Category: Video Game

Why Telecom Companies Should Look At Gaming As Their Next Big Frontier

The video games industry generated almost $180 billion in 2020. In 2021, the video game market size in just the United States surpassed $85.86 billion. With such a massive market on the table, players from several different industries are looking to invest and diversify for a piece of the pie. Telecom companies are one of these players. The telecommunication sector is made up of companies that make communication possible on a global scale, whether it is via wires or wirelessly, or through the phone or the Internet. AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are some examples of telecom companies. 

Telecom companies are looking to diversify their offerings for a variety of reasons, the foremost of these being that their traditional revenue streams are falling behind and their markets are being saturated. This is a result of their core markets such as television, voice and messaging, and even music being undercut by services like Netflix and Spotify. While they’re losing out on revenue, they also have to keep improving their mobile data infrastructure thanks to the massive increase in mobile data consumption. To make things worse, churn rates (customers switching providers) are particularly high in the telecom sector, averaging between 10 and 67% annually. It is estimated that 75% of the 17 to 20 million subscribers signing up with a new wireless carrier every year are coming from another wireless provider. 

It isn’t all bleak though. Telecom companies have a considerable advantage when it comes to today’s increasingly digital world. They have access to a huge customer base, an upper hand when it comes to infrastructure, and a good understanding of customer behavior and brand awareness. These advantages can be used while investing in new areas such as media, entertainment, and of course, gaming. 

The Potential of the Gaming Market

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, gaming’s popularity has surged to new heights and telecom operators have already started investing in areas related to gaming on a huge scale. This shift in behavior appears to be well-established: gaming is much more than just a hobby, it provides entertainment and community for millions of people around the world. The gaming industry is estimated to be worth more than $270 billion dollars by the end of 2025. Lucrative areas like cloud gaming and gaming as a service (GaaS) both pivot upon 5G service providers being able to deliver low-latency and high bandwidth connections. In fact, for both mobile and other platforms, but especially the former, 5G is the next revolution whose infrastructure is in the hands of telecom companies. Cloud gaming can reduce the price entry barrier as customers don’t need expensive hardware. How they create value from it and monetise it successfully is their focus. Some of the roles telecom operators can play in the mobile gaming ecosystem include:

  • Infrastructure provider– Telecom operators can use their technological capabilities to assure the quality of service and monetise it. They can also use their infrastructure to improve mobile edge computing capabilities.
  • Ecosystem development partner– They can partner with gaming service providers and help develop new devices, content, and infrastructure and also educate customers on the value they’re building.
  • Sales partner- They can sell gaming as a service they offer, whether it’s their own games or third-party titles.

We’ll look at these in more detail later.

What Telecom Companies Gain by Entering the Gaming Market

As we have already seen, there are several value propositions for telecom operators looking to establish themselves in gaming and it’s important to note that while there might not be significant revenue increases in the short term, there will be several long-term benefits. Some of these are:

  • Brand positioning and popularity amidst younger audiences.
    If you were to ask the younger generation about telecom operators, odds are they’ll dismiss them as phone service or broadband internet providers. These services are rather old-fashioned and might lead to these companies being seen as tiresome vendors selling uninspired, if necessary services. However, by associating with video games and the gaming industry and creating exciting value propositions such as low-latency connections, these companies might be viewed as game-changers. A great example of this is Verizon’s tie-up with Riot Games and its amazing promotional material. Verizon has partnered with Riot Games and invests heavily in the esports scene. The three-year partnership will allow Verizon to work with Riot Games to transform the gaming experience for developers, players, and fans alike. 
Verizon's three-year partnership with Riot Games has allowed them to transform the gaming experience for developers, players, and fans.
  • Building increased customer loyalty.
    Churn rates are particularly high in the telecommunications industry, averaging between 10 and 67% annually.  If the newer generation is impressed by an operator’s venture into gaming and what they do in the space, then this may increase engagement and loyalty. 

  • Higher average revenue per user (ARPU).
    Let’s look at the previous example of Verizon, which partnered with Riot Games to be League of Legends’ LCS league’s Official 5G Wireless and Network Service Partner. The increased publicity and visibility for Verizon means it is likely that if their service is good enough, they’ll gain more customers. One more thing to note is that gamers tend to have higher data and internet usage and this can offset declining sources of income for telecom operators such as voice calling. Dedicated game-related products and services can also contribute to the ARPU.

  • Improved customer experiences.
    An increased number of customers using gaming services can lead to operators having greater amounts of data related to their behavior. This will help them understand what customers appreciate and require and provide better customer services. For instance, Telkomsel partnered with those behind PUBG Mobile to activate special in-game offers for their customers. The success of this convinced them to launch their first mass online battle arena and first-person shooter game Shellfire, which was well-received by their audience.

Telkomsel's release of their MOBA FPS Shellfire was extremely well-received by their audience in Indonesia.

How Telecom Companies can Enter the Game Industry

  1. As a distributor: Telecom companies can acquire rights to exclusive releases and create packages specially for gamers with value add-ons like increased speed or bandwidth.
  2. As developers: Telecom operators can participate in game development and offer localised servers, apart from doing everything distributors do. They can even own game development end-to-end, as Telkomsel did with Shellfire.
  3. Involvement with game publishers and platforms: Telecom companies can collaborate with game developers and publishers which build gaming technology. A good example of this would be SK Telecom announcing an exclusive operating partnership with Microsoft’s cloud gaming service in Korea. Based on this relationship, SK Telecom is expected to help Microsoft strengthen its position in the mobile gaming market by leveraging its world-leading mobile infrastructure. US operator AT&T joined forces with NVIDIA to offer 5G GeForce NOW subscriptions, which it claimed offers “one of the world’s best gaming experiences.”
  4. Investment in esports: Telecom companies can sponsor game tournaments to appear as an important part of the ecosystem and build goodwill and a following. A great example of this is Verizon x Riot Games where the former is the title sponsor for their game VALORANT’s ‘Game Changers’ series in North America

Key Avenues Telecom Operators Could Invest in

Telecom companies are already equipped to secure an immediate foothold in the video game industry by utilising their existing capabilities. We’ve looked at the benefits for telecom operators already, but which areas are advantageous for them to invest in? One is 5G, which is shaping up to be a game changer for connectivity thanks to its faster speeds and higher data bandwidth.

  1. Cloud Gaming: Telecom companies should look into cloud gaming as a frontier to capitalise on the investments they’ve made in the 5G space. They have already invested in bringing about low latency for 5G networks. By offering dedicated 5G connections to gaming companies that then offer a low-latency experience to their end customers, telecom operators can transform gaming on the go while also expanding their customer list. Cloud gaming is expected to grow from 3 million active users in 2019 to 177 million active users by 2024 so this is definitely an area worth considering. They can also partner up with gaming companies that would like to leverage the telecom operator’s customer base.

     

  2. Game Development and Publishing: Game developers and publishers can tie up with telecom companies with exclusive deals which both parties can benefit from. One of the best examples of this was Telkomsel and the people behind PUBG Mobile offering a data plan which was a great deal for the customer. Operators can also have their own app stores where exclusive games can be downloaded and played. Eventually, Telecom companies can even develop and publish their own games, such as Telkomsel’s release of Shellfire.

     

  3. Games as a Service: By providing low-latency and high-bandwidth connections, whether 5G or wired, Gaming as a Service (GaaS) is much more viable, especially with cloud gaming getting a buff. This reduces the need for expensive hardware and increases accessibility as well — gamers can play anywhere, anytime as long as they have a laptop/tablet, and a good internet connection. Telecom operators can use their existing infrastructure to tie-up with both game publishers and developers. They can also, like mentioned previously, eventually develop their own games.

     

  4. AR and VR: Mobile phones are perfect for the kind of interactions AR requires. This is a result of significant improvements in hardware over the last decade, higher camera quality, and improved internet access. Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, EE, Globe Telecom, Orange, SK Telecom, SoftBank Corp. and TELUS have joined Niantic’s Planet-Scale AR Alliance, which has a mission to create “amazing real-world AR experiences that demonstrate the possibilities of 5G.” For VR, the data requirement is also quite high and raises the question of whether networks are capable of providing the necessary connections. Telecom operators have the infrastructure ready for both 5G technology and high-speed internet. The networks that can handle the high-resolution images, videos, and data required by new games and apps will likely be the ones that get the most customer retention and loyalty. 
Niantic’s Planet-Scale AR Alliance has a mission to create amazing real-world AR experiences that demonstrate the possibilities of 5G.

Examples of Telecom Operators Successfully Entering the Gaming Space

Telkomsel:

Telkomsel is a leading Indonesian telecom operator that has managed to integrate gaming into its offerings quite successfully. It has achieved a 22% market share of Indonesia’s gaming industry. They did this with their multi-pronged approach, including dedicated offerings for gamers, partnerships with popular games, and investing in Indonesian esports.

Initially, it launched its Dunia Games web portal in 2013, where customers could download games and directly charge them to their phone bills. In 2017, in an initial developer play, Telkomsel partnered with the folks behind games such as PUBG Mobile to activate special in-game offers for customers subscribed to their dedicated online games data package.


It then switched to its own game releases with the successful launch of Shellfire, in 2018 — with plans to develop seven additional games. All this time, they were active on the complementary front of esports — they launched the Indonesia Games Championship eSports tournament as well as PUBG LAN events. They also boosted the Dunia portal with gaming articles, reviews, and trend reports.

Telkomsel's Dunia Games organised and launched the national Indonesia Games Championship as well as other LAN events.

Verizon

Verizon has been very active when it comes to creating excellent value for their 5G and AR offerings. It was one of the first global members of the Niantic Planet-Scale AR Alliance, which is creating 5G-ready AR services for consumers. It also has a partnership with Niantic, best known for developing AR-based game Pokémon GO, for exclusive collaboration on high-performing interactive experiences for gamers. It recently announced that it, along with Doug Liman’s 30 Ninjas and in association with France-based immersive studio Novelab, will collaborate on an Augmented Reality (AR) Adventure Thriller.

Verizon was also giving away 6 and 12-month subscriptions to Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass to add more bundled content offerings to their wireless subscriptions. In recent years, it has also partnered with Riot Games, Electronic Arts, Dignitas, and Team Liquid for the development of new services in the esports and the gaming space, utilising its 5G network and real-time Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) technology. Their partnership with Riot Games and investment in North America’s esports scene has helped build their reputation and credibility with game enthusiasts. Verizon’s status as the official 5G network for League of Legends‘ LCS, and as the title sponsors for VALORANT Game Changers NA has given it  a certain cachet.

Verizon being named the official network provider of the LCS has given them a huge publicity boost.

In addition to Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, EE, Globe Telecom, Orange, SK Telecom, SoftBank Corp. and TELUS have joined Niantic’s Planet-Scale AR Alliance, which has a mission to create “amazing real-world AR experiences that demonstrate the possibilities of 5G,” including ultra-reliable low latency, enhanced mobile broadband, network slicing, and edge computing. Several telecom operators have also made investments in cloud gaming, 5G infrastructure, and esports. 

Esports as an industry especially has unique factors which make it extremely attractive to telecom companies. It needs high-definition broadcasting capabilities, high-speed and quality connectivity, low latency, and more. Telecom operators already have a leg up in that regard as they’re used to delivering such services and can use esports as a platform to announce their capabilities to a wider audience in the gaming industry. If someone’s favorite game or player is known to use a particular service provider, odds are they’ll see a spike in ARPU.

The Future of Gaming and Telecom Providers

We’ve looked at how and why telecom companies can benefit from investing in the gaming ecosystem. But what does the future look like for both these operators and the industry as a whole?

It seems likely that telecom companies will be able to add gaming to their service bundles and use third-party content to generate value. In fact, they can capitalise on existing problems such as those arising due to platform monopolies to create opportunities for both their customers and themselves. Lawsuits like the one where Epic sued Apple and Google for forcing it into a payment system where the app stores got a thirty percent cut of all individual transactions on the platform, such as skins, battle passes, and the like are a consequence of such monopolies. As a result, Apple removed the game from their store and gamers could no longer access it on their devices. Telecom companies could step in and provide access to these apps to their customers via their own app stores or cloud platforms. Game developers and platforms might be more open to using telecom operators for billing and aggregation.

Epic Games made a pointed parody of Apple's original '1984' trailer after Fortnite was removed from the Apple App store.

There is also a rising interest in edge computing, especially for mobile devices. With the huge market for mobile gaming, telecom operators who can deliver on this front will likely profit significantly. They are also ideal providers considering their existing investments and infrastructure. Other opportunities in the gaming industry which we’ve looked at are AR, GaaS, and cloud gaming. We’ve already looked at several partnerships which are succeeding so far, but only time will tell the magnitude of this success. We’ve also examined how esports and telecom companies investing in the industry can benefit them through both increased revenue and reach. Apart from providing high-quality connections, they can also enable and promote esports tournaments, build online communities, and create esports content that can boost engagement. If done properly, telecom companies can create experiences that will win them loyal customers who also advocate for them and increase ARPU.

If you’re a telecom company looking to venture into gaming, we can help. Gameopedia works with clients across the gaming industry on custom requests and can provide in-depth game data across PC, consoles, and mobile games. Reach out to us for data that can empower you to new heights. 

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8 Major Gaming Trends to Look Out for in 2022

Things have never looked better for the video game industry. It has grown exponentially over the last few years and the rate of growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. It is estimated that over 2.5 billion people around the world play video games, and they contributed to the video game industry’s record-breaking 2021 revenue of $180 billion. The global gaming market is set to reach $256.97 billion by 2025. 

Global video game market value from 2020-2025, courtesy Statista.

There are several trends that have driven this explosive growth in revenue and audience: let’s look at those likely to be relevant in 2022.

Gaming Trends to Look Out For in 2022

1. The Massive Growth of Mobile Gaming

When it comes to gaming, a massive trend over the past decade that is only increasing in prominence is the rise of mobile gaming. The market for mobile games is expected to register a CAGR of 14% between 2020 and 2025. This is a result of improving technology when it comes to smartphone hardware and the growing penetration of these devices as a direct result of cheap internet data packs. Mobile games also often prefer the free-to-play (F2P) revenue model as it increases the number of downloads by users. This is because players can try out a game before deciding if it’s something they like and want to invest their time and money in. One of the things to note is the play-to-earn (P2E) business model which is slowly gaining popularity. Developed with blockchain technology (we’ll look at this in detail later), P2E games let players generate real income held in a crypto wallet, which means that even if they leave the game or it shuts down, they’ll be able to take these assets with them.

Mobile gaming has surged in the last decade with improvements to both mobile hardware and internet.

The sheer volume of gamers who play on smartphones and tablets makes it the biggest gaming platform. A survey in 2021 found that 68.1 percent of respondents stated that they played games via smartphone, making it the most popular gaming device worldwide. According to AppAnnie, consumers spent 50% more on mobile games than all other gaming platforms combined in 2021. Experts believe this trend will continue in 2022 as more games will support cross-play gaming. Asia-Pacific is emerging as the major contributor to the growth of the global mobile gaming industry. 

AAA mobile game releases are also likely to increase. The recent success of miHoYo’s Genshin Impact as well as that of prior releases like Fortnite, PUBG Mobile, and Call of Duty Mobile have proven that AAA mobile gaming experiences are not only popular but also highly profitable. A month into Genshin Impact’s release, it was downloaded 15 million times and earned more than $150 million in revenue. The key to successful AAA mobile game releases are high-quality graphics and a game experience similar to what you’d get on a PC or console.

Finally, gamers are increasingly looking for mobile games that come with social features. In fact, according to App Annie, roughly two-thirds of the top 50 mobile games have at least one social feature. These include in-game chat, guilds and clans, co-op and PvP modes, social media connections, and more. 

2. Cloud Gaming Becoming Viable

For many years, gamers have been waiting for innovations that would make cloud gaming go mainstream. It has the potential to revolutionise the gaming and entertainment industries by eliminating the need for expensive hardware and enabling remote access to game content. The prominent cloud gaming services in the current gaming ecosystem include PlayStation Now, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Amazon Luna, and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. Google has also committed to bringing at least 100 new games to their cloud service Stadia by the end of 2022. The future only seems brighter as cloud gaming is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48.2% from 2021 to 2027. 

Some of the notable cloud gaming platforms: at their price, definitely an attractive bet to people who don't want to invest in expensive hardware.

We’ve already looked at the advantages and the future of cloud gaming in detail in one of our previous articles. With cloud gaming, you don’t need to upgrade your PC or console. Instead of buying expensive gaming hardware, a basic laptop or even a mobile phone would do. You can play games on any OS or Device. Gaming on the cloud would allow games to become more platform-independent, allowing PCs and tablets running Mac, Linux, Android, and other operating systems to support games that might otherwise only run on Windows.

Other benefits include being able to start playing games instantly, as the server already has the game installed and can load the game immediately. This helps avoid waiting for patch updates. Cloud services would allow for very easy spectating of games, such as professional gaming matches. With the significant improvements in internet infrastructure, speeds, and bandwidth, streaming games might become prominent in 2022. The lack of a need to download periodic updates and possibilities of large-scale multiplayer gaming also improve its appeal.

