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While we all have our favorite games we’ve played in 2022, let’s do something a bit different. 2022 was a year of change in the gaming industry. The pandemic era looks to be in the rear view mirror, crypto crashed and new business practices like subscriptions are maturing. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the titles that will have the most influence on gaming in 2023 and beyond.
Marvel Snap & Diablo Immortal — mobile monetization
2022 gave us a small glimpse into the future of gaming monetization in 2023 — particularly on mobile. Both Marvel Snap and Diablo Immortal released this year with completely opposite monetization strategies.
Marvel Snap positioned itself as a consumer-friendly digital card game. Unlike competitors, cards are not locked behind opening packs. Instead, progress is largely gated behind upgrading the quality (and art) of your existing collection while it takes a cosmetics driven approach to monetization. While the game was released just about two months ago, it’s already cleared $10 million in revenue globally — a major feat for a game in a less widely played genre.
By comparison, fans can agree that Diablo Immortal is fun to play but its pay-to-win monetization was controversial to say the least. By one YouTuber’s math, it could take upwards of $100,000 to have a fully upgraded character. Despite this controversy, the game earned over $100 million in about two months. Only Pokémon Go has reached 9-figures of revenue faster. By the end of 2022, it was the third highest grossing mobile game of the year.
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Marvel Snap has cultivated a community that could make it a forever franchise with the revenue to match. Meanwhile, Diablo Immortal has optimized spending. If Marvel Snap can turn the corner, it could be deeply influential across the industry. If not, I’m expecting more games to borrow from Diablo Immortal or Genshin Impact’s playbook.
Sorare — blockchain gaming in 2023
Blockchain gaming and play-to-earn titles attracted millions of players and billions in investment over the last couple of years. However, the crypto winter of 2022 hit the market hard. In 2023, blockchain games will need to prove that they have staying power and the potential for mass adoption.
Enter Sorare, a sports game where players can buy, sell and trade digital player card NFTs to build a fantasy team. The French development team chose to start with soccer and recently added NBA and MLB support. While the title isn’t new per se in 2022, it hit its stride post-crypto winter.
Sorare will draw comparisons to NBA Top Shot, but it has definitely iterated on the sports NFT collectible model. Sorare appeals to more fans, has a better onramp for new users, and the added gameplay will give the title more staying power.
Perhaps more importantly, the game has also defied the block chain gaming boom-and-bust cycle.
Sorare has steadily built in popularity over time. Today, Sorare is searched for far more often than NBA Top Shot. Will this quieter, more sustainable strategy work? The industry will get more answers next year.
Wordle — Games for non-gaming subscriptions
Wordle might not be the flashiest or most complicated game, but its success is undeniable. The game peaked in popularity early in the year but it has maintained healthy interest among its broad audience. In fact, Wordle was 2022’s most searched term on Google.
One of the reasons Wordle spread so far was its built-in sharing feature. With a simple copy and paste, users could compare results without spoilers and get people to seek out where all those emoji block grids were coming from.
In January, the New York Times bought the game from its developer for a price in the “low seven figures.” The paper’s reporting on the purchase emphasizes how important games are to accomplishing the paper’s goal of 10 million subscribers by the end of 2025.
In an era where engagement and attention means everything for businesses, it’s becoming more obvious that games can drive this repeat engagement for other subscription services. Netflix’s foray into gaming is the other obvious example. If businesses are looking to keep users subscribed — especially if discretionary spending is down — I expect more will follow the NY Times’ lead and turn to gaming to retain users in 2023.
High on Life — AI and the Netflix effect
High on Life is a blend of comedy, Metroidvania-style exploration and FPS combat. While the game was one of 2022’s final releases, it has left a lasting impact quickly.
On the more controversial side, Justin Roiland, cofounder and CEO of Squanch Games and cocreator of Rick and Morty, confirmed High on Life used AI tools in production. The team used Midjourney AI to create alien-esque paintings as finishing touches for the game’s otherworldly setting. AI was also used to prototype some voiceovers, with one minor AI-voiced role making the final cut.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but AI is going to be a tool that has the potential to make content creation incredibly accessible,” Roiland said in an interview with Sky News. In 2023, the gaming industry will probably see more titles following High on Life’s lead.
Additionally, High on Life is now the most successful poster child for Xbox’s Game Pass. The title was the biggest release on the service in 2022. Perhaps more critically, High on Life is the biggest third party launch in Game Pass history and the biggest single-player game launch on Game Pass too.
High on Life’s massively successful launch on the service helps prove out Microsoft’s intended business model works for more than AAA multiplayer games. Like Netflix, Game Pass has shown that it can introduce a growing number of players to new games simply because they are included in the monthly subscription fee. Likely, more AA and smaller studios will look to High on Life’s success as a marketing strategy for their own titles.
BGMI, Call of Duty and Fortnite — Governments and Games
In 2022, governments around the world took note of the power and influence of gaming. The earliest steps towards this — such as China limiting video game approvals and playtime for minors — took place years ago. However, this spotlight on the industry came into full effect this year.
India has taken major steps to crack down on one of the country’s most popular titles: Battlegrounds Mobile India. PUBG Mobile was banned alongside several other apps published by Chinese companies. Later Krafton released the country-specific version in 2021 to address these data privacy concerns. This year, BGMI was banned again for the same national security concerns. With growing bi-partisan support for a TikTok ban in the U.S., we could see bans spread.
The U.S. is also looking more closely at regulating the gaming industry. With Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard on the line, the Federal Trade Commission (among other regulators) is taking a close look at consolidation in the industry. This deal has also left Call of Duty as the proverbial baby that Microsoft and Sony want to split.
The FTC is showing muscle in other ways. Just last week, the FTC issued a $520 million fine to Epic Games for child privacy violations and deceptive business practices. This fine was the largest in history for the commission.
Additionally, the European Union is also looking at regulations and investments in games and esports. Part of the EU’s motivation for this was “to contribute to EU soft power” and promote European values. More broadly, the governing body is setting itself up as the global tech industry regulator. This could have major impacts on hardware, app stores and more.
The industry must grapple with games being used as political tools. Whether it’s data privacy and national security concerns, regulations or investment, the relationships between gaming companies and governments are changing. Rulings on the Microsoft and Activision Blizzard deal are expected in early 2023, but gaming companies must consider how additional regulations and oversight could affect future plans.
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