While 2021 was gaming’s biggest year yet, it’s time to turn our glance forward. And the future’s promising. Mergers and acquisitions, blockchain gaming, and the metaverse were in full swing last year. As you’ll discover, we think many of these trends will continue — and even accelerate — into 2022.
From play-to-earn to transmedia IP, what will be the biggest games trends in 2022? In this article, we’ll share our thoughts and look back on how we did on last year’s predictions.
1. Play-to-Earn Will Become a More Viable Business Model
The idea of gamers making money from playing games is nothing new. Historically, such monetization attempts from players have been against publishers’ terms of service. Companies were unwilling to moderate and regulate player-to-player trading, both financially and in terms of development.
However, things are changing. Hype around NFTs and success stories such as Axie Infinity mean many AAA publishers — and their shareholders — are striving to legitimize play-to-player trading.
Results so far have been mixed. As things stand, NFT games face many challenges:
- Valve has banned crypto- and NFT-based games on Steam, the biggest PC storefront, inhibiting NFT growth on PC (Epic has used this as an opportunity, but messaging remains mixed)
- South Korea has banned crypto-based games on Google Play and the iOS App Store, limiting growth in one of mobile’s highest-spending markets
- Players have been vocally against NFTs in games, as shown by the backlash to Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon NFT announcement and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 backtracking on NFTs due to player outrage
Despite these challenges and discontent among some players, the crypto scene is eager to get involved, many non-vocal gamers are likely unbothered by NFTs, and skin trading on Steam’s CS:GO marketplace remains popular.
What’s more, results from our Consumer Insights suggest a strong desire for players to trade their in-game cosmetics, highlighting an opportunity.
While not strictly necessary, publishers might use blockchain technology to facilitate more secure and legitimized player-to-player trading within a centralized game environment. However, issues may arise with customer support.
Still, game publishers are stuck between a rock and a hard place: many shareholders and investors want to see NFT strategies as they see it as “the next big thing”; however, gamers in the AAA space negatively react to the technology — at least, right now.
Therefore, we might see publishers appeasing both parties by adding NFT(-like) technology) under a less controversial name.
2. Metaverse Anticipation Will Drive Both Investment and VR Sales
While the metaverse future envisioned by Tim Sweeney and Mark Zuckerberg won’t be a reality for years to come, the seeds planted by these companies will begin to sprout in 2022.
Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, its new metaverse-first strategy, and the Meta Quest 2’s impressive 2021 sales are prime examples of commercial and consumer interest in VR spiking again.
Beyond that, some of the biggest brands in consumer tech have headsets on the horizon, including Sony’s PS VR 2, Apple’s VR headset, and Meta’s Cambria. These companies, especially the latter two, are leveraging their huge user bases to position themselves for Web 3.0.
While metaverse buzz will drive investment and consumer spending on VR this year, it will take time for companies to implement an integrated, virtually connected world. To that end, the metaverse gold rush will begin to hit critical mass in 2022.
Only a small group of first movers and innovators will come out on top, as is often the case.
3. Apple and Google Will Open Their Closed App Store Ecosystems (to Some Extent)
Last year, privacy changes like Apple’s ATT shook the mobile ecosystem and the games market within it. Mobile’s privacy changes will ripple into this year and beyond, with even Google and Apple themselves having to adapt to the fast-changing landscape.
We expect to see both Google and Apple opening up their ecosystems to some extent, due to fallout from last year’s Epic vs. Apple lawsuit. The judge enforced stricter rules on anti-steering policies, but the enforcement is currently on hold. App store anti-steering policies have historically stopped publishers from advertising alternate payment systems outside the platform holder’s ecosystem.
Despite the imminent new restrictions on anti-steering, Apple claims it is still entitled to collect revenues from third-party payments outside of its App Store. Meanwhile, Japan has also enforced restrictions on anti-steering. To abide by these rules, Apple will allow publishers to contact app users via email if users accepted such permissions in the app. Regulators are pressuring Apple and Google.
Simply put, these changes mean Google and Apple will have to open up their ecosystems to consumers and publishers alike — not entirely but to some extent. At the same time, consumer demand for services like cross-platform play, cloud gaming, and play-to-earn monetization puts even more pressure on the platform holders.
It is not in Apple and Google’s best interests to allow cloud gaming services on their stores, as these services may cannibalize game revenues from the app stores. After all, in-app purchases from games make up vast portions of app store revenues for both companies.
At the same time, developers and publishers — looking to maximize their revenues — will increasingly look for ways to bypass app store payments. We expect that pressure from these companies, regulators consumers will force Apple and Google’s hands to open their platforms in the coming years.