3. Blockchain Gaming and NFTs

A blockchain is essentially a chain of data blocks on a computer network that is transparent to all of its users as well as anybody else. It cannot be altered or relocated. This way, a complete record of everything that has transpired on the network in relation to the data is preserved. Blockchain gaming is a means of turning digital assets inside video games (such as collectibles or cosmetic skins) into real-world assets in the form of NFTs or non-fungible tokens. Because of its liquidity and the fact that gamers are used to tokenization, implementing blockchain in gaming is fairly simple. 

From a zero-value market size, the blockchain gaming industry grew to
$3 billion in 2021 and is projected to rise to $39.7 billion by 2025. Fuelled by free-to-play and play-to-earn models, the blockchain gaming industry has attracted over 1.5 million diverse gamers across the globe. According to January’s report by popular data resource, DappRadar, blockchain-based online games received over $1 billion in funding in January alone, as compared to 2021 seeing investments worth $4 billion in total.

Cryptokitties is an online game that runs on the Ethereum blockchain. The game involves a play-to-earn model of buying, selling, and breeding digital kittens. By December 2017, players had already spent an incredible $ 6.7 million in-game. The most expensive
Cryptokitten was sold for $172,000. One of the most popular recent blockchain games is Axie Infinity, which is a play-to-earn NFT blockchain game built on the Ethereum network. During the game, players earn Smooth Love Potion tokens, which can be traded for real money through a cryptocurrency exchange. Axie Infinity has made over $4 billion in NFT sales since its launch. It also shows that there have been 14.45 million transactions and 1.62 million buyers since its inception.

Cryptokitties has had several million being spent in-game and was almost revolutionary (and adorable to boot!)

Blockchain gaming comes with a few advantages. Firstly, it improves security. It is nearly impossible to hack into data across servers because of blockchain’s strength of decentralization and highly effective data encryption measures. Gamers and developers can also leverage blockchain technology to construct resource-rich games and apps, as well as upgrade game versions and earn awards through blockchain gaming mining procedures. The big question is what can NFTs and related blockchain concepts bring to games that don’t already exist, or can’t be replicated with centralised approaches? Another major problem is the lack of regulation of NFT transactions which has led to several scams.

As things stand, NFT games face many challenges, some of which include:

  • Valve has banned crypto- and NFT-based games on Steam, the biggest PC storefront, inhibiting NFT growth on PC.
  • South Korea has banned crypto-based games on Google Play and the iOS App Store, limiting growth in one of mobile’s highest-spending markets.
  • Players have advocated against NFTs in games, as shown by the backlash to Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon NFT announcement.

4. The Metaverse

One of the biggest things to look out for is the Metaverse. The metaverse may be worth $800 billion by 2024 due to a surge in interest during the pandemic. That’s up from $47 billion in 2020.  Facebook’s rebrand to Meta is a sign that they, one of the biggest tech companies, believe it is the future. Meta has also announced an investment of $10 billion over the coming years to develop metaverse technologies. In October 2021, Tencent established the F1 studio under the subsidiary TiMi Studio Group for focusing on metaverse development. In June 2021, Epic Games said that it has secured $1 billion in its latest round of investments in its quest to create the metaverse, a realm of interconnected virtual worlds like those depicted in novels like Snow Crash and Ready Player One.  Disney is developing a metaverse theme park

But what is the metaverse?  A
New York Times article described it as “a variety of virtual experiences, environments, and assets that gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. Together, these new technologies hint at what the internet will become next.” Despite the lack of a universal definition, the metaverse is already seeing massive traction in the video games industry with Epic Games and Roblox blazing the trail. 

For instance,
Fortnite — an Epic Games property — hosted a virtual concert that was attended by over 12 million people, and a collaboration between Roblox and Gucci created a virtual Gucci Garden space that sold limited edition virtual bags. One of the digital bags even sold for $800 more than the actual, tangible version! Both of these companies are a great example of how the metaverse can be a superb virtual environment where everyone within can interact and enjoy immersive experiences and stories. While some might simply want to log into the latest FPS game to shoot guns with their friends, others will find room in these worlds to engage in socialising, chatting, or other forms of shared interaction.

Travis Scott's Fortnite concert set a record for number of attendees and was a global phenomenon.

5. Acquisitions and Consolidations in the Gaming Industry

In the last few years, we’ve been seeing an increased number of acquisitions and mergers in the video game industry. Behemoths have been acquiring smaller companies to improve their offerings, acquire IPs, and expand their audience base. In 2021, there was a spree of acquisitions starting off with the acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft for the massive sum of $68.7 billion and Sony acquiring Bungie for $3.6 billion. Several more have come through, such as Sony acquiring game development company Haven Studios and Borderlands developer Gearbox acquiring 250-person indie dev team Lost Boys Interactive to work on Borderlands 4 and a fresh IP. Other significant acquisitions include 2021’s newly-public ironSource acquisition of Luna Labs, Soomla, Bidalgo, and Tapjoy. Liftoff and Vungle merged and acquired GameRefinery, AlgoLift, JetFuel, and TreSensa.

This is true of the mobile gaming sector as well, with mobile
gaming giant Zynga acquiring two big Turkey-based developers: Peak Games for $1.8 billion and four-fifths of Rollic Games for $180 million. In 2020, they also announced the acquisition of a Chinese studio – StarLark for $315 million. Embracer Group acquired a total of seven studios in 2021. They also entered into an agreement for $300 million to acquire the development studios Crystal Dynamics, Eidos-Montréal, Square Enix Montréal, and a catalogue of IPs including Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Thief, Legacy of Kain and more than 50 back-catalogue games from Square Enix Holdings.

6. Games and Cross-Media Storytelling

Recently, there seems to be a barrage of high-standard, hugely grossing media being released based on video games. The release of Netflix’s Arcane (based on Riot Games’ extremely popular game League of Legends) and The Witcher series (the characters based on Andrej Sapowski’s books which became world-famous after the release of the games) have proved that games can also be adapted into media and other IPs which can be extremely successful.

The Witcher is one of Netflix's most popular releases and has been renewed for a third season already.

“The Witcher,” was on track to be Netflix’s biggest first season ever for a TV series. Netflix said through its first four weeks of release, 76 million households watched the fantasy series. Future releases are also under production, such as the upcoming Last of Us and Borderlands series based on the games of the same name.

There are also reboots happening of franchises that were initially less than successful, such as the Resident Evil movies. It is being remade into Resident Evil, a new live-action series based on Capcom’s legendary survival horror game franchise, and is coming to Netflix. Another example is the Tomb Raider franchise, whose movies were box office failures. However, Netflix, Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix, and Legendary Television are teaming up for a brand new animated series based on the video game franchise to inject some life into the reboot.

7. The Explosive Popularity of Esports

In 2021, the global esports market was valued at just over $1.08 billion, an almost 50 percent increase from the previous year. This number is expected to increase massively with significant investments being made by game publishers, gaming organisations and their sponsors, and other parties in the gaming ecosystem. If you want to read more about this as well as revenue channels, trends, and the future of esports, check out our article where we get into the details.

Significant revenue comes in from sponsors as well as ads on broadcasts of tournaments, especially international ones. There are also other areas that are likely to explode in 2022 though and the foremost among these is esports betting. The
global esports betting market size is expected to reach $13.05 billion by 2025, from $7983.2 million in 2019. The number of esports events one can bet on is also growing exponentially, from 3,000 events available in July 2019 to over 50,000 events in July 2020.

Finally, with restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic finally being lifted, a lot of offline events are being planned. These kinds of events are usually held in huge arenas, with thousands of fans attending. This helps significantly with publicity and media impressions as well as increased revenue from ticket sales, limited-time merchandise, and more.

Esports isn't just about games, it's a cultural phenomenon across the planet.

8. VR and AR Gaming Developments

Since the release of novels like Ready Player One and Neuromancer, a fully-immersive virtual universe has been a dream for tech giants, gaming enthusiasts, and the like. VR technology is the furthest humanity has gotten to that lofty goal. Thanks to the falling price of hardware, VR gear such as headsets is becoming increasingly affordable. They also benefit from being capable of functioning both as standalone devices and being connected to a gaming PC to take advantage of their dedicated hardware to enable even more immersive and graphically-rich VR experiences. We’ve gone into VR and its evolution in detail in this article.

VR is the closest humanity has gotten till date to a fully-immersive online experience.

The global VR market was valued at $7.7 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $26.8 billion by 2027 with a CAGR of 19.0% during this period. In the near future, cloud VR could become a reality – further reducing the size of headsets. 2022 might even see the release of Apple’s long-rumored VR headset (though there is no release date yet) as well as the Oculus Quest 3. The PSVR 2 is also due to launch towards the end of 2022. It is the next-generation VR headset that Sony is currently working on and will work exclusively with the PS5 games console. While Meta hasn’t provided an ETA for its next wave of VR products, according to XR hardware analyst Brad Lynch, Project Cambria could release before the Oculus Quest 3. The insider claims that the high-end Metaverse headset will release in Q2 2022, while the Quest 3 will make its debut at Meta’s 2023 Connect event. It is very likely that VR could see a lot more takers in the near future and might even be a major trend in 2022, depending on when the aforementioned technology gets released.

These are the trends which should have significant ramifications for the gaming industry that you should watch out for this year. We work with clients across the industry on custom requests and can provide in-depth data about games such as detailed game breakdowns which can help you identify trends. Reach out to us for data that can empower you to new heights. 

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Games-as-a-Service : How Games Thrive for Years

When game developer Bethesda charged $2.5 for horse armor in Oblivion in 2006, it probably had no idea that such transactions would make gaming companies billions in the future.

Bethesda had created the world’s first microtransaction – the sale of game items and other intangible digital assets for a small price – and was widely criticized and laughed at: users felt they were paying for something that should have been in the game all along. Bethesda took stock of the criticism, released better, large-scale DLCs for Oblivion (2006) and moved on from the horse armor debacle.

Horse Armor Elder Scrolls IV
Horse Armor in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Courtesy Bethesda)

Today, games-as-a-service (GaaS) or live service games such as Candy Crush Saga (2012), Fortnite (2017), and Genshin Impact (2020) rake in billions of dollars and are by far the most popular titles, boasting massive user bases. Many of these games are free to play and make their money mostly through in-game purchases and other monetisation strategies.

In this article we discuss how the GaaS model works and the factors that determine the success or failure of a live-service game. We will also look at how cloud gaming, and the emergence of gaming-as-a-platform, could change the future of such games.

What is the GaaS Model?

A game-as-a-service employs a recurring revenue model by monetizing the gaming experience through microtransactions, subscriptions, expansion packs, ads and digital passes. A live-service title typically has a strong multiplayer  or social component and uses such revenue streams to fund and deliver regular updates and content over an extended duration, keeping users engaged for years. Developers provide constant support with patches, quality-of-life updates and game-balancing fixes, while adding new premium content like cosmetic upgrades, areas, quests and game modes.

Publishers can adopt multiple payment models to make such games viable – Fortnite is free-to-play, with microtransactions and advertising collaborations, while World of Warcraft (2004) is a subscription-based game. For The Elder Scrolls Online (2014) you pay for the base game, and can buy DLC’s as they are released. However, a subscription gives access to many DLC’s and various game enhancements.

When Blizzard launched World of Warcraft in 2004, players could try the game for free to decide if they wanted to subscribe. Blizzard was following the lead of RuneScape (2001) – the MMORPG had added a subscription tier that gave users additional content. RuneScape and World of Warcraft were two of the earliest games to use tiered pricing as a revenue stream.

runescape classic
Runescape (Courtesy Jagex)

Other games followed suit: MMO’s such as Dungeons and Dragons Online (2006) and Age of Conan (2008) successfully adopted the free-to-play model with in-game purchases. Riot Games then launched League of Legends (2009) as free-to-play, with paid cosmetic upgrades. Valve has implemented a similar revenue model for Dota 2 (2013), and is able to crowd-fund the Dota 2 International – which has the biggest prize pool among all esports titles – through the sale of upgrades that either enhance the game or add cosmetic changes.

How the GaaS Model Pays for Itself

Live service titles are the most popular games today – they had a user base of 2 billion PC gamers in 2020, while pay-to-play games had about 445 million users. Free-to-play PC games generated $22.7 bn in revenue worldwide in 2020. A 2020 survey revealed that 35% of gamers worldwide subscribe to a gaming service. Free-to-play games accounted for 78%, or $98.4bn, of total worldwide gaming revenue in the same year.

The adoption of the GaaS model has powered the explosive growth of EA and Activision. In 2018, EA’s value rose from $4 bn to $33 bn on the back of live service titles such as the annual sports franchises FIFA, Madden, NHL and NBA, with Ultimate Team modes in UFC, FIFA and Hockey bringing in additional revenue. Activision’s value rose from $10 bn to $60 bn thanks to live service games such as Overwatch (2016), Destiny 2 (2017) and the acquisition of the social gaming company King and its casual games, such as Candy Crush Saga.

Game studios fund new content – and turn a profit – through a plethora of revenue streams:

  • In-Game Purchases and Microtransactions: Users pay a small fee for in-game items, cosmetic upgrades, enhanced gameplay, skipping the grind, removing annoyances like timers, and more. Some notable games that employ this revenue model are  Fortnite, Dota 2 and Candy Crush Saga 
  • In-Game Advertising: Ads are mostly restricted to mobile games, though there are examples of in-game advertising in other platforms as well. According to a study conducted by Accenture, more than 73% of mobile gamers report openness to receiving in-game ads. Ad revenue from gaming is expected to reach $56 bn in 2024. Examples of such ads include Fortnite’s collaboration with the Air Jordan clothing brand and Pokemon Go’s contextual promotions, where a Starbucks ad also directs the user toward the Pokemon at a nearby Starbucks outlet.
Pokemon Go Starbucks
Pokemon Go’s collaboration with Starbucks (Courtesy Niantic)
  • Subscriptions: Users pay a subscription fee to play a base game that receives regular content updates, or to unlock new DLC and expansions.. MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft and The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) follow a subscription model. 
  • Digital Passes: Season Passes and Battle Passes offer different types of content to gamers. A season pass offers current and future DLC at a discounted price, encouraging users to buy into the game before new DLC and expansions are released. The Battle Pass, however, rewards players with (usually) cosmetic upgrades for completing challenges and reaching milestones in-game. Battle passes can be paid or free, with the paid tier offering a faster progression towards in-game rewards – an important advantage because battle passes are time-limited. Genshin Impact, Apex Legends and Rocket League (2015) are among the games that use the battle pass system, while Destiny 2, Warframe (2013), The Division 2 (2019) sell season passes.
Dota 2 Internation Battle Pass
Dota 2’s International Battle Pass (Courtesy Valve Corporation)
  • Paid Expansions: Studios also sell large expansions that contain new content, features, game modes and campaigns. Content bundled in season passes are also sold separately, as with ESO, whose DLC can be purchased a la carte if you don’t want a subscription. World of Warcraft also featured paid expansions – on top of the subscription tier, as does Destiny 2. Unlike a season pass, gamers are not buying into DLC before release and can see for themselves if expansion packs are worth the price. 
  • Loot Boxes: Loot boxes are in-game items that can be opened to collect random virtual gear. The ‘loot’ you get may comprise items that are much sought after, or just stuff that’s available at low prices in-store. This means that two players who pay the same sum to buy a loot box stand a different chance of gaining rare or unique gear, which is perceived as unfair. Loot boxes can be purchased both in-game and separately, as game addons.
battlefront 2 loot boxes
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Loot Boxes (Courtesy EA)

Monetization strategies can be highly successful: In 2021, Activision Blizzard made $6.49 billion through non-product revenue streams such as in-game purchases, downloadable content and subscriptions, while it made $2.3 bn from product sales. In 2021, Electronic Arts made $1.62 bn from the sale of content addons for the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode.  However, gamers can be quite vocal in their criticism, and even abandon a game, if they believe a company has taken monetization too far. In the following section, we will discuss how content rollouts, and the use and abuse of monetization strategies, can drastically impact how a live-service game fares.

GaaS: What Gamers Love, What they Hate

A good live-service game will keep offering more reasons to return to it, and also draw in new players. Live-service games have low barriers to entry – you can start playing them for free, and the good ones have microtransactions only for cosmetic upgrades that offer no competitive advantage. Bad content compounded with exploitative monetization strategies can lead to games losing huge chunks of their user base within weeks after launch.

What Gamers Love about GaaS

Many GaaS games succeed by improving the game through regular updates, and consistently engaging players with expansion packs that include new areas, quests, characters and game modes. Improving content rollouts can also help games bounce back from poor performance at launch. Regular updates can help retain users – a gamer who buys only a few of ESO’s DLC’s still benefits from developer support and may be encouraged to buy more content in the future.

