It might be a new decade, but I'm going to make the same old mistakes and try to predict what I think will happen in free-to-play gaming over the next calendar year. Joining me on this descent into madness will be Q and Mike, who's choices on my predictions will be added after they're made on the Free-to-Play Cast, meaning that you'll get to laugh at all three of us at once!
But first, here's a look at what I, and they, predicted in 2019:
Loot boxes in the U.S. will get regulated – by the government or the games industry itself
(Q and Mike agreed)
This didn't quite come to pass, but damn if it ain't close. Just touching on a few of the points from 2019: In May, a Senator from Missouri introduced anti-loot-box legislation to Congress (which, as far as I can tell, is still in committee), and in August, the Federal Trade Commission weighed in on loot boxes, after hearing testimony from a number of parties. As a result of that second event, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have vowed to require games to disclose their loot box odds by 2020.
Does that last bit qualify as self-regulation? Maybe, but we'll get to that later. Still, as of right now, loot box sales continue unabated, so I think I'd count this one as 50% correct.
Shutting down in 2019: Bless Online and at least one former Trion Worlds game
(Q and Mike disagreed on Bless)
Daybreak Game Company experiences major upheaval
(Q and Mike agreed)
Does delaying your new game twice, surprise-launching it as free-to-play when you'd announced it would be paid, and then announcing its shutdown just three months later count as “major upheaval”? I don't quite think so, but it's not a good sign. I'm not in the habit of issuing the same prediction in consecutive years, but if Daybreak survives 2020 in its current form, I'll be flabbergasted.
Fortnite: Save the World won't go free-to-play
(Q agreed, Mike disagreed)
All year long, Mike and I kept ribbing each other about this one, even down the final hours of the year. I won! Suck it, Magicman!
By the end of the year, everybody knows who Leyou Technologies is
(Mike and Q agreed provisionally if LotR game comes out)
So the Lord of the Rings game didn't come out, but Leyou did make some news near the end of 2019, being 70% purchased by Chinese mobile developer iDreamsky. Amazon will also be involved in the production and publishing of the as-yet-unknown Lord of the Rings MMO, but I'd say things have moved slowly enough as to give me a zero on this one.
That gives me a total score of 2.5 out of 5. I'll take it.
As for reader comments, ElusiveXTreasure agreed that Atlas Reactor would shut down, while also offering that, if another former Trion game would shut down, it would be Rift instead of Defiance. Again, I'm not going to officially re-do last year's predictions, but nothing regarding Trion/gamigo's games would surprise me next year.
Like me, rukia gave us five predictions for 2019:
1) 2019 would be a “year of mobile games,” which isn't too far off.
2) Legacy/vanilla servers would “be a thing,” or at least more of a thing, but apart from World of Warcraft, I can't think of any major game to take that step in 2019. No, I'm not counting Ragnarok Online Revo-Classic.
3) More entrants into the game distribution business, but I don't think a major new platform was announced in the year, as everyone tried to figure out exactly what to think of the Epic Games Store.
4) “Lost Ark will be the next Action RPG king/queen.” Well, Zach Sharpes certainly loves it, but it's not available in the West yet.
5) Loot box laws “similar to what China has right now” and that “every loot box will disclose the odds.” That's supposed to be a requirement by the end of 2020, so I'd say this prediction lines up about with what we said – steps are being made but we're not quite there yet.
As always, we invite readers to leave us comments to give their own predictions for 2020! But not until you've read about my amazing and unquestionably 100% accurate predictions for the year …
1. Rocket League will go free-to-play
In each of the past two years, we've had a seemingly healthy, and rather large and popular, game go free-to-play. In 2019, it was Destiny 2. The year prior to that, it was CS:GO. Neither of those cases were desperation moves by their developers, which we see all too often when a paid game is on its last legs and is willing to pull out all the stops to stay afloat.
Like those other two games, Rocket League is perfectly healthy. Its numbers on Steam are fantastic. There's no out-and-out reason why it would go free-to-play … but there's no reason to think it won't, either. It's already got a friendly monetization scheme, with a battle pass and a recent revision of its loot box system. It feels like a F2P game, and was initially developed with that in mind, so if you think the trend will continue in 2020, Rocket League seems like a good candidate.
