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.


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  • identicon
    Game R, 8 May 2015 @ 8:13pm

    I really hope MMO-like persistent worlds do not become the norm. Sure, with Destiny and Ubi's Division, more of these types of games are being made, and people seem to love em, so more power to them.

    Me, I have had zero interest in multiplayer ever since the LAN cafe died. Been playing for a long time, hopefully I won't live to see gaming completely pass me by.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jessie G, 8 May 2015 @ 8:26pm

    No

    They want everything online for DRM reasons, logistics reason, so they can collect user data, and so they can spam users with ads/marketing.

    But games with online elements that people actually want are still a long way from wiping out the traditional single-player experience. There is active hostility to micro-transactions and cynical DLC nickel and diming strategies (see Bethesda’s “Horse Armor” in Skyrim). Multiple attempts to replicate WoW's success have failed (The Old Republic, Elder Scrolls online etc.). The online/multiplayer euphoria of marketing execs destroyed the Dragon Age franchise.

    I doubt that senior execs in the gaming megacorporations really know what people want.

    We went without old-school RPGs for years because the gatekeepers said that there was no demand for them - and now crowdsourcing has resulted in Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin. And now we have Tides of Numenera and Sword Coast Legends on the way.

    Hopefully the greed and cynanism of these companies will be their undoing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 6:09am

      Re: No

      Ah that. The problem with DLC is that they keep releasing cheap stuff so the average joe won't pay much attention to the price and buy them. I mean sure, a shiny, beautiful horse armor for a few cents, why not? When you look at the whole said joe will have spent twice, three times what he would have spent in a dlc-less game.

      Then you have those pay2win games that COULD be awesome but if you don't shell out tons of money you won't go anywhere. I'm actively avoiding 'freemium' games. My old collection seems more and more attractive these days.

      I doubt that senior execs in the gaming megacorporations really know what people want.

      They aren't interested unless it can make them a lot of money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 8 May 2015 @ 8:53pm

    Activisions strategy of charging their customers more money because their bad business practices has cost them customers reminds of how games workshop chose to do that very same thing.

    games workshop lowered the quality of the products and raised prices. as a result they lost massive amounts of customers. So what have they done in the decade or more since they started this strategy. They keep raising their prices, and funny enough they are losing massive amounts of money because of this as fewer and fewer people buy their products. Certainly a few executives have succeeded in milking the company for all they can.

    In my opinion activision is being milked for all its worth by a several of their executives. Much like the company milks the gaming population for every last dime they can.

    It's a dam shame Activision has destroyed Blizzards good name in the long run in the desperate search for short term profits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 8 May 2015 @ 10:40pm

    Yeah, let's make all games MMO, like Aliens Online, City of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2015 @ 5:49am

    I think a more balanced approach is more realistic, gamers want to own a hard copy of what they've purchased so they have the ability to play offline , Don't get me wrong I love thinking that my beloved Fallout Franchise would be a massive planet wide journey that evolves continuously , but I also know the the biggest boss battle I've ever fought was with the DRM added to everything I purchase ( I Still haven't beat that level).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2015 @ 11:15am

    Take heart, point-and-click adventure game lovers

    There are plenty of good titles (and plenty more bad ones) out there. I do like the direction that Tell-Tale has been taking the genre.

    It may be a niche market, but there seems to be a lot of good effort put into it.

    And we may see first-person shooters fall out of AAA favor, but that will give more room to the indie community to make competitive games.

    And they still seem to make games for the love of games rather than the love of money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Greevar (profile), 9 May 2015 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Manik

    That is your choice to make, but your comment adds nothing to the discussion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Greevar (profile), 9 May 2015 @ 1:00pm

    This stinks of a risk-adverse mentality. They aren't following the will of the market. They're using psychological manipulation on players to get them to spend more money than they would otherwise. They're focusing on what makes people spend money, rather than what people would actually find satisfying. It's the same psychological tactics casinos use to trap gamblers in to spending more money.

    It's better to view modern online games as casinos, rather than actual games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2015 @ 1:50pm

      Mobile Free-to-play games are certainly in line with casino mentality

      In that they're Free-to-play only if you want a stagnant, frustrating experience seasoned heavily with advertisements to buy in-game resources. The whole Dungeon Keeper debacle served as an example, though EA's since released other franchise-exploiting F2P titles that use the same strategy.

      They even use a casino term whales (what were big-stakes gamblers in casinos) as their high-paying customers who are compelled to sink cash into game resources.

      The difference is that to Casinos, whales are good for publicity so they comp their whales a lot of perks. In F2P whales are the target audience and the source of 90% of the profits.

      It is almost an admission that they are capitalizing on addictive behavior of a marginal group.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Guardian, 10 May 2015 @ 7:57am

    registered users vs actual users

    big differance

    acheage prolly has 10 million users regestered but i bet its a tenth or less that actually play

    same with eldar scrolls

    they would be lucky to have 2 million playing , everyone i know is disappointed with destiny

    back to guild wars 2 people

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 11:25am

      Re: registered users vs actual users

      everyone i know is disappointed with destiny

      There is a lot of disappointment with Destiny, but there are also a lot of people playing a lot of hours.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2015 @ 4:19pm

    We're prolly gonna see a repeat of what we saw with the rise of indie development.

    The major AAA corps are going to arbitrarily decide 'people don't want traditional games anymore, they want our oversensationalized drip-pay games'.

    The major AAA corps will then steadily distance themselves from the 'traditional game'.

    A ton of people are going to realise the market voids now left behind by these major corps, and rush to fill the gap. We will get games built by people trying to make good game, see more innovation in the current space as AAA publishers vacate it, and ironically, AAA games will gradually grow to >become

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 10 May 2015 @ 5:44pm

    Destiny does seem to be working.

    I have a number of friends that play it. So contrary to the above it has some value to a few.

    Activision is slowly recovering from the debacles of its glorious leader, Bobby K. the lovable CEO that gets sued for hundreds of millions because he didn't want to honor contracts. With him out of the headlines the business seems to be making progress.

    For commenters there are many gamers that enjoy the MMO worlds and digital is more important to them as there will always be updates in that type of game. Acquiring addition physical discs is a hassle. New generation has a different sensibility. If it has any at all.

    For the author: massive was GTA-4 where the initial play through was closer to hundred(s) of hours. 40 was long, not massive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 2:31pm

    After being abused by activision and blizzard with diablo 3 I have sworn off ever buying anything from either company again. I wanted a single player game and I couldn't play if the server was down, or the internet was down. After not playing for months I had to contact support to change a password and they wanted me to send a photocopy of my drivers license to someone I don't know who probably works in a call center for low wages and trust that it would be safe to do so. Just to reset a password for a game I paid for and never wanted to play online to begin with. Screw those companies and their attempt to dictate what gamers really want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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