Here’s our take on the big events in the games industry this year.
Big themes in 2016 included the fallout of Brexit (or lack of), the rise of eSports as a commercial force to be reckoned with, the tarnishing of a few reputations on YouTube, and much, much more. Hope you had a great 2016 and best of luck with the rest of Christmas shopping season and the sales. See you in 2017.
ACTI-BLIZ-KING and U-VI-SOFT
This was the biggest acquisition of the year. Activision Blizzard got sweet on King in late 2015 before closing the deal for $5.9bn in February. As a result Activision Blizzard now operates the ‘world’s largest game network’ which reaches around 500m users in 196 countries.
In other who-owns-who-news, Vivendi (once owner of Activision Blizzard) muscled its way back into the games market by taking a controlling share in mobile developer Gameloft, owned by Michel Guillemot, in June. The company also increased the size of its stake in Yves Guillemot’s Ubisoft, a move that in September prompted the CEO to increase the size of his share as a defensive move against a possible hostile takeover.
With its reliance on imported hardware and foreign talent, the UK games industry was arguably dealt a blow by the vote to leave the EU in June. Although the issue was so vehemently polarised that we’re sure someone will have found a silver lining somewhere.
Increased prices of consumer goods could start hitting consumers early next year, once stock ordered earlier in the year runs dry. Even if the games industry isn’t affected directly, rising prices of other goods could squeeze consumer spending elsewhere. The industry might be further hurt due to immigration restrictions making it harder for UK firms to recruit top talent.
It’s not been an instant disaster, though. The economy has been resilient to date and it’s all business as normal for now. We await a coherent plan from the government, which argues it can’t tell anyone anything as that would weaken its bargaining position.
With the ever-growing importance of YouTube influencers as marketing tools, 2016 was the year when authenticity and profit collided. Numerous influencers were accused of not making paid-for content clear enough to viewers.
Top dog PewDiePie was inevitably dragged into the furore via a video from 2014 for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which was marked as sponsored content, but only in text and that was tucked away in the description tab. Warner Bros was charged by the FTC in the US in July, reaching a settlement that put strict regulations on its activity in this area.
EA reacted by announcing a strict policy and logos to be used onscreen for both ‘supported’ and ‘advertisement’ content. Others have also published rules in order to clarify their usage of influencers.
Other issues sprang up around popular shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It emerged that influential YouTuber TmarTn was the owner of a CS:GO skins gambling site, which he had promoted on his channel without any declaration of interest.
CS:GO skins gambling in general came in for criticism from the US authorities, with legal action taken against what some states saw as illegal gambling by proxy.
eSports on the up
While we seem to say this every year, eSports really has exploded into the mainstream in 2016.
Gillette ran a tournament with Gfinity, Bud Light partnered with a number of players and even Domino’s got involved with the eSports Industry Awards. Sports clubs also invested millions, with West Ham, Manchester City and PSG all creating eSports divisions, while the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers went one step further and outright purchased two of the biggest eSports organisations in the world.
Arguably the biggest factor in eSports’ mainstream explosion in 2016 was ELEAGUE. The CS:GO competition created was aired weekly on US TV network TBS and managed to bring in sponsors such as Snickers and Arbys.
Of course, there were many other factors, from publishers such as Activision finally embracing eSports properly with the CoD World League to the ever growing prize pools and more traditional publications venturing into the world of eSports journalism.
Future buys Imagine
The consumer games magazine market lost one of its remaining players, as the UK’s two largest video game magazine rivals became one. In June, Future agreed terms to acquire Imagine Publishing parent Miura for 14.2m. Imagine’s portfolio included GamesTM, Retro Gamer, Nowgamer.com, X-One and Play. The deal went through in October.
Everyone goes retro
Retro-gaming is hardly a new phenomenon but 2016 was a big year for a bit of nostalgia.
At retail that manifested itself as the rush to buy up the new Nintendo Classic Mini: NES which launched in November and promptly sold out. It was in such demand that eBay even incentivised purchasers to resell their devices online with a guaranteed minimum price. The only question is when is the inevitable Mini SNES coming?
Back in September retro video games hit our TV screens with Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit, a TV panel show on Dave in which the usual crowd of familiar panel faces play games against each other, helped out by the eponymous comedian and journalist Ellie Gibson. Here’s hoping it gets another season.