In the first article of my year-end series, I’ll run through the biggest trends impacting gaming, media and technology during 2022.
It was a curious time of both disruption and normalization. For the former, there was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Countries grappled with lingering effects of coronavirus. Inflationary pressure combined with economic slowdowns across various regions. Billionaires and executives alike threw around money to scoop up companies. Gaming publishers delayed titles and shifted their release calendars.
As for the latter, companies everywhere settled into a “new normal” of hybrid working. Inflation started to cool in recent months. Consumer electronic manufacturers shored up supply chains, and began producing more inventories. Notably within gaming hardware. Consumers shifted back towards forms of entertainment outside their homes.
Way back in January, I predicted some of these would happen. Though certainly not all of them! That said, now that we’ve experienced it, here’s a list of major stories that fundamentally changed these sectors during 2022. Here’s hoping this article trends towards keeping your interest!
Games Industry Workers Increased Unionization Efforts
This is one of my predictions that I’m happy came true. Employees fighting for their rights, notably those that work in gaming, ramped up substantially in the last 12 months. In January, Quality Assurance (QA) workers at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software started up the Game Workers Alliance (GWA). Then in May, that team became the first union ever to form at a gaming publisher in the United States. Later, Vodeo Games was the first entire gaming studio in North America to unionize when it voted in September.
More recently, earlier this month Microsoft executives said they would recognize a union being formed by roughly 300 employees of ZeniMax Studios. This in particular is a significant move towards worker rights, as the Communication Workers of America (CWA) celebrated Microsoft’s willingness to recognize and not force a protracted legal battle. Seeing a company as massive and influential as Microsoft to make this decision showed how 2022 was a significant year for unions and workers’ rights in the games industry, and I fully expect this trend to accelerate into 2023.
Social Media, Elon Musk’s Twitter & TikTok’s Expansion
I’m lumping in a couple topics here that dominated the social media landscape this past year. It’s hard to avoid hearing from billionaire weirdo and apartheid apologist Elon Musk, especially when he single-handedly upended the space with his October purchase of Twitter for $44 billion. What followed in the coming weeks was a simultaneous mass exodus from the firm and Musk touting how the platform saw record engagement. Thankfully he claims he’ll be stepping down as Chief Executive Officer soon, because a poll of Twitter uses told him to do so, though the damage has been done for many that moved towards the likes of alternatives in Hive Social or Mastodon.
Elsewhere, in the video streaming world, TikTok’s popularity skyrocketed in 2022 after gaining traction during quarantine times. It began the year with over 1 billion monthly active users (MAUs). Statista estimates it will end the year at upwards of 1.7 billion MAUs, and will likely pass 2 billion in 2023. It’s been downloaded over 3.5 billion times, only the 5th platform ever to accomplish this figure and the first on that list to not be owned by Facebook parent Meta Platforms. The short-form video content platformer has become a premier destination, both for creators and fans, and often dictates trends or news stories especially among its younger users.
Evolution of Working: Remote, Hybrid & Four-Day Work Weeks
Even if certain leaders (see the aforementioned Musk) insist on forcing people back into the office, plenty of big companies settled into a hybrid working compromise in 2022. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Meta have all embraced some form of a hybrid working model. Almost 90% of European companies surveyed by Owl Labs planned to offer hybrid solutions post-pandemic. On the upside, it’s a much more flexible environment for workers and often acts as a welcoming culture for talent. Downside is there are still disruptions in workflow and tech availability, which can push software or products back. As exhibited by how many big title delays happened in the games industry especially.
Additionally, various gaming companies experimented with instituting four-day work weeks, meant to alleviate crunch and provide a more balanced work-life dynamic. Eidos Montreal, Eidos Sherbrooke, Kitfox Games, Armor Games, ManaVoid Entertainment, Young Horses Games and Crows Crows Crows are examples of studios that have shifted towards this type of schedule while maintaining pay levels for their employees. Not only is it promoting work-life harmony, it’s an excellent bargaining chip for companies when attracting talent.
Microsoft & Activision Blizzard Facing Regulatory Scrutiny & Sony’s Ire
It’s hard to believe that Microsoft announced its $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard this past January. It feels like the biggest story in gaming, perhaps ever, and the resulting talk about further consolidation in the games industry has been in the news cycle for an eternity. The company’s representations argue that it will actually increase competition and aid development resources because of access to Xbox Game Pass and more direct financial support, and has offered good faith deals to Sony, Nintendo and Valve to have Activision’s bellwether franchise Call of Duty remain on other platforms for at lease a decade. So far, only Nintendo and Valve have accepted.
