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Gamasutra's Best Of 2011: Top 5 Major Industry Trends
Gamasutra's Best Of 2011: Top 5 Major Industry Trends Exclusive
December 13, 2011 | By Kris Graft

[Gamasutra EIC Kris Graft continues the website's 2011 retrospectives with this year's top five game industry trends, including the HTML5 buzz, go-getter Kickstarters, and the gravity-defying Xbox 360.]

The games industry has a constant ebb and flow -- last year's rising trends might be this year's declining trends. For 2011, Gamasutra's Top 5 Major Industry Trends are all about the rise.

Whether it's technology that's gaining traction, unit sales that are defying gravity, or independent developers who are finding new ways to get the money to pursue their passion, 2011 was marked by growth, evolution and ingenuity.

5. HTML5 Buzz

More than any previous year, 2011 saw plenty of chatter over the potential of HTML5. While some companies pit HTML5 versus Flash in what they perceived as a zero sum game, others argued that competing technologies could coexist.

Game development on an open format web standard such as HTML5 is an enticing idea: Developers would only have to build their game once, and it would be inherently cross-platform, it's relatively easy to learn, and it's an alternative to Adobe-owned Flash.

But there are concerns -- even though game companies are jumping on board, HTML5 is still not finalized, and notable players in the games industry like Unity have said that the technology just isn't quite up to snuff yet for games.

Nevertheless, game companies this year have been acquiring game studios with HTML5 expertise, and the format got a vote of confidence from Adobe this year when the Flash owner said it would cease development of Flash for mobile browsers in favor of HTML5 for mobiles. Next year, expect the buzz and the debate to give way to more concrete answers to the future of HTML5.

4. Xbox 360's Sales Strength

Historically, hardware sales are supposed to be falling after five years on the market, not growing. And that's assuming your console can even last that long on the market. (Alas, poor Dreamcast.)

But Microsoft's Xbox 360 has endured and expanded its base in the U.S. during 2011. Not only that, but the Xbox 360 has managed to increase its reach while avoiding a proper price cut for years. A $200 model has been the baseline since September 2008, and except for retailer deals, it hasn't budged.

Consider this: the Xbox 360 actually increased its average selling price from $280 in June of this year to $306 in September. Simultaneously it handily outsold the rival PS3 whose average selling price had dropped to $271 on the back of a much-ballyhooed price cut.

It would be easy to ascribe record Xbox 360 sales as a direct result of Kinect, but the reality is more complex. The stickiness of Xbox Live and a stable of exclusive super-sellers like Gears of War and Halo have all contributed to Microsoft's increasing fortunes.

The PlayStation 3 has been a solid seller in 2011 too, but the Xbox 360 is a year older and is still managing to rack up strong numbers every month. It's not often, if ever, that the games industry sees a game console that achieves five years of successive growth in the U.S. -- and if this year's sales trend continues, you can make that six years.

3. A Maturing Social Games Space

Social games are beginning to show a certain level of maturity as the young space continues to evolve. While many social network games are still engineered to appeal peoples' compulsive nature, rather than their desire to do something fun, there are signs that this is changing.

There are more and more experienced game designers who are moving from the traditional game development space over to social games, bringing their expertise in "finding the fun" over to social, balancing out the metrics-focused bean-counters.

Publishers such as EA are aggressively targeting the core gamer via social networks, and independent startups, several founded this year, are also trying to woo the more traditional gamer and expand the audience.

This year, Facebook also announced major updates that could improve the overall social gaming experience for all players. And as the number of social games swells, developers are starting to realize they need to launch a quality game right off the bat, or else they're essentially doomed in this competitive marketplace.

We also noted last year the evolution of social gaming. But in 2011, the changes again can't be ignored. Now we see that social games are going everywhere, including mobile, and console games are also adopting social aspects. Major publishers who were once only reliant on packaged goods -- namely EA -- are now eyes-deep in social gaming. Zynga is headed for an IPO. Google+ is ramping up its games outreach. Upstarts abound. There will continue to be growing pains, but more than ever, we're seeing companies truly adapt to full games-as-a-service models via social networks.

2. Kickstarter And Crowdfunding

This year, as more video game developers looked to independence, they needed some funds. Instead of turning to a game publisher or a venture capitalist, many turned to crowdfunding.

The most prominent hub for crowdfunding was Kickstarter, where game developers such as Robert Boyd (Cthulhu Saves the World), Eric Zimmerman (Metagame), Young Horses (Octodad) and David Board (Lifeless Planet) have all reached the funding targets needed to continue their work on video games.

