There are more people playing games and consuming game-related content than ever before. Despite these numbers, I still get eye rolls when I suggest that commercial at-home gaming is the next big wave in entertainment.
Honestly, this response baffles me. I can’t help but think of Harry Warner’s take on “talkies” in 1927: “Who the hell wants to hear an actor talk?”. Most people, it turns out.
Any entrepreneur who’s still hanging on to an outdated understanding of the gaming industry stands to miss out on huge opportunities. If you still need convincing, here are five gaming trends to watch in 2021.
1. GAME MANUFACTURERS ARE BEGINNING TO ABANDON THE “CASTLE WALL” MENTALITY.
Even before the pandemic began, gamers were making their displeasure known over an inability to play their favorite games with friends using a different system. PlayStation owners couldn’t easily invite their XBox friends to participate in a multiplayer game and vice versa. Even if both gamers had paid for the identical title, proprietary architectures didn’t have much interest in playing nice with each other.
This is not the sort of artificial barrier that gamers suffer quietly. The castle walls truly began to crumble with the introduction and popular success of Fortnite, which, for the most part, allowed true cross-platform, multi-gamer play.
When Covid-19 forced large segments of the population into isolation, it only accelerated the community-building trend among gamers. Regardless of how the pandemic plays out, manufacturers have begun waking up to the shortsightedness of cutting their customers off from other players. Look for more software developers to seek to replicate the platform-agnostic success of Fortnite and for social gaming apps like PvP to experience massive growth in 2021 and beyond.
2. THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE GAMING COMMUNITY ARE SHIFTING RAPIDLY.
Ask anyone to describe a typical gamer, and chances are good you’ll get a description that more or less mirrors the characters and setting of “Wayne’s World.” Gamers are mistakenly viewed as shiftless young men living in Mom’s basement, surrounded by crumpled fast-food wrappers and empty bottles of Mountain Dew Code Red.
As much fun as it might be to trot out this trope, it bears less and less resemblance to the evolving gaming community. For one thing, an entire generation of gamers has already grown up, left home, and took their love of gaming with them.
Today more than 60% of adults are gamers. They apparently didn’t get the memo that they needed to set aside their love of gaming as they entered the workforce. Inaccurate preconceptions based on gender and age are being shattered, too.
As pandemic lockdowns took hold, the spread of gaming to a wider audience merely gained speed. As we come out of Covid-19, savvy game developers will continue to take note of their wider audience and create products that appeal to an expanded demographic.
3. GAMING IS RAPIDLY GAINING GROUND AS A LEGITIMATE SPORT.
In the early days of electronic games (or “esports”), gaming aficionados typically encountered much scorn and dismissiveness. Fortunately, this attitude was becoming less prevalent even before Covid-19 forced the closure of in-person athletic events. Positive and much-needed changes in gamer culture — and a worldwide pandemic — have accelerated our willingness to accept gaming as a legitimate sport.
As we come out of the pandemic and head back to arena settings, it’s going to get increasingly difficult for the naysayers to hang onto their sarcasm. Big-name athletes are not only lending their names to gaming software, but are also participating in televised esport events. The credibility gained as “real” athletes publicly compete against each other in Mario Kart will have a snowball effect on the entire industry.
4. GAMER TECHNOLOGY WILL INCREASINGLY BE USED TO FACILITATE EVERYDAY, REAL-WORLD FUNCTIONS.
Prior to 2020, online grocery shopping was widely available but failing in its bid for popular acceptance. Once stay-at-home orders and Covid caution began to take hold, it made sense for all of us to look a bit closer at the available alternatives to leaving home. Forward-thinking vendors who had already invested in infrastructure to support online shopping quickly moved to the front of the pack. Small businesses that hadn’t embraced online ordering either went out of business or made rapid changes to stay afloat.
With functionality now falling into place, the next logical step will be making online ordering fun. Consumers will stop evaluating who has online ordering and who does not. Instead, there will be an increased expectation that the ordering experience will be enjoyable in its own right.
Marrying gaming technology with routine chores like online grocery shopping is an idea that holds a lot of promise. Today, it’s easy to imagine shoppers being issued an avatar, virtual cart, and 3D aisles. Grocery store premiums like in-store coupons and cents-off gasoline purchases could be awarded to shoppers who level up. There’s no reason that these incentives couldn’t be made more obvious — and attractive — to shoppers as they make purchase decisions.
5. GAMING-RELATED REVENUES CONTINUE TO CLIMB AT AN EXPONENTIAL RATE.
Gaming has grown into a full-fledged entertainment industry worth billions, and it’s finally been given a seat at the big kids table. Covid-19 shutdowns forced many traditional media outlets to take a more informed approach to tracking where entertainment dollars were actually being spent.
For its part, Hollywood has been slow to effectively leverage gaming enthusiasm into lucrative big-screen offerings. Though several game-themed feature films have been released, the overall response has been tepid.
Gamers are quick to sense when beloved characters are being slapped onto a flimsy plot that doesn’t honor shared truths and meta narratives. They are also quick to spread bad word of mouth. Since the numbers are now too big to ignore, watch for filmmakers to continue to pitch properties that attempt to tap this market in 2021 and beyond.
The revenue trend that caught many by surprise is streaming on platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming. After all, the common wisdom of just a few years ago was that gamers liked to play games, period. “Why would anyone pay to watch someone else play games?” (Sounds like Harry Warner back in 1927.)
Today, there’s simply no denying the earning potential. More and more streamers are finding that they don’t need to amass an army of millions to make a living. By focusing on carving out a specific niche, streaming now offers a viable career path for many.
As gaming becomes increasingly mainstream, both its revenues and the size of its audience will continue to grow. How much bigger can gaming get? I can’t wait to find out.
Phil Stover is CEO of PvP , the first true gamer social community. In 2016, Phil co-founded venture firm Blue Skies Ventures to help entrepreneurs accelerate, and the firm actively invests in startups today. Phil is an active member of the Los Angeles community, currently supporting Pledge LA, and previously The Action Group Network and young professional’s group 310YP as a board member. Prior to his crazy life in startups, his 11-year corporate management career in banking and insurance included oversight of multi-million dollar sales initiatives and product launches, and $2.3B in P&L responsibilities. He has an undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and an MBA from the University of Southern California.