It’s been an incredibly exciting year for gaming. Nintendo Switch players finally got their hands on the long-awaited follow-up to Breath of the Wild, Bethesda released their first new intellectual property in 25 years with Starfield, and Dungeons & Dragons fans set off exploring Baldur’s Gate 3. Plus, there’s still plenty of releases to come before the holidays, too.
We’ve fired up our global Gaming data set – the closest thing you’ll get to real-life cheat codes – on a quest to track the year’s biggest gaming trends and explore them in more detail. It’s not quite infinite health, but it’s a power-up you don’t want to be without.
Before we get started, let’s get a few smaller trends out of the way.
Board games are having a moment. They’re immensely popular on TikTok, with the category amassing over 134m views at the time of writing, while the number interested in them grew 13% between Q4 2022 and Q2 2023. And their online counterparts are faring even stronger. Among gamers in 15 markets, the online board game genre has grown 29% since Q4 2020.
While split screen or co-op mode is a fairly rare sight today, our data suggests gamers are turning back to the old ways. Not only is the number of gamers who play offline with friends and family steadily rising, but our Kids data set shows a 15% increase in the number of 8-15-year-olds playing video games with friends in person over the past 2 years.
Nostalgia and remasters
Remakes and remasters are nothing new. Among consumers in 12 markets who feel nostalgic about media, over 1 in 3 said video games trigger this. It’s not just about updating games for a newer audience. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all offer paid-subscription services for gamers to access older titles as they were. Not only does it help keep old franchises alive, but it tests the waters for what gamers are looking for in newer titles too.
Now let’s turn our attention to some of the bigger trends we’re seeing in gaming.
The 5 gaming trends you need to know in 2024
- The console crown
- UGC and the impact of AI
- The tipping point of VR
- The state of esports
1. The console crown
It’s been three years since Sony and Microsoft kicked off the ninth generation with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, respectively. As of Q2 2023, it’s still too early to call a winner, but the PS5 holds a slim lead with 27% of console gamers in possession of one vs. 22% for the Series X/S.
The real winner, however, is the Nintendo Switch (31%) which isn’t necessarily surprising. Being an eighth-generation console, it’s been around longer than the competition, and was gamers’ go-to in the pandemic. It was the device so nice that some 6 million households bought it twice.
But what makes the Switch so enticing is its lineup of exclusive franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon, to name a few. Sony and Microsoft have their fair share of exclusives too but, some may argue, they’re not nearly as iconic as the names in Nintendo’s wheelhouse.
Because of that, gamers like to play around. Just 13% of global console gamers stick to one brand, putting the second console slot up for grabs.
Instead of looking at ownership outright, our data lets us see which console has the most reach which is good to know if you’re exploring partnerships with specific brands.
Not only is the Switch the most popular console, but it’s the most popular second console too, while the Series X/S is the least likely to share space on the entertainment unit. The PS5 is popular with all audiences, but it also has the most loyal following as gamers using only one console are significantly more likely to play a PS5 than any other brand.
It’s important to remember how young these devices are, and a lot is likely to change down the line. The Switch offers brands significant reach, but could be nearing the end of its lifespan. Any follow-up console has big shoes to fill, as well as competition from Sony and Microsoft to take into account.
2. UGC and the impact of AI
You only need to take one look at the games kids are playing to see the popularity of user-generated content (UGC). It’s a fundamental part of the experience for games like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft – all three of which sit comfortably among the most popular games for kids aged 8-15.
Plenty of games offer their players ways to get creative, whether that’s Halo’s ‘Forge Mode’, the stage builder in Super Smash Bros., or the map editor in Age of Empires. For games like LittleBigPlanet or Dreams, building and sharing player-made levels isn’t just encouraged, but necessary for the games to function.
As these tools become more commonplace, expect more and more games to lean into this – especially with the progress being made in AI.
