Probably the most notorious and defining trend of the decade is the Microtransaction/Loot Box. Although the first loot boxes and microtransactions existed before the start of the decade, it was in the 2010s when we saw the monetisation mechanic really begin to take off. It’s now hard to find a big multiplayer game that doesn’t include one of the two — they are, after all, huge moneymakers for developers and publishers. Probably the most nefarious was the microtransactions found in Star Wars Battlefront II, where it’s progression system relied heavily on the random nature of the loot box. Before the game’s full launch and during the pre-release trial period for EA Access subscribers players quickly found that certain heroes could only be accessed through purchasing a loot box. It was possible to earn enough in-game currency to buy a loot box and potentially unlock the hero you were after, but only if you were willing to grind for about 40 hours, or to skip all of that, you could just pay money for in-game currency and beat the grind. This led to the most downvoted comment in Reddit history when EA tried to weigh in on the conversation saying that the grind was there to “provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” Although EA did make changes and reduced the cost of heroes dramatically, the grind somewhat remained. Star Cards that boosted your character’s performance was also an issue as, at the time, they could only be found in loot boxes, which led to critics calling out the game for providing a pay to win advantage for those who would be willing to fork over the cash. On the day of Battlefront II’s release, EA pulled all microtransactions, explaining they would return at a later date. These days, Battlefront II has somewhat redeemed itself, with a simplified progression system, loot boxes containing only cosmetic items and new exciting content being added every so often.
Of course, Battlefront II was not the only offender of “predatory” loot boxes. Mass Effect 3 featured them in its multiplayer, Destiny 2, Dead Space 3, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and of course, nearly every sports game in the 2010s features some form of loot box. The monetisation mechanic, in the past year, has been making the headlines with several countries outright banning them and prominent scientists, psychologists and policymakers calling out the loot box for its close relation to child gambling. We are, however, seeing a slight change in the way the loot box works. Epic is leading the way with Fortnite and Rocket League. Instead of going down the randomised loot box method, Epic has changed its system to something more transparent where players can see exactly what they are spending their money on before making a purchase.
For most, the microtransaction and the loot box are sour notes on what has otherwise been a fantastic decade for video games.
The Battle Royale Genre
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Battle Royale genre exploded onto the scene, with the likes of H1Z1, PUBG, Fortnite and later, Apex Legends. Players couldn’t get enough of games that pits them against a certain number of players and lets them fight it out to be the last person standing. H1Z1 was the first in the genre to be released but suffered from numerous bugs and gameplay issues. It wasn’t until PUBG (birthed from the DayZ mod in Arma 2) that the genre really came into its own. PUBG smashed records in 2017 on Steam hitting a concurrent player count of 3 million players and selling over 5 million copies in just three months. Epic saw the success of the battle royale and made its own game with Fortnite Battle Royale. However, Epic made the game free-to-play, removing the barrier of entry that PUBG had, allowing people of all ages to get hands-on with the title. Of course, Fortnite is instead supported by microtransactions which in 2018, made Epic Games a total of $2.4 billion, making the “most annual revenue of any game in history.” Love it or hate it, as long as it keeps making those at the top money, the battle royale genre is here to stay.
The Live Service Game
One new trend that we’ve seen this decade (and something that goes hand in hand with microtransactions) is that of the “live service” game. Developers and publishers are now building a game, and consistently updating it with new content, either for a fee or for no money at all. The likes of the two Destiny titles, Sea of Thieves, Rocket League, Minecraft, GTA Online, and Fortnite all spring to mind when thinking of a live service game, most of which received regular updates that added not just new content but sometimes achievements too, on a semi-regular basis. It’s this fresh content that keeps players engaged, and coming back for more. One of the biggest trends we’ve seen here at TA is the constant flood of games putting out limited-time content around holiday periods such as Haloween or Christmas. Updates filled with special spooky game modes and unique holiday-themed skins are now the norm and usually a quick moneymaker for publishers.
