2018 has been a rollercoaster of a year for video games, with games like Fortnite exploding in popularity, companies unveiling all-new ways to play games, and, naturally, plenty of controversy surrounding certain games.
Several similar stories came up repeatedly over the course of the year, and those trends help us to get a better picture of what the future might hold. These are the biggest gaming trends of 2018.
Paid expansions start going out of style
Video game lifespans have been increasing recently, with companies trying to keep players engaged for months or even years with new content, rewards, and events. In the past, that meant players would have to shell out $10 or $20 to gain access to the content and stay playing with their friends, but we’re starting to see the industry move away from this model. As was the case with Titanfall 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront II, Electronic Arts chose to keep all post-launch content free in Battlefield V. Previous games had used a $50 season pass, instead, fracturing the player-base just months after launch.
Not every company has followed EA’s lead – Activision still loves paid DLC – but more companies are now seeing the benefit to having a large active user-base. During E3 2018, Ubisoft revealed that all three post-launch expansions for The Division 2 would be free, and World of Warcraft even made all but its most recent expansion free with a subscription. For games that require other players to enjoy, it can only make them better.
Loot box drama takes a turn
Last year, game publishers took a page out of Blizzard’s handbook and began shoving loot boxes – digital mystery items filled with in-game gear or prizes – into several different titles. Some of these were multiplayer and were only for cosmetics, while others like Middle-earth: Shadow of War, used loot boxes for single-player games.
The reaction from players was immediate and intense, with critics bashing “pay to win” mechanics in games like Star Wars: Battlefront II, and the companies listened. Loot boxes have been removed from Battlefront II entirely, replaced by a simpler paid DLC system that gives players the exact cosmetic items they wanted. Middle-earth: Shadow of War killed its paid loot boxes off, too, giving players an experience closer to Shadow of Mordor.
But the fight isn’t over yet. Legal action has been taken in places like Belgium to ban loot boxes outright, and a similar investigation could even come to the United States via the FTC. If players’ wallets can’t let publishers know how they feel about loot boxes, new laws just might make it a moot point.
Mobile games and AR continue their takeover
You’re no longer limited to playing simple sidescrollers or puzzle games on iOS and Android devices, but 2018 brought with it even bigger changes to the mobile scene. With the launch of Fortnite on mobile platforms, as well as PUBG Mobile, players finally get an experience on the go that was comparable or nearly identical to what they could get on a traditional gaming system. The lines will only continue to get blurrier as developers look at phones like they are traditional gaming platforms, rather than devices that need an alternate approach.
Augmented reality, or AR, continues to make a push, as well. Niantic’s Pokémon Go finally received trading and trainer battles, and the company released a new version of its game Ingress and are even developing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. If more developers follow suit with their own games, AR could become even more interesting than the VR available on devices like the Vive and Rift.
Game streaming and cross-play are the future
Despite phones having less processing power than PCs or consoles, they’re going to be capable of playing everything available on other systems in the future, and streaming services will make it possible.
Microsoft’s Project xCloud was announced this year, and the program is designed to essentially turn any device into an Xbox. Special touch controls will be available for those playing on touch devices, and Bluetooth controllers will let them use traditional schemes – all while remote servers handle the actual game software.
Google’s Project Stream is also in the works, letting users do similar things from the Chrome browser, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is available to play for beta testers right now. Ubisoft founder Yves Guillemot took things a step further, saying that game streaming will eventually replace other forms of gaming altogether.
More than being able to play games on anything, however, 2018 was about playing games with anyone. Cross-platform play came to games like Minecraft and Fortnite, letting Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS, and PlayStation players compete against each other. Even if you and a friend play your games on different systems, that doesn’t mean you can’t play together, and we anticipate far more games destroy platform barriers in the future, as well.
Esports become career goals for kids
The battle royale craze that began in 2017 with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has continued into 2018, with Fortnite becoming the biggest video game in the world and turning into a facet of pop culture.
Its audience includes children preparing to attend college, and some of them have even taken to hiring tutors to improve their skills and their chance of getting a scholarship. Universities are now offering scholarships for video games, just like they do with sports, and a new generation of players are ready to cash in.
Far removed from underground events they used to be, esports are turning into an enormous industry. Popular title Overwatch continue to be played by millions of people, and competitions air on traditional sports networks like ESPN. Esports have become so popular and influential that there has even been talk about bringing video games to the Olympics, and competitions continue to expand with city-specific teams.