2020 has been a bumper year for the gaming industry. It has enjoyed growing demand for titles, with games like Call of Duty: Mobile breaking records for the number of downloads. This is off the back of strong growth throughout the late 2010s as more and more people have begun playing video games.
Mobile and casual games enjoyed growth of around 20% thanks to their appeal to a wider demographic than traditional titles.
The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X have also been a massive hit this autumn with them both becoming some of the most wanted Christmas presents. However, they’ve left many gamers disappointed as they’ve been unable to get their hands on one of these new machines.
But as we put 2020 behind us, what can gamers expect from 2021?
Consoles In and Consoles Out
In the final few days before Christmas, we saw a scandal in the console gaming world. The widely anticipated and much talked about Cyberpunk 2077 went on sale for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, mostly without a hitch.
However, its Xbox One and PS4 versions attracted a great deal of criticism. The graphics are abysmal. Gamers have taken to social media to upload videos and screenshots that show people without faces, texture issues, and painfully slow frame-rates.
Despite other bugs with NPC AI and some crashes, the PC version of the game looks great, taking advantage of volumetric lighting and ray tracing. The 9th generation consoles (PS5 and Xbox Series) also run the game well.
However, the previous generation PS4 and Xbox One struggle terribly with the game. Its publisher CD Projekt Red has been accused of covering up these problems and has been offering refunds to customers. Sony has even pulled the game from its PlayStation store due to the issues.
While there are some clear problems with the development of the game, it does hint at what we’re likely to see in 2021. Although publishers may want to release games on both old and new consoles, the reality is that the hardware of the 8th generation isn’t capable of handling the content that is in development right now.
Therefore, gamers who do not yet own a PS5 or Xbox Series X or S will likely need to upgrade in the New Year.
Mobile Gaming to Keep Growing
The biggest winner of 2020 and the last few years has been mobile gaming. While consoles typically attract most of the headlines when talking about games, mobile titles attract a much larger number of players.
This is due to the fact that far more people own smartphones and tablets and because these devices are much more convenient. The portability of these devices means that games can be played at home, in the garden, in the park, on the train, or anywhere else.
According to some research, more than 80% of those over 55 have played at least one mobile game. This is significantly more than those that had played a game on a console or a PC.
Most mobile games are categorized as “casual”, meaning that they can be played for short bursts without having to make a big commitment of time. They’re more often than not “free-to-play”, meaning that there is no upfront cost to download them and that they can be played without spending money.
For example, the Codemasters F1 2020 game for PC and console costs around $50 to buy. It is a simulation game, requiring players to spend time setting up their car, practicing, and qualifying around each circuit before they can race. In contrast, the company’s F1 Mobile Racing game is free-to-play, has races that last a single lap, and contains in-app purchases for additional car upgrades.
Casual titles aren’t exclusive to mobile platforms though. Many can be played on computers through Facebook and platforms like Steam. For example, the casual puzzle game Mini Metro can be installed on PCs as well as Android and iOS. Similarly, the free-to-play PokerStars platform is available to use through the company’s own software, as well as through apps for mobile devices.
The fastest-growing sub-category of casual games is known as “hyper-casual”. These are typically infinitely playable and can be enjoyed for just a couple of minutes at a time. Popular hyper-casual games include Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and Temple Run. In early 2020, while demand for casual games increased by 17%, hyper-casual games saw their downloads increase by 30%.
End of Flash Games
In the 2000s, browser games were all programmed in Macromedia (and then Adobe) Flash. The software added dynamic features and animations to websites in a time before HTML5. Sites like Miniclip built a huge following with Flash games like Bush Shoot-Out, Hexagon, and Free Running.
Flash began to fall out of favor in the 2010s though as Apple refused to support it on its iPhones, iPods, and iPads, citing security and stability issues.
For much of the last decade, browser-based games have instead been created with HTML5, but some older games continue to use Flash.
At the end of December 2020, support for Flash will be removed, meaning these older games will no longer run in browsers like Chrome. There are some projects that are trying to preserve Flash to make access to older applications and games possible, but these will likely remain niche.
Microtransactions are a big part of free-to-play games as they’re the main way that publishers can profit from them. Instead of charging you for the game, they give you the option to pay for character upgrades or to speed up wait-times for your lives to refresh.
However, in the last couple of years, we’ve seen microtransactions make their way into larger games. Most sports games from EA and 2K, such as FIFA, Madden, and NBA 2K contain microtransactions that let players get more skills or customize their teams.
Games like Red Dead Online and GTA Online are also providing that gamers are willing to hand over cash after they’ve already bought the title. Take-Two Interactive, the company that publishes both of these games now makes more than 50% of its revenue from in-game purchases.
With so many gamers willing to keep paying and publishers making so much from them, we’re likely to see more microtransactions throughout 2021.