More games will need to grow time spent in 2024 – what type of research can help do it?
While the new year is usually a time for hope and new beginnings, 2024 may not necessarily be smoother sailing for the global games industry than 2023. Yes, companies have experienced reduced operational expenditure following thousands of layoffs and are not entering the new year with as much of a cost burden. However, the underlying dynamics generating a need to focus more aggressively on profit still persist.
Interest rates are still high and debt financing is therefore still expensive (risky). As creator tools get better and easier to use, and distribution becomes less complicated, more games than ever are competing for money that is harder to find – both on the investor side and the consumer side. While 2023 saw the global games market return to growth in absolute terms, it was still under the rate of inflation.
This is likely continue into 2024. There are no signs of interest rates decreasing significantly, posing further pressure on consumer spending and general risk appetite of investors. The key metric for an increasing number of games companies to battle for will be time spent and, ultimately, money earned per hours / minutes played. Of course, this is becoming increasingly difficult for each games company to grow because:
- The day is capped at 24-hours and consumers’ time is largely maxed out
- More games are being released every year
- An increasing share of games have in-game spending or ad-supported elements to them, which leaves the global games market more financially dependent on time spent
The rise of games subscriptions only exacerbates this as it forces developers to increasingly consider in-game spending and ad-supported models rather than the traditional unit sales-based models.
So, what should games companies do to successfully grow time spent in this increasingly challenging environment? There are two key avenues to consider. Of course, some titles may lend themselves more to one over another, but each one is important. The winners of 2024 will likely have addressed both.
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1. Increasing the length of an average gaming session
At a strategic level, there are two key ways to increase the length of the average gaming session (considering that consumers’ entertainment time is already largely allocated). One is to challenge time spent on other games by improving gameplay. This is largely by focussing on preventing boredom and drop-off risk. Games companies should strongly focus their research efforts on what exactly causes their players to switch off and, in turn, exactly what causes them to have ‘one more go’. Games companies should be pointing their research and insights telescopes towards this in 2024 through a mix of qualitative and quantitative exercises. The findings can shine a valuable light on where and how to innovate and tweak titles in the short-term. This could be through innovating on game mechanics, audio, video, IP partnerships, etc.
The other way to extend the length of an average gaming session is to closely study what players do when they are not playing games (and what they tend to do immediately after they switch off. It is important for games companies to embrace the fact that gamers engage in a variety of entertainment formats and consume beyond playing games. The interactive nature of video games provides an opportunity (much like social media does) to absorb some of the time spent elsewhere. Do your gamers tend be distracted from their gaming session by social media? Integrate social media feeds. Is it about watching video? Shopping? Listening to music? Bring them into the game!
One fast growing entertainment trend is around content creation and there is an opportunity for games companies to ride the wave of this trend by implementing creator tools inside games. For context, creating / producing own content has increased among computer gamers from 2 hours per week in Q1 2022 to 3.7 hours in Q2 2023 and this will likely grow further in 2024. To be clear, this is not a small niche of consumer trying to become professional creators. 49% of computer gamers produce content weekly and 38% simply do it for fun or to share it with friends on social media. Today, creation is fully established as a part of the consumption process itself. Games that do not enable content creation in 2024 are leaving valuable time spent and money on the table.
2. Increasing the lifetime of a game
Unlike the more tactical deliberations around increasing average gaming session length (which are more about driving impulse and mitigating user friction), increasing the lifetime (or total number of sessions played) of a game is more about nurturing fandom and the ‘scene’ around it. A thorough understanding of players’ lives and preferences beyond the game is essential to succeed here. This includes understanding elements that contribute to players’ identity, what they find important in life, how they form friendships and other social bonds, and what constitutes to their feeling of belonging.
It is important to identify patterns of shared values and preferences that are more likely to occur within a specific game’s community than among the consumer average. To do this, looking at the degree of over-indexing (rather than simply penetration rates) of particular behaviours, attitudes, and preferences is crucial. Companies often fall into the trap of adopting and deploying things that have the highest penetration rate (i.e. things that most players said they’d want). This is fine if reach is the main goal. However, if fandom is the primary objective, then ‘hooks’ upon which a distinct community can be built are necessary. In such cases, the most valuable features, designs, or cross-entertainment activations may not be those which most people say they want, but rather those that are significantly more likely to be appreciated among a specific games’ player base compared to the all consumer average. The more you can find a common denominator among players to rally around, the stronger the chances of growing fandom successfully.
MIDiA Research has done a significant amount of research and strategy work helping entertainment companies nurture fandom. Please feel free to reach out, if you’d like to discuss how we can help your individual title in 2024.