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The past year was one of contrasts for the gaming industry. It was both one of the most significant years for gamers, given an unusually large number of well-received titles, and one of the most challenging for game creators due to a swath of restructurings aligned with cutbacks in the broader technology industry.
In both cases, a series of disruptions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic have finally settled, giving us our first clear view of the future of the video game industry.
That said, a potential return to normal doesn’t necessarily mean boring—we’ll see a number of key shifts in 2024 that paint a promising future for video games as both an increasingly popular media platform and opportunity for marketers.
Hollywood will ditch comics for video games
One of the most fruitful years for gaming was amid one of the most challenging for the broader entertainment industry, due in part to the actors and writers strikes.
These strikes had a negligible effect on the gaming industry due to historical divisions from Hollywood, though the space between these industries has been closing quickly in recent years—the biggest TV and theatrical hits this past year were based on popular video game IP, such as Super Mario Bros. and The Last of Us.
This year will be no different: 2024 will see a television adaptation of the popular Fallout series (April) and continue with theatrical adaptations of the Borderlands (August) and Sonic the Hedgehog (December) series. As consumers have shown signs of fatigue with comic book-based projects that have dominated the box office over the past decade and a half, studios are looking to other forms of media with established fan bases.
However, the prevalence of gaming IP in TV and movie adaptations is not merely a reflection of other wells of popular culture IP drying up, so much as a sign of rising cultural acceptance and relevance of video gaming more generally.
Gaming will be on the go
While many look to the highly anticipated Apple Vision Pro in early 2024 as setting the benchmark for immersive entertainment, in reality we may find that portable gaming devices will take center stage.
It’s rumored that Nintendo will release a new Switch console in late 2024, and if true, it will be the first “ninth generation” console (joining the Sony Playstation 5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X/S) that can be played on the go. The Nintendo Switch platform can be partially credited for kicking off a new era of high-fidelity portable gaming, where portable gaming PCs such as Valve’s Steam Deck and even mobile phones capable of playing formerly PC/console-native titles, like the recently released iPhone 15, have become the norm.
Portable gaming is attractive for the same reason virtual reality devices have yet to reach critical mass: convenient access to compelling entertainment experiences. From mobile gaming to cloud access, the video game industry is pushing toward a world where games can be accessed anywhere and at any time. Mobile gaming in particular has become the largest sector in the gaming industry, yielding the most opportunities for marketers.
Though 2024 may lack the heft of content from 2023, how and where the content is accessed will become increasingly diversified, reflecting the multifaceted ways consumers access media—which doesn’t always involve a device strapped to their face.
A new normal for video game industry growth
Tracking revenue in the gaming industry has never been a simple endeavor, and yet the task became all the more complicated in recent years as pandemic-era impacts continue to cause ripple effects. While the death of the gaming industry has been greatly exaggerated, 2024 will be the benchmark year for a new normal in terms of overall industry growth.
A surge in video game-related spending during the peak of the pandemic (around 2021), when consumers were hungry for in-home entertainment, disrupted growth trends that had been established in previous years. Revenue in 2022 “declined” relative to the abnormal pandemic boost from 2021. As a result, all eyes were set on 2023 as a return to growth given a bumper crop of highly anticipated titles (many of which were delayed by the pandemic) that would in turn bolster gaming hardware sales, which had similarly been throttled by pandemic-related supply chain issues.
The strength of this release slate positioned game consoles as the growth story of 2023, where segment revenues were up 7.4%, outpacing PC and mobile growth and driving overall industry revenue up 2.6% to an estimated $187.7 billion.
Analysts anticipate a return to this level of steady revenue growth in 2024, essentially reflecting a return to normalcy from the pandemic years. Revenues will be buoyed by a spillover of 2023 demand in the first half of the year and a potential console refresh anchoring the next holiday season. In short, gaming revenues will finally stabilize toward steady growth after a turbulent series of valleys and peaks over the past few years.
We will have to redefine nostalgia
2024 has a tough act to follow for gaming fans given the release slate in 2023, though not all of the biggest hits were new titles. Some of the most well received games of 2023 were remakes or remasters of games originally released during the early aughts: Metroid Prime (2002), Resident Evil 4 (2005) and Dead Space (2008).
Creating games is an expensive, risk-laden business. Leveraging existing, popular IP is an established way to control some of this risk by catering to the immense and passionate fandoms within gaming. Remasters or remakes of older titles are typically a safe bet in this regard—what better way to make a hit game than to rerelease proven hits? Because remakes and remasters are both good business and fan-friendly, and we’ll see a number in 2024 from popular series ranging from Alone in the Dark to Max Payne and Metal Gear.
The success of long-running series and remakes demonstrates the staying power of compelling IP in gaming, which harbor increasingly large and devoted fandoms. Moreover, these more recent remakes are another example of the growing diversity of these fandoms, given that gamers range in age from those at the beginning of consoles in the ’80s or ’90s (younger Gen X and older millennials), and people now in their 20s and 30s (younger millennials and older Gen Z) whose formative years included the first wave of these remakes in the early aughts. As a result, nostalgic gaming has become an entertainment constant for an ever-wider age range of consumers.
Marketing opportunities will seek middle ground
Though marketers have begun to appreciate the breadth of the gaming fandom and depth of their affinity for the medium, how to activate therein has not always been clear.
We started 2023 with a proclamation that questioned the current state of marketing opportunities in gaming: Industry leader Tim Sweeney noted that he hates ads but loved integrated marketing in games. What Sweeney was really railing against was marketing that didn’t fit with the gaming world, as the reality is that both ads and integrated marketing are popular and effective means for brands to integrate with gaming when done with the needs and expectations of gamers in mind.
However, this statement is illustrative of the current landscape for marketing integrations in games—they tend to either be turnkey programmatic media buys or labor intensive in-game activations, with very little middle ground. As advertiser interest in gaming continues to rise, and privacy regulations complicate reliable revenue in the mobile sector, we’ll begin to see a convergence of these opportunities in 2024: more immersive media opportunities that have the look and feel of otherwise nonscalable integrated marketing opportunities, and above all else create a seamless experience for players.
The net result is an industry with better advertising experiences that endeavor to create better player experiences, accessed by an increasingly large and diverse array of consumers, on their own time, through whichever devices they favor.
The right way to think about marketing opportunities in gaming is therefore about access—marketers can reach otherwise difficult-to-reach consumers by subsidizing larger portfolios of games that can be accessed by players at low or no cost. Throughout 2024, we’ll see a number of important trends converging on this future where marketers can contribute to great experiences for players and help pave the way for gaming to become the most significant form of consumer entertainment.