The new consoles are here. Steam Machines are on their way. Mobile gaming technology has never been more powerful, and the indie scene is booming. However you slice it, 2014 is going to be an exciting year for gaming, and changes are on the horizon — some good, and some bad. Between ambitious digital distribution platforms, a renewed interest in virtual reality technology and the next-gen consoles solidifying their presence in the living room, 2014 is set to be a tumultuous but promising time for gamers.
PlayStation Now, which will allow PS4 and Vita owners to stream PS3 titles to their systems, is a good idea, but hardly a revolutionary one by itself. PlayStation Now's real potential lies in Sony's plans to extend its coverage to tablets, smartphones and Sony Bravia TVs. Since the game runs at a remote location and streams to a user's device, you no longer need a device as powerful as a PS3 to play PS3 games. This could give non-gamers access to entire console libraries.
Aside from the initial launch excitement, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 did not offer much in 2013. Rather, gamers were excited about how much potential the next-gen consoles brought to the table. Each system boasts more powerful processors, more robust graphical capabilities and new options to be a comprehensive entertainment center. Now that the consoles have a solid install base, developers will start to make the Xbox One and PS4 their main focus rather than just releasing slightly prettier versions of current-gen games.
PC gamers have long flocked to Valve, the developer behind the juggernaut "Half-Life" series and the wildly popular Steam game download platform. Now, Valve wants to share its immense selection and frequent sales with a living room audience. Steam Machines are pre-built gaming PCs that will run on Valve's unique Linux-based SteamOS: an operating system optimized for gaming. Since many Steam Machines exceed $1,000 (only one is priced like a console), it's hard to say whether console gamers will embrace them.
Artists and engineers have been toying with virtual reality technology since the 1860s, but it's never quite clicked with gamers. The Oculus Rift is a set of wearable VR glasses with a focus on displaying video games. While there's no hard release date, late 2014 is a good bet, and where the Oculus Rift goes, a handful of imitators — many worse, some potentially better — will follow. Combined with novel motion controls, like the PrioVR full-body suit, the Oculus Rift could finally bring VR gaming to the mainstream.
Between the powerful A7 chip and iOS7 support for controllers, iPhones and iPads are ready to support games well beyond "Angry Birds." Android devices are likewise equipped to run console-quality games — if only more developers would create some. This year, consumers will see bigger phones, cheaper tablets and mobile controller support. These factors could converge in 2014 to facilitate more core gaming on everyday mobile devices. Depending on developers, mobile gamers might see ports of older titles, brand- new franchises or a big missed opportunity.