The week of the Game Developers Conference (GDC) is done, and the conference set a new record with over 27,000 attendees. The event covered all aspects of the game industry, and the scope was large, with over 550 companies at the show, offering product and tech demonstrations, along with networking and recruitment opportunities.
“This year’s GDC, paired with the inaugural VRDC, allows us to look both backwards at the legacy and lessons of previous years, and forward to the future of games and VR experiences,” Meggan Scavio, general manager of the Game Developers Conference, said in a statement. “As technologies mature and tastes in games change, we’re happy have a place for all of our friends, colleagues and soon-to-be-friends to meet about, learn about and discuss the games and VR experiences that we love. Games are becoming the most popular form of entertainment in the modern world, so it’s only appropriate that GDC carry with it the same spirit of fun, adventure and discovery as the games themselves, just as it has since its beginning.”
It’s easy to see how VR was the dominant trend of the show. That’s certainly one thing that’s happening, but marketers should be aware of the important trends in the games industry that aren’t as obvious at GDC.
Globalization of game creation
Indies are everywhere, and it’s spreading. Indie game development used to be rare, and confined to a small number of people who had deep coding experience and money to buy game development tools. Now extensive sets of tools are free, the cross-platform capabilities of game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine are a major selling point, and indies are everywhere as a consequence. At the show, there were large booths for countries like Mexico, Scotland, Peru, Korea, Singapore, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, the U.K., and more.
Why so many booths for countries? Countries are now seeing the economic potential in game development. The contribution may not be a significant percentage in wealthy countries, but in someplace like Peru, this could be important. It’s a way to move from an extraction economy (common in many countries, the bulk of their trade comes from resources like oil or minerals) to a knowledge economy. Now, game development is happening around the globe because the tools are readily available and so is the marketplace. Mobile games are found in every country, and games made in a familiar culture and language are going to have a big advantage. For every Candy Crush Saga that has near-universal appeal, there are dozens of locally-created games that have strong appeal in the country of origin.
This globalization of game creation has several important implications. First, it’s contributing to the array of games on the market, which means an ever-growing importance for marketing efforts. Second, it means a vast amount of creativity in games, with new ideas bubbling up everywhere. One of them may be the next Minecraft, which is something for marketers and game developers to keep an eye on. Finally, there’s a wealth of talented individuals who have game-creating skills that can often be hired at far lower rates than the high-priced economies of the United States or Western Europe.
Platform is no longer primary
Electronic gaming first became popular as devices became readily available to support it—first inexpensive consoles, then personal computers and handheld gaming devices. Later, mobile phones and tablets became game-playing devices. For decades, the difference between platforms and the difficulties of making content available on more than one meant that audiences were split, and they became partisan fans of platforms much more than they were of games.
This was reflected at GDC over the years, as the show was usually focused on the major console makers and PC tool vendors. Now, it’s clear that as the gaming audience has expanded, there’s a great game-playing device in nearly everyone’s back pocket. People don’t care as much about platforms as they used to. It’s about the game, and people want to play their favorite game wherever and whenever they can.
The larger issue for marketers to realize is that game audiences are less focused on the hardware that’s running the games, and more on the games themselves. There are still a few partisans waving the flags of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, and arguing about the primacy of one platform over others, but these voices don’t move the market like they used to. What matters are the games, and making them available to the widest possible audience. Look at the success of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, for instance. It began as a PC game, but it developed an even larger audience on mobile. Even hardcore PC gamers are likely to play Hearthstone on their smartphone because it’s so convenient. Give the audience the games they want, wherever and whenever they want it.
Mobile is mainstream
Mobile games are no longer the odd little thing that occupied smaller corners of GDC. They’ve taken their place as an equal part of the games industry. There’s no technical reason why you can’t have every genre of game represented on mobile, and with a high level of quality. In fact, some of the biggest profits in the games business are coming from mobile games. Just ask Supercell, which is generating revenues over $2 billion with less than 200 employees through games like Clash Royale.
Now mobile games are moving away from their focus on casual games, and we can see that the top-grossing games are more likely to be strategy games or other more engaging types. Mobile devices can deal with any type of game, though the interface may need to be rethought. There’s plenty of revenue there, even when the mobile games are an accessory to a deeper game on a console or a PC, as evidenced by the EA Sports Ultimate Team games took in some $650 million last year.
Game creators and marketers shouldn’t be restricting their visions or belittling ideas by saying “it’s a mobile game, so it can’t … ” There’s every reason to believe mobile games can be as engaging and profitable as games on any other platform, and they needn’t always be free-to-play; Minecraft on mobile has sold more than 20 million copies at $6.99. So, if you offer the right value, people will pay for it.