In this topsy turvy industry, there’s one thing we can all be sure of: change is coming. Since the App Store first rolled out in 2008, change is pretty much all the games industry has known, though the new kids on the block don’t always end up staying around too long.
One month, all the games press is talking about is Ouya, then suddenly we’re back on to Smart TVs and then…well, we don’t really need to explain what happened to both of those formats, but safe to say they’re no-one’s priority now. The question remains, however, as to just what’s coming next. When 2016 bursts into life in just a few months, what will rule the roost for the following twelve months? What new services will be kingmakers, and what new products will developers need to target in the year ahead?
We’ve sat down, sketched out our thoughts and present them to you here for your delectation. Though, if this blog post suddenly goes missing from our pages in the years ahead, you’ll know that our attempt to predict the lay of the land in 2016 proved to be way off base. Enjoy this post while you can then, eh?
Prediction #1: Expect ad network consolidation
There’s been a resurgence in the world of mobile advertising of late, with in-game ads proving to be a major revenue driver for developers over the course of 2015. That rise, however, is going to trigger a fairly major round of consolidation between some of the major ad networks, with mergers and buyouts narrowing the field down to a smaller batch of relevant players.
And we can’t actually say that’s a bad thing. One of the problems developers currently face is choosing between ad networks (unless they tap into a product that amalgamates all of the best networks into one deliverable solutions), so anything that brings that pool down is likely to be welcomed. However, while existing networks are likely to come together, in the world of video, expect the likes of Google and Facebook to make a far bigger play than they have to date.
Both are already dominant in terms of mobile ad spend in general, with eMarketer claiming Google and Facebook half of the $28 billion set to spent on mobile ads in the US alone in 2015 (Google on just under 35 percent of total spend, Facebook on just over 17 percent), and that’s a dominance the market research firm claim will continue until 2017 at least.
Prediction #2: Mobile and PC games become happy bedfellows
Cross-platform may be the route most developers take in this day and ages – genuine iOS or Android exclusives becoming more and more of a rarity – but it’s always seemed far harder to bring together the worlds of mobile and PC gaming in any meaningful sense. In 2016, that will start to change.
We predict that smartphone and PC games will increasingly start to link up, and companion apps – though long talked about – will actually become something developers look to do rather than something that merely sounds good in theory. 2015’s surprise mobile hit Fallout Shelter is the perfect example of just how an original mobile game can be used to support console or PC IP, and its success is likely to lay the foundations for similar tie-ins to come.
In part, this is all because the two platforms are starting to compliment each other more in general; mobile is no longer billed as something that rivals your PC and Mac, but rather just another component in your computing life. Similarly, the tablet didn’t destroy the laptop, it simply made manufacturers up their game.
Developers have arguably been ahead of this curve thanks in part to the growing indie scene on PC, with Steam now playing host to as many promising titles from independent studios as iOS. The crossover between the two, then, is logical, and with Microsoft looking to take Windows 10 to every device imaginable, the borders between PC and mobile are set to be blurred even further in 2016.
Prediction #3: YouTubers and bloggers will become more important than the top charts
For a long time, the charts have become something of a self fulfilling prophecy. To get the top of the charts, you either have to already be at the top, using one release to cross-promote another, or you have to spend the best part of your mortgage amassing enough users to sneak in somewhere near the chart’s lower reaches and hope momentum carries you upwards.
Doing so has long been key because of the impact the charts has over downloads, though we think their influence is starting to wane. Gamers are savvy beasts, and increasingly knowledgable folk posting blogs or even vlogs are have long been able to call on sizeable followings. That’s something that’s going to grow in 2016, to the point where the charts start to reflect the games pushed on YouTube rather than simply highlighting who has spent the most money on UA. Just how those YouTubers use that power, however, is a different question, though engaging with those who have the most influence over your chosen genre is probably a wise idea.
Prediction #4: Virtual reality will take off, but not in the home
For the last few years, talk at pretty much every industry event you can think of has revolved around virtual reality. In 2016, VR will finally roll out in a meaningful sense, but the idea that every Tom, Dick or Harry will be playing on an Oculus in their living room is unfounded.
What’s clear is, whether you’re talking Oculus, or Sony, or Valve, or HTC, the technology works and it’s possible to deliver unique experiences that are tailored for virtual relality, but that doesn’t mean gamers are going to want to do this day and night in their living room. Putting the likely price of VR devices aside for one moment (though this will no doubt be an issue preventing VR from going truly mainstream), it’s foolhardy to think that people are going to want to devote entire evenings isolating themselves from the world to play the latest Call of Duty, Halo or Fallout with a VR headset on.
However, the impact VR can have is nevertheless notable and will perhaps be akin to the role 3D films have had: perfect for the cinema, but less suited to at home play. 3DTV failed to take off because it wasn’t something people wanted to engage with 24/7, but that hasn’t stopped 3D films becoming the norm at the cinema, where such movies are considered an ‘event’. We see much the same thing happening with VR in 2016 and beyond.
Prediction #5: Mobile growth will slow, but game time will go up
We’ve come to take growth in mobile gaming for granted in recent years, given that’s all the industry has done annually since iPhone rolled into town. 2016, however, will be the year when the rate of that growth tends to tail off.
In the west at least, smartphone ownership has reached saturation and most customers aren’t those upgrading from feature phones but rather those trading in their two year old device for a new one. Games are a core pillar in the world of mobile and no longer something for the few – all generations of the family own a smartphone and, more than likely, all generations will have taken on a mobile game at least once or twice as a result.
But while the growth of the games sector will start to slow in 2016, the amount of time people play games for on their phones will start to rise. Developers have spent the last few years mastering how best to make the most of leading mobile devices, and that expertise has resulted in a flood of games that better fit into the lifestyles of the average mobile gamer. Such skill is starting to deliver extended playing times, and in 2016, your average Joe will be willing to spend more and more time on their phone, serving up a huge opportunity for developers looking to keep gamers engaged and wrapped up in their game’s universe for as long as possible.
Editor’s Note: this post was originally published by Kalle Heikkinen, Chief Game Analyst at GameRefinery. With almost 400 game analysed under his belt, Kalle has a solid understanding of what works and…
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