7 Huge Gaming Industry Trends For 2021
This is a list of 7 important trends impacting the video game industry right now.
But next-gen hardware isn’t the only big 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.
1. Roblox Helps Scale Indie Gaming
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.
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 all on one platform.
And it seems to be working.
Roblox now boasts 150M users. To be clear: most of these users never touch a dev kit. Or have built 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.
However, certain games (like Animal Crossing) have helped bring in more women to the gaming world.
The latest Animal Crossing installment was a mega hit. Especially among women and girls.
(In fact, 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, Kingdom Come Deliverance got excellent reviews. But was criticized for a lack of minorities in the game world.
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.
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 was the least of some player's concerns, after a rocky launch led to the PlayStation Store pulling the title altogether.
3. New PC Gaming Platforms Challenge Steam
The PC gaming industry is worth approximately $27M, according to a Research and Markets report.
(To put that in perspective, $27M is comparable to the home console market)
Until recently, that market was dominated by a single platform: Valve’s PC gaming 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.
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.
Other than the fact that GOG is one of the few platforms that offer The Witcher 3 and 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 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.
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. And you can manage and launch games from inside of the platform.
What makes Epic Games different is their unique library of games. Specifically, as the creators of the game, they’re the only platform that offers the mega-hit 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.
4. Cloud Gaming Services Grow and Expand
Interest in cloud gaming has grown significantly over the last year.
In theory, buying a game online should be amazing. You can browse thousands of titles. And purchase a game without leaving 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.
That way, you 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.
And a way to monetize old games (including those from previous console generations) years after their release.
PlayStation Now, with 2M+ users already, is exploding in popularity.
5. Next Gen Consoles Come Out
No list of gaming trends would be complete without discussing the next generation of consoles launched at the back end of 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.
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 does boast 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 VII got a remake, which topped the best-seller list for a time.
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.
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.
And the 2001 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.
Rimworld sold thousands of copies as an Early Access game. And it received rave reviews upon its full release a few years later.
Those are the seven biggest gaming industry trends happening right now.
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 world is an industry that’s always in motion.