Last year, we only picked five trends. This year, we went crazy. There are so many exciting and relevant changes happening in the game industry right now, it's difficult to keep abreast of them. With that in mind, we created a list that covers the breadth of the industry as best as possible -- an industry that is going through a major evolution.
And while we have selected 20, know that it's pared down from an initial list of over 40. We probably could have thought of many more. We realize that, especially as the industry expands to encompass everything from casual online games to Facebook applications and support three dedicated consoles and two handheld platforms, there's too much diversity to make choosing simple.
That said, we have identified and explained -- with relevant links to further information, where possible -- 20 trends that have risen to the level that they cannot be ignored as 2008 draws to a close.
1. The Continued Rise Of Outsourcing
Speak to any number of developers these days about asset generation, and the topic of outsourcing is never far from the discussion. Some companies, such as Alex Seropian's Wideload Games and American McGee's Spicy Horse Games, have built their business models around a "core" team, while using contractors for much of the process.
Whether or not you do, however, it's becoming increasingly relevant in these cost-cutting times. Major publishers, like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Konami, among others, maintain their own fully-owned outsourcing studios in China, which primarily handle art requests.
Though it's most prominent, it's not just Asian outsourcing that is necessarily the most relevant. Wideload's model suggests finding the most talented and experienced practitioners to produce the components of the game.
For example, in the case of Hail to the Chimp, the creators found a firm that had worked on actual news programs to do the game's faux-newscast motion graphics. In this sense, it's as much about talent and relevance as it is about savings, and points to another sign of the "Hollywoodized" future the industry continuingly hints at.
2. Casual MMOs? For Kids!
This market, which began under the radar and burst into headlines last year with the $350 million plus incentives acquisition of Club Penguin by Disney, continues to maintain its relevance in important ways.
Chief among them: MMO mavens' firm belief that the kids playing Club Penguin and other kids' MMOs today will demand services that offer similar (but improved) functionality as they outgrow these sites.
When their first taste of the power of social gaming technology is a Disney online world and not a Wii or Xbox 360, the expectations that drive the industry's possibilities for online interaction are being set outside of what is often considered the "norm".
Daniel James, president of casual MMO developer and publisher Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates) puts it this way: "People talk about the digital generation or whatever you want to call them... but I think there is a genuine shift when you have access to something at a young age. It changes your way of looking at the world."
With perhaps a glut of cute, original IP, venture-funded kids worlds out there, but a number of major brand-based and consumer-friendly projects (FusionFall from Cartoon Network, Gaia Online's zOMG!) yet to completely launch, it's a space that's still rapidly expanding.