2010 and 2011’s Top Game Industry Trends

2010 and 2011’s Top Game Industry Trends

The video games industry did a lot of growing up through the Aughts and into 2010–though some might argue that a bit of de-evolution occurred as well this year.

But perspective is everything, and all teenagers must go through growing pains in order to reach beyond that awkward, long-legged stage that precedes maturity. With that in mind, we’re going to look back at some notable industry trends that started or endured through 2011. Take it upon yourself to separate the “good” from the “bad.”

Free Games – Boy, oh boy, who doesn’t love free games? If you have access to an iPhone or pretty much any breed of smartphone, you possess the key to more free games than you could ever hope to play in your lifetime. And that’s only the cell phone industry. On the Web, thousands of free Flash-based adventures lie in wait.

Good stuff, but one has to wonder about the long-term effects 2010’s free games explosion will have on the future industry. Will smaller developers be able to sustain themselves with a formula that essentially relies on advertising dollars and micro-transactions? Will the industry become too saturated with lookalike free games and ultimately cause us to turn away in boredom?

DRM – The dreaded Digital Rights Management. Developers understandably want to protect their product and earn the money they deserve. The problem is that pirates find ways around the rules (and copy protection), and legitimate players are the ones who end up getting screwed by limited installs, etc. Download services like Steam offer a bit of relief, but 2010 brought fresh controversy with EA and Ubisoft requiring that PC owners have a constant Internet connection to play games like Silent Hunter 5 and Command & Conquer 4. Will 2011 bring our desperately-needed happy medium?

2D Games Receive Love Again – Once upon a time in the industry’s dark ages, 2D platformers were the norm. 3D polygon-based games drew players away from a time, but 2010 readily proved that there is still plenty of room for retro love with its range of series updates and revivals. Mega Man 10, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair are all stellar titles that demonstrate you can go home again.

The Industry Ails in Japan – Japanese developers were once the undisputed kings of the industry, but the country’s creative output has been a bit sickly through 2010. Final Fantasy XIII didn’t perform to Square-Enix’s expectations, and last October, highly respected games developer Keiji Inafune effectively told Capcom to take their Head of R&D Management Group position and shove it. Not everything is all darkness and despair in the Land of the Rising Sun, however. Japanese developers seem to be conscious of their slipping position, and they aren’t going to give it up so easily. A lackluster beta for Final Fantasy XIV has made Square-Enix painfully aware that sub-par releases in its most beloved franchise just won’t cut it anymore, and even Inafune has gone on to start his own development company called “Comcept” (we see what you did there, Inafune). Will 2011 be Japan’s turnaround year?

Social Games – What can we say about the social games explosion of 2011? What can anyone say? Except maybe “Christ, leave me alone” whenever they start up Facebook and are buried under fifty requests to join in on FarmVille, FrontierVille, CityVille, Mafia Wars, or any of their numberless variants. Zynga, the Emperors of the social gaming scene, released FrontierVille, CityVille, and Treasure Isle this year alone. Players are still throwing themselves into click-click harvesting, but the question is whether or not they’ll stay engaged through the coming year.

Apple and Nintendo Prepare to Fight to the Death – Apple’s iPhone may well become the handheld game system of choice in 2011, but not if Nintendo and the 3DS have anything to say about it. Nintendo has seen the enemy, and it acknowledges it nakedly: Steve Jobs. The two companies sank their teeth into each others’ throats in 2010; 2011 will determine who hits the jugular first.

The PSP Fades in America, Considers Smartphone Tech and the PSP 2 – The PSP is a good indicator of how unpredictable the handheld games market actually is. Game sites and magazines believed Sony’s slick black handheld would knock the Nintendo DS down to the status of a child’s toy. They were wrong. The PSP certainly has its fanbase, and it’s still doing well in Japan, but in America, its heyday is over, and Nintendo never felt a thing. The Internet has done some serious rumbling over the PSP 2 (very strong rumor) and the “PSP Phone” (very real); 2011 will see how it all plays out.

Motion Control Explosion – Motion control is not exclusively Nintendo’s domain anymore. Now Microsoft and Sony are giving it a shake with the Kinect and Move. Both setups have had very strong starts, and it’ll be interesting to see how they endure through 2011–and how Nintendo will respond.

Digital Distribution/Cloud Gaming – Digital game distribution picked up a great deal of steam through 2011, and the introduction of OnLive’s cloud gaming service delivers affordable console gaming on demand. GameStop still lords over retail distribution: How will it respond to increasing competition from Xbox Live, WiiWare, Steam, and Playstation Network in 2011?

Que sera, sera.

Image Source: My Gadget News

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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