2. First Perfect World ARPG to open beta: Magic: Legends over Torchlight Frontiers
If you want a free-to-play ARPG in 2020, Perfect World's got your fix. (Don't hold out hope for Lost Ark this year, I think.) Torchlight Frontiers has been in the news for years now, officially announced in August 2018 and going through an extensive alpha testing period since. Despite revealing all sorts of interesting mechanics about the game over the past year and a half, Echtra Games recently announced that the game wouldn't be launching until sometime in 2020.
On the flip side, Magic: Legends only revealed its name last month, but it was actually formally announced all the way back in June 2017. We've only seen the briefest of gameplay snippets since then, but it looks pretty detailed, both in terms of the gameplay and the visual effects. We might only now be getting news about it, but it's clear that it's been getting worked on for a good while.
So, which one will gamers be able to get their grubby little mitts on first? Many have already played Torchlight Frontiers, but given its delays and re-imaginings, I'm hesitant to say that it's in the “lead.” Instead, I'm going to go with Magic: Legends as the game that we'll be able to take our first crack at in an unrestricted from – i.e., no sign-ups, no early access packages, just log in and play for free in an open beta or launch. Of course, this probably means neither game will make it to open beta in 2020, but at least if that happens it'll be easy enough to call a push!
3. We will get to play on officially sanctioned City of Heroes servers
As you'll no doubt recall, 2019 was a weird year for a game that had officially shut down seven years earlier. We all learned about the existence of a “secret” server for City of Heroes and, once it was known to exist, the code for it was distributed far and wide, spawning several more such endeavors. NCSoft has thus far taken a benevolent, or at least not malicious, approach to the news, and the servers are, as far as we can tell, still in operation.
The admins of the main server, though, are taking the additional step of negotiating with NCSoft to try and get the developer's blessing on some kind of officially sanctioned solution to bring City of Heroes back. Updates on the progress of those negotiations have been sparse, moving “at the speed of legal,” as they put it.
I'm just barely of the notion that they'll get resolved over the next 12 months and we'll be able to play CoH without fear of a cease-and-desist coming down and retconning everything out of existence, but I could also see things taking an interminable amount of time and dragging on into the next year. For now, I'll vote on the side of optimism. Don't make me regret that, NCSoft.
4. No Guild Wars 2 expansion, or other major new announcement, from ArenaNet
On the other hand, it's hard to see anything spectacularly new coming out of ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 in 2020. Following 2019's layoffs and departures, Guild Wars 2 continued to chug along, steady but unspectacular, for the year. There was even the start of a new Living World chapter, but that's already slid into the predictable release pattern, even as one dev expressed hopes that the game would become less “formulaic.”
I don't see it happening. While the initial release of the new storyline did have some interesting events, like a charr rock concert, the overall impression is that it's business as usual for ArenaNet and GW2 releases. The departures in senior leadership positions throughout 2019 have likely led to a lack of strong initiatives for 2020, both for Guild Wars 2 and on any other potential fronts. If ArenaNet can keep the ball rolling and build up some momentum and experience in 2020, then maybe it can rebound with a strong 2021. This is simply a “survival” year.
5. The 2020 “Loot Box Odds” deadline will come and go without any action
Maybe the biggest thing to come out of all the noise surrounding loot boxes in 2019 was the statement from the ESA wherein it promised that all three major console manufacturers – Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft – would require developers issuing games on their platforms “to disclose information on the relative rarity or probability of obtaining randomized virtual items.” In other words, they'll have to tell you the odds from the loot boxes you purchase in the games on their systems. The deadline for implementation of these measures is “no later than the end of 2020.”
Color me (very) cynical, but I think this statement was little more than a PR move. The plan: Relieve pressure by saying you're aware of the issue and promising to do something, but with a deadline so far in advance that most people will likely have forgotten about it by the time it passes. On that level, it seems to have worked; you haven't heard much from the U.S. government regarding loot boxes since the FTC workshop in August that prompted this statement.
That was five months ago. There are now just over 11 months to go until that prospective deadline, and I'm thinking it's highly unlikely that it will all be neatly wrapped up by December 31. What's more likely is that the ESA will plead that things are taking longer than anticipated and that it will need to go into 2021 before it can get all its members on board – or maybe will just ignore the matter entirely and hope the public eye shifts elsewhere. Without any word on how these changes will be made, and what punishments will await those who don't follow the new directive, it's hard to take any kind of potential enforcement seriously.
Remember to leave your 2020 predictions in the comments below, so we can track and grade them at the start of the next year!
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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