Users love live-service games that feature:

  • Frequent updates that balance the game, fix bugs and add quality-of-life improvements 
  • DLC-scale content that offers new lands, quests, game modes and other enhancements
  • Detailed and well-executed road maps based on players’ needs.
  • In-app purchases that don’t affect gameplay and add cosmetic enhancements

Live-service games are rated mostly on their content and player engagement. Gamerant’s list of 13 best live-service games does not dwell at all on how these games pay for themselves, but on what they have offered to gamers over sustained periods of time. It takes special note of games such as Warframe and Grand Theft Auto Online, which were both released in 2013, but are still drawing in new players because of their expansive content. For such games to succeed, developers must sustain them for nearly a decade – as with GTA Online and Warframe – or longer, as is the case with World of Warcraft and League of Legends.

Games such as Destiny 2 and The Division are also lauded for offering free updates, fixes and gameplay improvements: they remain engaging even if one does not pay for new content. Many developers also improve the stability of their game worlds over time, allowing them to attract new users, and retain existing players, by adding expansions without compromising gameplay.

Live-service games can prove unusually resilient if developers commit to providing quality content and improving the customer experience. Despite a rocky start, ESO greatly expanded its user base after Bethesda added expansion packs that allowed users to explore new lands and regions with engaging questlines, and join major factions common to all Elder Scrolls games. The studio pulled off a similar rescue act with Fallout 76, a disaster on launch – server issues, lack of NPC’s, and poor-quality tie-in merchandise drew widespread criticism. Yet again, Bethesda added new content and updates, including tons of bug-fixes, new NPC’s, and large-scale expansions. In 2021, Bethesda CEO Todd Howard wrote in a reddit post that Fallout 76 was one of the studio’s most-played games, with 11 million users. 

Rainbow Six Siege and The Division (both created by Ubisoft) grew in numbers via quality content updates. The Division managed to lose 93% of its player base soon after release, but Ubisoft resurrected it with fresh content and gameplay, and it gained 20 million players. Rainbow Six Siege is described as ‘the king of the comeback’ and drew in 25 million users, and became a major esport, despite being riddled with game-breaking bugs and server issues at launch.

Clear roadmaps can also help drive a live-service game’s success, by telling players exactly what to expect. Even now, games such as Halo Infinite (2021) and Warframe struggle to create and stick to a clear roadmap, which has caused confusion among gamers. 

Failing to deliver promises made in the roadmap can lead to intense backlash, as was the case with Bioware’s Anthem (2019). The studio promised a great deal of content in their roadmap, but released a sub-par game that barely resembled what the publishers had led players to expect. The game failed not only because of problems at launch, but also due to a misleading roadmap.

What Gamers Hate about GaaS

Gamers are not too fond of microtransactions and only 5-20% of the community takes part in them. However, about 25% of gamers who engage in microtransactions spend considerable sums on in-game purchases. They used to drive the revenue of free-to-play games, though these ‘whales’ constitute a lesser proportion of in-game sales today.

A live-service game needs money to pay for development and the sustained rollout of quality updates and content, but things go awry when monetization is seen as excessive, drawing the ire of gamers. According to a SuperData report, gaming companies walk a fine line between engaging players with new content, and alienating them with unpopular monetization strategies. Paid cosmetic upgrades that do not offer a competitive edge are mostly tolerated by players.

Gamers will likely protest against exploitative practices such as:

  • Pay-to-win monetization, where money buys you an unfair competitive advantage.
  • Over-monetization, where everything seems to cost money, leading to a hollow vanilla game. Basic features cost money, and completing ‘free’ battle passes offers only minimal level boosts or in-game resources, forcing gamers to pay-to-play for a good experience.
  • ‘Random’ rewards such as loot boxes, where there can be great variation between the amount of money paid and the quality of the rewards received. 
  • Broken promises and failure to deliver on game roadmaps.

Exploitative monetization, and gamers’ distaste for microtransactions, have led to the creation of a site that tracks games and rates them on what you might have to spend after buying a pay-to-play game, or starting a free-to-play game. A few games, such as The Banner Saga 2 (2016) are given a ‘Spotless’ rating, indicating full ownership of a title once bought. The website dwells at length on all the things you might have to pay for if you buy a less-than-spotless game.

Fallout 76’s content – or lack thereof – was bad enough at launch, but it also featured pay-to-win microtransactions that further alienated users. In the case of Marvel’s Avengers (2020), the pay-to-win booster upgrades angered players so much that the publisher eventually removed the offending items from the store. Some games retain their popularity despite using pay-to-win economies: Clash of Clans (2012) and Warframe both allow paying gamers to level up faster. However, while such a practice may be tolerated, it is still pointed out and criticized.

In over-monetized games, even base features require in-store purchases. In The Hunter: Call of the Wild (2017), you had to buy hunting licenses to shoot animals in the game. In effect, you could only hit targets at the shooting range if you didn’t shell out money for the right to shoot at animals – in a game that was literally about hunting. The game’s developer Avalanche Studios now offers a pay-to-play version without microtransactions. 

In Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode, the XP progression was so slow that leveling up effectively required playing full-time. You had to play a hundred daily challenges to reach rank one. But you could buy your way past this and level up faster, with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which offered free boosts and gear. The game has since been balanced with a better progression system, involving more XP boosts and credit-drops for users who play for free.

Loot boxes are the most controversial – and perhaps the most aggravating – kind of monetization strategy. Star Wars Battlefront II loot boxes required gamers to shell out extra money to play iconic characters like Darth Vader and Princess Leia. EA’s response to a reddit post on the issue holds the record for the most downvoted reddit comment in the Guinness Book of World Records. The backlash led share prices of Electronic Arts to fall and forced EA to do away with the loot boxes in-game.

Take Two Interactive is being sued over loot boxes in the NBA 2K series of basketball games. The plaintiffs contend that the games induce players to spend significant sums on in-game items and other purchases, even though Take Two charges standard prices for the base games. 

Badly monetized games may get lambasted as thinly-veiled cash-grabs, but developers who respect player sentiments and restrict microtransactions to cosmetics can enjoy great success: Fortnite had 350 million registered players in 2020, before its legal conflict with Apple and Google. League of Legends also has a huge player base of 180 million as of 2022, while offering no competitive advantage with its in-game purchases.

In the following section, we will look at future directions for live-service gaming – the emergence of games as a platform, the promise of cloud gaming, and the controversial NFT gaming scene.

How GaaS Monetization Could Change in the Future

While live-service games can keep gamers engaged for years, heavy-handed monetization strategies can spell disaster. 

The advent of cloud gaming could utterly transform this dynamic. Cloud gaming could make live-service games highly cost effective and playable on multiple devices. Moreover, new content and updates would be delivered via the cloud, requiring no local downloads. Game companies could agree to a library-based model, wherein a single subscription gives access to constantly updated and remotely accessible games. Cloud gaming also allows gamers to save on hardware, freeing up money that could be spent on in-game purchases. The library model and increased potential for player spending could help publishers eschew aggressive monetization strategies.

Live service games such as Fortnite are starting to resemble platforms, according to Microsoft’s head of cloud gaming. James Gwertzman points out that Fortnite now is more than a service and almost a community, with live in-game concerts, and that some ‘game platforms’ encourage gamers to become developers by offering modding utilities and other creative tools. These citizen developers are able to host their own persistent worlds for games such as Minecraft Realms and Roblox. Such developments indicate that even the creation of new content – central to the success of live service games – is being left to gaming enthusiasts, who can create and sell experiences in a community-powered platform

But what if you could earn just by playing? NFTs – non-fungible tokens – are at the core of ‘play-to-earn’ games, some of which are ‘free-to-play’, though others require you to spend some cryptocurrency. A non-fungible token is a unique and irreplaceable digital entity that exists on a public blockchain. Playing NFT games results in the generation of new NFTs that can be traded both in-game and on cryptocurrency exchanges. In Axie Infinity, you breed NFT monsters called Axies and battle with other Axies. You can purchase monsters and breeding resources in-game – or win them by playing – and sell Axies both in game and on cryptocurrency exchanges to earn money.

If NFTs take off, then any type of intangible digital asset – including the skins and cosmetic upgrades in games like League of Legends, Fortnite and Dota 2 – can be stored on the blockchain and sold on exchanges. But NFTs have been treated with suspicion and scepticism: Valve has banned crypto-based apps on Steam. Neither is Epic bullish on NFTs, because of ‘an intractable mix of [NFT] scams’. No mainstream games have announced NFT integration yet.

Conclusion

In a hit-driven industry, a live-service game can seem a very good business proposition for game developers, but it also entails a commitment to providing updates and new content over the course of years. Such a commitment makes GaaS games capable of surviving disastrous initial releases as well. The adoption of GaaS can help the gaming industry move past an over-reliance on hits from major IPs.

The industry-wide shift to the GaaS model is ultimately a good thing for gamers, who will appreciate the wide range of games on offer provided that publishers refrain from excessive monetization – a real possibility in a future that includes cloud gaming and games-as-platforms.

Gameopedia maintains an extensive and constantly-updated database of live-service games. Reach out to us to get access to data that will yield valuable insights into the world of games-as-a-service.

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The Evolution of First Person Shooter (FPS) Games

One of the most popular types of video games is the FPS or first-person shooter. According to a global gamer survey held in 2020, the second most popular genre was shooter games, with 50.5 percent of respondents stating they’d played shooter games in the past year.  The market for FPS games has also steadily risen over the last decade.

But what exactly are FPS games?

The First-person Shooter or FPS is a subgenre of action-packed shooter video games typically centered on combat involving guns and other weapons that fire projectiles from a first-person perspective. These games are often an entry point into video games these days, with games like the Call of Duty and Halo franchises which are huge hits for both console and PC, or games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which has retained its massive fanbase and popularity over the past decade and thrived as an Esport. Why are these games so popular though? 

For those who enjoy the thrill of shooting guns and immersing themselves in a virtual battleground, First-Person Shooters are where it’s at. It’s not just for the gun-nuts though —  FPS games test your ‘gamer instincts’. The quickness of your reflexes, your awareness of the environment, and how well you coordinate with your team — you’ll need all of these in spades to win.

Indeed, in one of our previous articles, we’ve gone into the motivations for people playing video games and FPS games manage to score solidly on multiple fronts. Let’s now take a look at how they came about.

The History of FPS Games

FPS games have been around for almost 50 years now. They’ve had their ups and downs but have almost always been popular. 

The 70s

The first real attempt at an FPS game was in 1973 with Maze War being installed at the NASA Ames Research Center. Players could move through a 3D maze slowly, while also shooting other players who appeared as eyeballs. Sure, it didn’t look flashy, but it was new and the concept unprecedented.

Maze War
Maze War

The 80s

In the 80s, arcades were the place for gamers to be, and the ancestors of today’s FPS games started popping up. The first of these was Atari’s Battlezone. This game allowed players to pilot a lethal assault tank moving across a (rather bland) landscape filled with enemies. You could rotate and move in any direction and blast the baddies away (as a tank should!) Battlezone was the first successful mass-market game (around 15,000 copies then which was a lot for that time!) featuring a first-person viewpoint and wireframe 3D graphics, with a version later released for home computers in 1983. Other games which resembled FPS games were Midway’s Wizard of Wor and Taito’s Gun Buster. The latter especially was interesting as you used a joystick for movement along with a light gun to shoot and aim. You could even network several cabinets together for a multiplayer deathmatch.

Battlezone (Courtesy Atari, Inc.)

This era saw the rise of ‘home gaming’, with the advent of home computers and consoles. The fact that players no longer had a ‘timer’ on their game brought a lot of leeway when it came to designing games for the personal gaming market. More immersive and inventive approaches started taking off, even within the limited scope of FPS games. This was precipitated by Atari releasing a line of personal computers like the ST, STE, TT, and Falcon, with an increasing number of games being made for them. The first true PC FPS was Hybrid Arts’ Midi Maze, made for the Atari SD and released in 1987. Players became a Pac-Man-like orb in the game and were tossed into a maze where they could move around in whatever direction they wanted while shooting lethal bubbles at other similar-looking enemies. The key features of Midi Maze which made it fun were two things:

  • Its networking capability: you could have as many as sixteen players in the same maze (although it was usually really laggy).
  • Users could create their own mazes using an uncomplicated text editor.
Midi Maze (Courtesy Hybrid Arts)

FPS trends during this era:
– The first FPS games involved basic tile-based movement where players could only move from one tile to another and turn in 90-degree increments.

– These early games were usually either grid-based or ray-casted, with games like Wayout using ray-casting technology to render the environment and wall segments relative to the player’s position and the angles they’re facing. 

–  One of the first-ever LAN games was MIDI Maze but it would take some time to cement the concept even though its multiplayer mode acquired a cult following.

The real transformation of the FPS subgenre came in the 90s though.

The Early 90s

You may have heard of a company called id Software. They arguably pioneered the FPS subgenre and gave it a lot of its key traits. John Carmack, their resident genius, made innovations that transformed the gaming industry as a whole. He figured out how to render 3D images as fast as 2D ones and created the concept of ray casting where the PC would draw only what the gamer could see rather than create the entire in-game world, making rendering speeds significantly faster.

Their first release was Wolfenstein 3D, the progenitor of all 3D shooters, where you play as William “B.J.” Blazkowicz,  a gruff, shotgun-toting Jewish-American spy with a penchant for Nazi-killing. He was gaming’s equivalent to John Rambo, the quintessential one-man army – a trope that exists to date. The game forced players to stay constantly alert for enemies and the pace of the game was faster than any other game around at the time. It was a massive hit and basically ushered in an era for FPS games focussing on break-neck pace while also laying the groundwork for things like intricate level design and weapon functions which are now considered the industry standard.

Wolfenstein 3D (Courtesy Atari Corporation)

After the resounding success of Wolfenstein, id wanted to make something even more phenomenal, something faster, bloodier, and scarier. They had the technology: with John Carmack’s revolutionary engine, they could have different levels of light and illuminations, render surface textures, and create variable-altitude floors and ceilings. Thus was born Doom, the game which single-handedly transformed FPS gaming. The anticipation for the game was unprecedented. So many users were accessing the first FTP server where id Software planned to upload the game that they were unable to connect to it, forcing the administrators to kick all other users off to allow id to upload the game. When the upload finished thirty minutes later, 10,000 people attempted to download the game at once, crashing the network.

Doom
Doom (Courtesy id Software, Inc)

In Doom, you play as a space marine who endlessly fights with demonic enemies, each of whom has unique behavior and abilities. It had a visceral, fast, and loud soundtrack which made the game feel even more intense. Doom was not just a game, it was an experience. Nothing like it had ever been seen before and ‘Doom addiction’ got so bad that within hours of Doom’s release, work and university networks were banning Doom multiplayer games, as the massive number of players overwhelmed their systems.

id was happy to license their engine to other companies and a bunch of Doom clones began popping up, such as Raven Software’s Heretic, Rogue’s Strife, and notably, Bungie’s Pathways into Darkness. The latter melded Wolfenstein’s fast-paced shooting with running in a maze, along with an inventory system. The company’s next release allowed you to use two weapons, plus voice chat with fellow Marathoners over LAN. System Shock was a game that was also notable because it incorporated a more compelling narrative along with deeper immersion.

FPS trends during this era:
Wolfenstein 3D is credited with inventing FPS games as we know them and creating a shooter game design template on which games are being based to date.

– The fast-paced gameplay in Doom, along with its music, created one of the most immersive games made at the time, to the extent of causing several clones based on Doom to be released.

– The concept of deathmatches (competitive matches between several players) was further developed in Doom, building upon the work done in earlier releases like MIDI Maze, and was the first achievement of multiplayer on a large scale.

Doom also had really good graphics for the time, with variable-height floors and ceilings and even rudimentary lighting effects which found their way into several games going forward.

The Late 90s

Before we head into id’s next revolutionary release, a game to note was Duke Nukem 3D, because it was the first FPS that won acclaim for its highly-interactive environments, adrenaline-filled gameplay, and the way it made the protagonist a star, with Duke being voiced to sprout wise-cracks as he fought aliens. 

Back at id though, John Carmack was hard at work. Computers at the time couldn’t render 3D game environments and players at the same time. Their next innovation, Quake, had a game engine that was nothing short of revolutionary – Carmack had found a way to render fully 3D maps, enemies, and power-ups with zero limitations regarding angles or surface heights/lengths. id had also hired Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame to compose the music for Quake. It pioneered unique and innovative movement options for the player with bunny hopping or strafe jumping, letting players move faster, as well as the new mechanic of ‘rocket jumping’, where players used the reaction force from explosive weapons to launch themselves higher. It was a massive hit. Quake also had various multiplayer options including Online Multiplayer after the QuakeWorld update. Multiplayer Quake could be considered one of the first massive competitive games and a precursor to modern-day esports.

Quake (Courtesy Bethesda Softworks LLC)
Quake (Courtesy Bethesda Softworks LLC)

Competitive multiplayer gaming became huge: with the improvement of internet infrastructure, online gaming was getting more popular. Epic’s 1999 release of Unreal Tournament was one of the first purely-multiplayer FPS games. There was a single-player mode where people could train against bots but the core of the game was online and LAN play. id released Quake III: Arena a few months later that year. It was a multiplayer FPS as well and focused on open arenas and quick movement as key mechanics.

