The video game industry is growing rapidly, estimated to surpass $200 billion in revenue in 2023.¹ But its contributions extend far beyond entertainment. The industry has become fertile ground for experimentation with many emerging trends and technologies. And, behind it all, there’s a seriously powerful use of unstructured data.

It’s been said that other industries are decades behind gaming’s innovation. So, what can we learn to “get on their level”? 

From Arcade to AI: Gaming’s Evolution

Early on, games came in cartridges. There was no “saving your place” and no internet connectivity. Multiplayer games were limited to how many controllers you could plug in. Gameplay data had next to no lifespan.

Today, like much else, gaming is online. It’s high-def, runs on complex scripts and algorithms, and connects people around the globe in live-streamed tournaments. That’s millions of people, concurrently streaming terabytes of data, all with really, really high expectations. This makes gaming a natural guinea pig for what’s possible in terms of resilience and efficiency. 

Gaming developers haven’t shied away from the challenge, battle-testing the limits of data storage and streaming capacities with virtual casinos and fantasy universes. But they’re also contending with real-world issues: user authentication, availability during traffic spikes, and security for transactions and user data. 

When staying relevant means delivering the richest user experiences possible, this industry makes an excellent case study for next-gen technologies. Here are 10 trends in gaming to keep an eye on—even if you never pick up a controller.

1) AI’s sweet spot is in content generation and analytics.

AI isn’t just a competitor for gamers—although, a 13-year old just became the first human to beat Tetris, previously only won by AI. Game developers put AI on their side for greater efficiency and quality. In the past, a designer would need to hand-sketch and render 3D trees in a landscape. AI can auto-generate content and populate scenery much faster. These subtle details keep players more engaged than highly repetitive, cookie-cutter graphics.

Then, there are the algorithms that process and interpret data that’s constantly collected as users play. Neural networks learn from gameplay logs and preferences to create new, more difficult levels—and tweak games to improve engagement.

2) Real-time analytics can improve experience (and revenue).

Modern games capture a variety of data: logs, interactions, events, and in-game transactions. Millions of active users are creating millions of real-time events per hour that are “phoned home” for analysis. That’s a lot of unstructured data.

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Managing these streaming data workloads efficiently to accelerate software development is critical. The company behind Clash of Clans leans on AWS analytics during development to gather global insights from billions of events and terabytes of data around the clock.² The company then takes these insights and uses them to make improvements to gameplay—and the company’s recent year-over-year revenue growth is proof it’s working.

3) QA, testing, and continuous improvement/continuous development (CI/CD) should be table stakes.

Testing is one of the most critical aspects of game production, but it’s not just player-centric. Rigorous tests uncover bugs and quirks that can make ratings (and revenue) tank. CI/CD pipelines and microservices environments together make it possible for publishers to push software updates seamlessly to users. (More on that later.)

Look to what game publishers are doing—from combinatorial and functional testing early on to compatibility, regression, and performance testing at later stages. When user experience is critical to success, this should never be an afterthought.  Having the right testing methods and underlying infrastructure can help.

4) Blockchain and smart contracts are maturing but promising.

As Josh Chapman, managing partner at Konvoy Ventures, put it, “Gaming does not need blockchain; blockchain needs gaming. Blockchain will only see mass adoption and mass application once it provides significant value to the video gaming ecosystem.” 

Game developers have faced many early roadblocks, but they’re still making breakthroughs. That progress may encourage the adoption of blockchain-based smart contracts we’ve been hearing are coming for years. 

Why? Because blockchain can help prevent fraud and accelerate and assure the integrity of transactions, among other things. For gambling games, where unbiased odds are vital, blockchain can provide verifiable randomness to ensure results are fair. Companies like Chainlink are providing a standardized, enterprise-grade “on-ramp” to connect blockchains to third-party entities and off-chain storage. From there, the use cases will proliferate.

5) Tokens and digital currencies may be the future of transactions.

Tokens and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) built on blockchains are driving entire virtual economies—and they’re backed by real currencies. It’s a secure, interoperable way to purchase, sell, and trade in-game assets you earn, win, or buy. 