They will only begin to open their platforms in 2022, with the biggest changes happening in 2023 and beyond.
4. Game IP Value Spikes as Transmedia Becomes More Relevant
Hollywood previously struggled to adapt gaming IP into other media successfully. Just 10 years ago, it seemed video game adaptations were doomed to fail critically (and often commercially, too).
However, we’ve lately seen a slew of high-quality, commercially successful video adaptations. These movies, TV shows, and cross-game promotions have effectively portrayed stories, characters, and themes. To name a few:
- Netflix’s The Witcher season 2 (taking many cues from the game) and Arcane at the end of 2021 impressed fans and critics alike, And as we’ve covered before, adaptations of The Last of Us (HBO), Fallout (Amazon), Borderlands, and others are coming.
- League of Legends’ Jinx came to Fortnite and PUBG Mobile, which helped promote Netflix’s Arcane to these games’ fans
- Horizon’s Aloy came to Genshin Impact, Fortnite, and Fall Guys — showcasing a single-player game IP to fans of multiplayer live-service games
Embracer Group’s recent acquisition spree, which includes the IP-rich catalog of Dark Horse Comics, further underlines the value of solid IP across different media.
Dark Horse’s three business groups focus on comics publishing, film and TV production, and a retail concept for toys, comics, and related collectibles. Embracer’s interest comes from the 300+ IP owned by Dark Horse and the untapped crossover potential of adapting Dark Horse’s IP portfolio into gaming.
We will continue to see publishers putting more emphasis on building new game-related IP and crossing game IP into other media in 2022 and beyond.
5. Gamers Will Be Spoiled for Choice!
This year is on track to be gaming’s biggest yet, certainly in terms of spending but also in terms of content — across console, PC, and mobile alike. COVID-related delays have inadvertently led to one of the most crowded and exciting gaming release calendars in recent memory.
Starting in February with Horizon Forbidden West and Elden Ring to November with Bethesda’s Starfield and all the expected titles in-between, 2022 is full of fun for players of all kinds.
The roster includes new releases (God of War Ragnarok), remasters of older games (Life Is Strange Remastered Collection), ports(Apex Legends on mobile), and established franchises hitting new platforms (Diablo Immortal).
The release of the Steam Deck will introduce portability to PC gamers (and PC games to the handheld console audience), while increased PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X inventory will bring many players to a new generation of high-fidelity content.
At the same time, live operations will continue to innovate across the free-to-play and mobile spaces, keeping players engaged and spending money on their favorite pastime.
When we consider the ever-expanding list of titles available on Microsoft’s Game Pass (and its ever-increasing popularity), the release of PlayStation’s imminent answer to the service, and cloud gaming becoming more mainstream, the audience for gaming titles has never been so broad.
Was Newzoo Right about 2021’s Games Trends to Watch?
Let’s look at how we did on last year’s predictions. We’ll use a 1–3 scale: 3 means we got it right; 1 means we got it wrong.
1. Engagement and Revenues Will Continue to Flourish (Even After the Pandemic Ends)
While we were sadly too optimistic about the pandemic subsiding, games market revenues proved resilient, with both revenues and engagement increasing in 2021.
2. It Will Take Time for Next-Gen Console Supply to Catch up to Demand
We’re sad to say we were right about this one: demand for the new-generation consoles and PC GPUs still outweighs supply, owing to the semiconductor shortage and a higher-than-ever consumer appetite for games.
3. The Cloud Gaming Market, Having Proven its Value in 2020, Will Grow Its Audience in 2021
The cloud gaming market has seen significant developments and growth. Cloud gaming via Xbox Game Pass is now on Xbox consoles (as well as PC and mobile), NVIDIA GeForce Now has a 3080 tier, and 5G is rolling out fast across the world.
Cloud gaming is only getting started, though — as you’ll learn in our imminent Newzoo’s Cloud Gaming Trends to Watch in 2022 article.
4. The Rise of Gaming-as-a-Platform & Metaverse Development Will Expand the Addressable Market for Publishers
As mentioned in our 2022 trends above, we saw companies planting the seeds of metaverse activity last year, but we’ll waiting for them to bear fruit. Growth is coming and publishers will seize the opportunity.
5. Gaming Will Energize Efforts Towards Reducing Toxicity and Promoting Diversity and Inclusion
Publishers have continued to double down on accessibility options in games, especially Xbox. And efforts and communication around diversity and inclusion remain strong among publishers and players alike. We did not predict the explosive and potentially industry-changing effects of the harassment and unfair labor practice lawsuits surrounding Activision Blizzard and Riot Games in 2021. We at Newzoo support all those affected and hope to see even more diversity and inclusion across the industry this year.