Predictions for 2017

It’s that time of year again!

It’s about time for Imperium! (formerly DisCONNECT!) to go dark for a while, until the new year emerges! I haven’t posted much this year because being a paramedic gets pretty busy, and I bought my first home which has taken up a lot of time (and money). Hopefully I’ll be able to post more in the new year. We’ll see. But for now: Predictions!

10: Data breaches increase significantly

It seems like every week or so we end up with a new warning about data breaches, as people scramble to reset their passwords and to see if they’ve been hacked. Intrusions are becoming increasingly common, and increasingly malicious. Many are done not to prove a point, but with the intent of causing problems – to steal data to be sold on, or to disrupt services purely to cause frustration and anger. In days past, intrusions were done to prove a point – to protest against a business or a party or whatever. Today it’s done for two reasons: profit, or anarchy. Expect it to increase over time, especially as that potential for profit skyrockets.

9: Popular communities implode under moderator pressure

YouTube Heroes is an awful idea and Google should be shot for even considering it. Whenever “moderation” comes up today, it typically means “censorship”. Now to be fair, any site can censor whatever it wants – it’s a private outfit, it’s up to them. But when very popular sites with users from diverse backgrounds decide to start trying to censor competing viewpoints (“controlling the narrative”) I think we need to evaluate where we’re going with moderation. Using DCMA takedowns and threatening to release dox is going too far. If you don’t toe the line anymore, you’re apparently to be censored. The internet should be a place for anyone to express their opinion, no matter how retarded it may be, and when you’ve got Tumblrinas screaming “KILL ALL WHITE MEN!” without the slightest trace of irony, but censoring people who oppose it, you’ve got a fucking problem.

8: Streaming services become even more popular

The PS4 Pro lacks a 4k Bluray player. A curious omission, given that the Xbox One S has it. That said, streaming services have become extremely popular in Australia, and Bluray sales are on the decline. I don’t think they’re dead or dying, just that we’re less inclined to purchase physical media as opposed to watching it on Netflix or similar (or just pirating it, I guess). For my circle personally, we generally only purchase movies/TV shows that we like and will probably enjoy again and again. I don’t even know anyone who has a 4k TV, let alone 4k Bluray media (not that this means much). Over the next year streaming media will probably continue to grow in Australia, likely at the expense of physical media, making the omission of a 4k play in the PS4 Pro probably largely irrelevant, at least for now. It’s just more convenient for the most part.

7: Google’s hardware starts to impress

Google’s new Pixel smartphone is very impressive. In the past, Nexus devices have been no-frills, bare-bones units that didn’t really threaten the flagship Android devices. Your main advantage was that it was pure Google Android, and that was about it. But the Pixel has changed all that – it’s an awesome phone with stock Android. Google’s knocking it out of the park lately with some of their gear. I expect that to continue.

6: Apple struggles to impress

I personally prefer iOS to Android (personal preference, I don’t think iOS is any better than Android, in some ways it’s worse) but Apple’s not really doing all that much with it. While Google are experimenting and releasing services that are really great to use, Apple aren’t doing much except going “Hey, here’s a new phone. It’s fast. It has a better camera. Okay, see you next year!” On the whole I find Apple’s offerings are very refined and work exceptionally well… but it’s hard not to look at what Google are doing and contemplate switching. I don’t, because I prefer iOS, but I’ve tried in the past numerous times. If Apple want to stay relevant, they need to start borrowing a few pages from Google’s book.

5: Steam loses steam

To be honest, I’ve never thought Steam was fantastic besides when it was cheap to buy games. It has first and foremost been a DRM platform. I don’t really find its social media elements to be all that good. The best part of the platform is its remarkable streaming and controller capabilities. That said, Steam has turned into a shovelware shitshow, filled with absolutely awful indie games looking to make a quick buck, big-claim early access games that will never get finished, and a cavalcade of shitposting reviews looking to get frontpaged on Kotaku. It’s awful. It’s a mockery of what Steam was supposed to be. Valve have said in the past that they want to turn Steam over to the community, but what Valve forgot is that the Steam community is predominately toxic and shitty. It’s some of the very worst of PC gaming.

