The gaming industry is moving from strength to strength.
Today there are currently 3 billion active players worldwide and by 2027 this is expected to grow to 3.8 billion. The industry also generates more money than the movie and music industry combined. And with every gamer playing on average over 8 hours a week, that’s a solid basis to build even more impressive growth. There’s simply no doubt that people love playing games of all styles and genres.
While this success is impressive, it also creates multiple challenges. An oversaturation of games. Increased competition as new game developers reach for their piece of this very lucrative pie. Ever-demanding player expectations. Rapidly changing technologies, and a lot more. This is putting pressure on developers to innovate and attract new and diverse players.
It’s also seeing the rise of multiple trends, such as immersive gaming and feeling-first design, as companies search for new ways to engage, entertain, and provide a positive experience for their player base.
As more games enter the market and try to grab players away from other games, the coming years will be transformative. Let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest trends and challenges for the gaming industry in the year ahead and beyond.
Trend: Everyone plays – the rise of diverse, inclusive, and disability-friendly games
Gaming has come a long way from being seen as only for children. Today’s average player is aged around 35, just as many women play as do men, many millions of players have a physical, mental, or developmental disability, and it’s a truly global industry that caters to people of all backgrounds.
This is seeing an increased desire for not only representation and diversity in the characters and storylines (do people see themselves in the games they play?), but in making the games more accessible to everyone. Is it possible to remap controllers, adjust difficulty levels, use a range of devices, consider mental health issues, and provide multiple accessibility features?
Developers that can achieve this will sell more games to more people, and that’s good for everyone.
But it requires considerable effort. Developing accessibility guidelines that factor in all game areas, elements, and components where improvements to accessibility can be made (including UI navigation, haptic feedback, photosensitivity, color blindness, text displays, motion settings, and much more), and actively using people with disabilities to work on and test your games, can be vital to success.Challenge: Perfecting the user experience
Challenge: Perfecting the user experience
As is happening across industries, perfecting the user experience is essential for ongoing success. And as the gaming industry continues to grow and more games enter the market, the need to retain players and reduce churn will grow in importance. Achieving this will require a laser focus on meeting, and exceeding, customer expectations at every touchpoint with your business, not just within the game.
Websites, companion apps, DLCs, updates, and maintenance, all must be bug-free, run smoothly, and provide an enhanced experience. Just consider. If your game doesn’t provide matchmaking but relies on an LFG (Looking for Group) feature on your app, what happens to your players’ enjoyment if the app isn’t working? As more digital assets are combined, when one fails, they can all be impacted.
If a small bug crashes a game or throws the player out of an activity, will they patiently wait and try again, or will they launch another game?
But it isn’t just making sure the user interface is attractive and runs smoothly, or that adverts aren’t too intrusive, it’s about creating elements that engage players, that keep them playing, and always coming back for more.
This isn’t to specifically develop content that creates a fear of missing out (FOMO). If there’s one particularly divisive issue amongst players and developers, it’s FOMO. Whether gated content, limited-time events, seasonal models, or daily rewards, for many it’s a big problem that many feel leads to an unhealthy addiction to games. Of course, on a business level, it makes sense for simplified monetization, but on an overall player experience level, it can be more stressful than necessary (especially over time) and can lead to players leaving.
The challenge is to perfectly balance certain types of limited content but not at the expense of a player’s enjoyment. Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about. Creating a great experience that encourages players to keep playing and have them become ambassadors for your game.Show less
Trend: Decentralized togetherness
Web 3.0, blockchain, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are set to revolutionize the industry.
The future of the internet, and gaming, is Web 3.0. Enabling highly scalable projects, this third generation of web technology will not only empower AI and machine learning but enable better security through blockchain. And with Web3’s decentralized approach, it will deliver faster and more reliable experiences.
Importantly, it is also set to fully enable blockchain-based ownership of in-game assets, such as NFTs and cryptocurrency.
This is certain to see the wider introduction of Play-to-Earn games, where players can earn cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs by playing a game. With each block in a blockchain being unique, it’s ideal for NFTs, which then become an in-game asset that can be bought by the player, sold back, traded, or even rented to other players (to, for example, help level up their character) as a way to make real-world money.
The next years will be all about providing innovative and fully immersive gaming experiences that will blur the lines of entertainment and in-game commerce.Challenge: The Law
Challenge: The Law
Do you provide randomized loot boxes that can be purchased with real-world money? In many countries, this is increasingly being seen as gambling – and with many games played by those under 18, regulators are paying attention. In 2019, the US proposed the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, which banned loot boxes and pay-to-win transactions (by minors). Then, in April 2020, Belgium banned loot boxes in all mediums and stated that a failure to comply would result in a fine of €800,000 and up to five years in prison for the publishers (both of which could be doubled if minors are involved). Then, in 2021, the German Parliament passed a Youth Protection Law that restricted anyone under 18 from purchasing video games with loot boxes. And most recently, a similar law is being considered in Australia, which in some cases won’t just restrict the sale of games using loot boxes but ban the game outright.
