The video games industry is one of huge size and significance. In fact, it is now generating more revenue than the movie and music industries combined, with global video game revenue sitting at an estimated $91.5 billion, in comparison to the movie industry’s $38.6 billion (global figure) in 2016 and the music industry’s estimated $47.5 billion. It was three years ago, in 2015, that video games surpassed these two other entertainment powerhouses.
Gaming encompasses a lot of different genres and platforms, from MMO games played on high-end PCs and gaming laptops to casual puzzle games played on affordable mobile devices. It’s clear that there are all manner of ways for developers to cut themselves a slice of the lucrative games industry pie and make a game that best reflects their creative talent. With so much at stake and with there being so many ways to get into the games industry, it may come as little surprise that thousands upon thousands of new games are released each year. Digital distribution platform Steam saw some 5,000 games released on it in 2017, for example.
Most of the games that were released on Steam last year will have faded into obscurity, with there being plenty of overlooked indie gems that don’t get their proper due, although some other titles have reached stratospheric heights, reaching incredible levels of popularity. But what makes these games successful? How do game developers identify and act upon market trends, and how do they try to replicate such success?
Following the Beaten Path
In March of 2017, South Korean developer Bluehole released PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds via Steam Early Access. A battle royale-style game, this multiplayer shooter puts approximately 100 players on a wide open map and tasks them with being the last player (or the last team or duo of players) standing. Players can get ahead by outgunning and outwitting their opponents, using their knowledge of the map and its various locations and vantage points to beat other players before they are beaten first. Players can also collect loot, scouring the map for items including weapons, clothing, and consumables such as bandages and energy drinks. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds became an unlikely hit, with over 30 million people now playing it, and the game spawned a wave of other battle royale style games.
These games include Fortnite Battle Royale, a free to play spin-off mode of zombie fighting and building crafting video game Fortnite. Fortnite Battle Royale now makes more money than PUBG, with both games pulling in over $100 million a month according to games industry analysis firm SuperData Research. Other games with battle royale modes including the vehicle-based battle royale modes in Grand Theft Auto Online (the multiplayer mode of Grand Theft Auto 5) and H1Z1, and there’s Hunt: Showdown which is a more macabre take on the genre.
While the battle royale genre is becoming overly saturated, it’s easy to see why so many video game developers are following the trend. Establishing a new take on a game and making it a huge success is a far greater risk than just following the beaten path and building upon game genres and even brands that have already been established as successful. It’s why video game developers have found huge success by creating video game tie-ins to existing forms of media, from popular television shows and movie franchises to celebrity personalities with strong fan bases. DC Comics’ fighting game Injustice 2 is a prime example of this as it uses the combined brand power of established superheroes such as Batman and Supergirl as well as playable characters like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to pique fan interest. Video game developer NetEnt also has a significant line-up of games based on branded properties, including the Planet of the Apes and Guns N’ Roses. The Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Demi Lovato: Path to Fame mobile games have also used their titular celebrities’ star power to find success. It’s also for this reason that we see so many takes on existing game genres and tropes such as first-person shooters like Call of Duty that have either futuristic or historical settings or match 3 games such as Candy Crush Saga that ask players to match brightly colored symbols and use helpful power-ups. Gamers know what they like, and developers are eager to give it to them.
Quizzing the Community
When video game developers do decide to branch out, however, taking into account the community’s wants is often one of the smartest methods. Developers can use social media to directly ask for fan feedback or they can themselves keep tabs on how players are responding to other games. Social media comments surrounding the aforementioned battle royale games is a good example of this. Another good example of this is the backlash surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot boxes in late 2017. Players weren’t happy that the game’s business model asked them to pay to unlock gameplay-affecting content and as such, publisher EA removed loot boxes from the game. For many, game developers are only expected to feature loot boxes with cosmetic-only content (rather than gameplay content). Some developers have taken this on board, in attempts to avoid similar backlash.
Likewise, the trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare received mass dislikes on YouTube as players were unhappy with the game’s decision to take the action to space. The response from fans reflected a saturated market already full of futuristic shooters. Call of Duty publisher Activision has since taken note of this and not only did it release the historical Call of Duty: WW2 just one year after Infinite Warfare, but it also directly acknowledged fan concerns.
The messages posted by angry gamers on social media or the responses collected through player surveys may not always be the best indicator for a developer because the replies may be untruthful. Developers may also struggle to find success in gameplay trends if every other developer has the same idea. But with the games industry being so rich in potential and with there being such a need to stand out, developers must use all of the tools that they have at their disposal in order to find video game success – and feedback on social media and elsewhere is definitely something to be taken into account.