This topic gets complicated pretty quickly, so we’ll just note that games have the potential to make tokens very viable digital currencies. Take Cryptokitties, for example. The game proved an important milestone for mainstream token use. At one point, a Cryptokitty even sold for 253 ETH (roughly $110,000 at the time). 

Blockchain-based tokens have had some bumps in the road, especially in terms of scalability. When Cryptokitties transactions jumped from 1,500 to 11,000, “new potential cat buyers were paying astronomical fees and waiting hours on end for their transactions to be confirmed.”³ It was a pioneer, to be sure, and its developers are credited with breaking major barriers to the viable use of blockchain and auction contracts. 

Digital currency transactions have the potential to be secure, fraud-proof, and immediate. Even if it ends up being a mere milestone to new and better innovations, it’s an inspiring trend to watch.

6) Microservices and containers enable innovation, period.

Microservice-based architectures allow developers to seamlessly deliver software updates without disruption. That means millions of active gamers won’t get kicked offline when you need to push out an update.

When developers need to update a service—for example, password-reset functionality—doing it via microservices means millions of players aren’t kicked offline mid-game. Individual features exist independently in containers, all stored and managed with the Portworx® by Pure Storage platform. This makes the possibilities for continuous improvement, collaboration, and innovation virtually endless.

7) Storage has to scale without limits.

What’s behind multiplayer tournaments that connect huge numbers of people around the world? Super-scalable data solutions. At any given time, 10 million active users may be playing Fortnite, generating 92 million events a minute. And that’s just one game. Multiply that by the degree of immediacy that’s expected, and a delay that seems marginal elsewhere can be catastrophic. 

If “the entire online gaming network is dependent on the performance of the industry’s cloud-based data centers and the crucial infrastructure required to keep them up and running,” the industry is a prime example to follow in how to seamlessly manage massive amounts of data.⁴ 

It requires a robust infrastructure. Many platforms rely on multiple data centers in different availability zones to maintain that seamless experience—a model worth emulating. 

Learn how Pure on Equinix Metal allows global data centers and co-location providers to roll out ubiquitous deployments to ensure scalability and resiliency within their global facilities. 

8) Gaming as-a-service (GaaS) models are a win-win.

The goal for every game developer is to get a game on the market, monetize it, and keep users hooked. Staying competitive means finding ways to lower the barrier to entry, reduce friction, and sell subscriptions. 

Subscription programs can be a win-win: Users get access to the latest and greatest and they’re not left with old consoles that need upgrades. In turn, gaming platforms get loyal users and sustainable business models. However, success depends on a model that’s 100% user-centric. Gaming may have a hard time toeing the line in delivering key value propositions via subscription, but it emphasizes a universal truth we can all take to heart: 

“The need to own is being supplanted with a need to experience things and a desire to try… [A]ccess is being valued greater than ownership.” –Michael Blank, Senior Vice President of Player Network, EA Sports

What remains to be seen is whether GaaS can economically sustain the bandwidth gamers will require from a Netflix-style model—which, McKinsey notes, is likely many more hours than they spend on Netflix.⁵

9) The cloud will drive everything, from storage to streaming.

Games are migrating off of consoles to cloud-based streaming services. This brings high-resolution games to users via fast, reliable internet connections on any device—not just consoles. This is causing gaming platforms to go through digital transformations of their own.  Many leading gaming studios rely on numerous data centers around the world to deliver hundreds of gigabytes of data every second. Success will require even better data solutions that can support hybrid-cloud models—and the power of 5G.

10) In gaming, as with other winning experiences, it’s all about the user.

There’s an important lesson underscoring all of this: Gaming platforms always put users first. It’s the guiding light behind every script, test, UX design element, infrastructure investment, and subscription. 

To deliver great customer experiences, companies must find technology partners that can support their outcomes. For many, that means having modern data solutions that can keep up. With the right infrastructure, they can deliver the immersive, data-powered experiences that capture imaginations—and their share of this rapidly growing market.