In Game design, Game marketing, Game monetization

2015 has been a big year for free-to-play (F2P) with a number of major announcements from companies like Nintendo, who partnered with F2P developer DeNA, further strengthening it’s position as the business model of the moment. We took a look back and some of the events in the industry over the last year to put together our predictions for the key industry trends you’re likely to see in 2016.

More premium games using free-to-play mechanics

2015 was a strange year for premium titles featuring microtransactions, with major console games Metal Gear Solid and Rocket League adopting a free-to-play (F2P) mechanic. Clearly the big guys are still trying to find their feet, with even Pay Day 2 developer, Overkill, implementing microtransactions into their game, against their own previous predictions.

Here’s what we saw: Destiny is no longer going to feature any new downloadable content (as they will likely be making Destiny 2) and will only feature content via microtransactions throughout 2016. Rocket League released at a small price point with the aim to release a mix of free and paid for content. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain featured several F2P mechanics such as time blocker speed-ups and base attack protection. Forza Motorsport 6 sneaked in microtransactions 2 months after launch.

We expect to see this trend continue in 2016 as more and more major developers and publishers try to find a happy-medium when looking to monetize their premium games.

The rise of free-to-play eSports

The rise of esports has continued at a dramatic pace, with games market research firm Newzoo predicting in their recent report that revenues will grow from $278 million to $765 million in 2018. Although the space is still dominated by PC multiplayer online arena battlers (MOBAs), momentum has gathered for tournaments for mobile games like Clash of Clans. Psyonix surprise hit Rocket League took the gaming world by storm this year with competitive players screaming out for it to be the next big eSport.

More mainstream streaming services are now beginning to cover the competitive gaming scene – unsurprising considering F2P giant Riot Games’ League of Legends pulled in over 334 million people watching the last World Championships. That the likes of ESPN, Red Bull, and the BBC getting in on the action, with some even hosting their own competitive gaming events, is a huge step for esports and competitive gaming as a whole.

Peter Warman, CEO of Newzoo, believes one of the major factors defining the future of esports is the rise in new video technology; “As games and video converge further into cross-screen entertainment franchises, professional gamers and streamers are the celebrities of the new generation. With stadiums around the world filling up each weekend and more than 100 million fans tuning into esports every month, it’s only logical that traditional media and advertisers are standing in line to get involved.”

With its continued growth, especially in the free-to-space, you should expect to see esports appearing more frequently in mainstream media in 2016.

Better use of in-game advertisements

Tolerance of aggressive ad campaigns in games varies, but there will be a proportion of players who simply abandon as a result. It’s important that all F2P game developers take ad serving in games very seriously and that they consider different player styles. Our recent research into the use of ad serving in games revealed that developers lack confidence in their approach towards ad serving and are generally cautious for fear of loosing players. When asked what the solution was, developers proposed an increased use of data and a stronger focus on the overall monetization strategy.

Although interstitial ads were the most commonly used, many developers were also using rewarded ads in their games. Angry Birds 2’s approach, for example, uses rewarded adverts to prolong the player’s gameplay session without it cannibalizing premium currency purchases. Limiting the ads per session still presents the player with the stark choice of monetizing or facing a time blocker to progress once the ads have been exhausted.

Angry Birds 2 rewarded video advert retention mechanic

Angry Birds 2 rewarded video advert retention mechanic

As use of deep data analytics becomes mainstream, developers will gain a better understanding of their own players and how to improve and augment their experiences. We expect see more developers turning to game personalization tools to enhance the experience for each player segment and improve KPIs.

The growth of F2P games across new platforms

2015 has seen some substantial attempts to change the way games are played and consumed in the mobile space. The release of the iWatch, iPhone 6S (with 3D touch) and the first major commercial VR headset release in the form of Samsung Gear VR, is testament to this change.

2016 will be watched closely as Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and HTC Vive are all stated for release next year. We should see developers looking towards these platforms for new ways to present their free-to-play games. Not all will succeed, though we can be certain to see a wealth of ideas as they figure out what works commercially. Will it just be another fad or will games be changed forever?

The switch from Big Data to Deep Data

It’s now possible to record a wealth of data, but with so much of it available, game developers run the risk of recording ‘data for data’s sake’. What we are starting to see now is a shift towards focusing on the right data to generate actionable insights, driven by a market in which it’s increasingly hard to retain players long enough to monetize.

The traditional approach towards big data required analysts to sift through large quantities of data to interpret it. Now there are a range of tools available which essentially do this work, focusing only on the metrics needed to improve games. This is making the kind of analysis that used to be available solely to companies with the resource to hire professional teams, accessible even to smaller developers. And they are using it to augment their games.

It’s not enough anymore to simply measure KPIs and basic interactions, data should be informing actions and creating high-definition archetypes. Deep data is a move towards efficiency and effectiveness, and it signifies the democratization of analytics. Expect to see more and more developers of all sizes adopting a deep data approach in 2016.

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