If you’re a gamer, this is an exciting time in the industry. The new Mass Effect series launches this year as does the Nintendo Switch and Xbox Scorpio, and indies are more diverse than ever. If you’re an investor or a developer, then competition is more furious than ever and the industry is changing quickly and perhaps in unpredictable ways. With that in mind, let’s consider five factors that will shape the gaming industry in 2017.
The Indie Scene
There was a time when there were AAA, AA and smaller titles. As production costs got higher and the market more competitive, anything less than AAA began to seem like a bad investment to the biggest companies. Enter the indie scene, which has flourished thanks to platforms like Steam. What the term “indie” still means is a matter of debate, but what isn’t is the fact that indie games are filling niches and innovating in a way that’s not possible right now in the AAA space. That’s better for everyone involved.
The Dominance of Mobile Gaming
Ask a hardcore gamer what they think about mobile gaming and you’ll likely be met with disgust. Mobile games aren’t games depending on who you ask, and they increasingly cater to women, the demographic that dominates that market. Traditional video game publishers are in a difficult place. The mobile and traditional markets are quite different. Games generally don’t do well in both spaces. The mobile space is still quite fickle, and consistency is difficult, which is perhaps why Activision Blizzard acquired King.
Traditionally, the average gamer wasn’t invited into the development process until the beta, and even then, those betas were usually more stress tests and marketing efforts than actual betas. Early access, which is a relatively new approach, is essentially a paid alpha. Customers purchase games in early stages and therefore get to be involved in the development process to some extent. Most early access games are failures or in development cycles that will never end, but the success stories, such as LEGO Worlds, which will hit consoles this year, may lure in some of the AAA developers and publishers.
Nintendo on the Precipice
Nintendo is synonymous with video games. After all, this Japanese company not only helped shape the industry on its home turf but in the United States and around the world. Unfortunately, Nintendo has not adapted well to an evolving marketplace. They struck gold with the Wii — thanks to some lucky timing — but took a massive step back with the Wii U. This year, Nintendo introduces the Switch. It’s different. It’s an innovation, but is it enough? If the Switch fails in the U.S., Nintendo as we know it will change forever and likely become just a software developer.
MMOs in the Console Space
Massive multiplayer online role-playing games couldn’t succeed on the Xbox until someone actually tried and they did — in a big way. Games like Elder Scrolls Online and Neverwinter are doing exceptionally well, and a Morrowind expansion for ESO is sure to be a nostalgia-laden crowd pleasure this summer. Sure, Blizzard beat off the MMO gold rush once, but World of Warcraft isn’t even on Xbox and may never be. A new Blizzard announcement incoming?