Despite still being a relatively new entertainment medium, video games are evolving rapidly and in the past 20 years alone we’ve already seen many stages of what games are the most popular.
From the 8-bit adventures on the NES and the rise of 3D games in the late 90s, all the way to today’s online open world adventures, developers have used the advancement of both technology and creativity to make sure games continue satisfying players with fresh, captivating experiences.
Of course, as a game designer it is important to not only study gaming trends of the past but those of today as well. Are there certain types and genres of games that are dominating the market today, much the same way that 2D platformers ruled the 16-bit era while Playstation gamers couldn’t get enough Japanese Role-Playing games?
The following are a few game design trends definitely worth looking into if you plan on developing a game that will have a higher chance of catching the attention of a wide audience of gamers. And although you should strive to create the next innovative game that’s unique enough to start its own line of copycats, it doesn’t hurt to study what’s currently tickling the fancy of gamers everywhere.
It’s amazing how successful free-to-play games have become when not too long ago they were considered a terrible game design model that developers were using to ‘cash in’ via micro-transactions.
That transition came when game developers stopped designing free-to-play games that required spending money in the cash shop to be ‘good’ at the game and instead decided to create games where a player can avoid spending a single dollar and still have a good time.
Clash of Clans is a perfect example as it allows players to enjoy a rewarding gameplay experience without spending any money if they choose to not do so. Those that do buy gems with actual money are left satisfied with their purchase but never obtain an unfair advantage over those that don’t buy micro-transactions. It’s that well-designed balance that makes Clash of Clans one of the top free-to-play games in the world.
Also worth mentioning is League of Legends, a popular MOBA game that also offers boosts and other perks for actual money. However, almost everything made available via microtransaction can also be obtained by simply playing the game and earning Influence Points and Riot Points, two forms of in-game currencies used to purchase new champions, boosts, etc.
As long as developers continue making free-to-play games with a “pay if you want to, not because you have to” design, this fairly new distribution model is sure to only grow in popularity.
Most of you reading this remember when mobile gaming meant a certain 8-bit handheld device by the name of Game Boy that may or may not have actually fit in our pockets.
Nintendo is still finding success in the mobile market with the Nintendo DS and 3DS, but those who think about ‘mobile gaming’ today will no doubt picture their smart phone and iPod devices in their mind.
It goes without without saying that mobile gaming has taken the industry by storm thanks to the advancement of phone technology, allowing us to play incredible games with only a few taps on our smart phones and tablets. Apple’s IOS App Store alone sees dozens of games released each week, offering a massive library of games to satisfy gamers of all tastes.
As a developer, you’ll definitely want to consider a market as big as mobile gaming. After all, only so many people can have a Playstation 4 or Xbox One in their home, but who doesn’t have a cell phone that can play games these days?
Just ask Rovio, the makers of the Angry Birds games. Their widely successful games may not have achieved such widespread popularity had it not been for the fact that more people are playing games than ever before due to smart phone devices.
And the best part is, most of the surprise-hit games are very simple but also very captivating. Games like Doodle Jump and Tiny Tower both received a positive reception along with millions of downloads despite featuring simple visuals.
If you plan to find success in the increasingly growing mobile game market, which many argue is becoming too saturated to turn a profit without a surprise hit, you’ll want to focus on designing a game that’s fun for anyone to pick up but addicting enough to recommend to others.
A term whose true definition is the subject of argument, an indie game is essentially a game created by one or few individuals without any financial support from a publisher. Indie game developers have only recently become competitors in a market once dominated by big-budget games primarily due to online distribution methods such as Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, and the Nintendo eShop.
Typically lacking the financial resources made available to larger companies, indie developers tend to create innovative gaming experiences that take a simple game mechanic and give it a fresh twist.
World of Goo, for instance, takes the basic idea of physics and adds the simple element of ‘stickiness’ to create a fun, unique game that saw many constructing blob-filled bridges for hours on end.
Caring less about high-end graphics, many indie developers have also used their limited resources to provide a memorable game in the form of captivating storylines.
Gone Home is one example that provides familiar exploration gameplay while also telling an impacting story. Other indie devs try to make games with incredible replay value via environments that change with each playthrough, such as in the popular Spelunky.
Since most of you reading this probably fall into the ‘indie dev’ category, it’s highly recommended that you study other games made with small budgets that seem to attract attention.
Indie games boast one of the most supportive communities out there, so you’ll want to make sure you return the favor by providing a satisfying experience that your Kickstarter backers (or whoever helps you financially) will enjoy.