Those weren't the only game developers who got a boost from Kickstarter. In April this year Kickstarter said that over the course of two years, games had received over $1 million of funding through the service -- more than the respective funding of dance, fashion and comics projects. As more independents look for new ways of gathering funds, expect the crowdfunding trend to continue into 2012.

1. Lots of Layoffs, Lots Of Upstarts

As the games industry continued to shift, the people within it were displaced throughout the course of 2011. Major publishers closed well-known studios, and independent, mid-tier development houses ran out of steam, scattering their staff across the industry.

But even though it's typcially sad and disappointing when a company shuts down, people who lose their jobs in this industry often do not stay idle for long. This year, a lot of laid-off game developers struck out on their own and founded new independent game development studios.

For instance, Disney shut down UK-based Split Second developer Black Rock in September, giving birth to at least three new companies from former staff: West Pier Studio, Roundcube Entertainment and ShortRound Games. Zoo Tycoon house Blue Fang shut down, and its leaders formed Beach Cooler Games. When Activision shuttered Project Gotham developer Bizarre Creations, ex-staff went on to form multiple studios.

Layoffs plagued the industry this year, sweeping across companies including Disney, Activision, THQ, RockYou, Silicon Knights, CCP, Ignition, Team Bondi and others. The people who make the games, however, continue to prove their passion and resilience, and stay in an industry that they know can be difficult, adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the market, all for the sake of fulfilling their desire to make great games.

[Other 2011 retrospectives: Top 5 Major Industry Events.]

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Rob B
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'developers would only have to build their game once, and it would be inherently cross-platform; updates would theoretically be more timely, as HTML5 is open and without an official platform holder; and it's relatively easy to learn.'

Aha, AHAHAHA! Inherently cross-platform? It wouldnt be inherently cross-browser let alone platform. More timely? As you iron out bugs and inconsistencies for each of the dozen or so scripts you might be using across a dozen or so browsers, there will be more delays for the majority browsers while the smaller browsers may never get support at all. Easy to learn? No, no, its easy to start learning in much the same way OpenGL makes it easy to throw some cubes on screen, now try write a solid game engine in it. Still easy?

Not final yet is the biggest understatement of the last half century. You know the much vaunted video tag and media functionality? It has the _exact same_ issues as HTML had with embedding videos, no consistent codecs, nobody working together, everyone wants control over whats standard. These are problems that have existed for over 20 years and people think slapping a 5 on the front will fix it? Bog standard Javascript still doesnt work consistently across browsers, CSS2 took over a decade to be used on major browsers and still has inconsistencies and quirky interpretations etc, etc.

HTML5 is a gigantic mess, it is the wretched divide of standards we had when IE and netscape were fighting it out only dozens of times more complicated across dozens of companies. I hope that the big companies stop forcing this on us while vying for power over the standards. I hope it dies, I hope some large players realise what made flash so strong and put their weight behind an open version of it, heck Id even take Silverlight right now. The alternative is that I will be wrestling with this total disaster masquerading as progress for the rest of my career or until I can get the hell out of web dev.

Federico Sauro
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Seriously, is this your opinion?

If you are not joking, i think we have 2 explanations:

you work for adobe; or you are an ex-web developer, unable to use html5, that was fired and replaced by a new, more competent one.

Is html5 cross-platform? Yeah it is, and in the near future it will be even more true. It has been almost fully implemented in the major browsers,

and for the cross-plarform ones, it works well. I don't see your point.

Instead I see the proliferation of myriads of apps running on the bloated and buggy flash player, that totally sucks on linux and is not even supported on some platforms (does iOS tell you anything?)

Lol, you say that making a game engine in opengl is difficult. Yeah, it is.

If you have realized just now that game development is complicated, well i don't know what to say.

Maybe you should try game maker, if javascript looks too difficult :-)

About the video tag... again i can't see your point. It supports the best codecs (h264, vp8, theora), and major browsers are at a good point in the implementation. Chrome already supports them all.

You basically say that css3 sucks, webgl sucks, chrome native client sucks, the programmable canvas sucks... well, i do not agree.

I hope that it'finally the time for flash and other external and closed plugins to die.

And maybe a new generation of better web developers will take the place of the current one.

Rey Samonte
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@Federico...I think Rob has a right to his opinion. Not everyone shares the same experience no matter what platform we're developing for. So what might be good for you might not be for someone else. But Rob was stating his opinion without making it personal for anyone whereas you've kind of insulted him with yours. :|

Tom Baird
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I don't see where he mentioned WebGL or NaCl(which seems so entirely unrelated to cross-platform javascript).

There are some problems I'm finding with your post:

"Is html5 cross-platform? Yeah it is, and in the near future it will be even more true. It has been almost fully implemented in the major browsers"

It's either cross-platform or not. It can't be more(or less) cross-platform, and almost fully implemented hints that it's not yet there. And the fact that it's only 'almost full implemented' in even the major browsers means it is not a standard. The first step to having a standard is to make sure it is standardized across the desired platforms, which it isn't.

