Hottest trends in gaming

PSP Go video demo

Here are continued impressions from E3.  They are, as promised, thoughts on Sony offerings and the larger gaming trends.

Sony: I got a “hands-on” with the new PSP Go.  I think this device is less a competitor to the Nintendo DSi, and much more of a competitor to the iPod Touch.  The device centers on the concept of digital distribution for games and video – no more UMD disks.  Getting rid of a disk drive has certainly made the device more portable, but it still doesn’t seem as pocket friendly as the iPod.  The ability to leverage a control pad is great, as are the tie-ins between the PS3 and the PSP devices, but I see the device as primarily appealing to the existing PSP owners, much as the DSi has been an upgrade to the Nintendo DS.

Sony also had the longest line at E3, with the line for their new God of War property – at its peak it was over two hours.  A fun looking game all around, it was nice to see substantial hands-on time with a highly anticipated property.  There were no demos of the light orb movement tech, but that was as expected.

Spy Games: A big trend in terms of content, it seems like every publisher had at least one spy themed game they were hawking.  SOE has their upcoming MMO The Agency, there’s the spy RPG Alpha Protocol, Deus Ex 3, a new Splinter Cell – the list really goes on from there.

Intellectual property duplication (perhaps unintentional) is already a bit of an issue for the industry.  One of my favorite titles I saw on the show floor was Prototype, releasing next week.  The quasi-superhero game looks on its surface nearly identical to the PS3 exclusive inFAMOUS that was released just two weeks ago.  This similarity is undoubtedly going to cannibalize sales on some very good games.

Digital Distribution: Bye, bye retail, and with it, NPD’s numbers for game sales.  It’s clear with a number of the announcements that digital is in, and here to stay.  From the PSP Go to the Xbox 360’s new download options, the console/handheld space is moving in the direction the PC space moved long ago.

The only thing preventing a more forceful transition is likely a desire to keep from alienating retail outlets, which still play a considerable role in game distribution.  But while the trend may start with older titles seeing newfound distribution through digital means, one should expect day and date releases by year-end of 2010.

Sandbox: The big buzz word this show was “sandbox.”  I saw the term applied to games that were quite linear, but where the demonstrators clearly didn’t want them to be perceived as such.  This is in no way a bad thing – it’s just very interesting that for core gaming, the money seems to be solidly placed with an embracing of player choice mechanics.

MMO: This was also a year of unprecedented Massive Multiplayer Online games being shown.  I counted seven, but I’m certain I missed some.  Much like buzzards circling a dying elk, a number of developers are putting their hopes in the thought that World of Warcraft is nearing retirement.  Which it probably is.  But Blizzard is already hard at work in developing the successor, and it’s going to be a brutal fight.