Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft steps back to look at the big picture in 2013.
We tend to like to talk about 2013 as a transitional year, mainly because two major new game consoles arrived. But while those launches were vehicles for some overarching trends in the game industry this year, they weren't the sole source of transition.
In 2013, we saw new ways to share, new ways to involve the community, new ways to experience games, across various platforms and systems. Here are the trends that shaped the year in video games, and that will influence game development and business in the years to come.
Video game voyeurism
Livestreaming games and sharing gameplay videos had been around before 2013, but it was this year that video game voyeurism gained real traction and headed towards mainstream acceptance and usability.
Twitch has been leading the charge. Game developers, from Sony Online Entertainment to Mojang to CCP and others, have updated their games with Twitch integration, for easy livestreaming of gameplay. PlayStation 4's controller introduces the "Share" button, which makes broadcasting gameplay a seamless, simple experience. Xbox One is a little behind
on Twitch livestreaming, but the Upload Studio and ability to yell "Xbox, record that" to save gameplay to share later is still a little next-gen miracle.
Moving forward, integrating the mere functionality of livestreaming and video sharing will become standard for games and platforms -- the next step is for game developers to design games with observer-friendliness in mind
from the start.
Virtual reality gets real
The new wave of virtual reality excitement has been going strong since summer 2012, when the Oculus Rift became a big crowdfunded success. But 2013 is when thousands of Rift dev kits shipped to developers
, and the potential of this hardware began to materialize.
The company told us before that it's indies who would be pushing the capabilities of the VR goggles
, experimenting with new kinds of interactive experiences, and that's exactly what happened this year. Developers are bringing holodeck-style experiences
to the Rift; they're giving users the feeling of getting their heads chopped off
; they're creating horror games in horror games
, just to name a few examples. Momentum is gaining, too -- the already-talented team at Oculus VR recently added
former id technical head John Carmack to its ranks.
The marriage of VR and video games isn't limited to Oculus VR. Sony is rumored to have a PlayStation VR solution in the works, and other startups, including former Valve engineers at Technical Illusions with the augmented/virtual realty CastAR system, will be exploring the mainstream commercialization of VR in the years ahead.
Major console makers court independent developers in a big way
This year, we saw major video game console makers give small independent developers more attention than ever before. Particularly with the introductions of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year, there were significant shifts in publishing policies and overall attitudes toward small developers -- instead of game developers begging to be let into the walled console gardens, console makers were courting indies, inviting them in to help them boost their software lineups.
One of the biggest components of this trend has been the ability to self-publish on consoles. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo's strategies for self-publishing vary (Microsoft famously heeded the cries of game devs and changed its self-publishing policy
for the better), but the main point is that none of them require a publishing partner to get onto these heavily-marketed game consoles that control a sizable mindshare of the video game market. That's good for players, and it's good for game developers.
Selling games before they're done
Alpha funding -- allowing players to purchase early, in-development games essentially as they're being made -- become considerably more commonplace this year.
is one early example of the practice, but a big factor for alpha funding in 2013 was Valve's introduction of Steam Early Access
. Kerbal Space Program
, Planetary Annihilation
, Natural Selection 2
, Project Zomboid
-- the list of alpha-funded games goes on and on. Developers are finding that players are willing to pay to experience a game while it's being developed, as long as the developer is transparent that the the game is a work in process. Alpha funding is yet another way that developers are able to include their communities in the game development process, and it will continue to shape the way modern video games are made.
Indie reality check
Indies made a lot of great strides in the past year, but as the video game market matured, finding financial success has become even more difficult than before.
I could talk in-depth about how certain platforms, namely mobile, are increasingly crowded, how a small amount of larger companies are dominating top-grossing charts, how paid games have given way to metrics-driven free-to-play, how production quality, and therefore cost, is ramping up on "indie friendly" platforms. I could talk about how we're not halfway through the month, and dozens of Steam games have already released in December, and that the churn will only get more intense.
But instead I'll link you this recent, excellent Gamasutra comment
from Dan Cook, lead game designer at Triple Town
developer Spry Fox
. It'll give you some perspective on 2013, and some realistic expectations for the year to come.