As 2018 draws to a close, we decided to turn to our incredibly smart panel of PC games industry experts to see what the biggest trends and stories of the year were.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be picking the brains of our PC Pulse boffins to see what the most important stories, trends and games of 2018 were, as well as looking into the crystal ball for a glimpse at what 2019 holds.
Games selling less and less. At the start of the year, games we're making on average around $10,000 in their first month. 12 months later, and from the data I've been tracking, that's only continued to drop. Both new devs, and veteran developers, really need to be aware of how games are selling now, because you'll get a nasty shock otherwise.
Without a doubt, this has to be the continued evolution of the battle royale genre, which to-date has been driven by PC-first titles like PUBG and Fortnite. The meteoric rise of titles like these truly goes to show how unpredictable ‘the next big thing’ can really be - remember MOBAs? - which is pretty exciting. That said, the incredible success of this handful of titles has left little breathing room for other releases throughout the year and it feels like we’ve seen what would have been otherwise successful titles suffer. Here’s hoping that 2019 continues to see a wide and diverse range of games not only being developed but also being commercially successful and sustainable.
The continuing inequality between the 'winners' and 'losers' on Steam. It used to be that there was a wider range of sales amounts a game could expect to count as a success on Steam. From (mainly anecdotal) evidence it seems that the few who hit big on launch, continue to hit really while the larger pool of those games making lower sales totals around launch are getting ever lower amounts back for their efforts. It's not a sustainable situation and we're going to see a lot of small dev call it a day in 2019.
From an indie and marketing standpoint, I think 2018 really solidified that there are no reliable rules about how to create a wildly successful hit. Games and tech always move and change quickly, but the market has changed so much just in the past two years. No matter what size studio you have, those on the marketing and business side of things are working 110% in hopes of their game not being the next 'great game' that sold poorly. It's important to play every card in your hand.
Battle royale games dominating the PC market. Whether that's new games, or existing franchises incorporating the genre/game mode into their own titles.
It's hard to look at any trend in games this year and not talk about the explosion of Fortnite. The free-to-play model gets a lot of flack, but by using it for a huge triple-A game, they harnessed a fan base among younger players who wouldn't generally be able to afford a game like this. Plus, with cross-platform capability, they can play on an old, Wi-Fi connected phone with their friends who have expensive rigs! The barrier to entry for young people getting into a game phenomenon has never been this low. Among all of their successes, this is the one I think should be the most celebrated.
When we look back in a few years, 2018 may well be seen as a turning point in PC free-to-play monetisation. After the furore in 2017, we saw more experimentation and success in (arguably) more equitable business models, which could pave the way for broader acceptance of F2P models for core PC gamers. Fortnite’s Battle Pass, in particular, popularised a new format for compelling monetisation based on cosmetic items, woven smartly into daily-play retention incentives.
The rise of Battle Royale style games is undoubtedly both the biggest trend and news story of 2018. Whilst Fortnite and Playerunknown's Battleground continue to excel in the genre, Activision has also brought Battle Royale to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which for me signifies its impact and quick rise to mainstream status in the gaming industry.”
Due to the abundance of high-quality games that have come to market this year, the PC gaming market has grown double digits over the course of 2018. We’re seeing a movement back to PC due to the ultra-powerful, immersive experience gaming CPUs. Gamers want speed, precision and performance and it’s important, as an industry, that we continue to recognise this
Coming at it from an investor-with-a-strong-interest-in-originality angle, I see GAAS becoming more and more unavoidable, across all platforms. Whether you’re a small Indie or developing a medium sized PC game, you need to think of your game as a service; an always-on-club, that continues to entertain, 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Yes, there are a lucky few, artistic souls, who can make “vinyl records”, sell them once and survive like that. More power to them - but they’re either singularly brilliant or very, very lucky (and it might not last). If you want to think long-term career from the start, you have to look at the way the wired world works, these days, not the way it used to be. Services give you longer exposure to the market, better audience building capabilities and more earning potential. Getting that to work with the creative impulses that drive most developers is the challenge of the decade.
Is Fortnite a trend in itself? It certainly the most impactful game release of the year, on so many levels.I don't think there was a game that a phenomenon in itself, on such a scale, since Pokemon Go. It probably is even more influential than Pokemon Go, in the sense that Fortnite manage to change the rules of engagement, as far as crossplay is concerned. Its business model with its seasonal content is also establishing a new standard.
Beyond Fortnite itself, while still related, the biggest trend are the new PC games digital stores that have been popping up throughout the year. I was expecting Discord to be a game changer, but the real bomb was Epic announcing its store, challenging the established 30/70 revenue share.