The video game market is rooted in foundational change with sporadic evolutionary leaps. Growth relies on building upon the technological evolutions that came before.
Today, we have clear delineators to help us see this in action.
In the 2000s, connectivity was a primary growth driver, demonstrated by the emergence of digitally-connected platforms such as Steam, as well as services such as Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.
Throughout the 2010s, service became the primary growth catalyst, represented most effectively by gaming franchises such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, FIFA, and Fortnite, where constant updates to the games allowed for extended engagement and corresponding massive market growth in downloadable content and microtransaction revenues.
For the 2020s, it is about increasing access to gaming, bringing more players to the market, for longer periods of time, with more avenues of engagement.
Why increasing Access is key to 2020s growth:
- Finding new players – The market may be approaching a cap in terms of gaming penetration in developed markets. According to The NPD Group’s 2019 Evolution of Entertainment report, for example, 73 percent of U.S. consumers play video games on at least one platform. No demographic age group has less than the 56 percent gaming penetration rate of those aged 65+. Expanding access to content for the billions of people worldwide that currently do not engage in gaming is critical to continued market growth.
- Supporting engagement wherever, whenever – Regardless of screen, market expansion in the next decade will rely on allowing more people to access gaming content in more ways. Bringing gaming content to any screen, any time will be an important part of achieving this. Cloud will play a large role here over the next 10 years, as will cross-play and cross-save with systems such as PC and Nintendo Switch.
- Delivering multiple market paths to gaming engagement – We are not too far removed from physical games being the overwhelming leader in market share for content sales. This has certainly changed over the past 10 years, and now most video game content sold across PCs, console and mobile devices is done digitally, including full-game sales, downloadable content, and microtransactions. Over the next 10 years, subscription services will play a much bigger role in purchasing content, while the continued expansion of free-to-play gaming should also allow more people more options to engage with the gaming marketplace.
These opportunities will present new challenges to developers and publishers, perhaps changing, quite fundamentally, the way games are designed and marketed.
How will developers and publishers thrive in the decade to come?
- Be where the player is – Games that allow players to engage with content wherever, whenever and however the player wishes may have a greater selling opportunity than those relegated to an individual platform. Flexible design, an openness to new delivery platforms such as cloud and subscription services, as well as planning for potential porting across mobile, console and PC devices will be beneficial to plan for early in the development process.
- Quick ramping – In a world of omnipresent gaming content, and a dearth of available play options that will develop over the next decade (particularly via subscription services), the ability for players to ramp quickly into a game will be crucial. The first impression a game makes will be the most important. Game makers that ignore tutorials, world building and player efficacy will do so at their own peril. The risk of players bouncing off games quickly, never to return, will be very high.
- Sticky hooks – While being very important in the service gaming-based world of the 2010s, we can expect this element of games to continue to rise in its impact to a game’s overall success. Game players will have an overwhelming amount of gaming options develop through the decade. Giving players reason to return again and again will separate games with a shelf life of a month vs. those that will be playedfor years.
- Cross-play and cross-save – We are already seeing progress in the market here. Players wish to play with their friends and family, and they want their progress and content to follow them across devices and ecosystems. Games that do this will benefit in a much more diverse gaming world of the next decade.
It is an exciting time for video games. We have seen mass market acceptance and adoption. The lines between video gaming and other areas of entertainment and culture have blurred. The 2020s will be about expanding the reach of gaming to more people, for more hours, whenever and wherever those players may wish to engage. Moving forward,increased access to gaming will be the primary growth driver for the industry.