The games industry enjoyed a robust 2020, with the pandemic creating high demand across titles and platforms. Now a core part of the mainstream media and entertainment ecosystem, games share of entertainment spend and audience viewing time will maintain momentum and increase in 2021.

The demand for, and value of, premium content has migrated to game IP, with top franchises driving increased M&A activity and tighter integration with film and TV output, and providing an important advertising channel.

The pandemic has provided breathing space for the industry on regulatory scrutiny of revenue models, and overall consumer safety. Regulators need to increase their speed in 2021, and act decisively on predatory ‘free-to-play’ game mechanisms.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

Fortnite has been kicked from mobile app stores over the ‘App Store tax’, the 30% cut that Google and Apple charge for in-app purchases.

Apple needs Fortnite to keep the iPhone attractive, but it also needs its revenue cut, as services have become a key part of its growth story to investors.

Apple can no longer set its ecosystem rules without regard for partners, as apps like Fortnite, Amazon and WeChat are so central to the utility of a smartphone.

Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.

2020 promises a year of transition for the games industry: eSports and games broadcasting are competing with traditional programming; game streaming services are becoming meaningful platform competition; and new consoles are on the way.

While most in the studio and TV industries continue to struggle with the games market—neither understanding (or seeing) a strategic fit, nor showing a willingness to invest—expect explosive growth to power the industry for the next decade and transform all entertainment services, not just games.

The ‘free-to-play’ games sector requires oversight and regulation to protect children and the vulnerable; expect regulatory turbulence in the UK, Europe and China.

Subscription game services will finally allow platform owners and developers to deliver truly accessible gaming experiences for all, across devices, at a lower entry price point, and curated to ensure consumer safety—both in terms of cost transparency and content types.

Consumer comfort with subscriptions should be embraced by the games industry and has already started in mobile. Apple’s Arcade subscription is the test case, providing focused all you can eat games that minimise exposure to violent gameplay, and the ‘free to play’ wild west.

Core gamers remain the most vital and profitable games customer segment, but they have been overserved and are an obstacle to broadening the reach of games. Now is the time to move beyond this group, to restructure, expand, and normalise the games market in the next decade.

Consumer magazine circulation and advertising continue to spiral down, with notable exceptions at the top of the market and in a handful of key genres, triggering ever greater revenue diversification and innovation The market is fundamentally over-supplied and the gap between successful portfolios and the glut of secondary titles is growing. Furthermore, the distribution and retail supply chain hang by a thread There are some encouraging signs. Publishers are evolving, with their strategies and leadership capabilities increasingly defined by the needs of the industry they serve rather than the publishing brands they exploit, bringing the consumer model closer to more thoroughbred B2B models

Google’s Stadia promises the most credible game streaming service yet, but building a subscription bundle of top titles would require an all-out bet in the sector

Google is building its own game studios – to win over others it must overcome a troubled history in gaming, mitigating risks to developer business models and creative integrity

Games are much more technically demanding to stream than video, presenting an advantage to Google, Microsoft and Amazon – and a boost to telecoms network demand, welcomed by operators

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Amazon’s recent deals with Apple in TV, music and device sales mark a turning point after a decade of frosty relations

The context for this involves shifting priorities at both firms, growing pressure on Apple’s iPhone business, and rivals in common — first and foremost Google, but also the likes of Netflix and Spotify

The uneasy alliance helps both companies consolidate their strengths in the platform competition over media and the connected home — but trouble already brews

The decline in demand in print presents trading challenges, but the more immediate pressures are on the supply side, with a 15% rise in paper prices accentuating the burden of production and distribution costs

With digital advertising growing at stubbornly low rates, UK publishers need to return to their fundamental consumer-centred strengths by switching their strategic attention towards strong brands, curation, and community

The case for specialist, branded publishing media remains robust: products, services, and consumers are still best brought together in an authoritative, trusted media environment. Advertisers and agencies (and also media) have undervalued the effectiveness of those environments, and direct-to-consumer opportunities have been exaggerated by many brands