Two more games that changed the nature of FPS games are Rainbow Six and Counter-Strike. They might not have been the first of their kind but they are the most well-regarded and culturally prevalent examples. The former is notable because it was one of the first shooters to focus on tactics reminiscent of real-life police/SWAT officers and Special Forces. It put the player in the shoes and the mental space of these specialists, and needed you to calculate your resources, plan your attack, and clinically neutralise enemies (or risk meeting a swift end). It eschewed the fast run-and-gun mechanics of Doom and Quake. Counter-Strike, originally released in 1999 as a mod for Half-Life (which we’ll talk about next), was one of the first popular objective-focused, multiplayer FPS games where there was no respawn mechanic mid-round. This meant that every play, every decision made by you and your teammates mattered more. This focus on teamwork and efficiency is why it was one of the first FPS mainstream tactical esport titles, and why it belongs in the pantheon of all-time great video games.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (Courtesy Ubisoft)
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (Courtesy Ubisoft)

Most of the core mechanics of the FPS genre were established around now, with future games focusing on improving upon these mechanics, making games more immersive, and tailoring better user experiences. An example of this would be Valve’s Half-Life, released in 1998. You played Gordon Freeman, an unassuming physicist who has to escape a lab teeming with hostile aliens. The game puts you in a smooth and seamless world, with the story conveyed through the characters and the environment, eschewing cutscenes. The rich, linear-but-curated player experience it provided created a new niche for FPS games.

Half Life (Courtesy Valve Corporation)

Next came System Shock 2, where you not only gunned down your enemies with abilities and weapons alike but also questioned who exactly they were in a morally grey world. The System Shock series eventually inspired the modern Bioshock series. One more important game in this era is the 1997 release of Rare’s GoldenEye 007. It was one of the best games made exclusively for Nintendo Consoles. It proved that FPS games could work on consoles as well and lots of aspects of its game design such as controls and modes are considered fundamental building blocks to future console and PC FPS releases.

FPS trends during this era:

Duke Nukem and its sequels won acclaim for their interactive environments and a huge buff to movement freedom with the protagonist being able to fly with a jetpack. It also was noted for the titular character itself who was programmed to have a funny personality that appealed to players. 

Quake was the first FPS to feature 100% 3-dimensional maps, enemies, and powerups with no limitations on angles or surface lengths.

Quake also focused on online gaming and pioneered different types of game modes that are used in FPS games to date.

–  LAN parties became a mainstay of gaming culture, and events such as QuakeCon — where players came to fight it out and prove they were the best — were pioneered by Quake.

– Tactical FPS games, which were more cerebral than Quake and also didn’t have player respawns, started gaining popularity. Case in point: Counter-Strike.

– Several advancements in video-game storytelling were pioneered in games like Half-Life, using environments and an intricately designed linear player experience, creating a new niche of narrative-based FPS games.

2000s

Half-Life cemented the popularity of FPS games that focused on a deep narrative along with game mechanics. A lot of the games released during the early 2000s were of this type and they usually ran on either the Quake III engine or the Unreal Engine. Some of these include Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and of course, Call of Duty. The latter game, released in 2003, received critical acclaim and won several Game of the Year Awards. Its increased emphasis on team-based gameplay as opposed to mere single-player combat made it a pioneer. In particular, 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a resounding success. This was a result of its strong storyline which showed the gaming world a realistic portrayal of war ripped straight from newspaper headlines. Its graphics were leaps and bounds ahead of its rivals, you used modern weaponry (not just guns, mind you), in true-to-life scenarios, and it struck the right emotional chords. Initial titles were known for their realism but the newer releases of the game focus on futuristic movement abilities for soldiers. The series is just as popular though, if not more so.

In 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was released on the Xbox and received tremendous acclaim for its characters, narrative/worldbuilding, and in-game dialogue. This was a game that pioneered the release of future FPS multiplayer games for consoles and had to change features to make the game fun for the controller. Changes included players only being able to carry around two weapons to make switching between them with just one button viable, and automatic saves at certain locations or plot points (called ‘checkpoints’ — this term became a very popular descriptor for similar mechanics). Another introduction was that of “regenerating shields/health”, a game-changing mechanic that players adored and one that became commonplace in modern FPS games, which let players fall back from combat and heal up a bit. Halo helped standardise a lot of mechanics that modern gamers take for granted, and was a milestone for both FPS games and console shooters as a whole.

Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved (Courtesy Xbox Game Studios)

Complex multiplayer games like Battlefield and Call Of Duty, apart from just standard firearm-based combat, also introduced aspects like tanks and planes which added an element of realism for the players and helped better represent the various aspects of warfare and the historical timeframe in which these games were set. 

The next development was the release of Far Cry in 2004, which popularised open-world designs and increased environmental detail and graphic quality. Far Cry 2 took this to even more realistic levels, where the open world was almost alive and responded to player behaviour- players could get ill or injured, wildfires spread as they did in nature, and the enemy AI was quite realistic. Doom 3 came out a few months later and was a bestseller. It too focused on innovative graphic effects and advanced lighting to make the game even scarier. Half-Life 2 won 39 Game of the Year awards and consisted of similar high-quality graphics, lighting, and shading effects.

Far Cry (Courtesy Ubisoft Entertainment S.A.)

Halo 2 was released in 2004 as well and with the improvements in internet infrastructure, it made online multiplayer gaming extremely popular on consoles through Xbox Live. Several new games were released in the next few years, all heavily influenced by Halo and its mechanics and features. Halo pioneered redesigned menus, simplified console controls, and mechanics like switching quickly between 2 weapons, checkpoints, and automatically regenerating health. Most new console FPS games have been released with these features as well.

FPS trends during this era:

Halo made console FPS games mainstream and came up with the features and mechanics which made FPS games fun and viable to play on consoles. It redesigned menus and simplified controls. The mechanics from Halo are in use to date.

– The Call of Duty games increased emphasis on team-based gameplay as opposed to mere single-player combat caused a massive surge in multiplayer FPS games’ popularity. Its realistic single-player campaign was a huge success as a result of its realistic portrayal of war.

– Co-op games where you could enjoy slaying zombies with your friends like Left 4 Dead were really popular. FPS games that told a great story also gained traction. While not exactly an FPS, Portal was a great example of a game where you used your non-lethal portal-creating gun (also called the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device) to solve puzzles in a bid to escape a laboratory.

2010s

Post the 2000s, several new kinds of games began popping up. The first of these was Looter Shooters, which became famous for their inclusion of procedurally-generated, ever-changing, ever-improving weapons and other loot such as armour or weapon parts. These games ensured extremely fast gunplay and led players to develop a grind-focused mindset. They combine long-term character growth and the satisfaction of upgrading your gear along with intense high-adrenaline shooter gameplay. These games not only involve killing your enemies but also rewarding players with better loot and abilities, which wasn’t the case in the ol’ Halo and Call of Duty days. In 2007, Hellgate: London (not a pure FPS but it could be played in both third and first person) was released and while it received mixed reviews, it showed the gaming community how rewarding getting good in-game loot could be.

In 2009, Borderlands was released and they had everything nailed down. Whether it was the standout cel-shaded art, amazingly fun music, great shooter mechanics, and of course, the wacky fun loot available, it was the first successful looter-shooter and paved the way for the genre. Borderlands 2, released in 2012, was the game to perfect this subgenre and received universal acclaim for everything: the loot, shooter mechanics, the funny and enrapturing story, and phenomenal visual design.

Borderlands (Courtesy 2K Games, Inc.)
Borderlands (Courtesy 2K Games, Inc.)

Apart from the Borderlands series, another iconic looter shooter is Warframe. The game’s release was rather unremarkable but its continual release of new content expansions has kept it popular to date. Warframe was one of the first truly successful “games as a service” or GaaS shooter titles and paved the way for one of the most popular online shooters of all time – Destiny – made by the same folks who made Halo. GaaS games allow developers to constantly update the in-game content, so the players can get more out of it.

Destiny was also a GaaS release and was an online multiplayer FPS title. It had features such as Clans, which you could be a part of and participate in raids, strikes, and other timed events, as well as centralised hubs where you could meet other players to become friends. All these features were trademarks of MMO/MMORPG games which FPS games successfully incorporated. Destiny was a pioneer for purely online multiplayer FPS games and GaaS titles. They also consistently released expansions based on player feedback and created content they loved. However, it didn’t get any significant improvements till Destiny 2 was released in 2017. It was known to respond quickly to community feedback regarding game balance, combat, and other aspects.

Another subgenre of FPS games that gained great popularity during this time period was the Hero Shooter, which is a variation of multiplayer shooters where players choose from pre-designed “hero” characters that possess unique attributes, skills, weapons, and other activated abilities, to form two or more teams (this feature was borrowed from MOBAs). This type of game also strongly encourages teamwork between players on a team, from selecting effective combinations of hero characters to coordinating the use of hero abilities during a match. Because of the focus on heroes as distinctive characters, this sort of game will often provide backstories for each character as well as the world(s) the game is set in, and tend to have distinctive character design. Players often choose to play a certain hero simply because they find their character and design appealing. While Valve’s Team Fortress 2 is often considered the first good example of a stepping stone between role-based shooters and a proper hero shooter, the subgenre didn’t achieve mainstream popularity until the release of  2014’s Overwatch. While the former was the first game to call itself a hero shooter, Overwatch was a resounding success. It assigns players into two teams of six, with each player selecting from a large roster of heroes, each with unique abilities. Teams work to complete map-specific objectives within a limited period of time.

Overwatch (Courtesy Activision Blizzard)
Overwatch (Courtesy Activision Blizzard)

Other hero shooters which follow the key tenets of the subgenre and are extremely popular include Rainbow Six: Siege, Apex Legends, and Valorant. These games also focused on franchising and driving their esports scenes forward with both regional and international tournaments. They also released regular game-balancing patches, new agents and maps, and patch updates to ensure players’ concerns were being addressed. Communication between the game’s players and developers increased significantly with a key reason for this being social media. Some other key features of hero shooters include separate game modes for practice, casual play, and competitive ranked play. A lot of these games are also often free-to-play, with their revenue coming in through sales of cosmetic items such as weapons and hero skins. These do not affect gameplay but can make the game feel more personalised.

The Battle Royale sub-genre also deserves a mention here. It blends last-person-standing gameplay into online multiplayer games. They involve a dozen to even hundreds of players who start with minimal or even no equipment and have to scavenge for gear while eliminating other opponents. To ensure players keep encountering each other, the play area continuously shrinks. The winner is the last player/team who remains alive. The subgenre started off as mods for Minecraft but gained popularity with games like H1Z1 and DayZ. It became a phenomenon with the release of PUBG: Battlegrounds. It was a huge hit because of several reasons. The games were quick and addictive and there were several ways to win. You could try and kill everyone or sneak in on people already fighting and take them down. The thrill of finding and looting gear was part of PUBG’s success. It also appealed to those with the competitor instinct: the idea of being the last person standing amidst a hundred people sounded great to them. The fairness aspect comes into play as well, with players starting with the same gear. However, the randomness faced while finding loot makes it truly egalitarian. Other FPS titles which are successful battle royale games include 2017’s Apex Legends and 2020’s Call of Duty: Warzone

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (Courtesy KRAFTON)
Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (Courtesy KRAFTON)

Finally, FPS games are extremely popular in the competitive world of esports and online gaming. They saw an uptick in popularity when LAN networks, and later the Internet, opened up multiplayer gaming and made it a social phenomenon. Since the early 2000s, internet capabilities have exploded and computer processor technology has improved at an extremely fast rate. 3.2 billion people across the globe have access to the Internet and at least 1.5 billion people with the Internet have access to and play video games. You can also read about how esports has exploded in popularity in our previous blog.

 

FPS trends during this era:
– Games became increasingly mixed when it came to the FPS subgenres like looter shooters, hero shooters, and battle royale games gained massive followings.

– The GaaS revenue model became popular, with more and more games being free to play and gaining revenue from in-game merchandise.

– Online multiplayer FPS games have seen massive investments when it comes to esports with both local and national events often being organised by game publishers.

–  Streaming FPS gameplay and live tournaments have become a legitimate living and have further popularised online gaming culture.

– Other popular FPSes which have to be mentioned for their popularity and/or achievements include Day-Z, Titanfall 2 (a cult classic), Bioshock Infinite (a watershed moment for narrative FPS), Portal 2 (one of the most successful puzzle FPS games), Superhot, and Bulletstorm.

– Releasing new content, patches for balancing the game, and growing an interactive community was done successfully by Destiny, and other games are following suit.

How have FPS Games Evolved, and Where are they Heading?

FPS games have become a staple subgenre of games and for good reason. There are several reasons one might like playing them, ranging from wanting to shoot guns, playing with your friends, or slipping into a flow state and hitting your shots. The number of FPS games being released is steadily increasing and more than that, famous franchises like Halo, Call of Duty, or even the latest Quake game, Quake Champions, have no shortage of takers.

FPS games have steadily evolved over the decades and an increase in their complexity has gone hand-in-hand with the availability of better technonlogy. Early FPS games were made for systems with no graphic cards or drives- the concept barely existed then- and with low processing power. Graphics did get better over time and various improvements were made in the 70s and 80s, but in 1999, Nvidia released the first ‘real GPU’, the GeForce 256 which was the first in a long line of path-breaking GPUs to come. If you’re interested in looking at the evolution of graphics, this might help.

As innovations in both hardware and software came through, the mechanics, as well as the graphics of FPS games, have become increasingly complex. A great example of this was the fast inverse square root algorithm, most popularly used in Quake III Arena, which was one of the first FPS games to heavily use 3D graphics. This enables the computer to compute lighting and shading angles extremely fast and thus reduce the render time. 

Further innovations such as the usage of AI in games have made the genre even more versatile. Several games use AI-powered bots to help players practise and improve their aim. In fact, one of the first FPS games to use clever AI is still remembered for it: Monolith Production’s 2005 F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon.) What makes it unique from other FPS games at the time is the AI opposing the player, which makes decisions quickly and accounts for the most minor player actions. For example, in the game, if a player takes cover behind a barricade, the enemy AI quickly processes this action and throws a grenade to eliminate the player. To be fair, in the past several years, several FPS games have shifted their focus to multiplayer (single-player campaigns are still going strong though). This has caused AIs being used to be fairly simple and used more for training than anything else. 

With significant improvements in graphics coming every few years, whether it is more powerful graphic cards or better code, FPS games are looking increasingly polished. In fact, more and more strong narrative-focused FPS games are being released, mostly single-player, where a key selling point is the strength of the graphics. Games like Halo Infinite, Metro Exodus, and the Far Cry series are all examples of games that were resoundingly successful because of their brilliant characters, touching stories, and of course, gorgeous graphics.

FPS tend to mix mechanics to capture their audiences’ attention. A lot of initial games were run-n-gun shooters for instance. Another example of FPS games having multiple sub-genres is Apex Legends. While it is primarily an FPS game, it also falls under the categories of Hero Shooter and Battle Royale. Valorant is an FPS but is also a Hero Shooter and relies more on team coordination and tactical gameplay. Both of these games are also free to play, which is a trend we’re seeing games increasingly follow as they release as GaaS, opting to make their revenue off microtransactions and in-app purchases.

Apex Legends
Apex Legends (Courtesy Electronic Arts)

As for FPS games in the future, that’s going to depend on the innovations being made technologically. VR shooter games seem like they hold a great deal of potential. Half-Life Alyx’s immersive weapon handling, where your guns are assigned to one hand, lets you feel like you’re actually holding them. You’ll also be jumping in and out of cover when you’re in combat which encourages you to fully use your body and have an unprecedented and unique experience. Other innovations such as cloud gaming can help with playing single-person shooters which focus on narrative: they can render detailed and beautiful graphic worlds without players having to worry about buying expensive gaming hardware.

half life alyx vr
Half Life: Alyx (Courtesy Valve Corporation)

To sum up, the first-person shooter is a genre that seems like it’ll never go out of style- and with good reason. Even as mechanics and gameplay features have slowly stabilised, the scope for combining them with other genres and mechanics has increased. Modern FPS games are arguably the most diverse subgenre, they range from hyper-violent run-n-gun games like Doom: Eternal to tactical hero shooters like Valorant, and everything in between. The varying core motivations to enjoy playing them remain the same though.

We at Gameopedia specialise in collecting and curating the latest and best data and information about games. We work with clients across the industry on custom requests and can provide in-depth data on any subject related to FPS games. Reach out to us to get access to data that can empower you to new heights.


Featured image credits: Halo: Combat Evolved (Courtesy Xbox Game Studios)

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The Rise of Esports, How Data Drives It, and What the Future Looks Like

Electronic sports, or esports is the evolution of online competitive gaming into spectator sports. It started off as a niche industry but over the last decade, it has become a major player in the sports and entertainment industry, and even become a part of mainstream culture. Viewers can watch video gamers compete against one another in a virtual environment just like how they’d watch a professional sports event. In 2021, the global esports market was valued at just over $1.08 billion, an almost 50 percent increase from the previous year. 

