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Analysts dole out 2020 predictions

Panel of industry watchers call their shots for the upcoming year in games (and assess how their 2019 calls turned out)

Every year, we turn to a panel of expert analysts to ask them what they see coming down the road. And for returning panel members, we ask them to assess their predictions from the previous year. The games industry tends to move so fast that ordinarily, there's no guarantee how the predictions will turn out. But this year, we can confidently say that all of our panelists' foresight is 2020 (even if it winds up being not quite 20/20).

Below you'll find predictions from predictions panel veterans Kantan Games' Dr. Serkan Toto, IHS Markit's Piers Harding-Rolls, and The NPD Group's Mat Piscatella. But we'll start with two newcomers to the panel: Interpret VP - North America Jesse Divnich and Stephanie Llamas, Head of XR at SuperData, a Nielsen company.

Stephanie Llamas, Superdata

More popular gaming IP - With Half-Life: Alyx and Left 4 Dead breathing life into VR, more AAA titles will be released. The key is whether these games will be ripe for the medium or have trouble adjusting to its unique value proposition. Just because VR is cool doesn't always mean something needs to be in VR, so it'll be about drawing the consumers in with the IP and keeping them in the game with the right content.

Apple will come out with AR glasses (just kidding, no they won't) - AR headsets will remain a dream for the future consumer for several more years. Without a seamless, sleek form factor and a sweet price point, general consumers will remain unaware of and uninterested in AR glasses in 2020. Even Magic Leap is starting to understand that enterprise is the place to be for MR/AR hardware manufacturers.

Oculus Quest will sell 1.8M devices and slash its prices - Quest offers the untethered experience that people have been waiting for and has already posted impressive sales in just six months. By the end of 2019, the Quest sold roughly 600M devices, and with more content to come, Oculus can expect fast-growing interest in their newest headset. But they will need to slash their prices by $100-$200, especially if they want to compete with the PSVR as the PS5 drives renewed interest in the headset.

Social XR is on the "Horizon" - Facebook's social VR platform Horizon will give people the ability to break the chains of VR isolation. The platform will have ways for users to feel safe in a way that other applications like VR Chat have struggled with. And if Facebook knows something about something, it's social media.

Mobile AR will not be an entryway for direct consumer monetization but will transform advertising and retail - Sure, Pokemon GO has AR capabilities, but people don't play the game for them. In fact, most people don't play the game with AR on at all. And Pokemon GO is pretty much the only viable example we have of direct consumer monetization in mobile AR. However, brands have the opportunity to tap into the 84% of American AR users who use social media filters. Unlike pop-ups or interstitials, folks are much more open to branded content, so this presents advertisers with a great opportunity to engage with consumers. And retailers like beauty brands who are using the technology are already seeing increased conversion from their AR-driven experiences.

2020 is not the year of mass VR adoption - But we're getting close. Oculus and PSVR will remain in an arms race for exclusive content. Oculus Go showed impressive sales over the holidays, a surprise to many of us in the industry. It proves there is a new type of casual consumer on the horizon. But we are still talking about just two or three million headset sales next year -- certainly not enough to claim the masses.

Location-based VR will continue to be a key driver for adoption - LBE saw a boom this past year, earning half a billion dollars in 2019. Getting people into headsets who otherwise wouldn't be VR adopters is key, and LBE is going to keep on spreading the word so we can get closer to mass adoption. This is even more likely as major IP continues to make a play.

Jesse Divnich, Interpret

VR Still Struggles - Content is king, but a sole piece of content doesn't move hardware like it did in the past. Half-Life will certainly move some hardware and bring investments into gaming VR, but I still think we will be exactly where we are now by the end of 2020...still wondering where VR is headed.

Fortnite Dropoff - The data is clear, more players are "aging out" of Fortnite than there are "aging in". There is far more competition in the massive shooter market than there was in 2018, thanks to Fortnite, but they will struggle to hold on to market share in 2020. Our data also indicates that current players are less enthused than usual about future updates.

Apex Legends Gains Share - Its initial success was unexpected and Respawn couldn't keep up with the demand for new content. Playership stumbled, but with Season 3 and the new Mirage's Holo-Day Bash event, Respawn is hitting its stride and lapsed players are beginning to re-engage. I think 2020 is their year.

