The games industry as we head into 2013
What are the key elements of the games industry as we head into 2013? We’re taking a brief tour around the industry to touch on all of the key areas to look out for in the next 12 months.
New consoles, but what a generation we’ve just had
We’re coming to the end of what has proved to be a brilliant generation of consoles, both for the consumer but also the manufacturers. The proper delivery of full HD graphics, online multiplayer gaming, non-gaming entertainment, social features and new ways to play have given us hours (realistically days, weeks and months) of entertainment. As rumours spread of the next generation, what can we expect? We’ll almost certainly see the trend of consoles being the entertainment hub of the living room continue, becoming more and more connected with our other devices and lives. It’s widely rumoured that the next generation will support free-to-play games but also full scale MMO titles hitherto limited to PC. A continued and extended integration with other devices is likely, especially with Microsoft with its Windows 8 range on mobile, tablet and PC/Laptop. On top of these likely developments it’s also predicted that the next generation will continue to support casual gaming, however how will these compete or work with other devices that focus more on media and entertainment than dedicated gaming consoles? The addition of cloud gaming capability in TV’s, an Apple TV App Store and the new Microsoft device “Xbox TV” all offer non-hardcore gamers easy access gaming fun, and in that world where do dedicated consoles fit? What’s for sure is that they will need to find a way of continuing to push the boundaries in gaming and creating the heroes and beacons of the gaming world while supporting casual play for the masses.
Hand-in-hand with the internet gettin’ social was the arrival of social games and most commentators are confident that social gaming will continue to grow as a part of the gaming industry. Seeing big money and huge player numbers on platforms like Facebook, a new breed of gaming companies like Zynga have been able to capitalise on this new sector of the market. But while the likes of the original Farmville may have been enough for us 2 years ago, we’ll likely see an increase in the graphical quality and gaming sophistication of social games - this is due not only to the increasingly competitive market and need to capture players but also in an attempt to bring the core gaming market into the space. We’re likely to see more big brand gaming franchises enter this space - we’ve seen the big sports game franchises plus TheSims and classics like Civilisation and as the model begins to prove itself and confidence continues to build more are likely to try and monetise on their gaming IP by launching into the social gaming space.
2011 and 2012 saw a trend towards free-to-play over subscription MMO games with big name titles switching to the free-to-play model, often because of a failure to hit a critical mass of player numbers. Despite this, 2 of the strongest fantasy MMOs available today in World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 remain subscription and box-product respectively, with free-to-play titles big, but the former proving that older models aren’t dead yet. Seeing a strengthening of the free-to-play model in 2013 wouldn’t be a surprise as big new titles launch under this flag, as well as hybrid, and often hidden-hybrid, models to allow recurring payments. What’s just as likely is an emphasis on free-to-play quality for MMOs, players unwilling to accept it as an excuse for lower standards and a busy market all competing for player time.
In terms of cash value, online gambling games have always been a major player in the online gaming space and so are worthy of mention in a glance at the industry. Boasting big player numbers and profits, the gambling industry shares many operational and strategic functions with online gaming. As the market gets saturated and competition for players increases we might see an emphasis on graphical sophistication and, as already evident, a focus on player retention over acquisition. A trend that may continue depending largely on regulatory conditions is the coming together of online casino and computer games in the casual games space, seen in the availability of non cash out poker and casino games on Facebook and the Apple App Store., including some tentative entries into cash-out gambling. While non-cash out gambling such as Zynga’s Poker product are regularly top grossing games on Apple’s App Store as well as Facebook, most platforms have until now been very hesitant to allow real money, withdrawal enabled gambling. With a need to continue growing we may see pressure on licensing and regulatory bodies to allow widen of the scope for gambling games appearing in these casual game spaces.
Marked by many as the future of gaming, cloud gaming may start to make it’s presence known in 2013. Back in July Sony bought GaiKai, the cloud gaming service, for $380 million and in the next 12 months we’ll likely see Sony’s strategy for this acquisition take shape. In a trend already being seen, Sony will most probably involve cloud gaming services from their GaiKai acquisition in their television range, with many Smart TVs already entering this space. Through moves like this cloud gaming will probably increase in awareness and popularity in the UK, buoyed by subscriptions of cloud-based movie streaming services like Netflix.