What are the big topics that everyone is talking about in gaming? What trends can we see, peeking over the horizon? And where might the next year take us?
Those are the questions that always pop into our heads as we enter a new year. So we spoke to a few of our friends and partners from across the industry to see what they thought 2023 would bring. The big topics were around VR, cross-platform play, new backend services becoming popular and security.
Let’s dive in.
VR will be more about experiences or short games
Despite all the marketing around VR, it’s still a relatively new format for gaming. It’s still not quite ready for big, action-packed titles. This is even more of an issue when it comes to multiplayer, as even the tiniest framerate drop or lag can make someone feel sick.
“I’m not seeing an advancement in the games themselves, outside a few outliers like BoneLab, Half Life Alyx and Onward,” said content creator, Dustin Curtis, of BigfryTV fame. “There’s a distinct lack of catalog when it comes to quality releases in the VR space – and I hope that changes soon. And when it comes to multiplayer, there needs to be better advancements in VR. Though, Onward was one of the best experiences I’ve had in multiplayer and that was a VR game.”
But why aren’t VR games progressing as much as we would’ve expected? It largely comes down to the physical act of wearing a headset.
“People can’t spend too much time in VR – wearing a headset is tiring,” Roberto, our CTO, explained. “In action games, you need to be moving your hands and head around for thirty minutes to an hour – and you just get exhausted if you have a heavy computer on your head.”
“It’s a similar problem for multiplayer games – especially FPS games,” Sebastiaan Heijne, our CEO, added. “You just can’t look around that fast, everything is just going to be a blur. You’ll be puking in a minute.”
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for VR. It’s just not likely the immensely fast-paced gaming we’re all accustomed to.
“It’s an experience,” Roberto said. “You need to make short games, where the player can step in and step out. Make it short enough that they can play for half an hour and then leave.”
That’s where VR is likely headed this year, until the tech gets better: towards fun, social experiences and arcade-style games. Games that allow you to decorate your room, socialise with a friend, or play a quick bout of a semi-relaxing game.
VR will enhance games rather than replace them
While talking about VR, another option came to mind. If developers treat VR as a unique experience, it’s likely that we’ll see VR experience become a reward for accomplishing something in a regular PC or console game.
“While VR might not be the core gameplay, it could be an unlockable reward,” Sebastiaan said. “Imagine Destiny 2. After you finish a raid, you could unlock an AR or VR experience – a new area to explore or a side-quest. The majority of people would still play on PC, but a few could unlock story that nobody else gets.”
Using VR in this way not only rewards players with unique content, but also means that more people are likely to get a VR headset. And the more users there are, the more incentive for developers to focus on the platform.
These experiences don’t necessarily have to be quests or storylines. They could be social experiences. Guilds could set up their headquarters in a VR environment, using it as a hangout spot to get to know each other.
However, VR will need to have another reason to exist in people’s homes – not just as a secondary experience. Herbert Yung director at Furyion Games said: “If VR wasn’t attractive enough to become a primary form of entertainment, why would people want to pay for a bulky expensive machine to be used for seldom-used rewards or watching ads? That would seem to be more appropriate for something like AR, if it ever comes to the point where widespread usage of AR for work becomes commonplace.”
VR will keep growing, despite challenges
Whether it’s because more developers start making games for the platform, or because they use it as an added experience on top of their core game, it’s only going to grow more.
“It’s still a tricky thing to get right, as it features more technical and design challenges than a non-VR multiplayer game,” Simon Barratt, CEO at Cooperative Innovations, said. “It also faces a challenge because of the number of users, which affects the number of players you can expect. But, having said that, we’ve seen a constant increase in engaged players. Even after two and a half years, we still see consistent sales and playtime.”
While big, action-packed titles with lots of camera movement might not work so well in VR for now, it’s still ripe for multiplayer experiences and games. It’s just the genre that developers need to consider.
Cross-platform play will become the gold standard
More and more developers are learning that people want to play with their friends, regardless of whether they’re on PC, console or mobile. The days of the console wars are over. We’ve entered an era of peace.
“Cross-platform is becoming a standard, especially when you talk about games releasing on Steam as well as Epic Games Launcher,” Dustin said. “The tech feat to get these platforms to work with one another is a hurdle that smaller developers have a hard time climbing over, though. There needs to be a better way for indies to tie these APIs and platforms together.”
So it’s up to those in the industry to reconcile their differences and realise that version exclusive titles and little islands just aren’t what the players want. This is particularly true between different versions of the same console – for example, the flack that FIFA 2022 got over for just PS4 and PS5 being incompatible.
“I think we’re at the point where players expect cross-platform now,” Simon said. “Players don’t care about technical or business challenges when it comes to giving them freedom of choice. If we want to build loyal fans of our IP, we should be available where the players are.”
Thankfully, this is a view that everyone we talked to agreed on. It seems that the perception within the development community is on the same page as the players.
“Cross-platform is here to stay, especially when the differences between platforms aren’t so important,” said Florian Rival, founder and CEO at GDevelop. “As a player, I expect to be able to find a game whatever my platform is: iOS, Android, next-gen console, gaming computer, Steam Deck, whatever it might be.”
But how do we overcome the challenge? How do we live up to that expectation, when different platforms have such different requirements?
