The gaming industry is constantly evolving, and in 2020, it saw one of its greatest growth spurts ever. Forced to shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people turned in droves to games of all kinds, be they tabletop or online. It was also a year where, pandemic or not, select gaming models came into their own.
Virtual reality, for instance, burst onto the mainstream in 2020. Online multiplayer and social gaming, a la Farmville and Among Us, soared in popularity and, at one point, Nintendo Switch was so in demand that the gaming device sold out for months.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic is winding down, interest in games continues to boom among consumers. A recent report from ResearchAndMarkets predicted that the global consoles games market will amount to $67.1 billion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.4% into 2023. In a separate report, MarketsandMarkets predicted that the global gaming industry could register a CAGR of 12% between 2020 and 2025. Gaming is an exciting sector to be in — but certain styles of gaming are taking off more profoundly than others.
Last updated: July 21, 2021
“Arguably the biggest trend to come out of 2020 and into 2021 is the rise in esports,” said Tory McBroom, producer of the McGamers on YouTube. "The pandemic effectively shut down real-life sports for an extended period of time, which led to a hunger for competition that esports was able to fill.”
Noting that esports saw a 69% rise over 2020, with a continuing rise into 2021, McBroom is particularly intrigued by the fact that even with live sports returning, the growing trend of esports hasn’t slowed.
“I feel the rise in esports will also affect the gaming industry by influencing the types of games that are made,” McBroom said. “Game manufacturers will ride this wave by releasing more esport compatible games, for example, MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games and other competitive style multiplayer games.”
2. Social Gaming
“Social gaming was happening pre-pandemic, but it’s truly exploded during restrictions when, as we’ve been saying ‘down on the corner has become up on the server,’” said David Kleeman, SVP of global trends for Dubit. “Whether they’re creating the link themselves (Discord, Twitch) or the social space exists within the game (Roblox, Fortnite), young people are spending time in games that allow them to socialize as they play or watch.”
According to a recent Global Wireless Solutions report, The Pandemic Year in Mobile Apps, usage of the hit social game Among Us increased by 15,471% in the total volume of hours played and a 33% increase in average daily minutes. Roblox’s total volume of hours increased 101%, while its average daily minutes per user increased 19%.
3. Roguelike Gaming
Unless you’re a serious gamer, you probably haven’t heard the term “roguelike.” This style of game is a subgenre of role-playing games inspired by fantasy tales, as exemplified in the groundbreaking game where it gets its namesake, the 1980 classic Rogue.
“Roguelike games have gone from an indie gamer obsession in recent years to popping up in some of the most notable games of 2019 and 2020,” said Adrian Covert, tech editor at SPY. “These are games with randomized elements and high difficulty curves that result in quick deaths but incentivize gamers to try again. Hades was the top game amongst many notable critics in 2020, and you can expect to see many more roguelikes, such as Loop Hero, in 2021.”
4. Cloud-Based Gaming
Watching on demand is one thing, but what about playing on demand? This is another blossoming trend we’re seeing in gaming.
“Cloud gaming has seen major momentum on consoles and PCs over the last few years,” said Raheel Hasan of cloud-based streaming platform 1App. “However, the rapid growth in edge computing and 5G networks and the resulting improvement in latency (response time) creates a huge opportunity for cloud-based gaming on mobile. It opens the potential for creating Netflix-like apps that aggregate games instead of just video content.”
Covert noted that cloud-based and subscription-based gaming services are already taking off.
“While Google Stadia may have fallen short of its big ambitions as a cloud service, Amazon Luna has looked promising while in beta and Microsoft’s slow integration of its xCloud technology into Xbox Game Pass has resulted in two services that are affordable and highly functional ways to play games that would otherwise require top-shelf gaming hardware,” Covert said. “Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda has given its Xbox Game Pass subscription service a huge boost, with games such as DOOM, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls being added to the lineup. As a result, Sony has been forced to take its PS Plus much more seriously than it has in the past.”
5. Virtual Reality
For years we’ve been hearing about the impending breakthrough of virtual reality (VR) gaming. Now, thanks in part to the innovations of Facebook’s Oculus Quest all-in-one headset launched in 2019, VR has finally arrived in the mainstream. The Oculus Quest is the first VR hardware that doesn’t require external software or a tricked-out PC to play, making it a trailblazer in the previously complicated (and exorbitantly costly) realm of VR.