GTA Online should get a special mention here. All content for Grand Theft Auto V’s online portion of the game has been released for free including new game modes, weapons, vehicles and properties. Instead of releasing that content for a paid fee, Take-Two is “selling” this content for GTA’s in-game currency. To get some of the more pricier items, like bunkers and penthouses, there is a fair amount of grind involved, but players can opt to purchase Shark Cards to skip that grind instead. This has led to substantial profits for Take-Two with a report from 2017 estimating that GTA Online had made revenues of $1.1 billion since its release in 2013. Since then, more content has been added, including the controversial Diamond Casino and Resort — that figure has likely increased significantly. With profits like that, we can expect to see more of the live service game this decade.
Minecraft was initially released in 2009, with its full release coming two years later in 2011. The game saw huge success as an indie title and is considered a catalyst for the indie revolution we’ve seen over this decade. Minecraft showed the world that you didn’t need the latest graphics to have a good game; in fact, you didn’t need much at all — just an open world. An open world in which you can do pretty much anything, you could explore for miles, tunnel to bedrock and find treasures along the way, or build a castle in the sky — Minecraft is truly a sandbox in which you can create anything in. Or not, it’s entirely up to you. Microsoft saw how well the game was being received and quickly swooped down to purchase the IP and developer, Mojang when Markus Persson expressed he wished to no longer bear the pressure of being the owner of Minecraft in 2014.
Minecraft has changed the gaming landscape as we know it. It seemed a trend was put in motion thanks to Minecraft, with developers opting to make open-world titles, filled with crafting and resource gathering. Many titles were inspired or clones of the Minecraft formula, but none managed to achieve the lofty heights quite like the original. We also saw many Youtubers and Twitch streamers claim the game as their own and built careers from playing the game and posting content online — This only added to the popularity of the sandbox survival title.
Viewing figures released by YouTube in its YouTube Rewind of 2019 video shows that Minecraft was the most-watched game on the platform with a whopping 100.2 billion views, beating Fortnite (60.9 billion) and GTA (36.9 billion) — not bad for a decade-old game.
Minecraft is a great example of a live service game. It is forever seeing updates that add new mobs, block types and interesting content that players revel in — it has grown a lot and is almost unrecognisable when compared to the first alpha version in 2009. Of course, Minecraft is still growing now. A recent update finally allowed for PlayStation players to join in with their friends on other platforms (and Minecraft is on a lot of other platforms) thanks to cross-play. We’ve also seen the inevitable spin-off titles from developers like Telltale, and we have the upcoming Minecraft Dungeons set to be released this year. It will be interesting to see if Minecraft will have the staying power for another ten years.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V was released in 2013 on previous generation consoles, and within 24 hours of its launch, it generated more than $800 million in revenue, which equates to 11.21 million copies sold. Just after a mere three days, the game surpassed $1 billion in sales, making it the fastest-selling entertainment product in history — a record that still stands to this day. It’s broken several Guinness World Records, won countless accolades and still takes in huge cash numbers for Take-Two Interactive thanks to GTA Online. As of 2018, Grand Theft Auto V generated about $6 billion, making it one of the most profitable entertainment products of all time. Latest sales figures from November 2019 say that over 115 million copies have been sold, worldwide.
Grand Theft Auto V dominated the early 2010s and still continues to do so. It regularly features in our Xbox gameplay chart where it usually hovers in the top five. Thanks to its inclusion into Xbox Game Pass we’ve seen the number of Xbox players rise even further, making it to second in our Gameplay Chart. It’s hard to think of a game that could reach the dizzying heights of commercial success that GTA V has in the coming decade — other than perhaps GTA 6.
Gamepass and the Subscription Service
Xbox Game Pass and other gaming subscription services like PS Now and EA Access have revolutionised the way we play, and ultimately as consumers, buy games. Xbox Game Pass is, without a doubt, the better of the service of the two. The amount of games on offer, all of which are immediately accessible to download for such a reasonable monthly price is something to behold. Each month, new titles are added, and some do get removed from the service, but not until they’ve had a good inning. It’s hard to think of a negative when it comes to Game Pass, other than that perhaps the gaming backlog is now so full, it will take another 10 years to get through it.
