The past year has been a weird one for videogames, just like it has been for everything else. Studios across the globe have had to scale back production and we’ve seen countless delays as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We didn’t even have an E3 in 2020! However, things are starting to pick up and, as a result, the video game industry is getting back to its state of reactive adoption of trends, some of which are starting to manifest already. We’re just getting started with the 2021 gaming season, but what are some of the trends we can hope to see?
Back to basics
It looks like the big three (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) are backing away somewhat from the ceaseless push of new peripherals and “ways to play” that has been a continuous experiment during the past three generations of gaming. There’s no new Move controller, no new Kinect, or any type of experience that aims (yet always fails) to fundamentally change the way we play games. Even VR gaming has taken a bit of a backseat as, despite the high praise for its killer apps like Half-Life Alyx, very few people are able to budget the money or the space necessary to really enjoy VR games. They’re not gone yet, by any means, but they’re not being pushed quite as heavily as they were a couple of years ago.
Open worlds continue to open up
The open-world bug has continued to bite franchise after franchise over the past few years, including God of War, the Legend of Zelda, and even Monster Hunter (to a much lesser degree.) It seems like more and more brand new franchises are being built with the open world at the heart of the gameplay loop, as well, with Horizon Zero Dawn getting a sequel that looks just as horizon-expanding (forgive the pun) as the original game as, if not more so. However, open worlds are being designed more around fostering experiences that feel truly organic, like happening across the strangers of Red Dead Redemption 2, or the way that Breath of the Wild laid out enemies and terrain-like puzzles for players to play around with and find their own solutions. We’re looking forward to open worlds not only getting wider, but deeper, too.
The Freemium model explodes
It’s not anything new that there are free-to-play games on the market. Fortnite has already helped that side of gaming grow to titanic proportions. However, we’re likely to see even more hop into the game as not only are there multiplayer-driven experiences that have hugely benefited from it, but single-player adventures and stories, as well. We’re talking about, of course, one of the top 8 games from 2020: Genshin Impact. It took the basics of gacha gaming that are already well established in the mobile gaming scene and gave them a coat of paint and personality that made it reach all new heights of popularity in 2020 and, as a result, it’s fair to say we can expect some copycats in 2021.
Mobile games continue to push forward
A lot of “core” gamers who have grown playing consoles or PC might scoff at the idea, but mobile gaming has steadily been growing more profitable and, as a result, a lot more influential. Where do you think all those microtransactions and the freemium model came from in the first place? Mobile gaming is the most accessible platform on the market and newer phones are able to offer more and more sophisticated 3D gaming experiences as the technology improves, so it would be a foolish move to expect that we’ve seen the last of mobile gaming’s influences on the wider gaming world.
More online events
This isn’t quite about the trends affecting the games themselves but, rather, the way that we gaming fans get our news and announcements. The industry has become reliant on a hype train that speeds from event to event, with E3 being considered the “Christmas of gaming” for many years. However, even as E3 was already starting to fall a little out of favor, it was dealt a major blow by the pandemic. As restrictions continue, we’re likely to see that events remain online only for at least another year, but that was already a trend well in progress before the pandemic, with things like the Summer Game Fest having been an online experience from conception.
The slow roll of the next generation
Many of those reading this may already have their new Xbox Series S/X or their PlayStation 5 and might already be enjoying playing games faster and at higher fidelities than ever before. However, there’s no denying that new generations can take a few years of pick up steam and this is only further exacerbated this year by a console shortage that has seen availability at an all-time low, largely in part due to a shortage of chips across the globe. As such, we might see an even slower start to the new generation than usual. Don’t forget the strain of the pandemic that’s likely to push several of the currently announced games back a step, too.
The battle of acquisitions
Exclusivity has always been a big deal, especially at the start of the lifespan of a new console. However, this year things are heating up in fantastic fashion, largely thanks to the moves of a single company: Microsoft. Microsoft’s recent acquisitions have included some truly brow-raising choices, including Tango, Ninja Theory, and the mammoth announcement that Bethesda would become an Xbox Game Studio (with heavy implications of exclusivity to Microsoft platforms in the future.) Meanwhile, things at Sony look to be shaking up in a different way, with a lot of company veterans leaving the company at the end of 2020 and the start of 2021.
A culture of accountability
Perhaps one of the most surprising changes over the past couple of years has been the major public relations changes between video game publishers and their fans. It has been a few years of fans being disappointed, whether it’s the major allegations of workplace impropriety at Ubisoft that have seen the company being so majorly the restructured, the loss of status as “industry darlings” that CD Projekt Red used to have amongst fans and media figureheads alike, and the blunderous moves that Blizzard has made lately. These disappointments do hurt, of course, and video game fans don’t like to not trust and appreciate the people making the games that we play, but as a result, we’ve seen a much more scrutinous eye on the industry, which is only good for making sure we’re getting the kinds of products we deserve when we spend our hard-earned money on them.
The battle against toxicity
Love it or hate it, there is a bit of a culture war going on that has extended to video games. Since the popularization of online gaming that largely blossomed thanks to the original X-Box, toxicity and trolling has been accepted as a part of the norm and, from there, pervaded the rest of the community, including online discussions. However, platform holders and publishers are starting to push back with the support of an increasing majority of fans who have been sick of the “wild west” that gaming has represented for a long time.
Whatever the trends may seem like, we’re sure to be enjoying some great games for 2021 as we dive into the first full year of a new generation. What games are you looking forward to, this year?