GamesQuest 9: 2018 Video Game Trends

In this year’s first episode of GamesQuest I take a look back at the most interesting developments in gaming of 2018. For me that was mostly loot boxes, new game stores and game streaming plus a few others. Listen right here or read the excerpt below.

Links from the episode:

Transcript excerpt

Loot boxes

While 2017 seemed to be the year of loot box hiccups - I’m thinking about Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II - 2018 seemed to be the year of companies trying to find the right balance. At least when it comes to AAA games. The new legislation in Belgium has set a precedent that gambling authorities have an eye on loot boxes now and the industry is better of to regulate itself or face stronger legal barriers along the way. It’s just like the US ratings system in the 90s when the industry acted upon the fear of stronger regulations.

This doesn’t mean that companies will stop using loot boxes altogether, of course not. But even the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) says that its members should follow three rules when it comes to loot boxes:

  • Do not market loot boxes to children.

  • Clearly disclose the odds of different rewards.

  • Educate parents about controls available to them to limit their children’s ability to engage with games.

I think one important thing we have witnessed over the year is how Epic managed to earn billions with Fortnite and monetize a F2P game without using gambling mechanics, at least in it’s successful Battle Royal mode. Instead you have to buy seasonal battle passes to participate in the premium progression track which will give you the better bonuses and rewards. It’s an interesting way of a freemium model which is something that I wrote about earlier this year. Personally, I think it’s a fairer model of spreading the cost of development among the player base instead of relying on a small number of whales to spend huge amounts. It also makes for the better gaming experience, if you don’t have some extra hurdles in the game that you are meant to overcome with money and chance.

So, I’m hoping that we’ll see less predatory mechanics in the future. Maybe 2018 was a turning point for that. However, I’m not sure. Especially the mobile games market still seems to be dominated by that model.

New game stores

One of the biggest announcements this year was definitely Epic’s new game store on PC. But it’s not the only one that thought that the market is ripe for a new competitor to Valve. Before Epic, Kongregate launched Kartrigde and Discord went the next step after already replacing Steam’s social component for many players to start selling games directly on its platform. While some people might hate the idea of splintering their games library over many different stores it already is reality for many anyway. I already buy games on Xbox, PS, Steam, Itch, Google Play etc. Also Epic has such a drawing power with Fortnite that for many it’s their first game launcher anyway. So I’m sure that it will do just fine selling other games as well.

The more interesting point is the mobile market that Epic wants to conquer as well. It already bypassed Google Play on Android and so it want to bring the full store experience to Android as well. That’s tough just as Amazon experienced. Their store is on their own devices but who else would ever use it. But of course Epic has the killer app to bring people in and they are partnering with phone companies to have it preinstalled. All this is riding on the success of Fortnite now. And it might just work.

Of course for developers Epic offers a bigger cut of the revenue compared to Valve. So it seems to be a win for developers. Right now developers want to be on the Epic store because it’s a way to stand out. Currently there is hardly any competition for the players’ attention on there. But that will change and their library will grow. So in the long run a new store makes publishing harder. On which platform do you want to come out? Which ones are worth the extra work? It will be very interesting to see the first case studies and developer feedback on that.

The last store I want to mention is Microsoft’s own Windows store. Phil Spencer said this year that he will take on a bigger leadership role and improve the Microsoft store. I’ve mentioned in a previous episode that with bringing game pass to PC, Microsoft has a good chance to become a more important storefront on the PC as well and become the first real Netflix of games. Of course this can only work if they also put as much effort into their user experience, which is something that Phil Spencer seems to make a priority now.

Game streaming

Phil Spencer also brings me to the next topic: game streaming. It still hasn’t really landed in a big way but 2018 certainly was the year it became a major talking point and more than ever it looks like there will be no way around it in the future. Microsoft has talked about Project xCloud which in connection with Game Pass could really be the first proper Netflix for games, in the sense that you can start a game on your console and continue it on another device, exactly where you left off.

Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot said in June that streaming will be the next big thing in gaming technology, of course knowing very well that they would bring Assassin’s Creed to Google’s Project Stream later in 2018. It makes sense that Google would want in on that market as it has the resources and it’s already in the business of selling content. Similar tech companies could join them, like Amazon or Facebook. Microsoft might be a step ahead in terms of content. Not just because it already has established relationships with many developers and publishers, but I think they also saw the need for a lot of niche content, just like Netflix produces now. I think that may have been what triggered their studio shopping spree last year. At least to some extent.

Sony is the only big player who already has a functioning streaming service. They actually did a lot of stuff early on, like including PlayStation Now with their TVs, that the market wasn’t quite ready for. To me it seems that they are waiting a bit on what the others are doing, before making any more big moves on that front.

Guillemot said that the next console generation could be the last one and I tend to agree with him. Right now bandwidth restrictions mean that the hardcore gamer still wants the dedicated hardware to get the best 4k fidelity. But I think the streaming services want to go after a wider audience. Mobile gamers, younger gamers who grew up with content being readily available anytime, anywhere. And at the end of the next generation technology will be caught up and even the old-school gamers are ready to switch. They will be used to the convenience and the difference in latency and image quality becomes negligible.