Streamer Private Education - Influencers are rising to stardom much quicker than the past. We love that, but we step back with our association with influencers when they do...well...something irresponsible. I foresee stronger private regulations or "encouragement" from publishers and streaming platforms, especially around the area of educating influencers on how to compose themselves publicly and privately. The NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. all provide training to rookies on this subject. I think there is an opportunity to provide professional training and even certificates for completing certain courses. I think we see more of this in 2020.

Piers Harding-Rolls, IHS Markit Technology

Last Year's Predictions

Overall games market will reach over $128 billion in consumer spending in 2018 - Right. When we completed our actuals for 2018 after this piece was published the result was a little over at $128.3 billion.

2018 to be the biggest console market on record - Right.

2019 console market to grow once again - Likely to be wrong. We still have December results to come and it is close, but currently we expect an overall world console market decline of 2.5% (games content and services). PS4 and Xbox One performance earlier in 2019 was weaker than expected.

Switch to be the best-selling console in 2019 - While there are still a few weeks to go as of this writing, this is going to be right. Switch has been bolstered by the launch of the Switch Lite. Our global forecast for 2019 sell-through currently sits at 20 million (I expect Nintendo to increase its fiscal year forecast).

Reveals of next-gen consoles but no launch - Right. We now have confirmed specs, names and end of 2020 dates for launch of PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Cloud gaming impact on the market to be minimal in 2019 - Right. Cloud gaming is a slow burner and will continue to be so until at least 2022.

Additional cloud gaming market entrants - Right. There have been a series of trials rolled out in China from NetEase, Tencent, China Unicom, China Mobile, and China Telecom.

Loot box regulatory developments will linger on - Right. Aside from new rules imposed in mainland China, a damning report published by the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Committee in the UK means further governmental scrutiny.

Chinese publishers to continue growing international presence - Right. Tencent has continued acquiring minor shares of Western games companies, has had international success with PUBG Mobile while NetEase has had continued success with Knives Out.

Content 'windowing' to expand - Right. The increase in storefronts and services means that this will only increase. Epic Games Store has been very active in securing timed exclusives for its storefront, while Apple has invested heavily in exclusives for Apple Arcade.

Facebook to enter the cloud gaming space - Right. Facebook acquired Spanish cloud gaming company PlayGiga on 18th December. This was one of my outside bets for 2019.

2020 Predictions

Console - No real surprise, but Switch will again be the best selling console during the year. I think the likelihood of a higher-end Switch in 2020 has significantly diminished since the launch of an improved flagship Switch and the Switch Lite. 2020 is also set to be Switch's best hardware sales performance since launch. The Switch Lite will launch in mainland China.

I expect PS5 to outsell Xbox Series X in 2020, but for both platforms to sell more consoles at launch than both the PS4 and Xbox One did back in 2013. One new factor for this upcoming generation is the impact of backwards compatibility on brand loyalty and audience transition. I think we'll see less brand switching as a result. I also expect pricing of both PS5 and Xbox Series X to be similar, and I think it's more likely than not they will be higher than the PS4 launch price point of $399.

A high price point may prompt Microsoft to follow through with a dual-pronged product strategy and release a less powerful, cheaper version of its next-gen platform during the launch window. I don't expect Sony to follow this product strategy at launch so this approach would give Xbox more go-to-market flexibility although it would also add complexity around marketing and consumer education. Personally, I would wait to bring a cheaper version to market.

Cloud gaming - I think there's a good chance that Amazon will reveal a cloud gaming service in 2020. Like Google, Amazon has many of the building blocks to compete in the cloud gaming market: a broad cloud strategy for the games sector, cloud infrastructure, established GPU-based instances, and a highly popular live streaming platform in Twitch. Its weakness is content, again like Google. I think there's a good chance that Google or Amazon will acquire to support their content efforts.

There are a number of beta services in operation from Microsoft, Tencent, NetEase and Nvidia which are well positioned to go for a full commercial launch in 2020. Even with more services arriving, I expect Sony's PlayStation Now to remain the biggest cloud gaming subscription service in 2020, with subscribers on track to hit 1.4 million by the end of March.

I expect the impact from cloud gaming services on existing console, PC and mobile gaming markets to continue to be minimal and mostly incremental in 2020. Generally, I believe that there will be a significant lag between industry investment and positioning and market impact, with more significant growth coming from 2022 onwards.

