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Times Have Changed – Do We Need New Game Categories to Keep up?

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IMAGE SOURCE: flickr.com

Hybridization is everywhere these days as separate technologies continue to converge. The Nintendo Switch is but the most recent example of this principle in operation – pitched somewhere between home console and handheld device. And the principle extends into the gaming sector with a vengeance. The busy folk at Newzoo, who conduct in-depth reports into tech-oriented news, recently announced an overhaul of their gaming segmentation to better reflect the current state of the games market. This decision was spurred in part by the roaring commercial success of the Switch, which within its first two months of release is already outstripping Wii sales by a factor of 10%. No longer will handheld games and TV console games stand as distinct categories, instead they will be treated as one combined console segment. Other categories have been modified as well, so now the segments stack up as the following: browser PC games, downloaded/boxed PC games, (smart) phone games, tablet games, and console games. Let’s see how this market segmentation breaks down in practice.

Browser PC Games

According to the Q2 update to Newzoo’s Global Gaming Report, PC browser games or “casual games” are set to generate $4.5 billion business this year. As a genre, these games incline towards quick and easy gameplay, often based around existing game concepts. Online slots based on TV and film franchises are popular, as are photo-realistic casino simulations like European Roulette: Gold Series. Games along these lines feature prominently on iGaming sites. This segmentation bracket also includes Java-based arcade platformers and slow-burner resource-management sims like Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter, recently released on the Steam platform. Taken together, most of these titles can be accessed just as well over a Wi-Fi connection via a mobile or handheld device; indeed Fallout Shelter began life as a mobile game before opening up to browser access.

Downloaded/Boxed PC Games

Any game that would have once seen shelf life in a games shop as a CD in a case falls under this category, for obvious reasons – even though these days it’s far more likely to be released as a serial key on an otherwise empty disc, if indeed it justifies a real-world release at all. Most PC game titles now ship primarily online via platforms like Steam and Origin, leading to a burgeoning market in serial keys. In many ways this online move makes good sense. Today’s titles would run to multiple CDs, due to their ever-expanding size requirements, so releasing them for download cuts costs all round. Activision’s headline 2016 shooter Call of Duty: Infinite Warfareweighs in at a hefty 130 GB of data, not including the various downloadable patches required to get it running smoothly. This segment is estimated to pull in $24.8 billion by the end of 2017, making it a close third to the home console and phone game markets which it once led by a wide margin.

(Smart) Phone Games

 IMAGE SOURCE: flickr.com

Mobile games stand as an excellent illustration of how to do more with less. There’s no room for flab in a meagre phone memory when it’s already brimming with video files and photo albums. The constraints of the technology here works in its favor, guiding app developers to create lean “pick-up-and-play” games that prioritize compelling gameplay and colorful backgrounds over detailed textures and flashy graphics. Case in point would be the Angry Birds series by Rovio Entertainment – brisk, cartoon-style animations, a dash of parallax scrolling to keep the clouds scudding along nicely, deft level design and a quirky vein of anarchic humor combine to deliver fun and frustration in 20-minute slices, perfect fodder for a short coffee break or subway journey. The relatively low cost-to-profit ratio on mobile games makes them an attractive option to indie developers keen to push the performance boundaries of the modern smartphone. They must be getting it right, because the market as a whole will be worth around $35.3 billion this year.

Tablet Games

The jury is still out on what exactly defines a tablet game per se, particularly given that the segment overlaps to a great extent with the vibrant mobile app market it grew from. Generally though, a tablet game benefits from the larger screen estate afforded to it, when compared to its smartphone cousin. Controls that might be deemed fiddly on a phone become easier to handle on a tablet, and graphical detail wasted on phone displays can be rendered here in full dynamic glory. Upsize from playing a mobile game to playing the same game on a tablet device, and you’ll soon appreciate the difference. The touchscreen interface comes into its own at this scale of manipulation, where a swipe and a pinch of finger and thumb have a degree of accuracy that cannot be replicated on a smaller screen. Premier mobile titles, such as the forthcoming Ubisoft/Behavior Interactive Studio project Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion aim to make full use of this facility to deliver a smooth gameplay experience that benefits immensely from the expanded dimensions of the tablet form. Tablet game sales could reach as high as $10.8 billion over the course of the year.

Console Games

IMAGE SOURCE: flickr.com

Still the mainstay of the market sector, console games make up the bulk of all video games sold, the largest slice of a growing pie and a portion worth $33.5 billion. Three big beasts currently dominate the hardware: the Sony PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and now of course, the Nintendo Switch, still very much the new kid on the block. Each machine has its own strengths and its own weaknesses, but each can sport a handful of games that stand as iconic classics in their own right. Wipeout is only ever Wipeout when played on a PlayStation, Halo will be forever Xbox, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has already emerged as a defining moment in the Switch’s brief history. There’s plenty of life left in console gaming, but as for save points, well… that’s a different story.

Mixing it up for the Foreseeable Future

Android and iOs now share code to make it easier for programmers to write cross-platform applications. Modern PCs and today’s generation of Macs run on eerily similar processors, courtesy of Intel. Convergence continues, a trend of convenience as much as anything else. The future beckons with a crooked finger, and if we lean in close, we might catch what it has to say.