Personally, I laud the concept of a consistent, cross-platform stable browser API. What I despise is the choice of HTML5/WebGL to try to fit that bill. There are much better alternatives out there that could be worked on, and standardized and opened up, that would provide more power and work with existing tools outside the browser world.

It's important to compare HTML5/WebGL against what will eventually be it's peers.

The Chrome store just recently released Bastion as an entirely web app, using NaCl.

Interstellar Marines ( made with Unity has already provided some of it's gameplay in Web apps, with full quality of the .exe game.

Flash recently released some well-needed update that makes an effective use of the GPU, and I've seen a handful of very nice tech demos using it(sorry, no link).

The Gaikai plugin ( plays full AAA console games in <1 minute in a browser window.

Whereas the HTML5 games I've played are incredibly slow/skittery 2D games on my nice computer. And the WebGL demos look to be about the quality of Dreamcast/N64 with regards to graphical complexity, while causing my quite powerful computer to struggle to stay up (and are still Chrome only predominantly and even there unreliable).

The HTML5 'standard' STILL isn't standardized, and even if it was, it cannot compete with anything else out there, as it's relatively a POS, despite the intentions themselves being quite good.

Federico Sauro
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I didn't want to get too personal... but i think that Rob's post is quite extreme and in my opinion every developer who is looking forward HTML5 with interest should have felt a bit offended (at least i did), since he dismiss the new standard as a "gigantic mess" and a "total disaster masquerading as progress".


"It's either cross-platform or not"

yes, but we all know that true cross-platform is a dream. We'll always have to test our apps on all the targeted systems. That said, some things are born, designed, developed and maintained to be inherently more cross platform than others. And if html was not one of these things, than what else could it be? A closed plugin like flash that will not even be supported anymore by Google after Android 4?

Moreover, right now html5 is not even completed as a standard, but still it has decend support bu major browsers. In my humble opinion hat's a plus, not a minus.

"Personally, I laud the concept of a consistent, cross-platform stable browser API. "

I agree, I've always looked at web-dev with little interest, but now I'm starting to enjoy it.

You mention some alternative technologies... NaCl: it works on top of html5. Unity: it works on current versions of html, but it's already getting big advantages from html5. Flash is already dead.

So I don't see your point, but the exact opposite.

I don't know about Gaikai, I'll take a look right now (tnx for the link).

Finally, you say that "the WebGL demos look to be about the quality of Dreamcast/N64 with regards to graphical complexity"... hmm, that's a short-sighted statement. The power of webgl only needs to be unleashed by some decent developer. If no one is going to put some effort to make good games, than ok, it's dead. But the same would have been true for the PS3 too, for example.

Besides, browsing around misc tech demos and papers, see more and more webgl implementations popping up.

Anyway, do you expect to jump straight from the current 2d web games to fully-fledged AAA titles with dynamic lighting and shadows? It's obvious that it'll take some time.

Federico Sauro
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@Alex T

Never said that it's the solution to everything.

I only think that's a promising new technology that, if correctly developed, supported and used, could bring a new generation of unprecedented-quality browser games.

Don't dismiss it only because it'!??

Btw, It's not gonna happen in 2 weeks, we all know that.

Rob B
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'you work for adobe; or you are an ex-web developer, unable to use html5, that was fired and replaced by a new, more competent one.'

Wrong and wrong.

'Is html5 cross-platform? Yeah it is, ' which then became 'yes, but we all know that true cross-platform is a dream. We'll always have to test our apps on all the targeted systems.'

If you still need to do all the testing on all the systems and now also have to do all the testing for each browser you care to roll out to (and even then you may end up skipping past niche browsers.) this is a huge rise in complexity and because the standards are both not fully supported and vary in interpretation it means you often have to write in specific code to handle many different situations. With a plugin system all of this would be handled by one company, now every developer who ever wants to ensure maximum compatibility has to write all the plumbing themselves. This is not an improvement.

'Instead I see the proliferation'... I dont know where you have gotten this idea I like flash. Ive never supported flash and consider it a horrible source of instability and problems it was never my point that everyone should go back to flash. My point is flash solved some of the biggest problems with the web standards. It was the right solution implemented badly.

'Maybe you should try game maker, if javascript looks too difficult'... Thats not a rebuttal... It really isnt easy to use as advertised in the article, you seem to agree.

'About the video tag... again i can't see your point.'

