As 2020 is finally drawing to a close, it’s time for us to turn the spotlight onto next year. In terms of trends, 2021 is shaping up to be a hugely positive year for the games market, which will start to return to normalcy after an exceptional growth period.
In the coming weeks, we’ll publish similar articles about the mobile and esports markets, but for now, let’s dive deep into the biggest games trends of next year.
1. Engagement and Revenues Will Continue to Flourish (Even After the Pandemic Ends)
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly accelerated many trends in the games market, helping engagement spike across the globe. Of course, this engagement trickles into spending.
Even after the pandemic subsides, which we hope will be sooner rather than later, we forecast most of the additional engagement and revenues to stick. Gaming has etched itself in the habits of people during the lockdown, and the investments made to enjoy gaming will not be easily cast aside. However, the level of growth maintained throughout 2020 will not be replicated next year, given the unique circumstances during the year.
Per platform, PC and console gaming has a higher barrier to entry but therefore more sticking power. Mobile gaming saw the largest positive impact of the lockdowns, but the low barrier to entry to mobile gaming means the lowest barrier to exit as well. Retaining the influx of new and returning players in 2021 will be one of the key challenges for developers and publishers.
Our Global Games Market Report shows that in 2021, 2.8 billion gamers worldwide will help the global games market generate revenues of $189.3 billion. Emerging markets will drive much of these new revenues, as infrastructure and economies continue to grow across regions like Southeast Asia and Middle East & Northern Africa.
2. It Will Take Time for Next-Gen Console Supply to Catch up to Demand
Manufacturing, marketing, and launching new consoles is never an easy feat. But orchestrating these tasks during a pandemic—when supply chains are heavily disrupted—made things even more challenging for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S launches.
On the hardware side, the aftermath of these challenges will ripple into the beginning of 2021 and beyond, and it will take time for the supply of next-generation consoles to satiate the skyrocketing demand.
Software development will also continue to feel the impact of lockdowns. Many of the games that were delayed in 2020 were in post-production (meaning the lion’s share of the dev work was already done). Next year, we’ll likely see even more delays for AAA games that were earlier in development at the start of the outbreak.
On the upside, games like PlayStation’s Horizon Forbidden West, many third-party games, and almost all Xbox first-party games will be available on both generations (past and present). Therefore, console spend will remain high in 2021, mostly driven by:
- The massive installed base of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One generation.
- The ongoing transition to F2P spending on console
- The strong performance of the Switch.
3. The Cloud Gaming Market, Having Proven its Value in 2020, Will Grow Its Audience in 2021
This year marked a key inflection point for the cloud gaming market, with most of the major players (including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Tencent) having launched their respective services. Furthermore, stay-at-home orders sped up the adoption of cloud gaming globally, with consumers finding themselves with more time to invest in gaming.
In the West, workarounds to App Store challenges mean cloud gaming apps are finally making their way to iOS (via a web app) and other platforms. Stadia already has an iOS Safari-based app that reportedly works well. Meanwhile, xCloud’s app is due for release on PC and iOS in the spring, and Xbox Boss Phil Spencer has already hinted at smart-TV compatibility.
To that end, yearly cloud gaming revenues will exceed $1 billion for the first time next year, and its serviceable obtainable market (SOM) will spike. Want to learn more? Stay tuned for our Global Cloud Gaming Report update and content next year!
Cloud gaming’s use cases—which we highlighted in our 2020 report—are now becoming more visible. Game developers have been using services like Stadia and Parsec for QA (Cyberpunk 2077), demoing games to the public (Immortals Fenyx Rising via Stadia), and more. This trend will accelerate into 2021.
Next to that, Cyberpunk 2077’s launch has underlined one of cloud gaming’s biggest use cases: high-fidelity experiences without the need for expensive hardware. The Stadia version of the game features hardware-taxing features like ray tracing and DLSS—all while removing the barrier of expensive hardware.
Cyberpunk 2077’s reviews on previous-gen consoles were negatively impacted by a worse-than-expected technical performance, Therefore, cloud gaming services such as Stadia and GeForce Now stood out as one of the best ways for gamers to instantly experience optimized graphics.
4. The Rise of Gaming-as-a-Platform And Metaverse Development Will Expand the Addressable Market for Publishers
Virtual and social spaces have been a growing trend in gaming for over a decade now. However, owing to the lack of physical gatherings this year, the use of games as a “metaverse” has accelerated. The interest in using games as a platform for hosting simulated activities will be one of the most impactful trends for the coming years.
Game worlds can now closely simulate experiences such as fashion shows, music performances, movie viewings, and more. Notable examples include:
- Lil Nas X’s performance in Roblox.
- Travis Scott’s and other music performances in Fortnite.
- Marriages, graduation ceremonies, and even funerals taking place in Animal Crossing.
- Countless brand, media, and content crossovers in these shared spaces.
Despite taking place within games, these fundamentally non-gaming experiences have the potential to draw in non-gamers into the games space, growing the userbase for publishers.
The value of such collaborations is beginning to show itself—for publishers, artists, and brands alike. Travis Scott, for example, reportedly grossed roughly $20 million for his Fortnite concert appearance.
So far, over 140 million people watched the Travis Scott concert on YouTube, compared to approximately 12 million who participated in-game, demonstrating both the growth potential and demand for such content.
Even beyond the pandemic, we will likely see brands across numerous sectors experimenting in the space. These digital events will complement their real-world counterparts (and vice-versa).
Video games are ripe with engagement—especially with younger audiences, so we expect to see this trend continue, particularly as traditional ad spend is in flux.
5. Gaming Will Energize Efforts Towards Reducing Toxicity and Promoting Diversity and Inclusion
Games such as The Last of Us Part 2, Apex Legends, and Tell Me Why are prime examples of diversity in games, and more titles than ever before now feature accessibility options, boosted by releases like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and organizations like AbleGamers and SpecialEffect.
Online platforms and ecosystems are also striving to make their social hubs more wholesome and less toxic. To that end, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo recently announced a collaboration committed to safer and more responsible gaming and kerbing toxicity.
Another example from this year came from Riot Games, which formally invested in tackling toxicity in 2020 release Valorant, after its own developers reported incidents of harassment. Companies’ efforts over the past few years are certainly to be commended, but we still have a long way to go.
This year also saw the games industry face a “me-too” wave of allegations of abuse and sexual harassment. In combination with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the attention on social issues will drive the industry to prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts in 2021.
Our recent Diversity & Inclusion Study, which is already helping many top publishers identify opportunities to make games more inclusive, shows that around half of players in the U.S. and the U.K want more diverse characters in games. Many also want publishers to take a stance on societal issues.
With game communities continuing to grow around new forms of engagement, the responsibilities of game IP owners have become even more complicated, leading many companies to create internal positions and even teams dedicated to diversity and inclusion.
We will begin feeling the impact of these initiatives more next year, and we’re excited to see the resulting game experiences for ourselves next year.
One thing is for sure: the next few years are due to disrupt the market as we know it, thanks to the release of the next-generation consoles, cloud gaming bringing about new business models, and games—from AAA big-budget to hypercasual experiences—experimenting with social features.
This article has been written by Amsterdam-based Games Market Insight firm Newzoo, detailing the gaming trends that will shape the year to come.