The times, wrote Bob Dylan, are a-changing. And that was in 1964 – imagine how he’d react to NFTs. The games industry saw fast growth in 2021 and Mark Zuckerberg now wants us all to live in a Vanilla Sky of his own making. People are trying to sell you drawings of apes for hundreds of thousands of dollars. What is life?
Let’s try to make sense of it together, holding hands and bracing against the biting winds of change. There’ll be shooting people and leveling up – of that much, we’re sure. But there are also specific trends forming that will give the games industry a new complexion in 2022. These are they.
At The Game Awards 2021 we saw a lot of new solo games announced. Alan Wake 2 will be a survival horror experience, as will Slitterhead, from Silent Hill creator Keiichiro Toyama. Quantic Dream’s making a Star Wars game and Hellblade’s getting a sequel. The most anticipated game of 2022 is probably Bethesda’s space-faring single-player game, Starfield.
This is several years, you’ll remember after EA rang the death bell for linear single-player games and closed down Visceral accordingly. Turns out there’s room for Fortnite and dozens of other high-quality solo experiences within the same marketplace after all.
The seed for this one was sown when it was announced Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal was working on a Guardians of the Galaxy title instead of, you know, another Deus Ex. Then came Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Gotham Knights, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and Suicide Squad game trailers. The message is clear: the rights holders of these box office behemoths don’t care if you don’t like superhero movie-game crossovers, they’re going for a slice of the pie in 2022.
It’s not a DLC helmet anymore, says Ubisoft. It’s an artisanally crafted NFT! It’s a unique digital collectible which, yes, may look and function in just the same way as the cosmetic DLC you’ve been buying in games for years now. But look – a serial number. That means it’s worth – ooh, probably thousands. You can trade it with other artisanally crafted Ghost Recon helmet enthusiasts or simply wear it in-game and wow all the other players who get close enough to check out that serial number.
(People disliked the Quartz trailer so much it was delisted on the Ubisoft YouTube account, so here’s IGN’s upload of it.)
Remember: this is how we reacted to horse armor et al in the first wave of microtransaction DLC. It didn’t stop industry adoption any more than King Canute changed the course of the incoming tide.
Traditional gaming revenue (unit sales of PC and console titles, and the microtransaction spend within them) accounts for about a third of most countries’ games industry spend. The other 60-something percent comes from app-based social and casual gaming. In essence, those of us with a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard in our hands are dinosaurs. If you can’t interact with it via simple swipes on a touchscreen, it’s a boomer shooter. The future is an endless horizon of cartoon farmland, controlled by phone screens across the globe, where every plot of land is somehow growing NFTs.
Netflix for games. The mythical golden goose of gaming for at least five years now. A subscription pass that allows access to a big old library of games, instead of having to pay for each individual one like a jabroni. A few hurdles have stood in the way of that concept’s widespread adoption: one, most of us have already paid more into our Steam libraries than our mortgages, and two, big publishers have been far too busy trying to muscle in on Steam’s digital storefront to consider working together in the creation of such a library.
Recently, though, Microsoft’s been making it work. Game Pass has about 18 million subscribers now and offers an increasing number of blockbuster games, for both PC and Xbox X/S, on day one. A bit like a kind of Netflix for games. Meanwhile, Nvidia has GeForce Now, a subscription with the added incentive of games running on high-end RTX 3080 graphics cards in the graphics giant’s datacenters and then streaming to any device at impressive fidelity and latency levels. It’s like Netflix, but for games.
Speaking of GeForce Now, it really does make a good argument for getting rid of your desktop PC and just streaming games straight onto a TV. Good luck accessing a 3080 any other way in 2022, thanks to crypto farmers hogging all the units and driving prices up to absurd figures.
Like several other trends primed to kick into gear in 2022, this one’s been touted for years now, but finally seems to have the tech basis and the audience size to make an impact. And PC superfans, this isn’t bad news: a larger audience of gamers playing at max settings on PCs (albeit in data centers) means more incentive for developers to push visual fidelity levels even harder.
Our humble pastime has reached a level of maturity now that means its older back catalog can be updated, preserved, remade from the ground up, and reimagined. It’s a dangerous game, playing with childhood memories, but as studios such as Nightdive (the developer behind Quake’s superlative remaster) show, a light touch goes a long way.
We’ve got a Kingpin remaster coming in 2022, and slightly more bafflingly a Life is Strange one too. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Blade Runner, Gothic, Knights of the Old Republic, Dead Space, Splinter Cell, and even The Stanley Parable are all due for facelifts of varying degrees. It’s an increasingly commonplace practice, and guess what – the library of potential candidates gets larger every passing year.
It’s safe to say this one’s going to exceed the remit of gaming, but nonetheless blockchain – or worryingly decentralized banking as it’s known in some circles – is already a growing presence in the industry. F1 Delta Time, for example, featuring official F1 branding from Formula One Management, allows you to link your account to your crypto wallet and earn ethereum via in-game activities. We’ve come a long way from horse armor.
Written by Phil Iwaniuk on behalf of GLHF.