Gaming Has Evolved – How Design Helped Make the Big Move Online

Remember when you bought games by walking into a store, or played them in an arcade? While those options still succeed, they are clearly falling to the wayside in favor of the instant gratification received through online gaming.

All you have to do is look at the numbers for this – digital games are a global market worth $101.1bn in 2016, with an estimation to top $128.5bn by the end of 2020. Between 2.2 and 2.6 billion play them!

Look at arcades and game stores, however, and you’ll see stories of forced closures and bankruptcy. No matter whether you look at these two industries and reminisce fondly or just genuinely don’t care, these locations are becoming rare.

But one question – what caused this paradigm shift in gaming consumer behavior? One word – Design. The shopping experience has been redesigned from the ground up for two key elements: community and incentive.
Example, you don’t just get a store of games on Steam, you become part of a vast community of like-minded players – whose tastes in games influence yours through subtle hints like “what your friends are playing,” pushing you to purchase and play with them.

Adding this layer of social connectivity alongside leaderboards increases friendly competition between players, breaking down borders and adding this healthy rivalry to games beyond your standard sofa-based split-screen multiplayer. It’s strange to think just how far things have moved in the last 10-15 years…
The second part of that, incentive, is best shown in Apple’s most recent update to the iOS App Store (which you can try in iOS 11). In its dedicated games section, marketers realized that the hard sell just does not work anymore. Instead, with the power of editorial content, lists and hint/tip pieces about games, they were able to encourage better buy rates and playtime of titles. That has been reflected in the amazing sales of Monument Valley (over two million copies).

And what about the games themselves? Miniclip – a flash gaming website – provides a big, colourful interface full of games about familiar faces and recognizable cultural icons like Tetris and Worms (both of these bringing in those with a love for old video games).

Gameplay is also updated to encourage the “drop in/drop out” nature that many people look for in a game nowadays – championed by smartphone usage. Progress is auto-saved, and you’re not rewarded for playing hours at a time without a break. The focus has been placed more on making a game fit around your life, intrinsically designed to be non-intrusive.

Just look at online gambling, a juggernaut that generates £2.6 billion of revenue. Slot machines used to be mostly played in arcades, but now online slots make up the vast majority of games played on iGaming hubs – pulled off through games with recognizable characters and franchises such as William Hill slot game The Naked Gun, Ted and Deal or No Deal, along with a 21st century way of approaching gameplay. 

And looking back, this shift was kind of inevitable. Every industry is moving online, and gaming was certainly going to be one of the first to make the big change. But this change was accelerated and loved by the entire planet through great, consumer-centric design.