While certain jurisdictions like Brazil and Saudi Arabia have already approved the deal, other regions and countries are scrutinizing it closely. Namely the United Kingdom’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) and now Lina Khan’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) here in the United States, the latter of which is seeking to potentially block the purchase by pushing the Seattle-based tech giant towards a major legal battle. Then of course there’s Sony, Microsoft’s main competitor in the premium console space, that’s naturally opposed to it. Personally I still think the acquisition will happen, perhaps with some conditions, just not before Microsoft’s target of June 2023.
Supply Chain & New Gaming Hardware Inventory Rebound
Can you believe it’s been two years since the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S family? And almost a year since Valve’s Steam Deck handheld (a device from that I think has revolutionized PC and portable gaming)? To say it’s been a tumultuous beginning to the new console cycle is an understatement, as supply disruptions plus chip shortages have made it difficult for consumers to find these boxes at retail. Though after a rough stretch in the front half of the year, indicators are finally signaling better availability.
Supply chains are improving, part prices are topping out and suppliers are pushing more inventory to market. This is illustrated by better hardware results lately for key markets like the United States, where both new families have been growing, sometimes in the double-digits. Data from a Top 5 global games market in the United Kingdom show that November was the biggest month of 2022 for console sales. Valve’s Steam Deck shipments have risen drastically since the February launch, when the company was dealing with slowdowns amidst long waiting lists. There’s also Sony’s upbeat target for hardware shipments during its current fiscal year. It’s safe to say these stats are pointing to a positive trend, and certainly bodes well for the new year, during which I expect upward growth for all three devices.
Weakness in Mobile Drives Lower Spending on Games Industry
Admittedly this is a miss for me when it comes to my prediction, as I expected global games industry value to be flat or up slightly in 2022. The reason? Mainly because I was more optimistic than I should have been on mobile. Even with the late year output push by hardware manufacturers, spending across games is trending downward for this past year. Both globally and within the United States, as Newzoo expects the former to decline 4% to $184 billion and The NPD Group currently shows domestic spending down 6% to $48.97 billion through November.
At a global scale, mobile’s value is trending 6% lower to $92 billion. Within the United States, this sub-category is likely to show between a 1% to 2% dip. To illustrate how significant this is, that would be the first time in Sensor Tower’s tracked history in which mobile experiences an annual decline. And it usually makes up half or more of the Video Game Content category, which is the largest contributor to U.S. spending. Combine mobile weakness with the impact of a sparser release calendar for premium games and global hardware sales looking to move down 4% to $52 billion, and 2022 is trending closer and closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Continued Expansion of Subscriptions, Streaming & Cloud Services
As expected by nearly every talking head that covers consumer sectors and technology, including yours truly, 2022 showed further movement towards subscriptions, streaming and cloud across various media types. These sorts of ongoing digital content distribution strategies are all the rage at companies, from Walt Disney Co’s Disney Plus and Warner Bros’ HBO Max to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass alongside Sony’s PlayStation Plus. This past year featured many avenues to watch television shows, check out new films and enjoy game libraries, whether locally or on streaming devices. Disney Plus recently passed 164 million subscribers, up 12 million year-on-year. The combined audience of Walt Disney’s streaming platforms rose almost 4 million in the quarter ending September. While Netflix’s user base initially declined in the early parts of its latest fiscal year, it’s since rebounded to 223 million after adding 2.4 million in the latest quarter, above estimates.
In gaming, Sony rebranded its PlayStation Plus service back in June to offer certain new titles as part of the Premium tier. Microsoft said Xbox Game Pass is showing growth on console and PC, though the former is slowing as the market saturates, and shared that 20 million people have used its cloud streaming tech which is twice as many as in 2021. Finally, Microsoft signed a deal to offer Xbox Game Pass on new Samsung televisions, a move that further exhibits how distribution will be in the future without even a need for gaming hardware. Digital is now dominant in these sectors with its allure of ongoing revenue and audience retention, and I expect even more segmentation across 2023 and beyond.
There you have my coverage of the biggest trends of 2022. Thanks for reading this far! Head back to the 2022 Year-in-Review Megapost for all year-end content here at Working Casual, and be well everyone.
Sources: Chris Chang (Image Credit), Company Investor Websites, GamesIndustry.Biz, Getty Images, Newzoo, The NPD Group, Owl Labs, PlayStation Blog, Sensor Tower, Social Shephard, Statista, ThisisEngineering (Image Credit).