Video Games in 2022: Massive Fusions and Weird Wearables

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Gamers, and the gaming industry at large, can get a little too focused on what’s next. Newly released blockbusters can vanish from public consciousness in a matter of days, while the “next generation” of console hardware or a much-anticipated sequel that has been in the works for years can dominate the headlines.

In such an environment, it can be helpful to review the key trends shaping the industry over a longer period than a few days. Looking back at the big gaming news of 2022, some clear storylines are emerging.

Big game publishers are getting bigger

If there’s one trend that defined the games business in 2022, it’s been giant companies buying each other to become even bigger. This was the year that big conglomerates spent big bucks to fill holes in their portfolios, as Sony spent $3.6 billion to do so determination manufacturer Bungie; Take-Two is spending $12.7 billion on it Farmville manufacturer Zynga; or the Embracer Group, which snaps up bits and pieces from Square Enix, Limited Run Games, and more.

But one merger proposal stood out from all; the $68.7 billion marriage proposal that Microsoft offered to Activision Blizzard in January. The move could be seen as opportunistic for Microsoft, given that Activision’s market value has plummeted amid 2021’s many harassment and discrimination scandals and investigations. It’s also a takeover that could offer ailing Activision CEO Bobby Kotick a golden parachute to escape the turmoil.

looked closely...
Enlarge / looked closely…

Players’ biggest concern after the announcement was whether or not Activision franchises would be liked call of Duty would still be allowed on PlayStation and other non-Microsoft platforms. Microsoft has tried to allay those concerns with a series of increasingly fervent promises that it won’t lock Activision’s games onto Xbox.

So far, these assurances have not proved sufficient either for Sony or for the antitrust authorities, which now appear ready to seriously jeopardize the proposed merger. At the urging of US senators, the Federal Trade Commission officially filed a lawsuit to block the merger, citing antitrust concerns. Regulators in the UK and EU are also in the midst of serious investigations that could lead to similar attempts to stop the merger.

Despite all the drama, the markets currently seem relatively confident that the deal will go through.

The Year of the Strange Wearables

Steam deck size comparison with Nintendo Switch.
Enlarge / Steam deck size comparison with Nintendo Switch.

Sam Machkovech

For decades, portable gaming has been dominated by one company: Nintendo. For years after the demise of Sony’s PlayStation Vita, no one bothered to release portable gaming hardware to challenge Nintendo’s Switch or the popular mobile gaming devices in everyone’s pocket.

2022 was the year that started to change, as a number of companies launched some decidedly unconventional gaming portables. It started with the Analogue Pocket, which technically launched in late 2021 but shipped in large numbers to pre-order customers this year. The Pocket’s solid industrial design and high-end screen make it instantly ready to play thousands of cartridges from Nintendo’s classic Game Boy and Game Boy Advance lines. But it was the introduction of new emulation cores this year that really made this FPGA device a must-have for retro gamers.

This was also the year Valve got into wearable hardware. The Steam Deck has been at or near the top of Steam’s own sales charts since its launch, although initial supply shortages have given way to wider availability. The hardware has some limitations – including screen quality, battery life, sheer bulk, and anti-cheat compatibility. Still, the Linux-based device has proven “good enough” to put thousands of “Deck Verified” or “Deck Playable” titles in the hands of PC gamers. No wonder Valve is already talking about a successor. At the other end of the mass-market spectrum, the quirky and belated Playdate used 2022 to prove that portable games could be cute, light-hearted, and fun. The bright yellow wearable doesn’t even have a backlight or color screen, but it does have a novel crank controller by its side and a wide selection of imaginative indie games backed by a robust homebrew community.

This year, a number of companies have also released dedicated wearable hardware focused on the streaming gaming market. Logitech’s G Cloud and Razer’s Edge 5G combine generic dual-stick controls with a generic Qualcomm-powered Android device, allowing easy access to various streaming services and classic emulators. It’s too early to tell if these devices will find a significant market not served by existing smartphone controller attachments. Regardless, their very existence helps reinforce the fact that handheld gaming isn’t just for Nintendo in 2022.

NFT? Gamers say “no thanks”

NFT games like <em>Axe Infinity</em> served as proof-of-concept for the ” pay-to-earn=”” model.=”” src=”×400. png” width=”640″ height=”400″ srcset=”×799.png 2x”/><figcaption class=
Enlarge / NFT games like Axe Infinity served as a proof of concept for the pay-to-earn model.

As 2022 rolled around, much of the gaming industry seemed poised to go all-in on NFTs and their promise of “unique,” sellable digital collectibles, either as in-game items or glamorized trading cards. Buoyed by stories like Peter Molyneux’s startup that hit $54 million in NFT sales in a single week, companies like Square Enix, Konami, and GameStop were just some of the biggest names to announce their big NFT plans earlier this year teased. And while companies like Sega have been publicly cautious, Ubisoft has been actively defending the in-game NFT program launched in 2021.

However, as the year progressed, blooming of the NFT rose began to come in a big way. Axe Infinity— once held up as a prime example of a successful play-to-earn game — saw its economy nearly collapse before a major crypto hack wiped out any remaining trust in the game or its crypto tokens. GameStop’s NFT marketplace eventually started off with slow sales that only got slower over time, though it proved a boon to scammers selling unlicensed games. Ubisoft, meanwhile, reluctantly paused its own NFT sales and later tried to pretend it had never been that interested in the space. High-profile outages like these — and a broader plunge in crypto and NFT prices in general — prompted a massive shift in sentiment away from NFTs for many gaming companies. games from Eve online to Minecraft to Grand Theft Auto explicitly rejected the use of NFTs, at least in part because they had already built highly lucrative in-game economies without blockchain technology. The International Game Developers Association said it will take a “stronger stance” on the ethics of NFTs. And Sony seemed to go out of its way to state that its new line of digital PlayStation collectibles does not use crypto or the blockchain in any way.

NFT games still have many proponents, and there will still be investors willing to place big money bets on the as yet unproven space in 2023. But as the year draws to a close, there are fewer and fewer people who seem publicly convinced that blockchain-based gaming articles will power the “next big thing” in the industry.

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