Gamers, and the gaming industry as a whole, can be a little too focused on what’s next. Newly released blockbusters can disappear from the public consciousness in a matter of days, while the “next generation” of console hardware or a long-awaited sequel can dominate the headlines for years.
In such an environment, it can be useful to review the major trends that shape the industry over a period longer than a few days. Looking back at the big gaming news of 2022, a few clear stories emerge.
Big game publishers are getting even bigger
If there’s one trend that defined the gaming industry in 2022, it was giant companies buying each other to become even bigger. This was the year big conglomerates spent big to fill holes in their portfolios, which Sony spent $3.6 billion on Fate maker Bungie; Take-Two spends $12.7 billion for farm Ville maker Zynga; or the Embracer Group which collects parts of Square Enix, Limited Run Games and more.
But one proposed merger stood out above them all; the $68.7 billion marriage proposal that Microsoft offered Activision Blizzard in January. The move can be seen as an opportunistic one for Microsoft, as Activision’s market value dropped quite a bit amid 2021’s many harassment and discrimination scandals and investigations. It’s also an acquisition that could offer beleaguered Activision CEO Bobby Kotick a golden parachute to escape the turmoil.
The biggest concern for gamers after the announcement was whether the Activision franchises like it or not Duty calls will still be allowed on PlayStation and other non-Microsoft platforms. Microsoft has tried to allay these concerns with a series of increasingly fervent promises that it does not want to lock Activision’s games to the Xbox.
Those assurances so far have not proved enough for Sony or for antitrust regulators who now appear to be putting the proposed merger in serious jeopardy. At the urging of US senators, the Federal Trade Commission officially filed suit to block the merger, citing antitrust concerns. Regulators in the UK and EU are also in the midst of serious investigations that could lead to similar attempts to stop the merger.
Despite all the drama, the markets currently seem relatively confident that the agreement will go through.
The year of weird laptops
For decades now, portable gaming has been dominated by a single company: Nintendo. After the death of Sony’s PlayStation Vita, for years no one bothered to release portable gaming hardware to challenge Nintendo’s Switch or the popular mobile gaming devices in everyone’s pockets.
2022 was the year this started to change in a big way, as a number of companies pushed some decidedly off-kilter portable games. It started with the Analogue Pocket, which technically launched in late 2021, but began shipping in large numbers to pre-order customers this year. Out of the box, the Pocket’s rugged industrial design and advanced display make it perfect for playing thousands of cartridges from Nintendo’s classic Game Boy and Game Boy Advance lines. But it was the introduction of new emulation cores this year that really made this FPGA device a must-have for retro gamers.
This was also the year Valve entered portable hardware. Steam Deck has been at or near the top of Steam’s own sales charts since launch, although initial supply shortages have given way to greater availability. The hardware has some limitations – screen quality, battery life, sheer bulk and Anti-Cheat compatibility among them. Still, the Linux-based device has proven “good enough” to put thousands of “Deck Verified” or “Deck Playable” titles in the hands of PC gamers. No wonder Valve is already talking about a follow-up. At the other end of the mass-market spectrum, the quirky and delayed Playdate used 2022 to prove that portable gaming can be sweet, light-hearted and fun. The bright yellow laptop doesn’t even have a backlight or color screen, but it does have a new crank controller on the side and a wide selection of inventive indie games powered by a robust homebrew community.
This year also saw a couple of companies release dedicated portable hardware focused on the streaming gaming market. Logitech’s G Cloud and Razer’s Edge 5G pair generic dual-stick controllers with a generic, Qualcomm-powered Android device, providing easy access to various streaming services and classic emulators. It’s too early to say whether these devices will find a significant market not served by existing smartphone controllers. Either way, their existence helps cement the fact that handheld gaming in 2022 isn’t just for Nintendo anymore.
NFTs? Players Say “No Thanks”
As 2022 began, much of the gaming industry seemed poised to go all-in on NFTs and their promise of “unique,” salable digital collectibles, either as in-game items or glorified trading cards. Bolstered by stories like Peter Molyneux’s startup raising $54 million in NFT sales in a single week, companies like Square Enix, Konami, and GameStop were just some of the biggest names teasing their big NFT plans early in the year. And while companies like Sega were publicly wary, Ubisoft actively defended the NFT program in the game it launched in 2021.
However, as the year progressed, the bloom began to detach from the NFT rose to a large extent. Axie Infinity— once held up as the prime example of a successful “play to earn” game — saw the economy nearly collapse before a major crypto hack wiped out any remaining trust left in the game or the crypto tokens. GameStop’s NFT marketplace was eventually launched to slow down sales that slowed even more as time went on, though it turned out to be a boon to scammers selling unlicensed games. Ubisoft, meanwhile, paused its own NFT sales on a quiet hiatus and later tried to pretend it was never that interested in the space. High-profile failures like these – and a broader collapse in crypto and NFT prices in general – led to a massive shift away from NFTs among many gaming companies. Game off Eve Online to Minecraft to Grand Theft Auto explicitly rejected the use of NFTs, at least in part because they had already built highly lucrative in-game economies without blockchain technology. The International Game Developers Association said it would take a “stronger stance” on the ethics of NFTs. And Sony seemed to go out of its way to note that the new line of PlayStation digital collectibles did not use crypto or the blockchain in any way.
NFT games still have a lot of fans, and there will still be investors willing to place big bets on the still-unproven space in 2023. But as the year winds down, fewer and fewer people seem publicly confident that blockchain-based Gaming elements will drive the “next big thing” in the industry.