2021 has brought with it some pretty major shifts in game development, spurring new trends as player’s lives continue to adapt to the ongoing global pandemic. Capitalizing on these trends can help developers expand their player base, increase player attraction, and improve player retention.
With many gamers stuck at home, structured online social events have taken center stage. Live events for major games can include millions of players and can take many forms, including:
By organizing structured social events, game developers can improve player engagement by encouraging certain behaviors and improve player retention by offering rewards for attendance. Games can also use events to offer players access to exclusive content or experiences that aren’t available during regular gameplay. A regular calendar of events encourages players to return frequently, further driving engagement.
In-app purchases (IAPs) have become a crucial source of recurring revenue, allowing developers to maximize their income. Before IAPs, games were sold at a fixed price, where a player paid a set amount of money for the entire game experience. This created a firm cap on the amount of revenue each player could generate, limiting profits. Offering IAPs removes this cap, allowing developers to generate revenue from existing players using a single game instead of depending on upfront, one-time game purchases. Single-use items that improve gameplay only need to be developed once but can be sold to players repeatedly.
According to Unity, 79% of strategy games, 88% of role-playing games, and 77% of adventure, and 71% of casual games monetize via IAPs, and this trend is set to continue. The Beamable team predicts that as much as 95% of game revenue will be generated via the purchase of virtual items in the near future.
While these trends towards events and more complex economies emerged well before COVID-19, the pandemic has come to define and supercharge these dynamics, accelerating the mainstream adoption timeline by several years. The basic need to connect with others, paired with a pandemic that requires us to severely curtail or even abandon in-person socialization, was a major driving force towards mainstream adoption as consumer players sought out social outlets that filled this recently developed void. Games, and live events, in particular, have evolved rapidly to fill the social niche previously occupied by in-person activities.
Current trends suggest the popularity of these trends will continue, though the pace is likely to slow once in-person social interactions become safe again. By capitalizing on this trend now, developers help gamers develop habits of enjoyment that will continue once COVID-19 has subsided, making games with highly monetizable structured events a permanent part of our lives.
There are a number of complex and interrelated factors driving these trends.
Mobile device games have made gaming more accessible than ever before, allowing developers to reach larger audiences than ever before, and are now able to attract users who don’t typically think of themselves as “gamers” in the traditional sense. Starting with simple games with shallow learning curves, these players can easily pick up the mechanics of play, and many were trained to play games via the use of early free-to-play games.
Free to play games have evolved into games that remain free to play but now include IAPs, which may offer a competitive edge, increase character personalization, or allow players to access exclusive content or items that cannot be unlocked via free-play mode or would require more time to unlock than the average player is willing to wait.
As mobile games matured and became more complex, game players have evolved as well. Modern mobile device games are now capable of supporting coordinated actions and can rely on player-generated content, which allows a player’s previous actions to determine what happens next, much like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
The development of IAPs revolutionized how developers earn money from the games they develop, creating the most scalable long-term business model for games by effectively monetizing existing players and removing per-player revenue caps.
When leveraged effectively, live events such as competitions or concerts can also drive revenue by monetizing user emotion and encouraging players to invest in IAPs to gain a leg up on the competition or achieve individual goals.
Free-to-play games that offer IAPs are the most democratized game style, effectively minimizing barriers to play and maximizing mass-market availability. Users can test out the game without needing to commit to an up-front purchase, while ongoing player investments in the game allow developers to monetize their hard work effectively.
Technological advancements in the gaming industry mean that developers now have the tools they need to:
Many of these tools are low code or now code, making it easy for anyone interested in game design to get started. These tools also mean that game developers do not require large, expensive to support teams to develop complex games.
Among Us, developed by InnerSloth, was one of the most successful games of 2020, and currently hosts hundreds of millions of players and was developed by four people. This game boasts an incredibly creative game experience and demonstrates that while graphics remain important, detailed professional-quality art is not essential for creating an enjoyable gameplay experience.
By removing the burden posed by underlying game operations, developers can shift their attention and focus on creating increasingly compelling game storylines, content, and events, which will delight players and encourage them to stick around.
To help our game developers succeed, the team at Beamable has developed a tried-and-true three-part strategy designed to enable game makers to scale with ease, create structured social events and manage complex economies, all while maximizing revenue.