Plugged In

Future tense: Gaming predictions for 2012

Plugged In

Last year was all hills and valleys for the video game industry. Overall sales were flat, but a staggering number of critically-acclaimed games stormed shelves. We saw the Wii slump, the PS3 get hacked, Call of Duty soar and Duke Nukem flop.

So what will the upcoming year hold? We dusted off the proprietary Yahoo! crystal ball and took a good, hard look into the future. Here are five of our visions for 2012.

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Wii U

1. You will play the Wii U, you will read about the next Xbox, and you won't hear a peep about the PS4.

A three-in-one prediction, but a pretty easy one all the same.

Nintendo's Wii successor, the Wii U, will arrive by the end of 2012. Will it follow in the Wii's footsteps and be another crossover smash? That's unlikely.  The system's big breakthrough -- the ability to seamlessly transfer game experiences back and forth between the TV screen and the console's tablet-like controller -- isn't as immediately clear or clever as the Wii's revolutionary motion controllers, though we're absolutely intrigued by the possibilities.

We're also intrigued by what Microsoft has up its sleeve for the next Xbox (Xbox 720? Nextbox? Xbox 4S?), but other than an announcement about the system being made, we don't expect to learn much more in 2012. Unlike the struggling Wii, the Xbox 360 is still rolling along nicely. There's less of an incentive for Microsoft to rush a new product to market, especially with a brand new Halo game due out for the 360 this year. Revealing too much about a new system would take the wind out of that flagship's sails.

As for Sony? We know a PS4 is being planned, but we won't likely hear anything about this year. Sony will instead focus on supporting the Vita and pushing the PS3, which looks poised to pass the Xbox 360 in worldwide sales over the course of 2012.

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Playstation Vita

2. The Playstation Vita will be cool, but will struggle to sell.

Anticipation is high for Sony's PSP follow-up , which boasts a wealth of cool technology and a solid launch lineup. But if the system's sales nosedive in Japan is any indication, all the hype in the world won't help the Playstation Vita maintain strong sales throughout 2012.

Why? Ask Siri.

Apple's iDevices haven't just taken a bite out of the portable gaming pie, they've gulped down most of the good stuff. According to mobile analytics firm Flurry, iOS and Android devices accounted for nearly 60% of mobile game revenue in 2011, tripling their reach since 2009. Nintendo launched the 3DS amidst all sorts of hype, and while it's certainly accurate to blame that system's post-launch struggles on a decidedly weak software lineup, it's equally fair to point to that smartphone sitting in your pocket and its absurdly affordable games.

The Vita has some issues of its own, too. A standard model will cost $250 -- the same as the 3DS during its launch period, which didn't see decent sales until Nintendo lowered the price six months later. And that doesn't even come with a memory card, which is required for saving games. That will set you back another $20, minimum. That's asking a lot from consumers still paying off their holiday shopping debts.

While some Vita titles will undoubtedly deliver superior experiences, will consumers be willing to shift away from $1 apps to shell out $50 for proprietary portable games? Will the system's tech specs be enough to warrant the purchase of yet another game gadget to squeeze into your cluttered carry-on bag? Can Sony find a way to make this admittedly cool handheld an absolute must-have? That vision is cloudy.

[ Related: Top tech predictions for business in 2012 ]

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3. Grand Theft Auto V will be released.

No really, it will. While Rockstar Games has yet to issue a formal release date — or even a release window, for that matter — all signs point to 2012 being the year of GTA V.

What signs? Take the case of LA Noire. Last year's big Rockstar release was long in development, but was released only 6 months after its initial debut trailer. That's a pretty short window, and one that's about to be mirrored by another Rockstar 2012 heavyweight, Max Payne 3, whose debut trailer arrived in September of last year. That game's release date? March of 2012.

GTA V, meanwhile, saw its initial trailer debut in early November. Six months puts its release in May — the same release month as L.A. Noire and Rockstar mega-hit Red Dead Redemption. Video game conspiracy theorists are already pegging that date thanks to a potential hint in the game's debut trailer, which fans have scrutinized like the Zapruder film.

If that's all too crazy, consider the fact that even the pros think 2012 is GTA 5's year. Analysts believe it will come later than May, with "end of summer" as the general consensus. Our prediction? We'll play it safe with a 'Holiday 2012' guess.

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4. Someone will pick up the pieces of the Halo movie.

Part wish, part prediction, and all kinds of hope.

To clarify, we have absolutely zero inside info to justify this one. Last we heard, a rumor about a 2012 release was thoroughly debunked by Microsoft's own Halo guru, Frank O' Connor, and he's a pretty standup guy. But while the release of a film of this size and scope is clearly not happening any time soon, an announcement about someone picking up the rights and actually moving forward with it doesn't seem far-fetched.

The timing, at least, would be killer. The 2010 Prince of Persia film was a winner at the box office, proving that a decent film based on a game can actually make money. Now imagine you're sitting in a theater, the lights go dim, a preview starts up, and this starts playing against a black screen. Geek goosebumps. Make it happen, 2012.

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World of Warcraft

5. World of Warcraft will continue to decline.

It's still widely regarded as the biggest massively-multiplayer online game in the world, but it won't be for long. Declining subscriptions have put a dent in Warcraft's seemingly impenetrable armor, and while the game will see a nice bump when Blizzard releases the Mists of Pandaria expansion, we predict a continued slow, steady drop for the king of the MMO.

What game will take its place? The runaway favorite is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which shot out the gate to terrific numbers and excellent review scores. A number of other high-profile games look to gain momentum throughout the year, including Tera, End of Nations, The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 — not to mention the long-awaited return of another Blizzard online beast, Diablo III. By the end of 2012, expect Azeroth to be a lot less crowded.

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