Really? You missed the huge video codec debate that was never fully resolved? You missed the fact people have moved away from h.264 due to its potential patent issues? You missed the fact youtubes HTML5 roll out has been fraught with difficulties? That the google software engineer said 'it does not yet meet all of our needs'? That they are infact trying to support an entirely separate open container to do the video plumbing instead? (That only solves codec issues it changes nothing in relation to the engineer saying it doesnt meet all the needs.) etc. etc. The video tag has been a huge point of contention in the development of HTML5 and I stress that this is the same problem that has existed for more than two decades. Will Google iron out the difficulties with WebM? Its become statistically unlikely but we can hope. Personally I wish we didnt have to bother hoping, I wish we could stick a video up and not have to worry about whether half the internet can see it.

Im honestly a little baffled youd consider the browser are at a 'good point in the implementation' you dont need to take my word to see this just isnt true.

'You basically say that css3 sucks, webgl sucks, chrome native client sucks, the programmable canvas sucks... well, i do not agree.'

I didnt actually but Ill say it now, they suck. Not because the technologies arnt interesting, powerful, and have admirable goals but because they are frustrating, broken across different browsers and havent met those goals. I love playing with these things but rolling this out as a serious and complete package is a nightmare. The one thing I did mention by name was javascript, it has been around for far longer than all of them and it still isnt fully supported consistently across browsers. It doesnt seem to me that it is out of line to call this a 'mess'.

'I hope that it'finally the time for flash and other external and closed plugins to die.' So do I. I explicitly stated 'an open version' and the reasons for this are clear from flashes example. Other companies dont take kindly to people having too much power on there platform. This is why apple cut off adobe because the quality of adobes codec was disrupting the quality of apples product.

but this is also a demonstration of why the current slew of web scripts will take years, probably decades to be fully supported because each company has different goals, different ideas of whats right. Its why IE and netscape had there own ways of doing things in the past and its why every browser and player in the current landscape is fighting over what needs to happen now.

'And maybe a new generation of better web developers will take the place of the current one.'

Well you dont mention me specifically but the implication is there. You seem to have assumed I am some old guy on my last legs waving my fist at the hip new kids. (Or a corporate shill) Im not, I _am_ the new generation of web devs many of us simply dont agree with the route the industry is being forced down.

Rob B
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'I hope some large players realise what made flash so strong and put their weight behind an open version of it'

Wanted to clarify something about this because some people seem to think this means I am a fan of Adobe flash. Im not, I begrudgingly recognise its advantages though.

Imagine taking all of the different newfangled web scripts we have today and putting them in to a plugin, its open and plumbed in to all the top browsers and platforms. Whats more because its open it can be plumbed in to any new platform released.

Now where are the problems with codecs? Gone, everyone uses the same plugin if a new codec comes out and gets included everyone can access and play the videos of that codec.

Broken standards? Who cares, use what works and you know itll work for everyone, when they fix a part of the standard its fixed for everyone.

Companies fighting it out? Its all behind the scenes, whoever wins it will be rolled out to the plugin and everyone is on board in one go.

There arnt thousands upon thousands of web developers spending countless hours making sure a chunk of code works across browsers, there arnt people coding a wonderful project for chrome only to find it fails in every other browser, its all been done for you in one relatively simple stroke. Its just that simple stroke will cost someone time and resources to do and none of the companies want to do it, when they do theyll keep it closed to try to maximise direct profits while ignoring the longer term benefits of easing development for everyone.

Thats my rant on the subject anyway.

Federico Sauro
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Ok, now i get your point. It's an interesting opinion, and maybe that would really be a good solution...but I don't think we will see something similar in the near future.

And i don't fill like declaring death on a standard that has not even started to prove its validity.

For now, I am interested in discovering if the technologies that are currently growing will bring what they promise, and what is needed by developers.

Bob Johnson
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360 average selling price figure is a byproduct of using gift card promotions to drop the price of the 360 instead of an all out price cut. At least I doubt they are counting the $50, $75 or $100 gift cards that they are giving away with 360s in the average selling price. :)

Still it is doing well. Don't get me wrong, They have latched onto another swath of consumers with Kinect. And Kinect has also helped keep the average selling price higher.

No where to go but down next year though.

Lyon Medina
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Unless up is still an option? I don't think its over till we hear about the next generation of X-Box. They do need to sell a little more aroud the world though. I think they have tapped out most of the American market. I am not saying your wrong, just saying anything can happen.

Matt Matthews
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The NPD Group estimates take into account promotions which reduce the effective price, like gift cards or retailer-bundled games. So when the Xbox 360 is sold with a $50 gift card, that reduces the effective ASP. This is true for all systems, not just the Xbox 360.

Dedan Anderson
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easy to sell a lot of xboxes when it has a self destruct feature...