User-generated content and AI are a match made in heaven – to an extent. Of course, there are important discussions to be had about how developers and brands can use AI ethically without impacting jobs – not to mention the quality of, and reaction to, a game made entirely using AI. Used correctly, however, AI could make in-game content creation (such as mods) more accessible for all.
Some eager modders have put it to work already, implementing ChatGPT into the immensely popular role-playing game (RPG) title, Skyrim.
As AI tools improve, more would-be creators can dip their toes into content creation. Removing some of the technical know-how, or more mundane tasks from the process could even inspire younger audiences to embark on careers in gaming.
For the most part, this means more partnerships for brands. Since content creators already have a significant following on social media platforms like TikTok, it’s only going to get easier to find the right people, and help make more authentic partnerships, too.
Subscription models in media are seemingly inevitable. It happened to TV and music, so it’s no surprise that gaming is following suit.
Gaming subscription services are commonplace today. Switch players use the Nintendo Switch Online service, PlayStation users have PlayStation Plus (PS+), and Xbox fans get Xbox Live.
Then there are third-party services too, like the Ubisoft Store or the Epic Games Store. There’s a lot to choose from, but they all effectively allow gamers to access online multiplayer, download games, or enhance their experience with exclusive content for a monthly fee.
Regardless of which one gamers choose, this is quickly becoming the future of gaming. The number of gamers who use any of the services we track has grown 34% since Q4 2020.
At the same time, more gaming activities are moving online. Worldwide, gamers are now more likely to have purchased a video game from an online store than a physical copy in the last month (10% vs. 8%) while console manufacturers appear to be slowly phasing out the disc drive entirely.
The success of 2020’s Fall Guys is a solid reminder of how subscription gaming can benefit brands. Free-to-play titles have incredible reach which enables them to go viral very quickly, offering brands lucrative in-game advertising opportunities in turn.
4. A tipping point for VR
Like an episode of Black Mirror, it’s really not too hard to imagine a future where gaming works via a chip in the head.
But first VR really needs to get off the ground. As of Q2 2023, only 8% of gamers in 15 markets use these devices to play games, a figure that’s remained mostly unchanged since we began tracking it in Q4 2020.
To be clear, the technology has a lot of potential in gaming. A look at our Consumer Tech data set reveals that, among consumers who own a VR device, 60 % say gaming is the main reason they use it.
Why 2024 could be a groundbreaking year for the technology, then, is because of Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro.
Expected to be more expensive than any VR device on the market, the Vision Pro is a high-end device for early adopters to show off their status. Our data backs this up as VR owners are typically high earners and 89% more likely to buy the premium version of products.
It’s still a gamble, but just as the tech giant did with the smartphone, Apple could change how people perceive VR altogether.
5. The state of esports
Esports had a moment in 2021 when interest and weekly viewership peaked in 15 markets. Without the help of lockdowns, however, it’s since fallen into a steady decline.
That shouldn’t overshadow some of the important victories here though. Nearly half of gamers still tune into esports every week – more than the number of sports fans who tune into the Premier League. In short, esports have massive reach, and brands have a part to play in growing them.
There’s a huge opportunity for brands here. While esports audiences are relatively niche, they’re an incredibly loyal bunch. Esports fans are actually 42% more likely than the average gamer to buy products to access the community around them.
For the most part, this means getting into sponsorships. It’s something viewers are generally onboard with. In fact, 38% even say it’s okay for brands that aren’t related to esports to get involved, while 45% say sponsorship is integral to esports’ success. Not all traditional sports teams necessarily have relevant sponsorships – so esports is no different.
Leveling up your campaign
The future of gaming leaves a lot to be excited about. AI is catching on, a VR revolution could be on the cards, and new releases are always just around the corner.
Just remember, gamers are a vast audience. It’s important for brands to recognize this, and make use of data-led storytelling and strategies to better identify and understand them. If it’s done right, brands will have a better chance of grabbing hold of the vast opportunities in this space.