Video Game Trend: The Decline Of The 'Game' And The Emergence Of The 'Living Game World'
from the a-brand-new-world dept
Normally, reading a report on an earnings forecast by a video game company is no more interesting than it would be if the company made, say, toilet bowl brushes. But every so often, you can catch a glimpse of where a company thinks the gaming industry is going and how gaming might evolve next. One such report on Activision’s earnings has some interesting tidbits to go along with the company’s acknowledgement of the known trends in digital distribution.
The report starts off with Activision reporting that its overall sales strategy is focused on shifting as much effort to digital/internet sales as possible. This is no surprise of course, as the trend for gaming to shift away from shiny discs and towards downloads has been in place for a while now. Still, hearing Activision report that three-fourths of its revenue now comes from sales over the internet is jarring. But the really interesting stuff comes when Activision talks about how the internet has made it possible for a gaming company to go beyond making “games” and instead creating living, evolving game worlds for players to immerse themselves in.
Activision also said two of its newest games — the space-age shooting game Destiny, and the digital card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft — have accumulated more than 50 million registered users and are now responsible for more than $1 billion sales. Hearthstone, for tablets and smartphones, is offered for free to download, and makes its money by charging for upgrades and additional items over time. Destiny is also designed to get players spending money over the next ten years of its development by offering additional storylines and other items. Activision says Destiny’s player base clocks around 3 hours of playtime a day.
The 11-year old World of Warcraft game is one of Activision’s best known and longest-running active games. That has helped executives see the value in creating titles of all types that operate less as products burned onto physical discs and played over a short time to living titles, regularly expanded and updated over time. So far, it’s paying off. Activision said a record 76 percent, or $538 million, of its total revenue came from sales over the Internet of full-game downloads and in-game adds-ons.
MMOs are not new. As the quote above notes, WoW is over a decade old. That said, gamemakers might have waited until recently to decide that evolving, online gaming worlds are going to be the new norm in gaming. The way Activision is talking about this sounds like the idea of making “games” is going to take a backseat to making evolving, always-running, decades-spanning game worlds in which the sales strategy will be an ongoing participation by gamers, rather than simply having them plunk down $40 at a retailer to take their shiny disk home and pop it into a console.
Activision isn’t alone in this line of thinking.
This shift, though more dramatic with Activision, follows an industry trend with other large game makers, like Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive, which have both seen consistent boosts to sales over the Internet in recent quarters. These companies are beginning to see success in the games industry as less a matter of selling the most units and more a question of how to get gamers to play a single game for longer — and spending real money in the virtual worlds as well.
Ten years ago, the method for measuring the play time in gaming was measured in hours. Ten hours was a short game, twenty was about average, and a forty-hour game was massive. Now game developers are looking to measure game time in years, not hours. It’s a massive shift in business models.
This isn’t to say that the more traditional “game” is immediately going away, of course. Activision is still going to pump out Call of Duty games, and is even reportedly looking to revive the Guitar Hero brand. But this sort of reminds me of how it felt at the start of the adventure game decline fifteen or so years back. They didn’t die off immediately, or at all, really. Instead, the industry just slowly stopped making as many of them, bit by bit, until the point-and-click adventure game became the niche market it is today. Will old-fashioned “games” follow the same trajectory? The money trend seems to indicate it might.