Game Dev Highlights of 2021

11 February, 2022

From the rise of NFTs to PS5 shortages, and the release of tons of great games, 2021 was a crazy year of ups and downs, both in real life and digitally. In this post we’ll dive into the gaming trends, stars, and flops of 2021 so you don’t have to.

The growth of digital life

Twitch and Facebook Gaming already broke their record in viewership in 2020. In 2021 the numbers rose again, totalling 24 billion views on Twitch (a 45% increase) and 5.3 billion hours on Facebook Gaming (47% more). Steam also broke a record of concurrent users, totalling 27 million people.

2021 was less of a surprise than 2020 for gaming events and it showed how the world adapted and went digital. Some events were still canceled (like PAX South or DreamHack Atlanta), while others went online or scaled down and the numbers are looking promising.

For example, Gamescom moved online in 2020, but it was the 2021 digital event that brought significantly better attendance—overall 30% more people watched Gamescom’s livestreams. E3 2021 took place online after a break in 2020 and gathered millions of viewers, with Nintendo Direct gathering 3.1 million peak viewers, and PAX East 2021 was replaced by the digital PAX Online 2021.

Into the metaverse

Metaverse made it to headlines in 2021 not only in the video game industry, but also in social media, with Facebook announcing plans to become a metaverse at one point and change its name to Meta. Simply put, metaverse is a network of virtual worlds and there are hopes to expand on that with VR advancements. You can read more about the topic here.

Next-gen consoles and beyond

PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X/S were both released in 2020 to meet with a high demand. Despite component shortages, PlayStation 5 is the fastest-selling PlayStation and the best-selling hardware platform of 2021 in dollars. Similarly, while there are no official numbers yet, the Xbox Series X/S has been enjoying lots of popularity too, partially due to the stay-at-home aspect of 2021.

In 2021, Nintendo Switch also released its “next-gen” console, Switch OLED. The console offers better imaging and a larger screen, accompanied by a few more enhancements—and by the shortage issue as well.

Valve isn’t far behind now—the company announced Steam Deck in July 2021. The handheld gaming PC has been affected by hardware shortages, pushing the release date to February 2022, but it’s already available for pre-order in specific regions.

More accessible gaming

The mainstream video games of 2021 Guardians of the Galaxy, Forza Horizon 5, and Back 4 Blood featured customizable subtitles together with other adjustments, showing that accessibility accommodations are becoming more widespread. That’s why last year we created a fully UX-focused department.

You can find more such examples among the Accessibility Awards 2021 winners, including the audio-based game The Vale: Shadow of the Crown, in which you play as a blind adventurer.

The story of NFT

NFTs were one of the biggest topics of 2021. Short for ‘non-fungible token’, NFTs are unique and lack of fungibility distinguishes them from e.g. Bitcoin. Anything digital can be traded, which doesn’t mean it’s going to have restricted access—it’s more about owning the original.

See our other post here for a summary of NFTs and their connection with video games.

Epic Games and Apple in court

The Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit reached a ruling in the first part of the case in September 2021. In short, the conflict has been ongoing since 2020, when Epic added third-party payments to Fortnite, meaning making payments directly to Epic—normally Apple took a 30% commission for purchases made through the app store, but Epic’s move would allow them to circumvent that. As a result, Apple deleted the game from the App Store for breaking platform guidelines. Epic then sued Apple, complaining about the commission. A similar thing happened with Google Play, although this side of the case was low profile and, as of today, remains unresolved.

As for the trial’s result (so far), Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers:

  • found Apple violating California’s Unfair Competition Law, meaning that Apple won’t be able to stop developers from including external links or other calls to action for direct payment;
  • found Epic guilty of breaching the contract with Apple, ruling that Epic must pay Apple 30% of the Fortnite’s revenue collected directly through the iOS app since August 2020.

This seems to not be the end of the story, with Epic Games appealing against the ruling. In addition, Fortnite wasn’t reinstated in the App Store by Apple, which waits for the judgment to become final and unappealable. A detailed follow up of the trial can be found here

Notable video games of 2021

The video game industry can’t be summarized without its essence—video games. Here’s our list of the most notable video games and indie video games of 2021:

  • Hades, although released in 2020 (and in 2021 for Xbox and PS), doesn’t seem to disappear from the news. Alongside several prizes it earned in 2021, Hades became the first video game ever to win a Hugo Award! The Hugo Awards are granted to the best sci-fi and fantasy works and the video game category was added specially for 2021.
  • Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition released to mixed reviews and controversy due to technical issues, but a remaster of the beloved classic is definitely worth including on this list.
  • Deathloop, a new game from Arkane Studios (creators of Dishonored), was a hit among both critics and players, praised for originality and satisfying gameplay.
  • It Takes Two, specifically designed for multiplayer, was well-received and took the Game Awards 2021 by storm, becoming the game of the year and winning in two other categories.

Let’s not forget the indie side of 2021:

  • Unpacking and Inscryption not only appeared in many top lists of 2021 games, but also lead in IGF 2022 nominations.
  • Chernobylite won the 1st place for Indie of the Year 2021 on IndieDB and it’s only one of many awards the game received.
  • Valheim, created by a team of five people, sold 5 million copies in one month.
  • Exo One gained lots of popularity on TikTok, which was only one of several elements that led the game to a successful launch on Steam.
  • The Forgotten City began as a Skyrim mod nine years ago and was released as a stand-alone game in 2021.
  • Loop Hero and Boyfriend Dungeon both became viral hits.
  • Unsighted got lots of media attention and was called the best metroidvania of the year by Kotaku.
  • Toem and Sable (music by Japanese Breakfast) were among notable titles of the Steam Next Fest event in 2021.
  • The Artful Escape was called the most beautiful indie game of 2021 by Forbes.

Many events will likely continue in 2022, like the development of metaverse. We’re looking forward to seeing what this year will bring us. What do you think will happen in the video game industry? Which upcoming game are you waiting for the most? Let us know on our Discord.

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