It’s the traditional time to look back over the year and identify the major trends that shaped the gaming industry in 2014. Those trends will continue to have a strong impact on the game industry of 2015 and beyond, as growth and change continue strongly.

The growth of gaming continues
Mobile gaming continued to grow, as did gaming around the world. Free-to-play games took more share in online gaming, and digital sales continued their inexorable rise over physical retail sales of games. China’s growth in gaming continued strongly, as it becomes the second largest market for mobile games after Japan, and strong Western games like League of Legends, Call of Duty Online and FIFA Online look poised to grab a significant market presence.

The biggest traditional game publishers like Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and TakeTwo all posted good numbers this year, with solid profits and respectable growth. The hottest mobile games were getting bigger than ever in 2014, with top performers like Supercell’s Clash of Clans exceeding $1 billion in revenue.

Meanwhile, the online PC game business showed strong growth as well, with free-to-play games like League of Legends, World of Tanks, DotA 2, and Hearthstone posting strong numbers. Even the venerable World of Warcraft with the almost-vanished subscription model showed strong growth at the close of the year, as the new Warlords of Draenor expansion proved popular enough to create a large surge in new subscribers.

Console gaming stays strong
This was the first year of the true new generation of consoles with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One defining a new level of power and performance for consoles. Both new consoles outsold their predecessors in the first year of sales, yet AAA software sales didn’t keep pace. It looks like this generation of consoles will not exceed the total installed base of last generation, but

The Wii U is just not in the same category, as Nintendo forges its own path — the Wii U held to a clear third place finish in the total installed base of new consoles from the three major manufacturers, despite having a year’s head start. Nintendo returned to profitability last quarter, but overall the company has yet to establish a clear path to solid profits and growth.

The Continuing Rise of eSports
The phenomenon of eSports has become a major force in gaming, and that was amply demonstrated in 2014. We saw an amazing prize pool of over $10 million for DotA 2‘s The International torunbament, putting it in a class with traditional professional sports like the PGA Tour. Professional eSports arenas are under construction, and viewership is on the rise worldwide for eSports. Newzoo projects continued growth in eSports fans, with 205 million current fans with a growth rate of over 20 percent annually for the next few years. Some 1.2 billion people will be aware of eSports by 2017 — that’s a cultural force to be reckoned with.

Yet there are cautionary notes that not all eSports may be rising forever. The League of Legends World Championships this year attracted some 15 percent fewer viewers than last year (27 million compared to 34 million), though those viewers spent more time watching (and the event attracted 40,000 fans in person). Still, we’re seeing promising signs that eSports enthusiasm is spreading to new games — Smite has gathered more than a $2 million prize pool {link no longer active} for its upcoming world championships in January, for instance. And new entrants like Vainglory are attempting to create an eSports audience on mobile platforms as well.

Indie power grows
While it’s certainly tough to be an indie developer — and make a living at it — 2014 saw the influence of indie developers expand. Both Sony and Microsoft have taken great pains to feature indie developers and their titles at multiple venues. It’s clear that indie games are important to the new consoles, particularly as they can fill the gaps between major AAA releases. Indies are also making waves on mobile and on places like Kongregate, where it’s possible for a small development group to make a decent living with the right games.

It’s truly a golden age for small developers, at least in terms of being able to bring your product to market without a lot of capital. Finding an audience, and making money from them, is another problem entirely, and one that’s seen many companies step into the role of independent publishers for mobile games in order to help make that happen. Big companies see value in indies as a way to try out interesting and offbeat ideas without risking that big-company capital. If an indie finds a big audience, there will be companies coming around with a buyout offer. The payoff can be enormous, as the $2.5 billion acquisition of Mojang by Microsoft amply demonstrated.

Mobile games exert more influence
Mobile games have not only become the biggest segment of the gaming market, they are increasingly influencing the design and monetization of all areas of the game market. It’s easy to see how mobile games are changing the way companies approach the market, and changing customer perceptions of what games are or can be. This influence will continue and strengthen as the growth of mobile continues to outpace all other ares of the game industry in 2015.

The size and scope of the gaming market increases
Gaming is becoming a part of mainstream culture, not just something that teenage boys do. Witness the major brands like Coca-Cola and American Express pouring money into eSports, or massive television ad campaigns for mobile games like Candy Crush Saga and Game of War: Fire Age. The worldwide audience of people who played games this last year is estimated at 1.5 billion people, and that’s still growing.

That growth and change has not been without its problems, though. The GamerGate social media storm that arose this year, ostensibly about game journalism, exposed a nasty undercurrent of misogyny and hatred among a small group of gamers, some of whom sent appalling threats to a number of women in the game industry. Fortunately the industry rallied against such behavior, but it’s clear that as the gaming market expands to include billions of people, not all of them will be good citizens. Hopefully next year will see growth in the industry on an ethical, emotional, and social level as well as financial and demographic growth.