The first-ever esports competition took place at Stanford University in 1972. Five students competed in an “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics,” and the winner received a year’s subscription for Rolling Stone. Dota 2’s The International 2019 invited the top players in the world to a tournament with a crowdfunded prize pool of $34.3 million. Less than a year before that tournament, CNBC reported that the “League of Legends” World Championship finals in South Korea hit nearly 100 million unique viewers, eclipsing the previous year’s Super Bowl, one of the most popular sports championships which had just over 98 million viewers. 

esports arena
Esports arenas can get as jampacked as traditional sports stadiums these days.

Esports has only grown bigger with the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. With people being confined to their home and the usual sports tournaments not happening, they turned to virtual game tournaments increasingly for entertainment. Across European countries, 38 percent to 67 percent of esports consumers stated that they watched esports for the first time after COVID-19 related restrictions were imposed.

The potential to earn from gaming has become increasingly tantalising as there are several ways to do so. Most obvious is the prize money from tournaments, but esports athletes can also make millions of dollars from streaming their live gameplay, signing contracts with big organisations like TSM, 100 Thieves, Team Liquid, and the like, engaging on social media, and sponsorship deals with entities both within and outside the gaming sphere such as Redbull, Corsair, and AimLabs. Everyone can benefit from esports- the players, the audiences, and corporations. 

 

The esports ecosystem supports itself and thus thrives.

Several technology, analytics, and service platforms are also beneficiaries of this ecosystem as it continues to grow in leaps and bounds from increasingly substantial investor capital. The largest sponsorship deal to date was TSM receiving $210m over 10 years from crypto exchange FTX.

The Esports Industry: Who is Involved?

Esports involve several parties who make the ecosystem thrive. These include:

Players:
They develop their skills through extensive, competitive play. They train for quick reflexes and multi-tasking abilities, often for several hours a day. Those who rise to the professional level compete in tournaments all around the world against the best teams. They gain a fanbase for the teams and organizations they play for as well as themselves as they grow. Retired esports professionals may opt to stream themselves, coach esports teams, start their own team, work for publishers, and more. Some of the most skillful and consistent players often end up being the face of the game, such as Faker in League of Legends.

Faker- one of the most talented League of Legends players- makes a cameo in almost every video they release to hype up their annual championship.

Streamers:
Gamers who livestream themselves as they play video games are referred to as “streamers.” This is typically done in casual play but professional players also stream their ranked games or do analysis of their gameplay to educate and entertain their viewers. While streaming can be incredibly profitable, many streamers have to decide whether they want to stream for a living or try and play professionally and run the risk of making less money. With that said, not all streamers have the skill to play professionally. Instead, some simply have “streaming personalities” that viewers find entertaining to follow, donate to, and subscribe to. Some examples of these are Ninja, Valkyrie, Pokimane, and PewdiePie, who all have several million subscribers on platforms like Twitch and YouTube.

Ninja is one of the biggest streamers on Twitch who makes millions of dollars annually from streaming alone.

A great example of how much streamers make just off streaming platforms is Ninja. Ninja, or Tyler Richard Blevins, is a professional gamer who became a global phenomenon in 2017 as a result of his Fortnite streams. Ninja had more than 17 million followers on Twitch by the end of November 2019, making him the most followed Twitch streamer by a long shot. He’s best known for streaming Halo Infinite, Fortnite, and Halo 3. His estimated revenue from just streaming is about $25 million, though his income is far more than that considering the many sponsorships and partnership deals he’s signed.

Teams: 
When you think about esports, depending on the game, several teams come to mind. If you follow CS:GO for example, Astralis and NaVi are names you’ll definitely know. When it comes to VALORANT, teams like Team Liquid, Cloud 9, Sentinels, and the like are known by those who follow the competitive scene. Traditional sports teams and athletes alike have also taken an interest in esports, with Shaquille O’Neal’s co-ownership of NRG Esports and FC Barcelona’s Rocket League and eFootballPES 2020 teams.

All of these teams are usually funded by large organisations and tend to specialise and compete in one specific game, such as League of Legends, Dota 2, or Counter-Strike. Note that organisations can often have several teams, each for a particular game. The teams that compete at these tournaments often have millions of followers on Twitter, millions watching online, and tens of thousands of spectators following them to in-person tournaments. 

Team Liquid's Valorant roster is one of the game's most popular and talented teams.

Organisations:
The best esports teams are recruited to be a part of organizations and have several teams that specialize in their respective video games but operate under the same name. Examples of these include Cloud9, NRG, TSM, Optic Gaming, and Fnatic.

Some of the major esports organisations: well-established ones and upcomers alike.

Leagues and Tournaments:
Esports teams which can be free agent teams or representing an organisation compete in leagues which have regular seasons and championship events, often international. A great example of this, which has remained popular for over a decade is the League Championship Series or LCS for League of Legends.

Developers/Publishers:
These are the people who build and develop their games and subsequently own all rights surrounding them. This means that they have rights around where the game is played, who can host video game tournaments, and more. Examples include Valve who owns CS:GO and Riot Games who own League of Legends and VALORANT.

Other Important Entities:
These are essential to the esports industry and also benefit from it. They can be divided into:

  • Platforms and Infrastructure: These include tournament platforms like Battlefy and communication tools such as TeamSpeak and Discord which make esports easier to plan and perform in.
  • Livestreaming Resources: These are live streaming platforms which include highlights, old VODs, and analytics which can be monetised by streamers. In particular, Twitch is one of the most popular streaming sites for esports. It was acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million and reached close to 5 billion total hours streamed in 2016.
  • Betting and Item Marketplaces: Esports gambling, fantasy leagues (with pro-esports athletes), and item marketplaces for in-game customization have grown significantly in the last several years. Recently marketplaces have also started selling NFTs-  a good example of a marketplace which does sells skins, game items, as well as NFTS is dMarket.
  • Aspiring Pro Gamer and Fan Resources: This could be everything ranging from news sources, industry statistics tracking, coaching, and skill improvement tools for professional and casual players. Websites like Game Rant and PC Gamer help keep people up to date with the latest gaming industry news. Sites like metafy.gg offer coaching sessions from top professionals in the game to those wanting to improve. 

Data in Esports:

Like any other industry, data can be used to significantly enrich and improve esports by helping with developing applications and systems which can benefit the gaming ecosystem. Data is vital to every aspect of the esports ecosystem. Whether it happens to be streaming analytics, player statistics, or other tools and platforms, esports can’t function without data. Data directly economically benefits the market and helps its growth. Some of the ways it does so includes:

Statistics tracking for players: 
There are multiple platforms online, free and paid, that allow players to know details of their favourite games, which were traditionally quite difficult to gather and visualize. They can help players make better decisions by understanding their mistakes, see their performance trends over time, and see where they stand compared to other players or even professionals. 

blitz.gg gives you statistics for Valorant such as headshot %, win rate, and your top agents.

These tools work similarly to typical digital dashboards that you can find in the day-to-day operation of any leading company performing basic business intelligence. Data is obtained from one or more sources (in this case from all video game servers) and through the use of a series of data processing and model development mechanisms, visualisations are generated in order to retrieve insights for better decision-making in the next games. The result is that players can improve their performance which in turn benefits the competitive scene and generates more hype.

For audiences:
Data visualisation has become key to enhancing viewer experience during live broadcasts as it allows inexperienced participants to follow the game.  

Visualise all kinds of data in-game such as brackets, statistics, and gameplay.

Data is shown on the screen in different tables and graphics during the broadcast, and it is possible to observe in real-time how the most relevant metrics fluctuate during competitive matches. You can also do an analysis and breakdown of good plays from a particular match which can help all viewers understand the game better.

Tournament schedules and information:
This data can help keep track of tournaments happening, the teams and players participating in them, prize pools, dates for matches, registration details, and past events, among others. 

Websites like vlr.gg let you keep track of tournament matches, players participating, schedules, and previous matchups among other things.

The bot system:
Bots are simple forms of AI that simulate the movements and actions of a human player. These virtual players are used to help new players to get up to speed with the mechanics of the game before facing other more experienced players or as a warm-up or practicing tool for more experienced players.

Bots in the practice range can help improve your aim significantly.

The reporting system:
This is a tool that penalizes players for cheating, toxicity, and other actions which negatively impact a game based on historical in-game data collected. If a player receives a high number of reports from others, or the system counts several leaves from the game, they will be automatically banned from the system and prevented from being able to play for some time. ML models are applied which will increase this “punishment time” if the player persists with their bad behaviour.

ML reporting systems help keep the toxicity levels of communities low.

Revenue in Esports

Revenue in esports flow through various channels. The most well-known is revenue related to leagues and tournaments such as prize money and entry fees. Other revenue streams include:

  • Franchising:
    In franchised leagues, the franchiser- in this case, the game publisher- offers a select number of available spots. Each spot in a league comes with a certain price tag. After buying into a franchised league, a franchisee will earn the perks of being a permanent member. Following a regular season of match-ups, points are tallied up to generate a bracket for a final post-season battle to determine the champion. Activision Blizzard started the Overwatch League in 2018, after selling 12 franchise slots in 2017 heading into the inaugural season — with franchise fees reported to be $20 million. Riot Games sold 10 franchise slots for its North American League of Legends Championship Series in 2017 for $10 million to existing teams and $13 million for new teams.
  • Media and broadcasting rights:
    Broadcast media rights have become a major part of revenue generation for major esports leagues and titles as they look to create a sustainable ecosystem and revenue model that will provide a substantial return on their investment. Before Activision Blizzard’s franchise Overwatch League started, Twitch reportedly paid $90 million to stream the first two seasons of the league.
The streaming rights of the inaugural season of the Overwatch League were bought by Twitch for $90 million.
  • Advertising:
    Marketers are hoping to reach the throngs of fans who like to tune in live as professional gamers battle each other in their favorite game, be it League of Legends, Overwatch or others. In 2019, 30.3 million people in the United States will watch an esports event at least once a month, a more than 18 percent increase over last year. Esports digital advertising in the United States generated a revenue of $175 million in 2019. What is more, the figure is expected to further grow and reach $226 million by 2021.
  • Sponsorships:
    In 2019, out of the total esports revenue of $1.1 billion, sponsorships contributed $667 million in revenue, which was the largest chunk. Revenue from esports sponsorship is estimated to reach almost $600 million globally by 2023. ESL’s ongoing 20-year partnership with Intel was renewed again. Commencing in 2022, both entities have committed to investing $100 million in esports between 2022-2025.
  • Tickets:
    At just over $100 million in revenue in 2018, ticket sales don’t occupy the same role that they do in traditional sports, especially after the pandemic when virtual and free broadcasting of tournaments gained traction.
  • Merchandising and partnerships:
    Beyond tickets, esports organizations and streamers have made a business of selling merchandise such as t-shirts, jerseys, and even special editions of gaming peripherals. Logitech introduced the new PRO Series Shroud Edition, a suite of Logitech G’s most advanced gaming peripherals they launched in collaboration with Michael “shroud” Grzesiek who is one of the most beloved streamers who is known for his excellent aim. Shroud’s extensive fanbase would definitely be among those who would be interested in these peripherals.
Shroud and Logitech G launched a series of gaming peripherals in collaboration with each other.

The Future

The esports industry’s global market revenue was forecast to grow to as much as $1.62 billion by 2024. Some of the trends we are already seeing and can look forward to include:

Growth of mobile esports:
Mobile phones are becoming increasingly cheaper and technologically advanced. Mobile games have some of the lowest barriers of entry when it comes to gaming and this has captured millions of esports fans around the globe. Most people have smartphones, and mobile games typically have low hardware requirements, helping mobile esports flourish. In 2020, the global mobile gaming content market was worth $121.1 billion and is projected to reach $169.7 billion in 2025 with Asia generating the most revenues in the segment.  As of August 2021, there were 5.3 billion mobile gamers around the world, with Asia accounting for over 1.29 billion mobile gaming users– more than 48 percent of the global mobile gaming audience.

The access to good quality internet has also significantly increased over the last years and has made mobile esports play more stable and viable. With over $21.9 billion in gross revenues, RPG games were the top mobile gaming app genre worldwide in 2020, growing 19 percent compared to the previous year. Strategy apps were ranked second with a global gross revenue of $15.1 billion during the measured period.

Free Fire and PUBG Mobile are among the battle royale genres’ most popular games available on mobile. It’s no coincidence that these titles are extremely popular in emerging markets and the esports scene for these games is worth several million dollars. PUBG Mobile’s clone, BGMI, has proved extremely popular in India. Four months after the release of the game, BGMI has acquired $7 million via in-app spending. The title has been downloaded over 50 million times on the Google Play Store.

Blockchain and NFTs:
Teams and organisations are trying to find ways to directly monetise their fanbase and are looking at blockchain technology and NFTs to achieve this goal. Esports fans are already used to buying digital goods such as skins, in-game currencies, and the like, and are also more accepting of new technology. Unlike normal NFTs, esport NFTs focus on innovating loyalty amidst their fanbase by creating exclusivity. Fans can earn digital rewards on the blockchain when they engage with an organization’s content or buy NFT artwork of the team or players. These are tradable and can increase in value over time. Initial exclusive fan tokens can also make raising investments easier for esports organisations. In July 2021, European esports juggernaut OG Esports revealed that it was going to enter the NFT fray and the organization was able to rake in a cool $1 million via the sale of just three digital artwork collections, putting them just behind Team Liquid on the esports earnings leaderboard.

Esports betting:
The digital nature of esports puts it in a unique position in the betting space. Every in-game action and movement can be captured as data points from the game’s servers. The global esports betting market size is expected to reach $13.05 billion by 2025, from $7983.2 million in 2019. The number of esports events one can bet on is also growing exponentially, from 3,000 events available in July 2019 to over 50,000 events in July 2020.

The main problem with esports betting when compared to normal sports betting is latency. To be able to create a real-time betting experience, real-time data directly from the server is essential. If someone offers odds or streams faster than the esports video feeds, it could lead to the entire system collapsing. Another big issue the industry faces is integrity. Some betting providers haven’t sought the best gambling licenses and others have been banned by governments in different countries.

Integration of esports into education:
Several universities around the world have realized that esports is a viable career option and have started offering degrees which specialise in the field. Some of these include:

  • The University of Portsmouth offers an Esports Coaching & Performance degree and has partnered with the International Federation of Esports Coaches in order to train the next generation of esports coaches.
  • The Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, part of Nottingham Trent University, offers a BSc (Hons) degree in esports production.
  • Shenandoah University offers a Bachelor of Business Administration Concentration in Esports Management which prepares you to be a leader in the field of esports management by providing a robust business background with a focus on the business of esports. 

There are also scholarships available for esports players. Recently, the Ontario Government launched a $1m CAD scholarship program for students enrolled in esports and other industry-related programmes.

Esport organisations sponsoring technology platforms:
Another way esports organisations have found to bolster their revenue and also gain better metrics about how their players are performing are the acquisition of technology companies working with esports data. A good example of this is TSM, whose parent company Swift Media Entertainment acquired esports coaching and analytics company Blitz. Similarly, T1 invested in the esports analytics startup Mobalytics in 2020. In addition to acquiring new businesses, Swift Media Entertainment also incubates its own ventures, such as the talent agency ICON.

Content Expansions:
Release of content related to video games in other forms of media can greatly benefit the game and publisher. Riot Games is probably the best at doing this, with their various releases centered around their IPs. 

For their game VALORANT, which was designed to be an esport, they have a year-long group of tournaments called the Champions Tour for which they’re constantly releasing content. Whether its videos featuring individual agents from the game, interviews with professional teams and players, or just really cool music videos which generate hype for the game, Riot does a great job of building interest in the game amidst a wide group of people, including those who might not follow the esports scene.

Another example of using media to generate interest in esports which also sets an example for similar future IPs is Arcane, a show released on Netflix which is based off of characters from League of Legends.

“Arcane” is bringing new fans to the League of Legends IP while also reigniting the passions of its longtime followers, serving a uniquely wide audience and expanding League of Legends’ cultural impact. Riot Games also promoted it in their other games like VALORANT by giving players free in-game items as well as releasing a new weapon skin. They also released skins for characters from the show in Fortnite, another popular game.

Outside of Netflix, the series is also a hit in League of Legends, with champions that feature in the show getting a significant boost in pick rate since Arcane launched. The sisters Vi and Jinx, who take up a substantial amount of Arcane’s screen time, saw a significant uptick in their pick rates.

As you can see, esports is an industry with an almost explosive growth trajectory. Whether you’re a professional player, a team owner, media partner, or casual spectator, the opportunities for success and profit are both numerous and significant. By obtaining and analysing data, you will find it easier to find success in your goals.

At Gameopedia, we work with clients on custom requests and can provide in-depth data on any subject related to gaming and esports. Reach out to us to get access to esports data that can empower you to new heights.

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Gaming The Data To Make Better Games

Data is vital for understanding your users and building products that they’ll love. The most successful organizations and people are data-driven. They’ve figured out a way to leverage data to drive their business and user engagement up. More than that, they’ve done it by creating and adding features to a product or service their users need. For instance, Spotify uses big data to understand the digital music taste of users, developing personalized content for them, and enhancing marketing through targeted ads, Spotify wrapped, and so on. This report from Harvard Business Review shows how data-driven companies use big data to get insights to do things that not only improve their bottom line but also make their customers happy.

