Ten trends to look out for…

1. Developers will become service providers

The rise of MMOs, the popularity of downloadable extras, the longer shelf-life of games open to user-generated content, and the need to monetize pre-owned game sales will all change games companies’ relationship with their audience. The days of the fire-and-forget triple-A titles are numbered, as developers become service providers, maintaining and enhancing their key titles for several years.

2. High Street retailers will become entertainers

Digital distribution is a reality, albeit one that arrived less with a bang and more with a Sorry I’m late, have I missed the main course?” The High Street has long confounded its obituarists, but surely simply sticking games on shelves for six weeks won’t beat online retailers like Amazon, let alone pure digital distribution?

3. Smart money is on Intellectual Property

With its upcoming Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge titles, and their associated comics and movie spin-offs, EA is betting on 360-degree, internally generated IP against the older model of buying-in movie licences. Economies of scale, the proliferation of platforms, and sheer creative potential means IP ownership and development will become central in games, just as in other creative industries.

4. By gamers, for gamers

If LittleBigPlanet and Spore offer any clues, the future won’t be procedural content (graphics and gameplay created on-the-fly by the game, rather than by a designer) or user-generated content, but some combination of the two. Not every game, of course – and artists will always be needed to put toys in the initial sandbox.

5. Mini-publishers proliferate

The big publishers are getting bigger, but the smaller ones are getting more interesting. There are boutique MMOs already making a reasonable income, and plenty of scope for more ‘indie label’ games publishers to nurture their own projects before turning to the giants for distribution.

6. Integrating the social Web

In ten years, we’ve gone from being a phone call apart to a click away. Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and hundreds of other internet services are knitting together our lives. Games won’t be left out of the loop.

7. More ways to make money

Advertising, microtransactions, product placement, pay-to-play, subscriptions – all pioneered in the casual, mobile and MMO spaces. It seems inevitable traditional games publishers will explore these new revenue streams. Think diversity, rather than domination.

8. Emerging markets

Sony is targeting Brazil, Russia, India and China, with the aim of doubling annual sales there to 2 trillion by March 2011. While demographics will continue to broaden in the established markets, the hardcore has probably peaked. For new buyers of expensive consoles and half-a-dozen full-priced games a year, the games industry must look further afield.

9. Cable TV meets games

One way games revenues can continue to grow in the West is to decouple the desire to play games from the decision to become a ‘gamer’. It’s time for bundled, bolt-on games services, similar to cable TV, running on multi-function media boxes or home servers.

10. Games and society: new debates, old scores

Many critics of games are fundamentalists – the crude graphics of Mortal Kombat (or even Space Invaders) inspired as much hand-wringing as Grand Theft Auto IV. But the BBFC’s rejection of Manhunt 2 clearly cited its realistic graphics and setting. Debates about age rating stickers are skirmishes compared to the soul-searching that lies ahead about what’s acceptable for anyone to play.

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