Xbox Game Pass has also brought success to many indie titles that perhaps might not have seen the popularity they so deserved. Developers from behind Outer Wilds and Oxenfree have celebrated Xbox Game Pass in recent months, saying that many more people have been playing their games because of the service. Oxenfree‘s developer Sean Krankel said that his game had been downloaded over 3 million times via Xbox Game Pass.
Expect to see more services like Xbox Game Pass in the next decade.
Indie games with sole developers and small teams have had their own revolution, coming into prominence and challenging some of the bigger studios for a slice of the video game industry pie. It all started with Minecraft and Markus Persson in the early part of the decade. Soon after, indie teams and one-person bands began popping up all over the place with fantastic games and ideas they wanted to create or were working on. We also saw websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo playing a crucial role in some of these titles and developers lives. Without crowdfunding, it’s highly unlikely we would have seen such amazing games as FTL: Faster Than Light, Shovel Knight, Undertale, The Long Dark and many more. Stardew Valley is probably one of the stand successes from this indie revolution. Developed by just one man, Eric Barone, Stardew Valley has seen a wave of both critical and commercial success, selling more than 10 million copies. With recent leaps in technology, cheaper publishing deals, and services like Xbox Game Pass, the barrier for entry for independent developers has dropped somewhat, and for the better.
While virtual reality was something we did kind of see back in the mid-90s with the release of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, it wasn’t until the past few years that the medium really took off. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PSVR have revolutionised the way we play video games. Although still regarded as in its infancy, game developers have been seeing success with their games, and are taking the format seriously. Games like Beat Saber, SUPERHOT VR and even No Man’s Sky can all be considered great achievements when it comes to VR.
Valve has seen the potential in virtual reality too. The next instalment in the Half-Life series is something fans have been dying for since the release of Half-Life 2 back in 2004. Valve has taken the brave step of releasing its next Half-Life game — Half-Life: Alyx — as a Steam VR title with no mention of it coming to any other platform. Although some believe virtual reality is a gimmick, we could see more heavyweight developers begin to make games for the medium across the next decade, just like Valve. Whether Microsoft and Xbox will make the leap into VR remains uncertain. Phil Spencer believes that the Xbox fanbase isn’t asking for the platform. Maybe in this decade, we might see something from Microsoft.
Cloud Streaming and Twitch
With advancements in technology, a new trend that we saw sneak into the latter part of the decade was that of cloud game streaming. PS Now, Project xCloud, Google Stadia are all battling it out to be the top game streaming service. Cloud streaming is still a new thing, and companies are still trying to figure out the best way to implement the technology. All have their issues such as input lag and connection problems, but for its early stages, cloud streaming is looking promising for the future. Who knows, perhaps at the end of this decade consoles and physical media might be a thing of the past?
It’s not just cloud game streaming that has changed the video game industry. Streaming via the likes of Twitch and Mixer has changed the way we view gaming content, especially younger generations. Streaming celebrities such as Ninja and Shroud are pulling in vast viewing figures (not to mention millions in dollars), something that tv executives would kill for. Industry events such as E3 and The Game Awards are all now streamed where anyone can watch. Nintendo and Sony both stream their latest and greatest video game announcements, shunning the traditional conference at things events like E3 — it’s cheaper and reaches a more core audience. In the next decade, streaming will surely take more of a foothold over the industry.
The Soulsborne Subgenre
Demon’s Souls was unique in its gameplay when it was released in 2009, but it wasn’t until this decade that we saw games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne take off and create a self-defining subgenre. Usually third-person action-RPG titles, soulsborne titles are usually defined by three things, a higher than average difficulty, stamina based combat and severe penalties for dying. Although not to everyone’s taste, Dark Souls ( a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls) received huge critical acclaim with its punishing gameplay and sense of accomplishment when taking down a boss after several failed attempts. Since then, we’ve had a couple more entries into the Dark Souls series, while others have been inspired by the game. Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Nioh, Code Vein, The Surge and Ashen all have similar qualities and mechanics to that of Dark Souls, and nearly all of which have been celebrated by fans. The subgenre continues to grow along with its popularity. A sequel to Nioh is due out this year, while Dark Souls creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki is busy working on Elden Ring — which he says will be similar to the beloved Souls series.