Gaming is an industry where this holds just as true. Using data carefully can help you make a game which sells well. It also creates an amazing user experience for your customers and will keep them coming back for future releases. Building a data-driven culture can take your games to a whole new level. 

Let’s take No Man’s Sky as an example of how they went from a rocky launch to a beloved game using gaming data from reviews as well as by looking at how players behaved in game. When No Man’s Sky was announced, its developers wanted to make a game which let players explore a vast, procedurally-generated science fiction universe. The game was developed over three years by a small team at Hello Games and was seen as an ambitious project. The game garnered a lot of attention once announced and the developers made a lot of promises for features such as a multiplayer game mode, cool in-game vehicles, and more. The excitement was almost at a fever pitch as the game’s release date got pushed. Once released, the game proved to be a commercial success initially thanks to pre-orders but the reviews were damning, stalling sales. This was a result of the promised features not being in-game, as well as lack-luster gameplay.

Screenshots of reviews of No Man's Sky: the first is from October 2016, the second from October 2021.

The developers however listened to their users’ opinions and started rolling out new game updates and content which was downloadable for free, slowly redeeming themselves and regaining their audiences’ trust and good opinion. Currently, No Man’s Sky’s user reviews on Steam have changed to “Mostly Positive” after initially being at “Overwhelmingly Negative” at the time of its release. Hello Games could have just chosen to keep the profits from their initial sales and walk away but instead, built a thriving community and game by looking at what their audience wanted from them.

For your game to be data-driven and benefit from being so, you need to use data as a tool throughout the game-development cycle, as well as afterward, when you’re marketing the game or even making sequels. Your gaming data should help you with three things:

  • Understanding what stories your audiences’ behaviors are telling you.
  • Leveraging this information to build a game that sells well and is well received.
  • Make sure you’re using the insights you have to the highest possible level to enhance both game design and business impact.

Leveraging Gaming Data Across the Lifecycle of a Game

You can use different kinds of gaming data to help derive important insights about your audiences and optimize your game across its lifecycle. The key stages, and some important questions you need to ask yourself while working on them, are:

The stages of game development: you can use data to optimize and improve processes in most of these.

Planning

In this stage, you need to think about what kind of game to make, what features to include, your budget and resources you can allocate, and do some competitor analysis to see where you stand. Some questions to ask yourself here are:

What genre of game is wanted most in the market? You can look at genre trends over the last few years to gauge which genres are popular among game developers. Before you invest a great deal of money and labor into building your game, you should test out how interested a market or audience might be for a product you want to build. You can use platforms like Splitmetrics to let you test market interest and look at the acquisition funnel, as well as understand what costs you will face while marketing your game. By looking at Google Playstore (for mobile games) or Steam (for PC) you can figure out who the leaders in the market you’ve chosen are- your competition, so as to speak. For example, Oleg Yakubenkov, a mobile game data/product manager, researched the market to see which games thrive on organic traffic and how he could outperform them. He noticed that the racing and simulator niches were getting millions of downloads and there was still room for more. He helped build the Epic Split Truck Simulator which raked in over 2 million downloads in 2019.

Epic Split Truck Simulator, a best-selling game created off of genre research and data.
  • What region do you want to focus on releasing your game? Are you going to make sure cultural nuances are tailored for this? If international, will there be different game editions? Data that can be helpful include how similarly themed or localised versions of games fare in a particular region.
  • How can you monetize your game? Will it be F2P, one-time payment, or subscriptions? What about in-game items and other content? Look at data for the different revenue models and which works best for games like yours. For instance, F2P with in-game purchases works best for mobile games, but for AAA RPGs, it’s better to have a one-time payment.
  • What platforms would you want to release my game on? Will it be compatible with consoles as they come out? Look at data for which platforms are good for the genre you’re planning to release your game in.

Pre-Production

In this stage of the game lifecycle, multiple departments consisting of writers, artists, designers, developers, engineers, project leads, and other crucial departments collaborate on the scope of the video game and see what each of them has to do. You can look at the past games you’ve made to get data about the kind of technology and writing you’re capable of and whether it’ll be sufficient for your current project. You can also do competitor analysis for the same. Sentiment analysis can also be a powerful tool here to look at what kind of games your audience likes, as well as understand what game to make, what features to include, and overall, ideate better.

  • Is your development budget sufficient to bring your vision to life? Do you need to hire more people to help with development? You can look at similar projects as a benchmark for how many resources you might need.
  • Do your developers and engineers have the resources necessary to render environments, figure out in-game mechanics, and game physics? Again, you can look at other projects to set a benchmark.
  • Can my artists and designers create visuals and game art that aligns with what was planned in the previous stage? Does the team have enough talent to do so? You can look at previous games to see what kind of art they’re used to creating and if your new game is too far off those constraints.
  • What is the timeline for this game’s development and release? Data can be of help here to model timelines for each stage of the game based on past releases.

Production

This is the stage where most of the time, resources, and effort of your team will be spent. You will be designing and rendering your characters and environment, code all of your in-game content into existence, and ensure your audio design is flawless. You will also make sure your levels and in-game milestones are immersive and fun to play. You will be constantly iterating and improving these things and following sprint schedules. 

Data really doesn’t play as much of a role here as it does in other stages. You need to make sure that the different levels/phases of the game have been completed as per the game design document and that the different teams involved in the project are communicating with each other and working in sync.

Testing

This is one of the most important phases of game development and can make or break a game. You want to check every aspect of the game to make sure it plays as intended. Whether it is the accessibility of areas, testing of game mechanics, or even making sure the game is neither too easy nor difficult, game testing is the final place to catch game-breaking issues. When problems have been identified, the game goes back to the programmers or staff who help edit it again until the testers greenlight the game.

When it comes to testing, one of the main things you need to consider that uses data is how stable your game is. If there are buggy areas or levels, analyze which areas have the most bugs. You can create models to estimate issues based on past fixes and also to figure out time frames. You need to categorize these bugs into low-level, high-level, and critical ones and prioritize solving the latter. Also, test for audience engagement and game difficulty. Talk to your game testers who can give you data as to whether your game excites them, how many hours your testers have been playing it, and their impressions. If game testers love playing your game, it’s a great sign. If the testing sessions go past the allotted time, it is likely you have something engaging and fun, and therefore, more likely to succeed on your hands. In contrast to the above, if your game development team doesn’t really play your game despite being the ones who make it, there is probably something that isn’t right with it and needs looking into.

Pre-Launch

These are activities in the game lifecycle that help market, promote, and further test a game. It can involve adverts with gameplay footage, game screenshots, or opening up testing to the public. Some things which you need to consider are:

  • Have you planned for an alpha/beta release? What do your alpha testers think about your game? There is a lot of gaming data you can gather from your testers here which include engagement data, game balancing data, information about bugs and exploits, and general feedback. You will want to build an analytics pipeline with this data to constantly drive improvement.
A streamlined analytics pipeline can help make optimizing your game and fixing bugs significantly easier.
  •  DAU (daily active users), MAU (monthly active users), and CCU (concurrent users) are very important metrics that can tell you how many people enjoy playing your game. You want to keep an eye on these numbers and ask your testers their reasons if there are any abrupt decreases. Keep in mind that your beta testers are usually excited to try out something new that they have early access to. You can expect your final audience to have lower retention rates than your testers.
  • In your pipeline, one of the major areas to look at is session duration and frequency. See how long and how often your testers play your game, and if they stop playing at any particular point. This can give important insights into which parts of your game might be boring or too complex for the average player.
  • What’s your marketing budget and strategy? Where are you going to be focusing your resources? Look at past games released to see where you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck, whether it’s showcases at gaming conferences or just advertising campaigns.

Launch

This is when your game is released to the world at large. Before you do so, you’ll spend the time leading up to your launch date crossing off bugs and fixes, as well as polishing up your game before sending it out into the market.

Again, this is one of those stages where you don’t have as much use for data, however, you can still use the analytics pipeline to optimize your game for multiple platforms/system configurations as well as polish it. You can also create better timelines and decide if a launch delay or overtime working is necessary for squashing the bugs which were found during extensive testing based on the time taken to fix the existing ones.

Post-Launch

In this last stage of the game lifecycle, your game is finally done and people are playing it. However, your work isn’t over yet. There might still be some bugs in your game, usually on certain operating systems or hardware configurations. As and when your players submit bug reports, your team can help fix them. Another major thing on your plate is providing game balance updates and patches- may be one antagonist is too hard to kill or one weapon is too overpowered. You’d want to balance these issues to ensure the game is playable. Finally, releasing new content has become standard practice as well in the form of DLCs, where you can increase the replay value of your game and keep it fresh for your audience. Some things you should consider:

  • Look at your post-game release statistics like DAU, MAU, and CCU to see if your user base is stable or growing. If your churn rate is high, understand why by asking your users or seeing which level or segment of the game they leave.
  • Revenue data is also important. Look at your CPI (cost per install), ARPU (average revenue per user), and ATV (average transaction value) to understand where you need to optimize your game and improve it to both increase revenue and provide a better user experience.
  • Is your team resolving the issues which players are submitting in bug reports? Is the frequency of bugs increasing for some reason? Are you communicating the resolution of significant issues with your audience and keeping them updated?
  • Are you keeping the game balanced and rolling out patches to improve the quality of play? Again, tools like sentiment analysis can be of huge help here as they let you track sentiments across the various individual aspects of a game like combat, mechanics, characters, and story.
  • Is your team developing and releasing new content which is of a high standard and keeps the audience engaged? Focus on session duration and frequency to understand where your users might find the game too boring or hard, as well as how you can improve engagement. 

Audiences love personalization. For example, CD Projekt Red, buoyed by the success of the in-game card game Gwent from the Witcher 3, released a standalone version. It’s still a success, and it’s not just because of frequent patches. They have a ton of customizations such as card backs, game boards, several detailed titles and player avatars which you can earn by playing, and lots more. Some of these you can buy but all of them make the game feel like it’s truly yours. They keep the game from going stale, but more than that, CD Projekt Red uses data to monitor the state of the game, be it in-game statistics or forums like Reddit. They see if any cards are overpowered or broken and are willing to hotfix these issues. Their patch notes are also extensive and mention why these changes have been made.

  • Apart from in-game personalization, other gaming data such as play style, purchasing behaviors, and more, can be used to see what your audience enjoys in a game and you can build based on that. Post release changes to improve quality of life within the game can also prove important. Riot Games does a fantastic job with this which can be seen in their blogs and patch notes for Valorant. They point out issues they’ve noticed, the fix they’re providing or mention they’re working on solutions, and other things that are coming up in the game. This sort of update for your audience not only keeps them in the loop but also makes them feel valued.

Data can help you answer these questions and keep track of your game’s quality across its lifecycle.

The Role of Data in the Future of Game Development

A lot of applications of data for game development which we pointed out above are very much in use these days. With the gaming industry becoming the world’s dominant form of entertainment, there’s a question of what the future gaming experience will look like. However, with increased gaming data capture and leveraging it at every aspect of the game’s lifecycle, the question is what will the future of data in game development be like. That lies in a few key fields which have been gaining traction. Predictive analytics is one of these- it can help you anticipate actions that players will take, and help you stay ahead of your competitors. The goal of predictive analytics in the gaming industry is to create statistical models that ingest both historical and current data to calculate scores, risks, and predictions based on an outcome. For instance, predictive models can help gaming companies influence in-game purchases, prevent churn, and optimize lifetime value. The use cases for predictive analytics in gaming are pretty diverse. These include:

  • Game development – identify optimization points for product and marketing teams to make optimizations
  • Monetization – make predictions on behavior that lead up to purchases (i.e. freemium to paid subscriptions)
  • Game design – use algorithms to determine the best ways to keep players engaged
  • Game experience – help determine visual effects and graphics that are most likely to resonate with players
  • Personalized marketing – determine the messaging that will best resonate with individual players
  • Fraud detection – validate that players are who they say they are and avoid problematic behaviors before they have a chance to happen

Apart from predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) is helping the video game industry level up. It saves time and money for developers by automating time-consuming tasks and speeding them up. For example, extensive QA testing is needed to make sure your game doesn’t have glitches or bugs but this sort of testing can be extremely time-consuming. However, AI can help you get over that hurdle. A fantastic example of this is Larian Studio’s proprietary AI World Tester. When a new build for a game is put together, the World Tester pushes the game’s boundaries, going through combat, dialogue options, and menus in search of bugs faster than any human QA team could ever hope to do. The World Tester can even juggle multiple builds at the same time, simulating hours of gameplay at once. 

Larian Studio's World Tester AI makes checking for game-breaking issues significantly easier for its human team.

AI can also help with automating graphics, player verification, and even making games without needing to know code. Another key application is monitoring toxicity in online games. AI has helped Blizzard find abusive behavior and punish it by verifying player reports. By continually looking for patterns in player reports, the machine learning algorithm gets better at identifying offensive communications. Companies like Riot Games have also begun leveraging machine learning and other advanced technologies to parse massive volumes of chats, understand the unique semantics of gamer slang and acronyms, and craft automated yet contextually appropriate responses to abusers.

The decisions that you make for your gaming analytics strategy today will create the foundation for your company’s future in the gaming industry. We’ve already started using video game data for building games and selling them effectively. However, as you can see above, it could be so much more. 

Gameopedia’s video game data helps publishers and game makers to understand, market, and help make better games. Whether it’s understanding trends in games via our game taxonomy or using sentiment analysis to understand your audience at a feature level, reach out to us to get access to game data that can empower you to make the best data-driven decisions.

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Indie, AAA, and AA Games: A Comparison

This is a part of Gameopedia’s Game Terminology and Taxonomy series, where we talk about the different kinds of game categories and aim to give our audience in-depth knowledge about them. This blog consolidates the difference between the major classes of games- Indie, AA, and AAA.

The video games industry generated almost $180 billion in 2020. In 2021, the video game market size in just the United States surpassed $85.86 billion. Video games, whether they are AAA, indie, or AA titles are important as a market for not just their significant revenue numbers but also for the value they create for the video game ecosystem. We’ve extensively covered AAA and Indie games in our previous blogs and broken them down based on factors like their budget and scope. However, to make it easier for those who use these classifications, we’ll discuss the salient points of each video game class and distinguish between them.

Deciphering Indie, AAA, and AA Games

While many find these informal yet effective definitions of benefit, game developers and publishers use them for marketing. Another group of people who use them extensively are e-retailers while categorizing game titles and pages.

Let’s look at the basic definition for each before we head into the differences between them.

Indie Games: Indie game stands for independent video game. Indie game companies are of two kinds. The first refers to the “independent” status of the company-  they are not owned by a parent company that defines the company’s direction. The other refers to the small, self-funded nature of these companies. In the indie game industry, studios are often made up of less than ten people (sometimes even one person) and usually depend on crowdfunding and donations to fund their games. There are some highly successful indie studios who are financially stable but still produce smaller games. Examples of Indie games include Transistor, Minecraft, and Celeste.

 

AAA Games: These are game titles made by companies that can produce huge, blockbuster-style games. They have large budgets – both for development and marketing – and they sell several million units upon release. These companies are staffed by hundreds of people, usually spread across offices in multiple countries.  Examples of AAA games are the Assassin’s Creed series, FIFA titles, and Final Fantasy games.

 

AA Games: These are titles made by companies with significantly smaller budgets allocated to produce their games. They are still developed by large groups of people spread across multiple offices, but they do not have the scale and reach of AAA games. Some examples of AA games are Life is Strange, A Plague Tale: Innocence, and Remember Me.

What Separates Indie, AAA, and AA Games

Let us look at how these game classes stack up against each other.