“Performance and render pipeline compatibility would be the first thing to look at,” Herbert said. “Especially, if a studio cares to have relatively consistent visuals between platforms. Screen readability and controls are also serious factors to consider. You have to remember that some players might have giant thumbs compared to yours.”
But backend tools will make developing games easier
We’re likely to see a surge of tools and platforms that make it incredibly easy to develop a game. Tools that will mean that developer can focus on their game, and not on making things like multiplayer or cross-platform work.
“Take cross platform. It’s hard. You need a backend that can support multiplayer, find friends on different systems, and update multiple different versions at the same time,” Sebastiaan said. “Studios waste a lot of time recreating these elements. So it’s only natural that some enterprising developers are going to create these tools and turn them into products. I think we’ll see a lot more third-part tools that solve common problems in the near future.”
We’ve already seen this happen, perhaps without realising it. In the past, everyone had to build their own game engine. Now, that seems insane – given the plethora of choices you have.
“While games are becoming more evolved and complex, their development is becoming increasingly costly – and the player expectations are high,” said Florian. “We’ll see more and more middlewares and companies providing solutions that’ll reduce the cost to build and publish a game. We’ll see accessible, affordable solutions that game developers can build on. This is important, as it means games can be built at a faster pace and with strong foundations for multiplayer.”
NFT will collapse, but perhaps be reborn
The average player hates NFTs. And it’s no surprise. Dustin, who regularly chats with the average gamer, knows exactly how they feel.
“NFTs and crypto have no business being in gaming,” he said. “99% of them are predatory cash grabs from teams who claim huge things, but can never deliver. The gaming community doesn’t want NFTs in their games.”
It’s not surprising. Most attempts to crowbar NFTs into games haven’t added any value to the actual game. It doesn’t help the player. It just feels like an additional cost with no tangible rewards. Games that try to use NFTs to fund their game are doomed to failure – because it’s not for the player’s benefit, it’s for the studio’s.
“The NFT market is turbulent right now. And the speculative digital market is trending south,” Herbert added. “I think gamers mostly just care about how much fun they have with their friends. And it’d be good to always keep that in mind when creating new games.”
If nothing changes with how developers use NFTs, then they’ll most certainly be ousted by the players themselves. But perhaps they could be resurrected, if developers actually use them for the right reasons.
“Rather than trying to tokenise elements of your game, NFTs should really be more like unlockables. Players shouldn’t need to pay, but they could get rewarded with an NFT when they complete a quest, for example,” Sebastiaan said.
“Or it could be that the NFT is your main character,” Roberto added. “Imagine if your version of Sonic had an NFT attached to it. You could jump around all the different Sonic games, all those different worlds, with the same outfit and stats. Not just cross-platform, but cross-game. The NFT is basically your main actor.”
But it’s unlikely that this change will happen soon. For that to work, developers need to create standards on how to use the tokens.
“Until there are global protocols, it just won’t happen,” Sebastiaan said. “Right now, there are loads of people doing their own thing. That’s going to crash. There’ll be a few surviors – and perhaps that’s when the standards will come.”
In the short term, will NFTs stay around? Perhaps, but the uses are limited until we have those standards.
“I don’t see NFTs (or any similar technologies) having any use case beyond cosmetics for a long time,” Simon said. “From a game design and technical implementation point of view, it seems like a nightmare. I also question the value of anything you buy in a game once that game shuts down, regardless of what the person selling you the NFT would tell you.”
We’ll see developers start simulating attacks
As the gaming industry continues to grow, it becomes a prime target for cyberattacks, like DDoS. So we’re likely to see more developers start simulating these attacks, in an effort to thwart them before they become a problem.
“We’ll see more attacks as successful games – and their player’s data – becomes a very interesting target,” Florian said. “Attacks can be at any stage: during development and after a game is published. They could target the infrastructure or the playesr themselves, with either primitive attacks or more elaborate social engineering schemes.”
Cybercrime is an unfortunate reality. Criminals might want to blackmail you by shutting down your game or trick your players and colleagues to give up their details.
“Protecting yourself means being aware of these attacks and how you can use multiple layers of protection,” Florian added. “Security needs to be a key concern for everyone in the studio. Otherwise, your huge investment might be ruined by a simple lack of two-factor authentication or a password stolen from a member of the studio.”
How do you protect yourself? Getting tools like DDoS protection is a start. But most cyber attacks start with social engineering – tricking your people. A pretty common scam is to pretend to be a CEO, who urgently needs you to send them your login details for something. In the moment, it’s easy for an employee to forget to check the email is genuine – and they hastily respond with the information.
Knowing how those attacks happen is vital to protecting yourself. And once you know, you need to test your people’s anti-scam reflexes. You’re a game studio – make it a game.
“Gaming is big money – and makes for attractive targets – no matter your size,” Herbert said. “Studios need to simulate attacks and work with vendors to create solid plans on how to mitigate such attacks with minimal downtime. It’s not if it will happen. It’s just a matter of when.”
So test your people. Send them spoof emails to see whether they’d fall for the trick. Don’t punish them for their mistakes, but use it to see where you need more training. Better to fall for the simulation and learn, than fall for the attack when it really happens.
Stay in the loop
We thank everyone who contributed to this article. And if you’d like to keep hearing our combined thoughts and stay up to date with the latest trends, sign up to our newsletter.
Until next time, stay safe.