The video game industry is about to level up again.
The annual E3 video game expo, now in its 18th year, storms Los Angeles next week. Big things are always expected from the show, which has traditionally been the go-to convention for major product announcements and huge game reveals. If it's a big deal, it probably started off at E3.
That said, trying to figure out exactly what will be shown in any given year is often an exercise in futility. Companies have a habit of yanking news at the last minute, or even intentionally misleading insiders just to whip up some hype.
But last year we came pretty close, so we hooked up an NES controller to our trusty crystal ball, punched in the Konami Code, and are taking another crack at predicting what the immediate future has in store.
Nintendo will go big with the Wii U, but stay coy on pricing and release date
The only sure next-generation bet at E3 2012? That Nintendo will showcase the Wii U, and they'll do it in grand style.
They better, at least. Last year the company unveiled the system and showed off its tablet-like controller, but left consumers a little confused about the console hardware itself. We've since learned plenty about the controller, the system's general power, and Nintendo's plans to include a downloadable apps service from the get-go, but owning a video game console isn't about feature lists. It's about playing games -- and that's exactly what Nintendo will show off at E3 2012.
We know new games starring Mario, Pikmin and the Super Smash Bros. gang are in the works, but how about a playable Zelda game? Or Metroid? We expect plenty of third-party games to show up too, though it's imperative that Nintendo not just demonstrate that the Wii U can handle versions of games already coming to the Xbox 360 and PS3 (Assassin's Creed 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, etc.) -- they need to show off third-party games that can ONLY be played on their unique new device.
Sadly, don't expect to find out exactly when that device will hit stores or how much it'll set you back. Nintendo has all but waved off rumors of a price or release date reveal at E3.
Microsoft will drop the price of the 360 — and show a glimpse of their next system
A gamble, this one, especially since they just announced a crazy new subscription scheme.
But what better way to compete with the Wii U than to make the Xbox 360 even more appealing to those still on the fence? A lot of people still don't own a home console, and Microsoft will want to do whatever it can to maintain its hardware dominance over the competition.
A price drop will help do exactly that. With the 4GB system subscription at $99, the company could stand to lower the price of the 250GB Elite model $50, bringing its asking price down to $250.
What else will we see from Microsoft during their press conference Monday morning? The usual suspects will put in an appearance: big, brash gameplay demos of Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and a few unannounced first-party titles are expected. Kinect will also be a major focus, with several demos of key, casual franchises for families. And as Microsoft continues to try to turn the 360 into a viable media hub, expect several announcements about new TV network partnerships, plus another dashboard update. They can't go six months without one of those.
Of course, most folks are looking further into the future, and while the rumor mill is going bananas trying to keep up with whether or not Microsoft will unveil a new Xbox at the show, we've got the inside line here in the form of one completely random, clinically insane guess: They will.
Why? You can thank a recent leak for that. News of Halo maker Bungie's next game was unfortunately unveiled as part of an ongoing Activision lawsuit. That announcement might well have originally been the capper of Microsoft's press conference Monday morning, and word has since gone out that Bungie will now officially NOT speak of its game at E3. That leaves a bit of a hole for Microsoft at their press conference, a hole shaped like a very brief, last-minute hint at their new console (codenamed Durango), we think. Might just be a smudge on the crystal ball, though.
Sony will go big on software, hush hush on hardware
Only a few months removed from the launch of the PlayStation Vita, Sony will focus squarely on games, games, and more games at this year's E3.
Despite its technical merits and robust features, the Vita hasn't torn up the charts as some had expected. Sony needs to do all it can to change that, which means bringing out mobile versions of its biggest franchises. We've already seen Uncharted, ModNation and Resistance get the Vita treatment, but how about Vita takes on Killzone, inFamous, Gran Turismo and God of War?
Speaking of which, we'll all get a closer look at the multiplayer-focused God of War: Ascension, though the real gem in Sony's lineup looks to be Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. Expect a lengthy demo of that during their press briefing.
Sony will also focus attention on its innovative cross-play functionality, which lets PS3 and Vita owners play together, and lets Vita owners take their PS3 games on the go. Neither Nintendo nor Microsoft can compete on that technical level, a fact Sony will likely drive home during their press conference.
What we won't get, unfortunately, is a peep about the PlayStation 4. Why? Don't ask us, ask the crystal ball (or ask Sony). Seriously, this thing looks pretty smart. It's wearing a monocle!
GTA will be MIA
We said it last year, and we'll say it again: The biggest game of all will be a no-show at the biggest conference of all.
Despite its potent franchises, Rockstar hasn't had a big presence at E3 in years, and while they're often a little too cool for school, they've proven they just don't need E3 to drive buzz. Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and Max Payne 3 all failed to make noise at E3, and each fared rather well at retail.
The only chance we'll see Grand Theft Auto V at E3 is if it surprisingly shows up at either the Microsoft or Sony press conference, because with no formal booth at the show (though parent company Take 2 will be there), it's not going to be blaring on giant screens and creating a show floor fire hazard.
But man, we hope we're wrong, because it's GTA V. Want. Now.
What do you think? Got some predictions of your own? Ring in below or hit us up on Facebook and give us the scoop! And for full coverage of the press conferences -- and to find out if we were even in the ballpark -- be sure to check Yahoo! Games starting at 8:30 am (PST) Monday.