Another year has come and gone, and once again the games industry has seen seismic shifts in its audience and its business. Zynga, crown prince of Facebook games, suffered serious buyer's remorse. And mobile games finally established itself as a major category. Who knew you could have that much fun on a tiny screen! For hardcore gamers, many online games of yesteryear have died off or found themselves surrounded by an entire new generation of free-to-play titles.
As always at the year's end, it's time to gather round and look at the big news we saw and the trends that we see coming. Spoiler: Hope you like bubble shooters.
Oh, Zynga. We're sure that the $180 million acquisition of OMGPOP in March looked good at the time. The same way a convertible looks good in the garage until you realize you've got four kids, a surfboarding hobby and a mortgage. Facebook unfriended Zynga, who thought that the maker of casual games like Draw Something would add heft and users to its portfolio. Instead, Zynga found itself writing off up to $95 million of OMGPOP's purchase (losing, as The Next Web pointed out, $482,000 a day). Dislike.
This year was the year of mobile. More of us bought smartphones and tablets and more of us bought games to play on those devices. With over 100 million mobile gamers in the US, a larger number of people than ever are Temple Running their way to work. Big-ticket game publishers like EA released many of their titles on mobile, and even traditional media companies cashed in on the fun. At the Video Game Awards this year, it was "The Walking Dead"-a licensed game set in the realm of the AMC show-that beat out several high-budget console games to win Game of the Year 2012. Mobile gaming has increased the quality of content at your fingertips over the past year, and people are taking notice.
This year also proved that free-to-play games can gain more users and more revenues than pay-to-play. But we think 2013 is going to see a return of the subscription model. Not to say that they will look exactly like World of Warcraft, but with discounts and memberships the online games arena may swing back to a revenue stream reminiscent of times past. With their collective back against the wall, subscription games will get creative and come up with new ways to compete with the influx of free-to-play games through improved content, benefits, and discounts.
What does 2013 have in store? Kids games. Lots and lots of kids games. Educational games, games based on books and movies and TV shows. As it becomes easier for children to access games, especially on mobile platforms, we're going to see many companies in the traditional toys and children's media spaces looking to games to reach a screen-hungry audience. Saturday morning cartoons are giving way to Saturday morning games.
Finally, bubble shooters are bouncing and popping their way to the top of social games. The new year is also bringing a return to classic word and puzzle games. The market is saturated with every iteration of sim and Ville that can be accommodated. As Zynga flooded the market with sim games, players grew tired of this genre and sought out something different. Quicker, more active games like bubble shooters and match-three games have flourished, as popular games like Bejeweled have reinvented themselves for the new gamer. Word and puzzle games have gone viral with digital and mobile versions of Scrabble, Boggle, and Tetris, allowing players to enjoy these classic games with friends all over the world. Perhaps a simulation-bubble shooter mash-up can save the struggling 'Villes. After all, who wouldn't want to launch a FarmVille cow out of a cannon?
Joost has over 15 years of commercial research experience in interactive entertainment and technology industries. Prior to founding SuperData he held senior positions at Nielsen Online and DFC Intelligence. He also teaches at New York University (on video games, of course), and regularly speaks at both academic and industry conferences, including GDC, Casual Connect and Social Game Summit. He holds a doctorate from Columbia University.