The Gaming Trends That 2013 Brought Us

With the year coming to close, we take a look at the gaming trends in 2013...

Super Mario 3D World
Photo: Nintendo

Like anything these days, the gaming industry is always changing as newer technologies are introduced, and gamers are on the lookout for different ways to play. Whether it’s having the ability to share your own gameplay footage or releasing older games in shiny new HD packages, we’ve seen a lot of trends come and go in the industry. Below you’ll find a list of some of the biggest gaming trends that we started to see emerge in 2013, and what we think they might mean for the future of gaming. Have a trend we may have missed? Let us know in the replies!

More Free-to-Play Games and Microtransactions

As someone who has an extensive background in the mobile games industry, I’ve personally seen the rise of the free-to-play model from its humble beginnings, to the unstoppable beast that it has turned into today. The basic concept is simple: let everyone download your latest game for free, but incrementally charge them small monetary amounts if they want to progress further in the game or unlock some of the better content. In-app purchases are encouraged through the implementation of energy meters or wait times that would force you to pay to keep playing, or simply wait hours at a time until they gradually recharged; something that wasn’t too big of a deal with the short-session nature of most smartphone and tablet games.

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Well now developers have seen the unbelievable success of the free-to-play model and have begun experimenting with using it in more console-quality gaming experiences. We’re now starting to see games like Warframe, big triple-A console titles being put on the market completely for free. However, it still seems that most developers have a lot to learn about effectively using their microtransactions so that they don’t completely alienate their gamers: after all, playing for only a couple of minutes before being forced to wait an hour in a console game certainly doesn’t translate well. But regardless of how you feel about the industry forging ahead into the free-to-play games sphere, microtransactions are not only a trend, but they may as well be the industry’s future.

However, what also seems to be an ugly, ugly trend are the same kinds of microtransactions popping up in full $60 retail games now. We’ve heard Electronic Arts make comments before about one day having their gamers pay a $0.99 in-app purchase if they wanted to reload their weapon in a heated match of Battlefield, and we’ve also seen them crop up in completely once-immersive game experiences like Dead Space 3. Developers also seem to be taking advantage of microtransactions more and more to put that money in the bank, with the latest example of Gran Turismo 6 charging an absolutely obscene $199 in-app purchase to unlock one of the higher-end vehicles in the game right from the very start.

Cross-platform Play

This is another big one, and a trend that has already been put into motion, especially with the release of Microsoft and Sony’s next-generation hardware. The basic idea of cross-platform play is that gamers can start playing something on one console, and then pick up exactly where they left off on another. Perhaps the best example of this in the industry right now is how players are able to purchase select games on their PlayStation 3 console, and receive the same download on their handheld PS Vita system, where saved game progress can be stored in the cloud for an interchangeable experience of play.

But now I think we should all start getting prepared for an even greater sense of cross-platform gaming experiences in 2014 and beyond, especially with the recent release of Microsoft’s Xbox One, which brings even more platforms into the mix. For instance, let’s take a game like the downloadable Halo: Spartan Assault, which is currently set to launch on Xbox One this December. Theoretically, players will be able to start up the game in the morning on their Xbox One home system; on their way to work, they can continue playing the game on their Windows phone while riding the train; on their lunch break, maybe they’ll switch over to playing on their Windows tablet for that bigger screen; and finally when they get back home, they can also hop on their PC to finish up that latest mission. This is the concept of cross-platform play in a nutshell, and I only expect that the possibilities will become even greater as these machines and their communication with one another become more and more sophisticated.

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The Two-Screen Experience

When Nintendo first announced the Wii U in 2011, all of the attention was placed squarely on that 6-inch touchscreen in the middle of the GamePad controller. Admittedly, the idea of a two-screen home gaming experience didn’t resonate with many gamers at first, and not nearly in the same way that the Wii Remote had instantly made sense the generation before. To many, the GamePad’s screen seemed like a gimmick more than anything, despite the fact that Nintendo had already been doing a similar thing for years in the handheld market with their DS hardware and its successor, the 3DS. But for some reason, a two-screen experience for home console games seems like a different beast entirely.

