As we wave goodbye to 2014, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on what the last twelve months have brought to the world of games development.
We asked various developers what they thought the defining trends of the last year have been and the response was incredibly varied – always a sign of an eventful year for as fast-moving an industry as ours.
As has been the case for the last few years, independent developers played a big part in 2014. Sony’s indie champion Shahid Ahmad said this was epitomised with the appearance of No Man’s Sky at PlayStation’s E3 press conference.
“The game generated stupendous coverage for all the right reasons and received well-deserved and wide spread acclaim,” he said. “Sean Murray's appearance on stage, followed by Mike Bithell's appearance at GamesCom, signalled a trend of independent developers beginning to make a nonsense of old conventions about what they could and couldn't make, blurring boundaries and inspiring a generation of developers.”
Maramlade Technologies’ Harvey Elliott added: “We’ve seen the unhalting rise of independent studios as some of the best contributors to the industry, and the staggering continued growth of the mobile market that means that anyone could find an opportunity to succeed.”
Frontier Developments boss David Braben believes the defining moment for the indie scene was “the end of the indie journey for Minecraft when it was bought by Microsoft”.
Modern Dream’s Helana Santos says the continued rise of the indies has been aided by the spread of new co-working spaces which are “shaking up the way games are being made”.
She added: “I think this trend will continue into 2015 and gather momentum as more councils and corporations recognise the benefits of having smart spaces for smart people to work from and want to support the movement.”
TRENDS IN TRIPLE-A
That’s not to say the important of triple-A and blockbuster retail games has diminished at all. Device 6 developer Simon Flesser praised “the return to form of Japanese triple-A gaming, with games such as The Evil Within, Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros”.
Meanwhile, Three Fields Entertainment co-founder Alex Ward highlighted the runaway success of the PlayStation 4.
“Sony is back on top,” he said. “It's been a while – just in time for their 20th anniversary.”
David Helgason, co-founder of Unity Technologies, focused more on the mobile market: “Seeing games like Monument Valley, Threes and The Room Two be incredibly successful on mobile is really exciting to me. I believe that many different ways of charging for games makes for a better industry, and that's what seems to be working.”
However, Republique dev Ryan Payton took a less optimistic stance on shifts in mobile.
“2014 is the year that many developers lost faith in mobile,” he said. “Despite solid offerings like Monument Valley, The Silent Age Episode 2, and Sailor’s Dream, I think most of us lament the fact that clones and F2P – with really nasty monetisation schemes – are the name of the game on mobile, at least for the time being. While I’m not at all predicting the end of quality mobile games, 2014 was the year that developers took their games to marketplaces – such as consoles and Steam – where customers are still willing to pay for premium content. Let’s just hope it stays that way in 2015 and beyond.”
Eutechnyx’s Samantha Wilcox agrees that new shifts in consumer, and indeed industry, spending have changed the way games are sold and marketed.
“I think this year as an industry we can be seen to have come ‘full circle’ in terms of revenues and costs,” she says. “There are still the triple-A £60+ titles but the wider trend has been on the lower costs of obtaining titles.
“Membership schemes, steam sales and free-to-play launches have all driven down costs for customers and opened up the amount of choice available for the average gamer. It means publishers have to work harder than ever to keep the loyalty of their customers while pursuing revenue streams.”
THE FUTURE IS NEAR
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the continuing evolution of virtual reality, a technology that came into its own in 2014, according to nDreams’ Patrick O’Luanaigh.
He said: “2014 is the year that Sony announced the Morpheus, that Facebook bought Oculus for $2bn and that Samsung revealed and launched – in the US, anyway – the Gear VR. 2014 saw VR move from 'this is cool tech', to 'this is really going to happen commercially'.”
Radiant Worlds’ Andrew Oliver doesn’t believe 2014 can be defined by any single trend: “Free-to-play – or is it ‘Get’? – continues to be incredibly strong and it’s creating some very rich developers. Disney Infinity and Nintendo’ Amiibo have shown that maybe the way kids want to buy game content is via toys, and Angry Birds and Minecraft have shown it’s not just Disney and Nintendo that can sell toys and merchandise of strong gaming IPs.
“Or is it VR? Whilst not quite here yet, this year’s Facebook purchase and seeing the demos that are emerging certainly show that it’s definitely going to happen and be very interesting and huge for a certain demographic.”
Thatgamecompany’s studio manager Sunni Pavlovic points to the rise in prominence of the YouTube gamer and “their unrivaled ability to engage a captive gaming audience”.
“This disruption to traditional marketing is ultimately a boon for the developer-publisher hybrids like ourselves,” said Pavlovic. “Instead of diverting significant development dollars towards marketing, we’re spending more time creating a quality play experience that also takes stream-friendliness into account.”
Finally Team17 MD Debbie Bestwick says there has been a notable shift in consumers’ tastes and the games that resonate well with them.
“Some of the most successful games of this year have been those that allow the player some freedom in the choices they make and the way they play the game – whether it’s a space simulation or a survival horror. Good open-world and sandbox games that allow players freedom to form their own unique experiences have been at the forefront of what has been most successful this year.”
With 2015 just hours away, it will be interesting to see how these trends continue over the next twelve months, and how games development will change by this time next year.
Happy New Year, everyone.