable content, file sizes are only going to get bigger. If games like Mass Effect, Perfect Dark Zero and others wind up releasing large files over Xbox Live, that's even more reason we'll need more space. After all, nobody wants to have to have to delete Joust HD just to make room for a new movie trailer.
Of course, you can re-download any XBLA game you purchase, but it's still a time-consuming pain in the ass to flip through files and determine which ones are more important. We're assuming Microsoft recognizes the lucrative potential of releasing a larger hard drive into the market, or perhaps even two. Again, E3 would be a perfect place to announce something like this. More likely than not, they'll announce a 40 GB hard drive, and hopefully an 80 GB to satiate those gamers with an obsession for hanging on to everything they snag off the Marketplace. The only inconvenience is going to be either switching out your hard drives when you want to access something and constantly having to recover your gamertag, or re-downloading everything again onto your new hard drive. Either way, your saves are going to remain stranded on one hard drive or another.
Microsoft Auto-Updates Throughout '06
Remember when you first bought your Xbox 360 and before you could do anything online, you had to download a patch? Remember over the holiday season when you had to download another mysterious update? Well, expect more of these as Microsoft continues to tinker and patch up its allegedly rushed console. What does this mean for gamers? Well, it means some of the save issues and other strange glitches we've seen with titles will slowly be worked out. For instance, Call of Duty 2 has save glitches midway through the single player campaign which cause you to lose your save game and have to restart. This was due to a bug where if you weren't signed in when the game booted up then it would create its own game save, overwriting any information you'd already had on there. The solution was to sign into your gamer card first before you boot your game up. A level skip code was also given out to help frustrated gamers get to back to the levels they were in before the glitch ruined their progress.
Problems like these, which apparently stemmed from a few rapid OS updates right before the 360 launch, could be rectified with these patches, and it's something we'll likely continue to see more of. Hopefully, these updates also fix the obscene amount of chop in many of the backwards compatible Xbox titles and contribute to make using your Xbox 360 a more stable, bug-free experience.
Halo 3 Ships in 2007
We already privately made our prediction on Halo 3 prior to the recent comments by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, but his backpedaling helped cement our opinions. Ever since Halo: Combat Evolved stunned the gaming world on Xbox, following it up with the monumental launch of Halo 2, Microsoft has held one of the best game properties in the videogame world. Microsoft at first privately and then publicly said that Halo 3 will be ready whenever Sony's PS3 was ready. This kind of statement was taken literally, but anyone with two good ears could tell Microsoft was simply matching Sony's spring PS3 launch rhetoric (which, by the way, doesn't seem very likely in North America). Even if SCEA ships PS3 this fall in North America, Microsoft's best counter-punch is Halo 3, without a doubt. But will Bungie be ready with it?
Recently, Bill Gates back peddled on his previous statements on Halo 3 saying that he wanted to make sure that any previous comments he had made regarding Halo 3 were "speculation...it's up to the team when they want to ship that [Halo 3], and they're going to take their time to make that a super great product."
Given Bungie's long production history for both Halo and Halo 2 (it took three years to make Halo 2), and the shift from Xbox to Xbox 360 technology, in addition to the enormous expectations for Halo 3, we feel Halo 3 will not ship this fall. We believe that Gears of War will slip into the fall 2006 publishing period, taking up that role. While Halo 3 will ship in conjunction with the 2007 movie -- replete with the biggest PR campaign the world has ever known. (Having said that, you can bet your bottom dollar Microsoft will debut Halo 3 at this year's E3).
Japanese Xbox 360 Development Will Increase
Microsoft's Japanese launch, it's pretty clear, sucked eggs. Did anyone predict the console manufacturer would sell less than the first launch? Ouch. That launch seemed more rushed than the US launch, as Namco's Ridge Racer 6 took the top selling slot. Double ouch. True, Dead or Alive 4 was unfortunately delayed until a few weeks later, and Ninety-Nine Nights will help things a bit. Despite the launch, Microsoft will improve over its dismal first offerings. What's more, Japanese development should show strong, though not dramatic, support.
Microsoft's multiple first-party titles in development -- Ninety-Nine Nights, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and further work with Q Entertainment and Okamoto's company -- suggest prominent Japanese developers are working on potentially prominent Xbox 360 games. That's the goal, anyway. Will Microsoft also have support from third party Japanese companies?
Square's Final Fantasy XI offering, in all honesty, was an easy deal. It's an old game and Square has nothing to lose by selling it on Xbox 360. But will Square offer new, original titles on Xbox 360? Square's indicated it's open to bringing new IPs to multiple systems, and the current state of Japanese gaming and the Japanese economy perhaps even requires it. But we believe that Sony will push to keep all new Final Fantasy and Mana series games on PS3, while it will produce off-shoots of those franchises on Xbox 360 (sort of like Chrystal Chronicles on GameCube), while bringing new, fresh IPs such as Fantasy Earth (a MMORPG) to multiple systems (such as the PC and maybe even Xbox 360).
Capcom and Namco have led the third-parties with Xbox 360 support. Namco, with the already-released Ridge Racer 6 and upcoming Frame City Killer, and Capcom with the future releases of Dead Rising, Biohazard 5, and Lost Planet, all of which appear to have high-quality teams development behind them. While we're hoping this trend will continue, both companies are keeping a close eye on their Xbox 360 sales and could very well trim back games on Microsoft's system if sales don't meet expectations. Like Square, Capcom is unlikely to bring Devil May Cry and Onimusha to Xbox 360. Those seem destined to remain on PS3. KOEI will remain a staunch PS3 supporter, but may provide cross-platform releases in the upcoming years.
Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4 is clearly a PS3 exclusive, at least for the time being. Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater never made its way to Xbox, though we might see that game finally hitting Xbox this year (though Konami has remained resolute in keeping perfectly silent on any Xbox possibilities). Still, Konami also made steps toward bringing its second tier games to Xbox with Winning Eleven and Silent Hill. Expect that trend to continue, as exemplified by Rumble Roses XX and new games to be announced at E3. Our prediction? Don't count on MGS4 this year, if at all.
Do you think MGS4 will ever hit Xbox 360?
Finally, Tecmo's Team Ninja remains a wild card. Though it staunchly defended its Xbox-only route in the current generation, it has yet to clarify whether the next gen sequel to Ninja Gaiden will appear on Xbox 360 or PS3. If hardware is the deciding factor, PS3 may have its Team Ninja game after all. But if a more well-rounded business plan prevails, then both systems will get a taste of the ninja magic. Our prediction? Team Ninja will go multi-console with the next Ninja Gaiden.
Visual Concepts' New Football
Visual Concepts is in development with a football game. Sources close to the company have clarified that employees are, and have been, working on a new football game for some time. What will it be and when will it appear? Tricky negotiations and the right combination of licenses and concepts must fall into place first. Given that EA owns the ESPN, NFL, NFLPA, college, and Arena football licenses, there isn't much left. Though we winch at mentioning Acclaim, Visual Concepts, we predict, is working on a Legends of Wrestling-style football game containing individual licenses for individual football players. This game could very well hit the market this fall on both current and next generation systems.
So those are our 2006 predictions.