7 Huge Gaming Industry Trends 2021-2025

by Josh Howarth - August 16, 2021

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This is a list of 7 important trends impacting the video game industry right now.

With the PS5 and Xbox Series X now both launched, the gaming scene is in for some major changes over the next 4-5 years.

But next-gen hardware isn’t the only important gaming industry trend to focus on.

In fact, there are several other important trends that anyone in (or covering) the video game industry should keep an eye on. We will cover 7 of them in this post.

1. Roblox Helps Scale Indie Gaming

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Searches for “Roblox” are still spiking in 2021.

Indie gaming is nothing new. 

What is new is that indie game producers now have platforms (like Steam) that allow them to easily distribute their new games. 

Which has led to indie games like Among Us and Stardew Valley becoming bestsellers.

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Stardew Valley is a best-selling indie game.

Roblox is looking to scale up the indie gaming trend.

How?

Roblox combines game creation and game distribution in a single platform.

And it seems to be working.

Roblox now boasts 150M monthly active users.

To be clear: the vast majority of these users never touch a dev kit. Or will ever build a game using the Roblox Studio game engine. 

But many do.

And these aspiring game developers use the Roblox platform to quickly get feedback and iterate on their games from their large user base of players.

2. Increased Diversity in Games

It’s no secret that most gamers are male. 

(Although mobile gaming does seem to appeal to women. In fact, 65% of women in the US play mobile games)

However, certain games (like Animal Crossing) have helped bring in more women to the console, PC and esports gaming world.

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The latest Animal Crossing installment was a mega hit. Especially among women and girls. 

(In fact, it's estimated that, overall, 46% of gamers are female.)

So yes, the male/female split of gamers is approaching 50/50. 

But the fact remains that gaming is a male-dominated industry.

In fact, only 21% of people that work in the industry are female. 

Which partly explains the fact that most gaming protagonists are white males. 

In fact, the popular RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance got solid reviews. But was criticized for a lack of minorities in the game world. 

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Screenshot from Warhorse Studios' Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

That’s starting to change.

Like with society as a whole, the gaming industry is starting to pay attention to representation in their games.

Specifically, developers are starting to make women and minorities more prominent in the worlds they create. 

For example, The Last of Us Part II was one of the biggest releases of the last year. And it features a female protagonist. 

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The extremely popular Last of Us sequel has a diverse cast, led by a female protagonist.

And the much-hyped Cyberpunk 2077 game doesn't have traditional “male” or “female” gender options.

(Although gender selection ended up being the least of some player's concerns, after a rocky launch led to the PlayStation Store pulling the title altogether for PS4 users.)

3. New PC Gaming Platforms Challenge Steam

The PC gaming industry is worth approximately $35B, according to a report by Newzoo.

(To put that in perspective, $35B is comparable to the entire gaming console market)

Until recently, the PC gaming market was dominated by a single platform: Valve’s marketplace, Steam. 

In fact, Steam is so dominant that 47% of publishers put their games on Steam’s platform. 

Steam rose to prominence largely thanks to a first-mover advantage.

It was one of the first platforms to allow gamers to browse, buy, review, and play PC games in one place.

They also built up a sizable community of gamers that play games together, discuss bugs on forums, and build mods.

But Steam’s first-mover advantage is starting to fade.

GOG.com was one of the first platforms that cracked away at Steam’s dominance.

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GOG brands itself as go-to platform for older video games.

GOG initially focused on older games that were difficult to find on Steam.

But they now offer a variety of old and new games, including mainstream releases. 

In fact, GOG is one of the few gaming ecosystems that offer The Witcher 3 along with classics like Heroes of Might and Magic

GOG’s other claim to fame is that all games sold on the platform are “DRM-free”. DRM is a controversial practice in the gaming world. 

Many gamers consider DRM a minor hassle.

Others see DRM as a larger issue that violates the rights a consumer should get when they pay for a piece of media. 

In practical terms “DRM-free” means that gamers can play games without needing for the platform to “check” if they bought it legitimately or not.

Which has helped GOG stand out from Steam.

But perhaps the biggest long-term challenger to Steam isn’t GOG. But Epic Games

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Searches for the new-ish Epic Games platform since 2016.

On the surface, Epic Games is similar to Steam and GOG.

It offers a sizable library of games in different genres, from strategy to RPG.

You can manage and launch games from inside of the platform.

And connect with other players for multiplayer games.

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Screenshot of the Epic Games store.

What makes Epic Games different is their unique library of games.

