The gaming industry is one of the largest and most profitable in media, selling more than film and music combined, with millions of gamers around the world always looking to see what the latest trends in gaming are bringing.
We’re going to take a look at some of those trends, based on both what seems to be prevailing through 2023 to continue beyond, as well as a look ahead at some of the big changes and trends that might be appearing in the months to come.
Nintendo’s ready to Switch it up
The tales of the long-rumored Switch 2 have been intensifying as of late. That Nintendo has been planning for a follow-up to their massively possible console is, of course, no surprise.
But this year saw a lot of heavily backed-up evidence of not just its existence, but what it might look like in the hands of consumers, such as news of it being in the hands of game developers at select conferences, as well as leaked specifications of the console. There’s no official news yet, but many expect it will be coming at some point this year.
The continuing move away from physical media
The age of the digital seems like it is well and truly upon here as Microsoft seems set to follow the way of Sony, releasing a digital-only version of their Xbox Series X, much like Sony has its no-disc PS5.
The push for more digital-only platforms comes in light of concerning news about the state of the digital media that we ‘own’, with Sony making some of its library of movies completely inaccessible, even for those who bought them previously. This is certain to ramp up the discussions about the importance of video game preservation, a conversation that has already been heated thanks to the role that piracy, naturally, plays in that preservation.
Microsoft goes hard on first-person gaming
One of the most eye-opening and unexpectedly earnest bits of news from last year was Phil Spencer, current head of Xbox, admitting during an interview after the disastrous release of Redfall that Microsoft had lost the most important generation, and had been in third place ever since, to paraphrase.
As a result, Xbox’s strategy has massively changed: on one hand, they have been working hard to make Game Pass the single best value proposition for gamers across the board, making thousands of dollars of titles available for subscribers, and their recent string of acquisitions, the largest naturally being Activision Blizzard King, has put them in a unique position to get the wheels of change spinning over the next year.
Cloud gaming aims high
One of the surprising elements of the UK’s block of the Microsoft acquisition of Activision was that they feared a monopoly not due to the potential for massive sellers such as Call of Duty becoming the sole property of Microsoft, but rather the company’s unique position to swallow up the cloud gaming market thanks to their Azure infrastructure.
Indeed, cloud gaming is becoming a lot more popular in general, allowing gamers to play games that they might not otherwise have access to or the specs for by playing them through online interfaces. It’s expected that more investment will go into creating more seamless cloud experiences in the year ahead.
Sony opens up to PC
While Microsoft might be doubling down on ensuring that it offers the main place to find a wider variety of games and beloved IPs, Sony is starting to do the work of making its premium library of exclusives more widely available for free.
The game giant, which famously kept its best titles locked to its consoles, offering it a strong advantage over other console line-ups, has started the trend of porting those games to PC, and that’s a trend that doesn’t look set to stop any time soon. There have been reports of these ports not quite being up to snuff for PC players, but it’s expected that patches and acclimation to the process will smooth things out in the future.
No end to layoffs in sight
If you paid attention to the industry news at all, then there was no trend more prevalent than the continuous layoffs of the workers behind the games we play that were seemingly happening all across the industry.
This comes in a year that otherwise saw landmark earnings across the industry and huge sales of videogames in general, and often those layoffs happened as a result of poor corporate strategy, while CEOs took home millions in bonuses.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the reaper’s scythe is quite done with the industry just yet, with Unity having just announced plans to lay off a quarter of its workforce, and a grim year projected for the industry job market, at large.
The resurgence of free (and freemium) gaming
While the budgets might be growing faster than ever in some parts of the gaming world, and the industry is generally becoming much more accepting of a higher price tag for new releases, that doesn’t mean that things are getting more expensive across the board.
There has been a rise in free and freemium games as of late, as well, with gacha games tending to lead the charge when it comes to making the game itself free, but charging for the chance to unlock high-level items and characters, meanwhile, free games like digital mahjong are meaning that gamers have plenty of places for find their fun at little to no cost.
Given how much tighter budgets are becoming, this will be welcome news for those who have been dreading the price increase across the industry.
The bottom falls out of NFT gaming
It’s a concept that we saw a few games starting to flirt with, the idea of using NFTs (or non-fungible tokens) in their games as rewards and digital assets, with the Square-Enix title Symbiogenesis perhaps being the one making the most headlines with its plans to do so.
However, as of late, NFTs have tanked in value, with the investors and thought leaders in their spaces unable to convince the general public of the utility or value of what is, effectively, a receipt for a digital item that has no real use or basis for existence. Their presence in gaming has gone much the same way, with very little notice being paid to what NFT projects have released beyond criticism.
Goodbye NFTs, hello generative AI
Gamers who are looking for fewer technological gimmicks in their products might not be able to rest easy just yet, however. Generative AI has been making huge ripples across pretty much every creative industry, and video games are no exception. We can expect to see many companies adopting the tools using generative AI to create assets, vocal performances (as is already the case with the 2023 game, The Finals), and even localize games and write storylines.
Given that the quality of AI content is still very debatable and the news of how badly workers in the industry have been treated over the past year, this news does not spread joy for most gamers or the people who create the games they play.
2023 was a big year for gaming, with some of the biggest releases that we’ve seen in a long time, coming from places outside of the usual contenders for Game of the Year. Could 2024 prove just as good a year for the gamers, without being quite as disastrous for the workers of the industry?