Mobile - Mainland China, with its highly evolved games market and its vast population, has been the major growth engine for mobile gaming in recent years. It is also where mobile esports has established itself and is becoming much more formalised. While China is still very important, in 2020 I expect there to be much more industry focus on other high-growth markets including Southeast Asia and India.

There are a couple of mobile gaming headwinds in India including rising prices for consumer mobile data services and overall user monetisation which lags behind other Asian markets, but the rapid adoption of smartphones in the market means its huge population is a new and eager set of consumers. Mobile esports is also being seeded in these countries thanks largely to the success of games such as PUBG Mobile and Garena Free Fire.

Hypercasual mobile games have successfully fuelled huge numbers of downloads and strong performance in advertising revenue over the last few years. The very high competition in this space, the rapid turnaround of content and its impact on advertising revenue will mean that in 2020 the largest publishers in hypercasual games will increasingly look to diversify their product portfolio and monetisation strategies.

VR - Valve's much anticipated Half-Life: Alyx will provide a noticeable bump to the PC-based VR market but most hardware sales during 2020 will come from standalone and console-based headsets. If Facebook can make sure the Oculus Quest supply chain is well stocked through 2020, it has a very strong chance of being the best-selling 'high-end' consumer headset through the year outperforming Sony's PSVR. I now expect a next-gen PSVR in 2021 at the earliest following the launch of the PS5.

I'd be interested to hear if Valve is considering a port of Half-Life: Alyx to PlayStation platforms for use with the PlayStation VR, as that could act as a significant differentiator for Sony during the next-gen console battle.

Subscription monetisation - Games subscription services continue to proliferate but the wholesale shift to this form of monetisation as we've seen in video and music entertainment is not on the cards. Indeed, subscription services have become more commercially legitimate precisely because of other forms of monetisation particularly microtransactions, which can be applied to games bundled into these services. Even so, Apple is taking a different approach with Arcade by not supporting advertising or IAP monetisation, and I forecast will hit 12 million subscribers by the end of 2020. This will make it the biggest bundled games subscription service globally.

Content windowing to expand further - Timed exclusives and multi-tiered distribution strategies means that content release windowing will become more complex in 2020. For major publishers like EA and Ubisoft that have direct to consumer subscription offers but also need to use other platforms to reach audiences, content release scheduling will be multi-tiered potentially leading to consumer confusion and dissatisfaction. This will mean, like the online video space, a more fragmented and disorientating marketplace for gamers during the next few years.

Industry regulation - Last year I called for more industry self-regulation to get ahead of state-based investigations into child use of games and in-game monetisation. While the industry made strides, it is clear that the UK government's DCMS was not impressed with the industry response to its broad concerns and has published a report recommending regulation of the sector. I think there's now quite a high chance that there will be some form of tightening of practices enforced by government action. I expect similar scrutiny to continue in other country markets.

Mat Piscatella, NPD Group

Last Year's Predictions

Spending on digital content to account for 90 percent of total content spending - Through the first three quarters of 2019, 87 percent of US video game content spending was done digitally. It might not get to the 90 percent threshold for the full year but will likely come quite close.

In console hardware, Switch grows, leads market - Nintendo Switch has been the US market leader all year, and will finish as the only console platform showing year-on-year growth.

Subscription spending continues to rapidly grow - One of the most dynamic and exciting areas of the market. Across the first three quarters of 2019, US video game subscription spending grew 20 percent. I expect that number to creep higher with fourth quarter reporting.

2018 success will lead to tough comps in console software - Full game software sales are likely to finish the year down in the single digit percentage range.

More focus on facilitating social hangouts in games - Fortnite has led the way here, with in-game events that are changing the way we think about what video games can be, and what they can do.

Streaming offerings outpace consumer adoption - Streaming services have not gained significant market traction, despite new and expanded product offerings.

2020 Predictions:

Late cycle dynamics make for a rough console market, at least until new consoles arrive - PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware sales have experienced strong headwinds throughout 2019. Not only are the platforms at the tail end of their cycles, they've also faced a Fortnite hangover (Fortnite drove significant new players to console in 2018 with associated gains in hardware, accessories and game card spending). While Switch growth has been able to offset some of those declines in 2019, in 2020 we're likely not to see that trend continue. All in-market hardware should see declines throughout 2020. Accessories and new full game software sales could also decline during this period, at least until new console hardware arrives.

