Every year, right around GDC, I see a number of articles titled, “The future of the Games Industry is…” “…fill in the blank.” These usually come with big sweeping predictions, like… “GameStop will be dead by 2017”, or… “We’ll be playing all of our games on VR headsets…” “…while suspended from wires in a human Hamster ball to give us the illusion of lifelike motion.” “Gray is the new brown,” and so on. Lots of grand, far-reaching claims that are more possibilities than certainties. So instead, I’d like to make a handful of smaller predictions today. These aren’t huge trends that are going to radically change the way you play games.
They’re not as sweeping as the mobile revolution, or even the growth of eSports. Rather, they’re subtle shifts in the way we think about making or selling games that will quietly, but indelibly change the way we create and experience them. PREDICTION # 1: More games coming from Asia. As the Japanese market struggles to realign itself and search for new customers… As the Korean games industry continues to grow in the competitive and online world… As the Chinese industry moves to console and continues to increase production costs… The amount of games from these countries that end up translated and in western markets will continue to grow. Specifically, experiments like Xenoblade Chronicles and the re-release of Suikoden 2 on PSN… …have shown Japanese game developers that there’s a market for these games in the West.
And the AAA game industry in Japan is currently in crisis mode as game budgets begin to eclipse what the domestic market can bear. This upheaval is starting to force companies to take a gamble and over the next few years… One of the clear gambles we’re gonna see the Japanese market take is an attempt to maximize revenue in the West. Korea, on the other hand, has been a growing force in the game industry for a decade now. But as western players become more comfortable with microtransactions – a monetization method Korea pioneered, by the way… And as the United States and Europe develop the infrastructure to really support high-level competitive gaming… We’re gonna see more Korean games enter the US and EU marketplaces.
The Chinese game industry is actually quite large already, but until now, it’s been primarily focused on the mobile space and MMOs. With the end of the console ban in China and the success some Chinese companies like Tencent already had in the US… We’re gonna see Chinese companies not only try to acquire western developers… But also try to launch larger Chinese games outside of the local market. Keep an eye out. PREDICTION NUMBER #2: More satisfying short play sessions in AAA games.
I don’t mean that our 80-hour RPGs are going anywhere. Just that developers are starting to focus more on making sure the player gets something satisfying out of 30-minute chunks of gameplay. Rather than having to sit down for two hours at least to get through a dungeon or resolve the next plot point. The AAA game industry has actually learned a great deal from the mobile space over the last few years… And one of the positive things we’ve adopted is the tendency to start thinking about session length. As the audience for AAA games gets older… And as even our younger players have more and more options available to them for what to do with their time…
Designers can no longer get away with expecting the player to play for a minimum of an hour or two hours in one sitting. And don’t worry: this doesn’t mean that those games we love playing for hours on end are going away either. I’m just saying that in the future, you can probably expect to be able to get a more satisfying experience out of your game in just a half an hour session.
Shadow of Mordor is actually a good example of this. You can totally binge on it for hours… But there’s always something rewarding to do, even if you’ve only got thirty minutes. PREDICTION #3: The death of the in-house engine.
There’s long been a debate within the AAA industry as to whether the flexibility and the power of a custom built engine… …outweighs the cost savings and production streamlining of just licensing an existing engine from somebody else. What the correct answer was generally came down to the needs of the particular game. But it looks like we might have finally crossed a threshold where the vast majority of the time, even for AAA games…
Licensing an engine is the better choice. The power of today’s engines is just unbelievable. What engines like Unreal and Unity provide out-of-the-box is almost mine-shattering to anybody who started development in the PS2 era. But it’s not actually an advance in engine power that’s really changing things. It’s advances in usability, coupled with how ubiquitous these engines have become. Because these engines have become easier to use and simultaneously, more people have gotten experience using them… Building your game in one of these pre-made engines not only saves you the cost of developing an engine… …but also the cost of training, new hires and how to use it.
Now you can get everything and everyone up and running way faster. Not as much knowledge is lost when people decide to change jobs. And teams can work together more efficiently than ever as more people have a solid understanding of the pipeline. What does this mean for consumers? Well, not a whole lot, really.
This one’s more of an industry-facing change. At most, you can expect to notice each of these engines individual quirks a bit more frequently. Today’s engines have become flexible enough that it shouldn’t affect what types of games get created or what ideas get released.
But it might constrain design in some small, small ways. PREDICTION #4: More spin-offs using existing assets. Assets, or stuff like 3D models, and textures, animations, sound, just all the stuff… …have become a larger and larger percentage of game budgets, in both the AAA space and in the mobile and tablet worlds. And the companies have started to look for ways to offset these costs. One of the ways we’re gonna see more often in the near future is the creation of spin-off and ancillary games… …that use previously created assets, originally developed for tent-pole AAA titles. Say you just built a 50 million dollar Assassin’s Creed game.
Why not reuse some of those assets to build another smaller title? Perhaps a side story for the series, at a much lower cost? Still got a bunch of low poly assets from one of your last-gen entries in the series? How about using them to make an Assassin’s Creed tablet game?
Or what about audio files? There must be tons of great music and sound-effect in that series archive by now. I bet they’d sound great in that Assassin’s Creed mobile game you’re developing. Beyond this, we’re also gonna see more digital backlighting. Did your studio just build a huge open-world game? Why spend a ton of money remaking all those rocks and trees for your next title?
Why not just drop in the rocks and trees you’ve already got, especially if you’re working in the same engine? Buildings, weapons, furniture, all sorts of assets can be reused this way. And if your company happens to have three different first-person shooters in development at the same time… Heck, you might even be able to get away with sharing some of the generic enemies.