The global online gaming industry reaches new heights every year. In fact, according to Newzoo, 2017 was the year when annual revenues broke through the $100 billion barrier for the first time, totalling $109 billion across the globe. Naturally, with an estimated 180 million gamers, the US led the way, generating $27 billion – well over 25% of the total – and showing an overall 4% growth on the 2016 figure.
So that’s the headline news in figures, but what other key trends were in evidence last year?
Indie Games on the Rise
Well, there was the rise of indie games alongside the big budget blockbusters. A great deal of this has to do with the comparative agility of these games designers to out-manoeuvre their bigger rivals. Plus the increasing popularity of the Nintendo Switch has also been a big boost to indie-games designers in general, spacing out its bigger releases to allow smaller developers in on the action.
Even the maker of Assassin’s Creed – one of the best-selling video game series of all time – recognised the significance of indie gaming. Instead of signing up to make a new game with a big studio, creator Patrice Desilets has opened a small studio called Panache Digital Games – staffed by a team of just 24. When asked why he was doing this, Desilets told the Global and Mail: “The big studios, they make big games in Montreal but most of the real money goes back to the headquarters in a different country. The studio in Montreal is basically just a cost centre.” This allows developers to take more risk in developing Indie titles and more chances of success by finding a niche audience.
Moving Towards Mobile
There’s also been an ever-greater move towards mobile gaming, and phones in particular, as the current generation are now offering even better player experiences with sharper graphics, faster processors and extended battery life. Since the release of the ground-breaking iPhone in 2007, gamers have been gradually veering away from their consoles towards their mobile devices – to the extent that as of 2013, there are now more mobile devices than people on Earth. Hand in hand with this comes the constant advance of VR and AR. In the case of the former, the lowering prices and increasing comfort of headsets are both acting to encourage games developers to see the sense in making major investments in this field. And investing they are – with more than 450 companies developing infrastructure, tools and games on the platform.
Of course, we couldn’t look at gaming trends in 2017 without talking about eSports. What was once a distinctly niche activity is now undoubtedly big business – and it’s predicted to be worth almost $1.5 billion a year by 2020.
When it comes to eSports and key milestones reached in 2017, it mainly comes down to the numbers. For example, when the first ever Intel Extreme Masters tournament was held in Katowice, the incredible attendance figure of 173,000 people made it the biggest live event in eSports history and the League of Legends World Championship achieved online viewing figures of 60 million, an increase of 17 million on the 2016 total.
The Overwatch League also signed no less than 12 new teams to compete in its inaugural city-based global league including ones owned by Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Stan Kroenke of, among other teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Arsenal FC.
We’re clearly living in a golden era of eSports, with sponsorship deals on the rise, schools recognising its potential, and more players getting media coverage.
The Rise of Online Casinos and Multiplayer Gaming
One of the most exciting innovations to hit online casinos in 2017 was the emergence of massively multiplayer online games (MMO) in slot games. MMOs allow players to play in games with each other, even if they’re not in the same physical space.
Much like the games played in eSports, MMOs are capable of supporting vast numbers of players worldwide. These players can compete or work together, and communicate – bringing a social element to an otherwise solitary slot game. MMO players can also benefit from shared bonus features when playing slots games, meaning they can collaborate to win big jackpots. Online casino pioneers 888casino were one of the first to launch an MMO slot game with Slot Races, shown in the above video.
Online casinos have also been quick to embrace mobile technology – making great leaps forward by improving the gaming quality, excitement and choice available for smartphone users. Thanks to a real casino environment, filmed with cameras and streamed live, many online casinos now replicate the experience of playing in a land-based casino. So it’s perhaps no surprise that online casinos are now the most popular form of gambling in the UK. Their next leap forward for online casinos has to be in VR and AR. Many of the latest generation of smartphones come with their own VR headsets – so it’s only a matter of time before this immersive platform starts bearing fruit for the gambling sector. According to Android Headlines, gambling wagers with VR are set to rise 800% in the next five years. In 2017, total bets made through VR totally £47.2 million – and by 2021 it’s expected to surpass £423 million.
Looking Ahead to 2018
So we’ve been over some of the highlights when it comes to looking back over the year just passed, but what does 2018 have in store for us?
The year’s only just begun, but already the predictions are coming thick and fast – both about features of the games themselves and the wider issues affecting online gaming and eSports.
- Loot boxes: As the time, and more importantly the cash, spent developing the big games seems to rise exponentially, many observers are predicting a rise in so-called “loot boxes” – which provide players with the opportunity to pay to open a box and acquire an unknown quantity and quality of in-game items. These can provide a valuable extra income stream from players who seem to be understandably reluctant to spend more than $60 on a game. The thinking is that once someone starts getting into a game they’ll be happy to invest more in it, albeit by paying smaller additional increments to unlock extra features or parts of the game.
- Big game releases: The complications of delivering the big games are also predicted to start causing more and more launch dates to the put back, just as they have been for Far Cry 5 and Red Dead Redemption so all those dates in your diary are probably best left in pencil for now.
- The next generation of consoles: In terms of consoles, both the PS4 and the Xbox One will be five years old in 2018. Last year’s Pro and the One X did something to upgrade them but these were stop-gap consoles at best. So don’t be too surprised if Sony and Microsoft start hinting about the arrival of the next generation of console sometime this year, even if the actual models don’t arrive until 2019.
- Further growth in eSports: It’s almost certain that eSports will move more into the mainstream as its profile continues to rise through a combination of organised marketing and the increased involvement of celebrities investing in eSports teams in a bid to raise their own profiles. In the same way, increasing sponsorship from blue chip names will only serve to bring eSports even more into the public consciousness.
2018 will bring some changes but more of the same for online gamers. What are you most looking for to in this year?