Also it’s ridiculously expensive for Australians these days. Valve have implemented regional pricing, yet they charge Australians in US dollars. When the AUD is strong versus the USD, this isn’t much of an issue, but when the opposite is true, that $59.95 USD to “match” the US turns into close to $90 AUD. This is an absurd practice and one of the very worst out there. Either offer regional pricing in local currencies, or don’t. Fuck, it’s not that hard!

4: Scorpio isn’t that great

There’s a lot of talk about Microsoft’s next console, the Scorpio, including “true 4k gaming”. I highly doubt any of this will materialise in any meaningful way. The PS4 Pro doesn’t do full 4k, and PCs capable of maintaining 4k at a decent framerate are incredibly expensive, beyond the realms of a console. If you upset that price point too much, you’re going to shift the argument in favour of PCs over consoles – after all, if the brand new 4k console ends up being prohibitively expensive, why not just go all the way to a PC? I remain pretty skeptical about Scorpio, but I hope to be proven wrong all the same. True 4k games are going to be a big ask for a console (they already tax high end PCs!). Good luck to them, but I think it won’t be as impressive as everyone assumes.

3: “4k” and HDR starts to become relevant

Up until now, 4k has largely been confined to streaming media and Blurays. The number of people who actually play games at resolutions over 1080p is fairly small. That said, the PS4 Pro (even if it’s not true 4k) and perhaps the Scorpio next year will probably change that. 4k TVs are already coming down in price, and if easy, mass-market options exist for even near-4k experiences, I expect that it’ll take off significantly. We’ve been on 1080p for ages now, particularly in the PC sector – it’s time we outgrew it and moved on to the next big thing. Whether or not we start doing this to the significant expense of framerate in the console sector remains to be seen (we still compromise a bit on the PC after all).

As for HDR – until the PS4 Pro this was pretty much rarely mentioned, especially in the PC space (for the confused: I mean display HDR, not the graphical effect similar to Bloom). Supposedly this makes a massive difference (I haven’t seen it for myself yet, sadly) to the visual quality of games, so I’ll be interested to see if it too becomes mainstream as time goes on.

2: PC gaming remains… steady

PC gaming has somewhat stagnated a bit in my opinion. It’s not dying (don’t let anyone tell you any different) but it’s becoming a bit of a mess. We’ve got great hardware and we’re seeing some better support, but there’s still a lot of rubbish that the platform can’t seem to control. Awful console ports remain at the top of the list (and indies are just as guilty as AAA studios, believe it or not), as well as the shitshow that Steam has turned into. We still don’t have a really good way to do couch-gaming; it has too many compromises and is still too fiddly compared to the consoles. While we can leverage obscene amounts of power that puts consoles to shame, sometimes that comes at the cost of stability. Watch the Steam forums erupt with every new release crying about games not working for all sorts of reasons.

And it’s easy to blame the end user – “Lol upgrade ur stuff n00b” – but really, after all this time, it shouldn’t be. I grew up with the dark days of DOS PC gaming, when you had to use the dark arts of bootdisks just to get sound to play in games. The fact that we’re still muddling our way through driver updates and INI tweaks isn’t encouraging. It’s still the superior platform, but damn it, we’re still grappling with issues from years ago. And all the early access indie games in the world won’t really make up for that.

1: VR remains a curiosity

I was relatively impressed with the Playstation VR, which I think is VR’s best hope given how comparatively cheap it is compared with a Rift or Vive. It’s plug and play for the most part, without a lot of cocking around, and it has titles that generally fall closer to legitimate games instead of technology demos. That said, it’s still got a long way to go – the viewport is very soft and comparatively low resolution, the PS4 sounds like a jet engine when it’s in use, and tracking is still a bit fiddly. As for the Rift and the Vive – well, they’re extremely expensive, and to get the most out of it you not only need an incredibly beefy PC but a lot of space as well.

Until VR develops further I think it’ll remain a curiosity first and foremost – a cool experience to try, but nothing that you want to do on a regular basis. I think as the technology improves this will probably change, but for now I doubt it’ll become mainstream. It’s still too expensive and lacks a compelling reason to go out and by it beyond simple curiosity. Granted for some people it’s game-changing, but for most? Eh, I don’t really think so.

 

So there you have it – a few predictions for this year. See you all in 2017!

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