“Virtual reality has the potential to provide full immersion and interaction,” said Jonathan Ovadia, CEO at AEXLAB. “VR is where the internet was 20 years ago; it’s a nascent but high-growth market that has the power to change everything. The number of gamers worldwide is still on the rise and will exceed 3 billion by 2023. The global games market revenue for 2020 was about $159.3 billion, with a 9.3% year-on-year increase."
“The global VR in gaming market size is expected to reach $92.31 billion by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 30.2% over the forecast period,” Ovadio continued. “The intensifying demand for technologically progressive electronic games amongst millennials is anticipated to drive the market growth from 2020 to 2027.”
6. Board Games and Card Games
So-called “video” games may be stealing the show of 2021, but the explosive popularity of board and card games mustn't go unmentioned.
“Customizable trading card games, including Pokémon, are bigger than ever,” said James Zahn, senior editor of the Toy Insider and the Pop Insider. “Last year’s Pokémon Battle Academy took home Game of the Year at The Toy Association’s TOTY Awards and for good reason — it presented an intriguing way for kids and grown-ups alike to learn how to play with Pokémon cards together. With that franchise celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the collectible game cards are fetching record numbers on the secondary market.”
Classic board games also enjoyed a tremendous lift during the pandemic, and that’s still coasting in 2021.
“In terms of family games, the pandemic spiked sales on classic titles, such as Monopoly, Jenga and Scrabble,” Zahn said. “UNO, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is bigger than ever and has a movie and TV deal. Candy Land became a reality series last fall and other games, including Risk and Whac-A-Mole, are being developed for television. Those games continue to be hot as families play together. And, in such a content-hungry world, seeing classic games make the jump to the screen is an intriguing prospect. The game-to-TV trend is a developing one that should grow legs in the coming years.”
7. Family Gameplay
The pandemic thrust millions of American families into lockdown together, forcing parents to come up with ways to keep their kids occupied without losing their own sanity. In many cases, they turned to video gaming together and, even once the pandemic dies out, this new form of family bonding will continue.
“Something that most kids and parents we interview both say they want to continue post-pandemic is family activities,” Kleeman said. “This includes co-viewing of TV and also co-playing of games, casual (on a phone or tablet), console (often played on the family big-screen) and games to keep active, like GoNoodle Games, which has seen tremendous popularity during the confinement and remote learning of kids.”
8. The Gamification of Work and Other Tasks
Games aren’t just for fun anymore — they’re also for getting things done in a more “fun” way.
Increasingly we’re seeing a rise in the “gamification of day-to-day work tasks, productivity, virtual collaboration and training,” said Julien Faure, VP, Unity, a gaming and real-time platform. “For example, by turning a construction site job training video into a VR game, workers can be actively engaged, get a score on how well they did and want to be trained.”
9. Self-Care Games
"With a renewed focus on mindfulness, relaxation and mental health in 2020, this year is bound to bring us even more creative games intent on helping us unwind while staying grounded," said Greg Hartrell, head of product management for Google Play.
"While many games focus on fantastical escapist experiences, games like #SelfCare take the simple moments in life, like getting out of bed, and turn them into relaxing and meaningful experiences. Other games, such as MIT's Media Lab’s Guardians: Unite the Realms, uses a fantasy-based game to teach healthy habit formation and skills that are invaluable for fighting depression. As people grow more in touch with their mental and physical needs, self-care games will give rise to a genre that “gets real” by relating to real-world moments and offering real self-care help."
10. Crowdfunding and Other New Ways To Launch Games
In addition to the trends within the gaming industry from the perspective of the player, we're also seeing new approaches to how a game is sold and/or launched into the world. Like so many products, brick-and-mortar game shopping is losing steam.
“A development area that should continue to grow is alternate sources to finance games,” said Derric Clark, professor and game studies chair at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona. “From crowdsourcing funding models to early access games, developers have a lot of choice in how they bring their games to market. Linking this to digital distribution will continue to support the indie game scene and allow these games to flourish.”
11. The Rise of Cryptocurrency
The (rocky) rise of cryptocurrency is also changing the way games are being marketed and opening up new methods of revenue for game publishers.
“The ability to transact in micro or fractional bits allows publishers to gamify several aspects of the game,” said Kurt Kumar, VP business development at RocketFuel. “(For example,) achieving a level on the leaderboard is now also coupled with virtual currency that can be used to purchase skins or better gear. Fortnight does it with V-bucks; (cryptocurrency mogul) Brock Pierce's first foray into gaming was a company that sold in-game items and made more money than the game publishers themselves in 2001.”
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