After several years of tumultuous change, the games industry is set to have a quiet 2015, according to one analyst.
Nicholas Lovell, founder of news site Gamesbrief and author of free business book The Curve told the Guardian that the next year will be one of consolidation rather than revolution for developers and publishers.
“My general thesis is that nothing is going to happen in 2015, it’s going to be really, really dull,” he said.
“Over the last five years, the games industry has seen a series of seismic shifts. Free-to-play hit the mainstream, tablet and smartphone games have come into the ascendent, we’ve seen Facebook gaming rise and fall, we’ve seen the growth of completely new genres like the moba, and we’ve seen the emergence of eSports. Now I’m looking at 2015 and thinking, ‘nothing massive is going to change’ ”.
He sees the controversial free-to-play (F2P) business model – in which games can be downloaded for free, but then make money through adverts or “microtransactions” – continuing its growth. Most successful smartphone titles, such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans use the model, and it is slowly edging into console gaming.
“There’s plenty wrong with it, but it’s clearly working,” says Lovell. “The industry just has to make some tweaks. It’ll be about a lot of companies working hard to change things incrementally over the next five years. Eventually we’ll look back and say, ‘I can’t believe how primitive those F2P games were in 2014’”.
The biggest change could well be established publishers re-thinking their strategy to the F2P model. The likes of Electronic Arts, Activision and Ubisoft have all been exploring the use of free downloads and microtransactions, with varying degrees of success. “There are a lot of triple A studios who think they’ll know how to make F2P games, so they pile in and end up losing their shirts,” said Lovell. “They need to learn humility; they need to learn how to make F2P games and then bring their triple A sensibilities, brands and skills into a world that they don’t understand. They have to be humbled first.”
Meanwhile, for seasoned F2P developers, the big change could be altering the points at which gamers tend to pay. In titles like Candy Crush Saga, fans will often reach points where they get stuck and have to purchase power ups to continue. Lovell says this can breed negative connotations.
“Developers need to learn how to get gamers to spend money to feel better rather than spending money to stop feeling bad,” says Lovell. “In the long term, when you’re paying to stop feeling frustrated, your brain begins to associate paying and feeling bad. That’s eventually going to stop working as a business model, which is great because we’re not going to be monetising at paypoints anymore, we’ll be monetising feeling awesome.”
“We need to get better at iteration and responding to the community in a cost effective way that doesn’t destroy what you’ve already got. But again, none of this is as big as ‘we need to work out how to give our game away for free’ which was an absolutely phenomenal change. That has already happened.”
Lovell does, however, predict that this could be the year the F2P model really breaks into the hugely popular PC gaming download service Steam. “It is moving toward a free environment,” he said. “It will take a while but its heading in that direction - prices are being pressured.”
As for other areas of the games industry, Lovell doesn’t see virtual and augmented reality as major new advances – despite the hype building around devices such as the Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens.
“VR is going to be interesting this year, but more for journalists than mass markets,” he said. “Even if VR becomes really important, I don’t think of it as a seismic shift in the same way as the tablet was. That represented a fundamentally different way of gaming than you see on console, PC or even smartphone. I do think that VR is going to be a meaningful niche, like consoles, it could be a very big niche. But it could take a long time for it to happen. Ultimately, it could be like Kinect or Move: important but not fundamentally transformational.”
In effect, the industry is heading into a year of consolidation and iteration, rather than revolution. “It’s like learning to play the piano,” sais Lovell. “The last few years has been about learning new tunes, now the industry just has to practise scales and arpeggios again and again until it’s really good. That’s what the next year is about.
“That’s not to say there won’t be an interesting games or experiences, but I’m not seeing any really big changes to the development landscape or the fundamental structures of the industry. Nothing’s going to blow our minds this year.”
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Monday 26th January 2015 12.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010