Specifically, as the creators of the game, they’re the only PC platform that offers the mega-hit mobile game Fortnite.

And Epic Games hopes to entice more Steam users to try the platform with a bevvy of exclusive titles.

For example, they were able to make Metro Exodus an Epic Games exclusive for a year after its release. 

Time will tell if these exclusives will help them dethrone Steam.

Or how their public battle with Apple will shake out.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Epic Games fares against incumbent Steam.

4. Cloud Gaming Services Grow and Expand

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Interest in cloud gaming has grown significantly over the last year.

In theory, buying a game online should be an amazing experience.

You can browse thousands of titles. And purchase a game instantly without needing to leave your house.

But in practice, buying a game online has its problems.

First off, downloading the game can take hours (especially from Sony Playstation’s famously-slow servers). 

Which means that it’s often faster to drive to the store and buy a physical copy of the game.

Second, your hardware may not be up to snuff. Which can lead to performance issues.

Or, you may simply not have enough room on your PC or console for a new game.

Enter: Cloud Gaming.

Cloud Gaming bypasses all of these annoying issues.

Instead of buying and downloading a game, you stream it in real time.

That way, gamers can use the latest and greatest hardware without needing to invest in it. 

Plus, there’s no need to download anything. You can start playing right away. 

Consumers aren’t the only ones that like cloud gaming.

Streaming services like PS Now give Sony a valuable recurring revenue stream. 

It also gives publishers a way to monetize old games (including those from previous console generations) years after their release. 

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PlayStation Now, with 3.2M+ users, is exploding in popularity. 

5. Next Gen Consoles Battle It Out

No list of gaming trends would be complete without discussing the next generation of consoles that launched last year: Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. 

It’s impossible to predict who will win this round of the console wars. 

But it’s clear that these two console giants (along with the Nintendo Switch), will largely determine the biggest gaming industry trends for the next few years.

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The Nintendo Switch is a wildcard in the upcoming console battle between Sony and Microsoft. Its 2017 release means it somewhat straddles console generations.

Like previous console wars, the console with the best games will likely come out ahead.

But each console boasts a handful of unique features that may help give it an edge.

For example, the PS5 includes a high-end SSD. This hardware upgrade over the PS4 significantly reduces load times.

Which lets game developers create bigger, more detailed worlds. 

And the Xbox Series X includes a “Smart Delivery” feature.

This basically gives you a free Xbox Series X version of any Xbox One game that you bought in the past. 

(Assuming the title appears on both consoles). 

6. More Remakes and Reboots 

A Crash Bandicoot reboot was one of the top ten best-selling games of 2020, according to NPD.

Final Fantasy also VII got a remake, which topped best-seller lists for a time.

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Scene from the Final Fantasy VII remake.

Like Hollywood, the gaming industry is starting to realize that remakes and reboots sell well. And, unlike a completely new franchise, they’re less likely to bomb.

Besides FF7 and Crash, the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes both sold well

Which is why developers are working double time to create new versions of classic games.

For example, midway through last year, EA released a “remastered” version of the original Command & Conquer game.

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Screenshot that compares the original Command & Conquer game to the remastered version.

And Nintendo has remastered and re-released the acclaimed RPG Xenoblade Chronicles as Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

In 2021, we will see Prince of Persia rebooted with the Sands of Time title.

The 2001 cult classic RPG Gothic is also getting a remake.

7. Early Access Changes the Game Development Process

According to research published in Empirical Software Engineering, approximately 15% of all games offered on Steam are “Early Access”. 

And as Early Access becomes the norm for many developers, this figure is set to grow significantly in 2021 and beyond.

Early Access is a win-win for gamers and developers.

Gamers love it because they get to play a game months or even years in advance. 

Developers use Early Access as a way to get feedback from actual players. Feedback that can ultimately change the direction of a game.

For example, sci-fi strategy game Rimworld became one of Steam’s highest-rated games largely thanks to an Early Access-focused development cycle.

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Rimworld sold thousands of copies as an Early Access game. And it received rave reviews upon its full release a few years later. 

Game Over

Those are the seven biggest trends in the gaming space happening right now. And are set to grow in 2021, 2022 and beyond.

Changes in technology are rapidly changing how games are made. And played. 

From developers working on new AAA titles for the ninth generation of consoles. All the way down to single-person developers launching indie games on Roblox and Epic Games. The gaming market one that’s always in motion. 

Written By
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.
548 Market St. Suite 95149
San Francisco, California
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