But then Microsoft announced they would be releasing an App called Smart Glass, which would allow users to access supplementary material like maps or statistics on their smartphone or tablet while they played a game on their Xbox. Sony has also been making strides lately to incorporate their PlayStation Vita system as a second screen of sorts to its big brother console, the PlayStation 4. So there’s certainly no question that second-screen experiences are an emergent trend in the overall gaming sphere, even if they’re still trying to find some solid footing. A few games I’ve played use the technology amazingly well, like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, where your map and inventory screen are only a quick glance down; while other titles miss the boat entirely like Sonic Lost World, which obligatorily uses the second screen for the most menial of actions.

So while it seems like the big hardware companies are very keen on the idea of gaming with two screens, it remains to be seen if the trend will truly catch on in the long run for the people that really matter: the gamers themselves.

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The Return of the Platformer

This is the one that I’m personally the most excited about: the return of the platform game in 2013! For some reason or another, the latest generation of video games had begun to shy away from those old cartoony platformer greats that had been such a success back on the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. But as the better graphics and higher demand for gritty game experiences began to take hold in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360’s respective lifecycles, there sadly seemed like there was no more room for great games like Spyro the Dragon or Jak and Daxter anymore. Successful platform franchises from the past that still tried to stick around in this changing age desperately tried to change up the formula to a largely negative effect, like Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank experimenting with 4-player co-op or tower defense gameplay elements.

But then another funny thing happened: it seemed like gamers were becoming disillusioned by all of the realistic shooters and generic zombie games that were flooding the market, and before we knew it, brand new platform adventures were suddenly beginning to pop up again: in part, I believe, as a result of the increasing predominance of the indie gamer in 2013 and their completely unique and original gaming experiences. The start of this year brought us a brand new Sly Cooper game, and then Rayman Legends and Super Mario 3D World came along to completely blow the doors off the platforming place, and show us that bright and colorful adventures are still more than capable of landing those coveted 9s and 10s on the biggest gaming sites. Even Ratchet & Clank decided to return to their platforming roots in November, with the incredible Into the Nexus.

It will certainly be interesting to see if this “rise of the platformer” trend will continue in 2014 especially now that the next-generation is here, and Sony’s flagship PS4 platformer Knack sadly didn’t fare so well in the fallout. But if there’s any truth to the rumor that Sony may have reacquired the licensing rights to the Crash Bandicoot brand, then I think there can only be good things to come for our favorite platforming pals.

Companion Apps

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We’ve seen the emergence of mobile companion apps to some of today’s biggest console games become more widespread by the tail end of 2013, but this is one trend that I feel has the strength and longevity to become something huge in 2014. Perhaps one of the first and best known examples of a companion app is the Grand Theft Auto: iFruit app by Rockstar Games. Released for free on mobile devices the same day that the hotly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V hit stores shelves, the iFruit app lets players enhance and customized their vehicles in GTA V, as well as play a few mini-games with Franklin’s dog Chop–both of which can add experience and other bonuses to your save game in the actual console game.

Now sure, the iFruit app isn’t exactly the coolest thing that Rockstar could have invented to use alongside such an amazing console game, but when you really think about the possibilities for these kinds of companion apps in the future, the potential becomes really exciting: it’s a nice and simple way to work on your stats even when you’re outside of the main game. Call of Duty: Ghosts also had a mobile companion app as well, which let players keep track of their online career stats and partake in simulated “Clan Wars.” Hell, even Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus had a rail-grinding companion app called Before the Nexus, where players could earn bolts for use in the actual console game.

Do you think these kinds of supplementary bonus materials like companion apps are just a passing fad that will fail to catch on, or do they have the potential to become something bigger as developers begin to experiment with them some more?

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