A Genre-Defining Year: How Gaming Trends Reflect the World Around us
Gaming has always been an industry that’s built around the human experience. For a game to be successful it needs to generate a lasting connection that gets gamers coming back for more. It means that truly understanding players and reflecting their values is just as crucial as how good the game feels to play, and with over 2.7 billion worldwide gamers in 2023, this is more important than ever.
With more gamers comes more niche categories, and a few genres are dominating in 2023: Action/adventure games are played by 61% of 18-35 yr olds, while Co-op and Horror games are on a rapid upward trend - all along with an explosion of Remakes and Remasters.
Why these genres and what can we learn from these trends?
In recent research, we’ve spotted 4 key values that people generally are looking to see reflected in their choices of brands, products, and experience. These are: Benevolence, Hedonism, Stimulation, and Security - all of which are shown off by these genres in different ways. Let’s take a look at how they’re allowing people to live their values…
Co-op Experiences: Connection
How do video games create connection?
To the non-gaming world, playing video games doesn’t look like the most social activity, but in recent years there’s been an increased desire for experiencing more connections among gamers. Meaningful connection has become more important to everyone following the pandemic, and we’re all in search of ways to maximize the value of our experiences by sharing them. It has resulted in the explosion of co-op games, experiences you can play with far away friends, which are focused on working together rather than being in competition.
This move to co-op and connection has also created a more open, low-stakes, and relaxed subculture of gaming far from the hyper-competitive atmosphere that has historically discouraged those new to the hobby (see our previous blog for more on this). Bringing many people into gaming experiences feel kinder, friendlier, and more accessible.
The Star Games
More than just adding in a Co-op “option” that we see throughout the industry, games like It Takes Two, Call of Duty DMZ, Destiny 2, and many others have made co-op absolutely central to their experiences, making the primary appeal of the game to play socially and foster friendly teamwork.
Role-playing adventures: Escaping to Joy
What’s so meaningful about escaping to Joy?
Beyond connection, we’re also looking for an escape from the increasing struggle to keep up with everyday responsibilities. Whilst COVID slowed life down to 50%, the rebound has felt severe. Life feels faster than ever, creating a fight to continuously tread water and keep up, opening up an essential space for adventure games to take the spotlight…
Role-playing / adventure games allow people to live a story, a world, or an experience completely separate to their own and truly invest in it. They’re immersive, awe-inspiring, and ultimately bring joy through their ability to quiet the pressures of the everyday. This can even feel like a form of self care that allows people to shut out the many other sources demanding our attention.
The Star Games
Take a look at the 2023 video game awards. It’s dominated by role-playing action adventure titles; Elden Ring, God of War Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West. It’s a trend that’s continuing into 2023 as well, with the massive popularity of Hogwarts Legacy and anticipation for The Legend of Zelda, Tears of the Kingdom.
Horror: Escapism through Excitement and Stimulation
What are we running from with Horror?
Gamers are looking for a more visceral escape, too. As well as escaping through joy, there’s the escape of true stimulation - an adrenaline rush that horror games can offer in a much more accessible ways than say, an adventure activity. Horror as a genre is growing in popularity across all content, largely because it gives us a kind of psychological catharsis of safely experiencing harrowing events amidst a backdrop of world crises and dire circumstances. COVID saw the rise of horror and morbid curiosity as a way for people to subconsciously work through real-life fears in a controlled environment, and the same is true for gaming.
The Star Games
Recent games like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space Remake, or The Last of Us Part 1 deliver a truly encapsulating, immersive, and often genuinely scary atmosphere to thrill, surprise, and shock players through both their horror and narrative twists. These experiences are more singular, but the emotional and physical reactions makes us feel truly alive, even if we haven’t left our sofa.
Remakes & Remasters: Familiarity
There’s another crucial foundation that allows these new games and experiences to connect to us, and that’s their familiarity.
Over the last years, it has become more important for us to know what we’re going to get from an experience to make it good value. We have highly customized and AI driven algorithms to thank for that. The confidence that this familiarity provides allows us to immerse ourselves without second-guessing whether we’ll enjoy the experience or not, increasing our connection to the content.
Not just this, but our recent foundational work on Connection & Belonging for Gen Z found that forming personal identity and signaling it to the outside world is increasingly important for younger people in building meaningful connection. Games that poke at nostalgia and past experiences help people feel part of a shared community we’re all craving.
The Star Games
Franchises like Hogwarts (Harry Potter), Call of Duty, Resident Evil, or even The Last of Us have been around for years, and boast experiences that strike the balance of providing a familiar foundation or narrative, while still being able to excite and surprise in their experiences through new stories, features, or gameplay elements.
More than ever, games have the ability to allow us to live our values and add to our lives through the experiences they offer, especially in tougher times. Truly understanding the values that games enable is the best way to continue creating experiences, building accessibility, and ensuring the success of the industry. It also allows us to understand why certain genres take the spotlight in an ever-diversifying space.
Some OMTM Thought Starters
How does escape factor into your content strategy, including its many nuanced forms (joyful, horror, immersion)?
How can you use the familiarity of past games and franchises to open the door to new experiences and excitement, while retaining a sense of belonging?
How could you further promote real world connection through the games/experiences that you create?
We'd love to hear your thoughts!
From Human to Human