  Indie AAA AA
Development Budget On average, the real development cost of an Indie game is around a few thousand dollars to $1 million. Ranges upward of $50 million, if not significantly more. It is estimated that GTA V cost over $137 million just to develop. The costs for these are extremely variable, lying between that of an indie and a AAA game. For instance, the pre-production budget for Life is Strange was around €4 million.
Marketing Push Indie games often rely on word of mouth or curated collections to be made known to their audience. Social media, communities, and forums are also major points of importance for their marketing push. Marketing budgets can also be similar to or even higher than the development cost. An example would be Final Fantasy VII, which cost around $45 million to make, and had a U.S. marketing budget of around $100 million. There are not many concrete details available about AA game marketing budgets but they are between those of indie and AAA games, but usually a lot less than the latter. For instance, PUBG had no marketing budget at all but used word of mouth by partnering with Twitch streamers to promote their game.
Team Size Indie games are made by small teams, at times consisting of just one person. For example, Undertale in its entirety was made by one Toby Fox. The production teams for AAA title video games are huge, with at least 50 to 100 employees working on it. For instance, at Ubisoft, AAA game development for open world games involved 400 to 600 people. Again, detailed data is not exactly available for AA games. However, going by games like Life is Strange, whose team grew to a size of about 40 people, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which had a team of 20 people, and PUBG with 35 people we can say the size is usually below 50 people.
Dedicated Publisher They don’t have a dedicated publisher, or if they do, they maintain creative freedom. These games are usually published and made by large, established companies with a great deal of experience. A double-A development studio will typically be backed by a publisher but not fundamentally part of that publisher, and thus have somewhat more freedom to innovate and experiment compared to AAA studios.
Graphics & Technology They tend to focus more on innovation, storytelling, and fun mechanics. Their graphics and technology are usually far from cutting edge AAA games tend to use the latest technologies like game engines and custom development tools. They often develop their own proprietary game engines, such as Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and use expensive tech like motion capture to render gorgeous cinematics and animations. AA games usually prioritize excellent gameplay and storytelling, or innovative mechanics. However, their graphical and technical quality is certainly high-quality, if not cutting edge.
Production Values Indie games are usually smaller in scale compared to their counterparts. Their voice/acting talent might not be the best in the industry however and these games tend to focus on interesting mechanics and excellent storytelling because of their limited budgets. Triple-A games hire famous and established voice actors and character models for their games. For example, Mark Hamill voiced the Joker in Arkham Asylum and Kit Harrington was a major antagonist in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. AA games fall in the middle: they are expected to have good production values, but often, character models and voice actors feature people who aren’t very famous. A Plague Tale: Innocence went to the extent of developing their own proprietary engine and putting extensive detail into textures and lighting.
Franchising If an indie game is successful, their developing studio might be acquired and sequels made, or the developers might make a sequel themselves. Some examples are Axiom Verge 2 and the to-be-released Hollow Knight Silksong. However, these are the exceptions rather than the norm. These are usually intended to become video game franchises post-success. For example, FIFA and Assassin’s Creed. These games tend to become franchises if their first venture proves a success. Example: A Plague Tale: Innocence, has a sequel Requiem expected in 2022.
Threshold for Success Titles in the Indie game industry have a low threshold for success as their development budgets are lower. These games have a high threshold for success and ideally sell upward of 2~ million copies to break even if not be profitable, though this depends on their total budget. While data is not easily available for AA games, going by their budgets, their threshold lies between AAA and Indie Games.
Streaming and Content Indie games like Among Us created a huge buzz in 2020 thanks to streamers playing it in groups. Minecraft has always had a huge YouTube community as well. A lot of AAA titles are streamed on platforms like Twitch and Youtube, generating millions of views. Watching their streamers play through games like Genshin Impact or The Witcher 3 is an enjoyable pastime for many. AA games like It Takes Two and Life is Strange are often played by popular streamers to their audiences on platforms like Twitch and generate a large number of views.
Esports Indie games aren’t very prevalent in e-sports. AAA titles account for most of the esports happening around the world, be it Valorant or League of Legends to name a few. A games contribute to esports on occasion. PUBG being a famous example that revitalized the battle royale genre and contributed to more esport events for this genre.
Notable Examples Celeste, Minecraft, Transistor, Hades. Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, The Elder Scrolls, the Final Fantasy video game franchise. A Plague Tale: Innocence, It Takes Two, Life is Strange, PUBG.

From the table above, you can see the notable characteristics of each game class as well as the key differences between them. This should be able to help you distinguish between AAA, AA, and Indie games.

Conclusion

With this blog we have tried to  understand the characteristics of the different game classes. We at Gameopedia have specialized in collecting and curating game information about AAA, AA, and Indie game titles for the last 12 years and have been working with companies across the gaming ecosystem. From release dates, genres, and descriptions to in-depth game breakdowns, we strive towards providing the best to our clients. Reach out to us at [email protected] to learn more about our offerings.

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Cloud Gaming: Is it the Future?

As a result of the pandemic, video games shot up in popularity as a way of entertainment during the lockdowns. COVID helped propel U.S. video game sales to a record $56.9 billion in 2020, a massive 27% increase over the previous year. Video games are constantly evolving in terms of graphics, mechanics, and more. They progressively require better computer specifications to run properly. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to run a game made in 2021 on a PC you got in the 2000s, unless you’ve significantly upgraded your rig. Cloud gaming seems to be an increasingly viable solution to this issue. But what exactly is it?

When you usually play games, you download the game or (increasingly rarely) play it off a disc. The way your game looks and runs depends upon your device’s processor and graphics card. With cloud gaming, you stream the game as a series of compressed video frames which react to your input. The game is running on a remote server that bears all the processing load instead of your system. When you press a key for your character to move forward, this input gets sent to this server which tells the game what you pressed, then sends you a new video frame which shows you the result of your action.

A simple representation of how cloud gaming works.

The cloud gaming idea has been around for a decade or two, but has become a serious contender as of late. With the continuous difficulty customers are facing in securing state-of-the-art gaming hardware such as graphic cards, processors, and consoles, it is growing increasingly attractive as an alternative and was estimated to be a $1.5 billion industry in 2021. Current mainstream cloud gaming services include console cloud gaming services PlayStation Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming, as well as Amazon Luna and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. Google has also committed to bringing at least 100 new games to their cloud service Stadia by the end of 2022.

The future only seems brighter as cloud gaming is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48.2% from 2021 to 2027. 

Key Stakeholders in Cloud Gaming

Cloud Gaming Platforms: These are the services and content providers which let you play games on their servers and devices and provide you with the stream across the internet. They also provide games, game bundles, and subscription passes to users.  They include the likes of Google Stadia, GeForce Now, Playstation Now, and Xbox Game Pass.

Game Developers and Publishers: They make and publish the video games provided by content services. Examples are Activision, Tencent, and Ubisoft.

Internet Service Providers: An integral part of a successful gaming experience on the cloud is high-quality internet access. Examples include Xfinity, Comcast, and Verizon.

The History of Cloud Gaming

The first demonstration of cloud gaming technology was by startup G-cluster (short for Game Cluster), which introduced its product at the 2000 E3, and released around 2003. In their initial model around 2005, G-cluster offered PC games that ran on their servers. They used service and software providers to help their service reach network operators, and then offered the games through portals to customers.

In 2010, with improvements in data, video compression, and smartphone capabilities, the potential for gaming on the cloud rose. Services like OnLive and Gaikai were announced around this time. OnLive had acquired some support from large publishers like Ubisoft, 2K Games and THQ but they found it difficult to get other publishers onboard as they were wary of the subscription price model. Gaikai was acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in July 2012 for $340 million, and by October 2012, was offering PlayStation games on the cloud. Ultimately, the technology behind Gaikai was used as the foundation for PlayStation Now, first introduced in 2014. OnLive meanwhile never made a profit and was acquired by OL2. After that failed as well, OnLive and OL2’s intellectual property was acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in April 2015, then shut down in a month. The acquisition of both Gaikai and OnLive’s intellectual property gave Sony access to a range of patents covering cloud gaming.

By May 2018, a new chapter started in the history of cloud gaming with Electronic Arts acquiring cloud gaming assets and talent from GameFly. They announced “Project Atlas” to remotely process and stream blockbuster multiplayer HD games with the lowest possible latency. That month, tech giants Google and Microsoft also announced cloud gaming initiatives, with Google beginning to pilot “Project Stream” (including a closed beta featuring Assassin’s Creed Odyssey running via a client in the Google Chrome web) and Microsoft announcing the upcoming Project xCloud, leveraging Microsoft Azure technology.

At the Game Developers Conference in 2019, Google officially announced its cloud gaming service Stadia, which launched on November 19 of that year. In April 2020, Google removed the entry fee for the Stadia cloud service, thus making video games available to users for free.

Amazon introduced its own cloud service Luna in September 2020. Games on the service will be offered via a channel-style subscription service, with Amazon’s own games and those from Ubisoft available at the service’s launch. One of the most recent updates in the history of cloud gaming was in October 2021, when NVIDIA announced its next-generation cloud gaming platform — delivering GeForce RTX 3080-class gaming on GeForce NOW™ — available exclusively in a new, high-performance membership tier.

Samsung also officially announced its new game streaming discovery platform, Gaming Hub for their range of Smart TVs, at CES 2022. Gaming Hub is essentially a new software platform that brings other gaming streaming platforms together in the same place, while offering gamers suggestions and ways to discover new content.

Samsung Gaming Hub could help gamers find new content and unify streaming platforms.

Why Cloud Gaming is Increasingly Attractive

  • With cloud gaming, you don’t need to upgrade your PC or console. Instead of buying expensive gaming hardware, a basic laptop or even a mobile phone would do. You could also buy a cheap streaming box and controller that plugs into your television and home network.
  • You can play games on any OS or Device. The majority of high-end, non-mobile games are currently limited to PCs (mostly running the Windows OS) or consoles. Gaming on the cloud would allow games to become more platform-independent, allowing PCs and tablets running Mac, Linux, Android, and other operating systems to play games that might otherwise only run on Windows.
  • Television manufacturers could integrate support for cloud-gaming services into their smart TVs. The TV wouldn’t need any powerful, expensive gaming hardware — any TV with the correct software and a controller could work for gaming without any additional hardware required. Some smart TVs already include this feature via their OnLive integration, or plan to in the future, such as Samsung Gaming Hub.
  • A lot of games may require a download of 10GB, 20GB, or even more before you can play them. Cloud gaming would allow you to start playing games instantly, as the server already has the game installed and can start playing it immediately. This helps avoid waiting for patch updates as well.
  • Cloud services would allow for very easy spectating of games, such as professional gaming matches. Spectators wouldn’t need the game installed, as the video stream could be easily duplicated for many users.
  • If games ran on remote servers instead of your own computer, they’d be almost impossible to pirate. This makes gaming on the cloud an attractive form of DRM to publishers, if not to gamers.

Impediments to the Success of Cloud Gaming

While cloud gaming comes with several advantages, it does face some challenges as well. Let’s look at some of them.

1. The quality of your cloud gaming experience depends considerably upon the speed and bandwidth of your internet connection. Access to high quality internet is still a pressing issue in several countries and is arguably the biggest obstacle to gaming on the cloud.

2. The gameplay ‘video’ you receive from a cloud-gaming service is compressed, thus it won’t be as sharp and high-detail as what could be rendered by a high-end gaming PC. However, the compressed video you receive may look better than a game rendered at lower detail locally.

3. Cloud gaming services require a large amount of bandwidth. If you have bandwidth caps on your Internet connection, this could be a serious problem. If everyone played games using cloud services, bandwidth usage would increase dramatically.

Even highly optimized platforms like Shadow have higher latencies than local hardware.
  • Games react to your actions much more quickly when they’re running on your local computer. Reaction time is faster when your mouse movement just has to reach your local device than when it has to travel over an Internet connection, be rendered and compressed, and then travel back to you. Cloud-gaming services will always have more latency than local hardware.
  • Publishers love the DRM results of cloud gaming, but many gamers would be at a disadvantage if cloud gaming became the primary way to play games. Just as it’s impossible for people living in certain areas to play always-online games like Diablo 3, cloud gaming would have even higher Internet connection requirements.

The Future of Cloud Gaming

Cloud gaming is still very much in its infancy. That said, many players around the world are already seeing the benefits of cloud gaming and rallying around it as their favorite way to play. For this group, the future of cloud gaming is bright and it is already a viable gaming solution as a result of better access to high-quality internet globally. There are also developers like Mainframe planning to make cloud-native games which will help make the cloud more popular. They’ve raised $22.9 million to develop cloud-native games in November 2021. An increase in partnerships between cloud gaming platforms and game developers and publishers will also lead to the industry thriving. 

 

Mainframe Industries is working on their cloud-native game which might revolutionise the industry.

A proposed method to improve game streaming’s scalability is adaptive graphics processing unit (GPU) resource scheduling. Most cloud gaming providers are using dedicated GPUs for each person playing a game. This leads to the best performance but can waste resources. New resource management algorithms have been developed that can allow up to 90% of the GPU’s original power to be utilized even while being split among many users. Another idea is predicting the gamer’s input to try and reduce latency using algorithms. Stadia’s head of engineering Majd Bakar foresaw the future possibility of using such a concept to “reduce latency to the point where it’s basically nonexistent”, and called this concept “negative latency”.

Either way, the future of cloud gaming and the cloud-gaming ecosystem seems bright.

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Indie Games: Everything You Need to Know

This is Gameopedia’s Game Terminology and Taxonomy series, where we talk about the different kinds of game categories and aim to give our audience in-depth knowledge about them. This blog covers everything we know about Indie games.

Like we mentioned in our previous blog about AAA games, the classification of games is done based on their budget, scope, and other factors. While these classifications aren’t formalized, they are still useful for game developers and publishers for marketing and e-retailers for categorizing game pages. Customers also gain invaluable information about the potential of a particular game. An important subclass of games are indie games, which have gained huge popularity over the past few decades.

 

What is an Indie Game?

Indie game stands for independent video game. The phrase ‘indie game’ is based on similar ones like independent films or indie music. It is a video game that’s usually made by smaller development teams or even individuals on their own without financial or technical support from large game publishers. This is a direct contrast to AAA games. The indie term is also applicable to games which have creative freedom even if they’re funded by publishers.

Indie games are often very innovative, experimentative, and explore games as art. They can afford to take risks which aren’t taken by AAA games and are unique. They are usually sold through digital distribution channels as a result of lacking publisher support. Indie video games have become even more popular over the last two years, going by the increased number of indie releases and the higher price they demand on Steam, arguably the biggest marketplace for indie titles.

Indie Releases in 2021

Here are the stats for indie video games released per month for the year 2021.

Those being released over the course of 2020 saw a pretty significant increase of about 25 percent from the previous years, mostly as a result of the pandemic. In 2021, the increase continued, at a YoY rate of about 11 percent compared to 2020’s releases. 

The overall ratings for indie games were also higher this year. In a massive industry like gaming which generated about $180 billion in 2020, while indie video games might not have the biggest slice of the pie, they’re still important to the industry.

A key reason for this is that indie game developers are often free of a lot of constraints and pressure for the game to follow popular trends or genres. Indie video games tend to be innovative and explore video games as a work of art.

 

What Makes a Game Indie?

While there is no standard definition for games to be classified as indie, they usually share certain characteristics. These are:

Independence: Indie games are either financially or creatively independent. They are funded themselves or from sources like crowdfunding, and even if they have a publisher, their game has been made without too much influence from them.

Team size: Indie video games are often developed by individuals, small teams, or small independent companies which are formed to develop the game. A great example of this is Undertale, which was made by one developer: Toby Fox, who wrote the story, programmed it, and even created music for it.

 

Undertale: A masterpiece programmed by just one person: Toby Fox.

Budgets: Indie games are made off of smaller budgets which are usually from the pockets of their makers or from crowdfunding. 

Creativity: Indie games are usually noted for their innovation, experimentation, and creativity. Limited graphics are often compensated for by gameplay innovation or unique narrative styles. 

Some notable examples of indie games are Transistor, Minecraft, Subnautica, and Celeste.

 

The History of Indie Games

The phrase Indie Game started being used commonly around the early 2000’s. Before that, they were termed as amateur, enthusiast, or hobbyist games. One of the first known examples of an indie game is Spacewar! which was released in 1963 but there is still some debate as to which is the first indie video game. 


As personal computers became increasingly prevalent, their availability, as well as easily available BASIC source codes for games, encouraged several people to start making their own games. Around the 1980s, playing a new game could be as simple as coding it yourself using magazines. One of the most popular games during this period was Football Manager, where the designer,
Kevin Toms used his knowledge about football management and board games along with the new technology to make a game– right from his bedroom! However, with this onslaught of games being made, it was harder and harder for them to sell them. An indie developer would either have to publish their game by establishing their own publishing company which was expensive or find a distributor willing to publish it, both of which were difficult. They started giving away pieces of their game in magazines and the like, where if gamers enjoyed the game, they could pay for the full version.

Doom's shareware text was rather provocative, and certainly did the job of selling it.
Search and Destroy's more traditional shareware text entreating players to purchase the full version.

With shareware proving to be a good way to sell and distribute games, especially with Doom proving its massive success, it became a platform for mainstream devs as well. Eventually, with the internet becoming commonplace, digital distribution took off. Game engine developers started offering their software at low or even no cost for indie programmers, and open source libraries also helped them get started. Indie games also began being seen as artsy and innovative. Social and political movements started using indie video games to send messages. With Steam taking off and their Greenlight program (which despite being a bit opaque and awkward, still helped indie games), as well as Xbox, PlayStation, and the iOS store making game development on them easier, indie developers had a place to sell their games as well to the rest of the world. With Steam Direct replacing the Greenlight program, Steam became a haven for indie video games.

 

However, around 2015, the perception of indie games began to change. More and more people in the game industry began worrying about an oversaturation of lackluster indie video games as a result of how easy it was to make and distribute them. Digital platforms were overcrowded and it was hard for games to gain visibility even if well made. This is still a worry for some but indie video games are nevertheless adored by the gaming community for the unique games they bring to the table.

Finally, indie games constantly raise the bar when it comes to innovation. An important result of this is that a lot of the ideas of these games, if successful, are adopted by AAA and AA studios and eventually become mainstream. For example, Frictional Games made Amnesia: The Dark Descent, then Penumbra: Black Plague. Released in 2008, the latter was one of the first survival horror games that focused minimally on combat, ensuring the player felt a real sense of fright when they couldn’t fight their adversaries in game. This game, while revolutionary and successful, did not have the polish of a AAA game. Alien: Isolation, published in 2014 by Sega had a similar concept where a key focus was to get through the horror game without resorting to combat.