Subscriptions start significantly impacting consumer purchasing behaviors - Many early participating titles in subscription programs saw organic full game sales growth outside of the subscription services themselves, likely (at least partially) because subscribers suggested to friends and family to buy the game the subscriber was playing. However, we are seeing signs that this is changing, and perhaps subscribers are no longer telling those friends and family to buy the game, but rather to subscribe to the subscription service itself. We are likely to see a significant shift in mix between purchase and subscription players towards subscription services for those participating titles.

Despite year-on-year declines, Nintendo Switch will lead the hardware market - Nintendo Switch carries tremendous momentum into 2020. While I do expect hardware sales to decline in 2020, Nintendo Switch will remain on top in the hardware space, perhaps into 2022.

Immersive gaming VR finally gets momentum - Growth in Oculus Quest, the release of Half-Life: Alyx, and likely reinvigorated marketing and content for PSVR should at long last bring immersive gaming VR to notable market traction.

Cloud gaming continues to stutter - While I do expect Microsoft's xCloud to begin establishing itself as a valuable addition to the Xbox slate of services, and PlayStation Now to gain more emphasis from Sony in messaging leading to the launch of PlayStation 5, I cannot see other cloud gaming initiatives gaining significant presence in 2020. Too many challenges exist around infrastructure, content and pricing to allow those competing services to make major market strides.

Dr. Serkan Toto, Kantan Games

Last Year's Predictions

Switch Pro and Lite for 2019 - 50% correct. (But I got the "Lite" brand name right!)

More third-party Switch software and one new game from the mega-franchises owned by EA, Activision or Take-Two - Correct. Switch is closing in on 3,000 titles and Overwatch was released.

No PS5 or new Xbox launch - Correct.

No breakthrough in gaming for crypto, blockchain, VR and AR - Correct.

No real competitor for Steam - Incorrect. Epic is shaping up to become a real PC platform powerhouse.

More China and Korea power in Japan - Correct. (For example, Tencent just launched its first mobile app in Japan using a significant marketing budget.)

2020 Predictions

Switch Pro launch - There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Nintendo will launch a "Switch Pro" in 2020, my guess is at $399. More specifically, I predict 4K support, bigger cartridge sizes, and of course beefed-up components. I also think the device will launch after the summer holidays to counter the roll-out of the PS5 and next-gen Xbox later in the year - along with a first-party, system-seller game.

More Microsoft games on the Switch - The love affair between Microsoft and Nintendo is likely to continue, with more big Xbox games landing on the Switch. I am skeptical about xCloud coming to the Nintendo device in 2020, however.

Similar launch of PS5 and Xbox Series X - Both consoles will be a lot more similar to each other in terms of specs, pricing and features when compared to the last generation. Microsoft will likely avoid shenanigans like higher price (I expect $499 price tags for both), weaker specs, restrictions to used disc sales etc. I also expect no handheld versions, a PSVR 2, and only a single device (instead of a PS5 standard and Pro, for example) for both companies at launch.

Cloud gaming will have its first big moment - After Google's more than rough start with Stadia in late 2019, 2020 should bring us a first glimpse into how decent cloud gaming could look like in the future and at scale. Amazon and Netflix will announce their cloud gaming plans. My money here is on xCloud and its mobile support out of the gate, supported by 5G.

Further rise of subscriptions - I expect Sony to finally roll PlayStation Now and Plus into one price in 2020. Microsoft is also likely to add xCloud to one of their already existing service bundle deals. Next year, Nintendo will also add N64 games to Switch Online. These services mark a major turning point for the business model of video gaming - even though on mobile, I predict Apple Arcade to lose its thunder in 2020 already.

Spectacular game on mobile from Nintendo - At the time of writing, Nintendo still hasn't announced what comes after Mario Kart Tour for smart devices. The follow-up must be a big name, so I expect another hit franchise from the company to land on mobile in 2020, i.e. a Zelda app or Smash Bros (don't laugh) co-developed with a new partner. Next year should also see the release of the first Nintendo apps in mainland China.

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