While the effectiveness of such bans will certainly be debated for years, it’s a clear sign that various monetization strategies are raising substantial concerns. While it is highly doubtful that developers, in general, will remove loot boxes, how they are designed in the future must consider more stringent laws around gambling and, especially, younger players.
As countries strive to introduce new laws to protect consumers, it’s best practice to always keep in mind several legal and regulatory areas when developing your game:
- Advertising laws
- Gambling legislation
- Consumer protection
- Age ratings and classification,
- IP rights and licenses
- Data protection and privacy
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Trend: Smarter games, more engaged players
While there’s little doubt a decent chess game app is clever enough to beat most people, for those playing more immersive, RPG-style games, the predictability of non-playable characters (NPCs) and enemies can ruin the immersion and remove much of the challenge.
When enemies react in a predictable (and often repetitive) way, it becomes far easier to win and reduces replayability.
But this began to change in the 90s and early 2000s with the introduction of ‘smart’ enemies powered by (initially) the Finite State Machine algorithm and (later) the more advanced Monte Carlo Search Tree algorithm.
This would see NPCs behave less predictably in games such as Fear, Hitman, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. A few years later this took a big step forward with the introduction of Monolith Productions’ Nemesis System for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which introduced procedurally-generated enemies that are shaped by what the player does (sports games were a big influence).
What is different today, however, is the potential to use deep learning and artificial neural networks to make games far more real. This isn’t to say that games will become sentient, and developers will lose control over what characters do (this would be a nightmare when it comes to testing and quality assurance), but it does mean that behaviors can be more natural and life-like. This can only boost player participation and their overall enjoyment.
The future of gaming won’t just be about a difficult-to-beat and powerful NPC, it’ll be about better, more realistic, and infinitely more unique experiences.Challenge: Finding and keeping players
Challenge: Finding and keeping players
With many thousands of games released across platforms every year, and an estimated close to 831,000 games in existence today, it’s not surprising that players are spoilt for choice. This puts extreme pressure on gaming developers to not only find customers in such a saturated market but to retain players who are discovering new games and rediscovering other sources of entertainment as we move further away from pandemic lockdowns.
It’s also essential as large companies look to further invest in the industry and use their global scope to grab players – as seen with Microsoft’s proposed (and huge) $69 billion offer to buy Activision Blizzard.
One obvious way is to invest in (proven) sequels, celebrity and brand partnerships, and games developed around established intellectual properties. This won’t, however, take away the need to provide seamless, bespoke, and highly personalized experiences that build a loyal player base. Even a costly marketing campaign can’t make up for great word of mouth.
That’s why it’s vital to do several things:
- Know what other games people are playing and why
- Identify why players are leaving your game (if applicable)
- Discover if there are any game-breaking usability issues or bugs within your game
- Listen to what your customers, streamers, and influencers are saying (about what they want and don’t like)
- Research, test, try, and analyze what can be done to re-engage them (relevant offers, in-game achievements, fun new content, etc.)
- Work on creating entertaining, personalized, and emotional experiences.
Trend: Feeling-first Design
One thing that directly influences a game’s success is how a game makes them feel. Whether happy, scared, excited, nostalgic, or sad, a good game provides a real emotional response. This is what feeling-first design is all about. But much more amplified.
To create a game where emotion forms the overall concept and basis of the game. In addition to playability and entertainment, everything from the story itself, colors, sound, graphical design, and gameplay are all used to encourage those specific feelings.
Rather than a primary focus on completing specific tasks to finish at a set end goal (which, of course, might be fun and visually stunning), a feeling-first game lets players deeply engage in something unique that brings forth true feelings. It may be a first-person shooter but its overall aim is to create a tense, unsettling feeling. To be less of a diversion and more of a holistic experience that the developers want the player to take.
This was reflected as far back in 1983 when a new company called Electronic Arts (EA) launched an advertising campaign called ‘Can a computer make you cry?’, which rested on the belief that people would care about the creators of games as much as they did the people who made the music they loved.
In part, it said, they aimed to fulfill the enormous potential of the computer and that “In the short term, this means transcending its present use as a facilitator of unimaginative tasks and a medium for blasting aliens. In the long term, however, we can expect a great deal more.”
Also, the computer “…is a communications medium: an interactive tool that can bring people’s thoughts and feelings closer together, perhaps closer than ever before. And while fifty years from now, its creation may seem no more important than the advent of motion pictures or television, there is a chance it will mean something more. Something along the lines of a universal language of ideas and emotions. Something like a smile.”
In the nearly 40 years since the campaign appeared, and as we quickly head towards the 50-year mark, a computer might not make you cry, but it’s a sure bet a game will.
It's a gamers' world, after all
Crafting a seamless, reliable, user-friendly, and bug-free game that also provokes a positive emotional response is essential to stand out from the crowd.
That means putting the player right at the front of all development considerations. Can they play it on multiple devices? Are the login and purchasing options secure? Is the UI logical?
Getting this right means taking your game out of the lab and testing it with real people in real-world conditions on the exact devices it will be played on. That’s the superpower of crowdtesting. It can help ensure your games, and other digital solutions, not only level up your customers’ experience but keep you competitive, innovative, and always ahead of the game.