 

Penumbra: Black Plague's eerie gameplay contributed to a whole new generation of horror games.

Another game we can take as an example is Player Unknown’s: Battlegrounds (PUBG). Upon this indie release’s stupendous success, several AAA games with similar concepts started coming out like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone. Indie video games like Undertale which focused on the player’s choices and characters had a similar ripple effect on RPGs and how player choices can affect in-game relationships and even endings.

 

Factors Involved In Developing an Indie Game


When it comes to developing indie games, many areas of game development are similar to other types of games. The main difference is how a game being developed doesn’t require a publisher.

Size of teams: Indie development teams can range from a small team of developers of up to a few dozen to just a single person. Several famous indie games like Axiom Verge, Undertale, and Papers, Please were all made by a single person.  Indie video games come from many directions. Student projects can turn into future commercial projects for students to work on, or experienced developers can feel creatively burned out and leave to pursue their ideas. Sometimes, indie developers can also be amateur with little experience in the gaming industry and they often have more new ideas and freedom. Usually, indie studios comprise of programmers and developers- game art and music are often outsourced.

Building an indie game: Indie games usually use existing game engines and development kits to build their games. Commonly used engines include Unity and Unreal Engine. Indie developers also tend to use open source software which is free to use but not as advanced technically as their commercial counterparts. When it comes to indie game development for consoles, before 2010, it was extremely difficult. This was a result of software development kits (SDKs) for the consoles costing several thousands of dollars and also having lots of restrictions. Indie developers were usually unable to acquire them. As indie video games became more popular though, console manufacturers and mobile device OS providers started releasing special SDKs to build and test games. These were still expensive for larger developers but reduced rates were provided for those who self-published their games on the console or mobile device’s storefront, such as the iOS SDK.

 

Involvement of publishers: Most indie games lack a dedicated publisher. However, several publishers focusing on indie video games have arisen, and they’re called boutique game publishers. Examples of these are Adult Swim Games, Annapurna Interactive, and Raw Fury. These publishers who are themselves experienced in developing indie titles usually provide the necessary monetary support and marketing but don’t interfere in the creative direction of the game.

Finances: When it comes to funding, indie developers don’t usually have a publisher to help them out. New developers especially need to bootstrap, take out loans, or use crowdfunding campaigns to get the funds they need. Another method used is the early access model where interested parties can purchase a beta version early, and get access to the full game later for free, as well as other perks. In recent times, there have been funds established like the Indie Fund where developers can submit grant applications and get seed investment funding. Finally, publishers like Epic Games sign exclusivity deals with developers for certain durations, and the game developers get funding to finish making the game as well as higher cuts of sales revenues. 

 

Distribution: Before digital distribution platforms gained traction, programmers gave copies of their game to local computer stores to sell. They also placed advertisements in magazines and fulfilled mail orders based on that. Later, the shareware model came out and became popular with releases like Wolfenstein 3D and ZZT. As the internet became the major means of distribution, the mail order method started dying out. Valve originally made Steam to help players update patches for their games and keep them in the loop about updates. It eventually evolved into a digital store for games. Steam began curating indie titles among others, eventually adding Steam Direct where any developer could add their game to the platform for a small charge. 

Recognition: Indie games have a fraction of the marketing budget of AAA games and thus, it is harder for them to be widely known. However, indie video games targeted towards niche markets tend to do well. As for industry recognition, several events and awards have been established in the past two decades such as the Independent Games Festival. Indie games have also been nominated alongside AAA games frequently, with games like Hades and Outer Wilds walking away with major Game of the Year awards at BAFTA 2020 and GDC 2021 respectively. 

 

Hades won awards from almost every major game-related publication or organization, and even those not focused on gaming!

Indie game jams are also a thing, with annual competitions where game developers are asked to design a game prototype based on a concept and preset requirements.

Hades is also the first video game to win a Hugo award, an annual literary award for the best science fiction or fantasy works of the year.

Genre Trends of Indie Games: 2016-2020 Detailed Analysis

This graph showcases the major variations in genre trends across the last five years related to Indie games.

Indie games feature the most amount of releases for the Puzzle genre, where it consistently features in the top 3 or top 5. Puzzle games don’t need to be as graphics-intensive or have a complex setting. They’re more about gameplay and engaging their audience, and thus, easier for smaller studios to make. 

The Platform genre is one of the oldest genres in the industry. However, of late, the genre is fast disappearing from AA/AAA titles, and has found a new home among the indie scene. This genre always features in the top 5, with the total percent of releases falling between 9 – 12% each year. Some popular platform games released recently include Super Meat Boy Forever (Platform, Action), New Super Lucky’s Tale (Platform, Adventure, Action) and Celeste (Action, Platform). This is an interesting trend: if you look at these games, they’re intuitive, easy to understand while challenging to master, and have very unique art styles. While they aren’t always as technically groundbreaking as releases from bigger publishers tend to be, they nevertheless satisfy the most important rule of game-making: they’re fun!

The Future of Indie Games

There is an evolving trend where some AAA publishers have been acquiring indie studios around the world. Between 2016 and 2020, at least 76 indie studios were purchased and the number of them being bought per year is increasing, going from 7 in 2016 to 31 in 2018.  In 2019, THQ Nordic announced they raised $225 million to acquire more studios. Even Netflix has gotten on the bandwagon with their acquisition of Night School Studio in September 2021.

But why are they buying them? Acquiring pre-existing studios is cheaper than building one from nothing. You also get experienced employees along with their intellectual property. An example of this would be EA buying Respawn Entertainment and getting Titanfall. They also buy studios making games they think might be huge, such as Sega’s acquisition of Two Point Studios right after they released Two Point Hospital. Several AAA companies have indie initiatives like EA Originals and Take-Two’s Private Division which let them find nascent creators before they become popular and by extension, expensive. True, they also provide opportunities to indie developers but it isn’t purely out of the goodness of their hearts. AAA studios acquiring indie ones is a win-win: the former get a studio of experienced professionals and the latter get financial security and stability. However, this may come at the cost of what makes indie games indie: their independence.

AAA publishers have been proven to be highly averse to taking risks, and it’s likely that they might use these studios to push out content they think will make money, rather than what they originally wanted to make. Another restriction would be games made by these studios being exclusive to a particular platform. For instance, Microsoft allows The Outer Worlds on the PS4 right now as a result of prior commitments from the platform, but future games will likely be released only for the Xbox and PC. The culture of these companies also changes. The way AAA publishers might treat their new employees is an issue as well. A case of this is Disney closing down LucasArts after getting the Star Wars license because they didn’t want to make games, then farming the license for future games over to EA.

The issue is that when independent studios who’ve made famous games get acquired, they carry heavy expectations about their future games. While they have bigger budgets and access to better technology, they also have to sell massively and perform well. This reduces the likelihood of risk-taking and innovation. These studios are also put to work on projects of their acquirers and their own creative ideas are often put on hold, such as Firewatch’s creator  Campo Santo, who was acquired by Valve, having to put their next game, In The Valley of the Gods, on ice because they were working on Dota Underlords and Half-Life: Alyx.

In the Valley of the Gods has been delayed majorly with no release date in sight as a result of their creators being busy on other projects after being acquired.

It’s safe to say however that indie video games aren’t going anywhere. The chief reason for the increase in the number of games released in 2020 despite several famous games like Deathloop and Kerbal Space Program 2 being delayed were the number of indie releases. The working from home situation which came about as a result of the pandemic has not only let developers spend more time on their projects but also let more people who are hobbyist game developers work on their pet projects.

This increase in releases hasn’t just come from low quality projects made by amateurs though. Looking at the prices of the games released in 2020, the average price has gone from $6.3 in 2018 to $7.7 by the second half of 2020. The average reviews for these games are also higher than those released in the previous year, with 78% positive ratings. January 2021 continued this trend, with 756 new games being released, a 17% YoY increase.

Indie games have always been important because of how they push the envelope. This spirit is only growing, and indie games will always have a key role to play in driving the industry forward.

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The Problem with Video Game Recommendations and How the E-Commerce Industry can Improve Them

Have you ever browsed through what seemed like Steam’s entire catalog trying to find a game you might like? Have you spent more time on Netflix trying to decide what you want to watch as opposed to watching something? These are problems most of us have faced or are facing, and are a result of several factors, especially lack of personalization.

Personalizing your products for your customers is critical in today’s world. One can see an average increase of 20% in sales when using personalized experiences. Companies want their customers to be aware of how they are catering specifically to user needs. For example, if you’ve played a shooter game, you might be recommended to play another just because other people who liked the first game you played also enjoyed this. Your reasons for playing the former might differ from the others and thus, the latter might not be a good fit for you. The lack of good video game recommendations reduces trust in these companies to provide a good service experience. 

From the companies’ end, good customer experiences help in generating income, as well as differentiating themselves from the competition. An e-commerce company needs to focus on three things to thrive:

  • Increase the acquisition rate of new users
  • Increasing conversion rates of your users
  • Ensure that users don’t leave (reduce churn)

The Importance of Recommendations

Personalization has become a major factor in the success of e-retail companies. Whether it is addressing customers by name in communications or providing them with special offers based on their interests, online stores are increasingly focused on improving this.

Recommendations are the deepest level of personalization and are a necessary feature to be added to their portal. They are integral for both customers and the companies which cater to them for a multitude of reasons we will look at. For a customer, they provide the following benefits:

  • A significantly better user experience
  • A sense of being understood and seen
  • More personalized benefits and deals

For companies, the benefits are just as tangible if not more so:

  • Improved customer engagement
  • Significantly increased customer retention
  • Larger levels of web traffic
  • Better sales and revenue

Below are some examples of companies that thrive based on their recommendation systems.

 

Case Studies

Let’s take a look at one of the world’s most successful companies, Netflix. While Netflix started as a movie rental service, today, they stream movies and have over 200 million paying customers across the globe. A key part of this evolution is their personalized recommendation system. 

Understanding Video Game Recommendations: Netflix's Recommendations
Netflix's recommendation system suggests a variety of content you might enjoy.

Netflix’s recommendation systems have been developed over years by hundreds of engineers after analyzing millions of users. When a new subscriber joins, Netflix asks them to pick shows/movies they like, and as they watch more over time, the suggestions are powered by these as well as some additional factors like:

  • Viewer history
  • Viewer ratings for prior shows
  • Information like title, genre, category, and more
  • Other viewers with similar preferences and taste
  • Time an episode/movie lasts vs time duration of a viewer watching a show
  • The time of the day you’re watching
  • The device on which you’re logged in

Closer to home, we have Steam, which is a digital game distribution system, with more than 120 million monthly active users and a catalog of over 50,000 games. It is also home to a powerful video game recommendation system that helps gamers find games they will love.

They recommend games based on your played games, purchase history, store browsing history, and games that other players with tastes similar to yours love.

 

Understanding Video Game Recommendations: Netflix's Recommendations:Steam's Recommendations
Steam's recommendations are based on a variety of factors like games you've previously played, browsing history, and the like.

However, neither of these do a perfect job. Let’s look at why.

The Problems with Recommendations Today

We’ve looked at the importance of personalization and the role recommendations play in this. However, despite online stores realizing how vital a good quality recommendation is, they still haven’t perfected the art of suggesting the right products. Here are some of the common problems faced by customers while trying to find what they need.

Wrong recommendations: Thanks to imperfect algorithms or lack of high quality data, sites can often suggest irrelevant or incorrect recommendations. These reduce customer trust, engagement, and overall, is a waste of a good opportunity.

Impersonal communication: We all buy products and services for a variety of reasons. However, distributors still use generic and non-engaging messages most of the time while communicating with users. Messages such as “You might like Item X” without mentioning why you might like it can turn your customers off.

Choice overload: Too much choice can be a detriment to your customers. A recent consumer report discovered that more than half (54%) of consumers have stopped purchasing products from a brand or e-retailer website because choosing was too difficult, with 42% admitting to abandoning a planned purchase altogether because there was too much choice. These problems are a result of sub-optimal recommendation systems on websites.

 

Behavior Vs Motivation

The reason for inadequate online recommendations is that these mechanisms are primarily driven by behavior as opposed to motivation.

If several people play the same game, they might do so for different reasons. Let us take one of the most popular games which came out in June 2020, Valorant, as an example. Valorant is a 5v5 tactical first person shooter (FPS) where the characters you play as (agents) all have unique abilities. It has a monthly player base of at least 12 million throughout 2021, making it one of the most popular current FPS titles. Let’s analyze the different possible motivations that drive people to play Valorant:

Satisfying the urge to compete, dominate, and win: A large number of people play video games to compete against other skilled players and dominate the leaderboards for a sense of achievement. Valorant has this in spades with its highly competitive online multiplayer nature and detailed rank progression.

 

Strategizing for the win: Gamers enjoy certain games because they involve a great deal of planning and strategizing to be victorious. With its deeply tactical nature, Valorant satisfies this motivation.

To play with friends or meet people: A significant portion of players like games for their socialisation aspect. Whether it is being able to play with your buddies, meeting new like-minded strangers you can have fun with, or working as a team, Valorant fills these socialization shoes very well.

Current state of product recommendations
Nothing hits the mark like playing games with your squad.

For an adrenaline rush: Gamers often get motivated by the rush of adrenaline or dopamine they get as they play games that excite their senses, and this is what keeps them coming back to the game as well. Valorant certainly fits this criterion.

Aggression: Some people like playing video games for the violence and ferocity that come as a part of the game, especially shooters and hack & slash games. Valorant satisfies this urge.

The behaviour here in common is people playing Valorant. However, as you can see, their motivations may be completely different. For instance, in terms of story and lore, Valorant is found lacking compared to Overwatch, another popular competitive multiplayer title. Thus, people who play Overwatch because they like its lore and narrative aspects might not be as interested in Valorant.

How can you Improve Video Game Recommendations?

Gamer motivations are a culmination of their emotional and psychological makeup while also covering traits like values, personality, and life situations. To revolutionize video game recommendations, you will need to start by understanding the games you’re recommending, and why people play them. Next, look at your user base and try to understand each individual at a fundamental level. Finally, once you have an understanding of the games as well as your user, see why people play what they do, and use that to provide a video game recommendation. As a result of this, you will:

  • Provide fewer recommendations: This will keep you from overloading your customers with choice.
  • Give better recommendations: When you understand your users’ motivations, you can suggest games that are aligned with their motivations every time.
  • Personalized recommendations: Each of your recommendations will effectively communicate why a particular game is right for your user, as well as address their needs.

Apart from the above, you can improve e-retail personalization in general by:

  • Refine your search pages. You can use metadata to improve product descriptions and make it easier for your algorithms to match products to customer preferences and needs.
  • You can use referral bonuses to improve signups and good email marketing that conveys personalized deals and offers to your customers to increase retention.
  • Ensure your home page, product pages, and promotional offers are tailored to your customers’ needs based on data you’ve collected and their preferences. 
  • Intelligent machine learning algorithms combined with high quality data are your best friends. The next section will go into detail about recommendation models you can use in conjunction with them.

Recommendation Models

Below are the models most commonly used by e-commerce companies:

Popularity-based: These are products that are best-selling currently. For example, Among Us blew up in 2020 and was a game that popped up on Steam’s bestseller list. These also include games that have been popular for a long time, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It is meant primarily for new users on the website.

Quality based: The games which have a high number of positive reviews and ratings show up here based on this model and are recommended to users. However, this might not be the best method as peoples’ tastes can drastically differ, and a game might have ‘boosted’ reviews. Also, newer games might not have enough reviews to show up, despite possibly being something your user might love.

Content-based: This model recommends products based on their similarities with other products. It leverages the description and content of items and an understanding of the user’s consumption history. For example, Valorant is recommended to players who love Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, since it has similar characteristics to both these games.

Collaborative Filtering: In the newer, focused sense, collaborative filtering is a method of making automatic predictions (filtering) about the interests of a user by collecting preferences or taste information from many users (collaborating).The system generates recommendations using only information about rating profiles for different users or items.

Of course, hybrid recommendation systems which use a mix of these models are your best bet to provide personalized recommendations to your customers. Going back to Netflix, they make recommendations by comparing the watching and searching habits of similar users (i.e., collaborative filtering) as well as by offering recommendations that share characteristics with content that a user has rated highly (content-based filtering). 

Metadata is crucial to fuel understanding of your products. This will help you organize your product database, as well as categorize it better. High quality and comprehensive metadata gives personalization algorithms more data to train on. If you want to know more about the importance of video game metadata and managing it, this blog might help you.

Conclusion

Personalizing recommendations is the best way for e-commerce companies to improve revenue as well as stand out among their competitors. When it comes to video games, understanding the motivations as to why people play the games they play is integral to making good suggestions. Gameopedia’s quality-checked and extensive metadata as well as our intelligent sentiment analysis tool can help with optimizing your content and website for better personalization and improving video game recommendations. Contact us to learn more about what we can do for you and your business.

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