online-gaming-industryIt’s no secret that the online gaming industry has experienced rapid growth recently. By 2016, the size of the global games market is forecasted to reach $86.1B. Here at Hi-Rez Studios, the number of registered SMITE players is well over 5 million, and part of our strategy is to make sure the right technology is in place to keep up with the growing demand.

Let’s take a look at five trends that are influencing growth of the online gaming industry.

1. Free-to-play (F2P) business model
The F2P model will remain popular in 2015 and beyond. Free game distribution provides a marketing and business approach for developers and publishers to monetize games. With so many entertainment products available, F2P helps attract new gamers and allows them to try new things with zero committment to buy. People can pay absolutely nothing and still enjoy the game, or they can choose to spend money and customize their experience by purchasing items through microtransactions during the game. The flexibility of this pricing model benefits online game pulblishers and consumers alike.

Developers are increasingly deploying the F2P model across all platforms, including mobile and consoles. F2P is already the most popular type of game for mobile users, and this trend will continue to increase. Also, next-generation consoles will soon provide much more support for F2P games than in the past; for example, Sony’s new PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One will offer more F2P options than before. In 2015, SMITE will be free to play on Xbox One.

2) Games as a service
In the days of yore, games were purchased in a box from a retailer and played at home by yourself. When a new game was released, it marked the “finish line” for development and management.

Today, most games are delivered digitally and are available in a multiplayer format. Games as a Service, or cloud gaming, allows gaming compaies to provide regular updates, including new content, events or options for downloadable content (DLC). This requires ongoing management and makes a new game release seem more like the “starting line” for developers to continue updating the game.The user state is saved in the cloud and available on multiple devices, allowing gamers to easily pick up where they left off. This type of game delivery requires a more sophisticated Internet infrastructure with ultra low latency to ensure a highly available game experience for users, regardless of location or device.

3) Esports
The popularity of video games as a spectator sport has grown dramatically in the past two years. Esports fuse the multiplayer game experience with real-world physical sports, and attract large sponsors including Red Bull and Coke. Originally popular in Asia, the main enabler for the growth of Esports was Twitch, which was acquired by Amazon for just under $1B. Professional gamers like Matt Haag are earning a comfortable living through competitive careers. Four game franchises have now had Esports events with a prize pool of more than $1M: League of Legends, DoTA2, Call of Duty and SMITE. The SMITE World Championship event will take place in Atlanta in January, and the prize pool has already grown to more than $1.4M.

4) Going global
The shift to digital game distribution and broader global access to the Internet has encourgaged franchises to expand beyond North America. To gain global appeal, online game developers are incorporating more diverse themes and genres into their games to attract worldwide audiences and global appeal. In the case of SMITE, this includes Greek, Norse, Mayan and Chinese mythology.
Achieving global domination is easier than ever before with cloud-based technology. Online gaming companies need to plan ahead and put the right infrastructure in place to make sure their games are available for a worldwide audience — poor online performance will only lead to game abandonment. As a result of increased global reach, 2015 should see increased global revenues as well.

5) Mobile
Revenue from mobile gaming is predicted to surpass console gaming in 2015. Games are the most popular apps on smartphones, and developers need to plan for this.

Smartphones and tablets, with help from social media apps, are changing the demographics of gamers. The audience is broadening to include more young gamers and more females, also known as mom gamers. The flexibility of multiple devices makes games more accessible to audiences that previously were not associated with video games.

These online gaming trends will continue into 2015 and beyond. Game developers need to be prepared for these shifts, so they can benefit from opportunities that will arise from industry growth.

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