The A-Z of new gaming terms
30 words and phrases that shaped the last decade in games
Neologisms describe the way the world changes, or how we frame the changing world.
Gathering this list, I was struck by how many words, phrases, and concepts feel like they've been with us forever. But judging by Google Trends and other searches, all of them are either less than ten years old, or were used sparingly, if at all, in gaming circles prior to 2012.
I checked maybe a hundred words and phrases against Google Trends (which goes back to 2004) and also checked regular Google using the time-window. I whittled the list down to 30, keeping in mind readers of Gameindustry.biz's likely areas of interest (I rejected a bunch of colorful online gaming insults, for example).
Gathering this list, I was struck by how many words, phrases, and concepts feel like they've been with us forever
My rule of thumb was to include anything that showed a marked increase in the years since 2012. I do not claim that the words and phrases below didn't exist prior to 2012, only that they existed faintly in the world of video games, and are now used regularly. I have used brand names only when they signify broader trends.
If my experience with writing list articles is any guide, I'm sure to have missed a few good 'uns, so please leave suggestions in comments below. If enough words check out our criteria, we can look into including them in a follow-up article. I'm especially interested in words that have gained marked popularity in the field of game design and development.
Taken as a whole, I hope this list paints a picture of the game industry's progress in the last decade, especially in the fields of social awareness, consumer power, monetization, creative expansiveness, and technology.
The most welcome change in games in the past decade is the belated recognition among game developers that we're all different, we all want different things, and everyone is just as important as one another. This is a seachange from previous years, when game design and marketing was often aimed at a very specific kind of person.
Accessibility -- game design that accounts for physical, mental, and emotive differences -- is taking off like never before. Game companies are hiring, and listening to advisers who understand the needs of people who live with a range of challenges, desires, and preferences. The result is games with a far greater range of options than in years gone by. Accessibility allows more people to choose how they play games.
Inarguably, battle passes are the biggest monetization innovation of the past decade. Taking the form of in-game "seasons" that last a few months, they provide players of an extent game new content, challenges, and rewards. Battle Pass pricing structures are often tiered so that low spending players continue to play for free, while high spenders are reaped for income, as they try to attain skins, emotes, dance moves and so on through gameplay challenges.
Battle Passes were first introduced for MOBAs around 2013, but the search term exploded in 2018, when Epic launched the first battle pass for Fortnite. They are now universally used for games-as-a-service.
This subgenre of instadeath games in which large numbers of players try to kill each other in a rapidly diminishing map, has dominated the shooting world in the past few years. Inspired by the Battle Royale manga franchise and the success of The Hunger Games, the format emerged from the modding world, particularly the work of Brendan Greene in Arma 3 and DayZ, and finally the standalone PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds in 2017.
Epic used the format to elevate Fortnite from also-ran survival co-op to global cultural touchstone. Battle Royale is now a staple mode in shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, and a base format for hit games like Apex Legends. Major 2020 hit Fall Guys uses a similar format on a zany assault course, rather than a shooting map.
A cryptocurrency technology that enables (the possible pipedream of) consumers to actually own the in-game digital products they buy and make, which they could then sell onto other consumers. In theory, blockchain could create a new economy of digital goods (aka NFTs) that are only loosely administered by game publishers. Currently, more of a buzzword in gaming than a reality, but the dream is one that would significantly alter gaming's ecosystem, potentially at a revolutionary level. See also Metaverse.
A slowly emerging shift from games being played and saved on a local device, to one in which data is all held and streamed from remote server farms. Platforms like Xbox and PlayStation are moving towards a business model in which their primary focus becomes hosting a portfolio of games from central servers, which are then distributed to a wide array of devices, instead of seeking to sell individual devices on which to host said games. Google launched its cloud system Stadia in 2019, but it has found a largely unreceptive audience.
In the early 2010s, the concept of a compulsion loop became widely used to replace "addiction" as a way to explain the common habit of excessive or obsessive play. It describes the dopamine release that comes with pleasurable, repetitive actions, such as those found in farming games or rapid puzzlers like Tetris. Mobile and social media games are often designed around repetition and rewards, although the phrase is generally frowned upon in design circles, as derogatory.
Although kinetic dancing games have been part of gaming since the arrival of Dance Dance Revolution (1999) they came to the fore with the coming of the camera-enabled EyeToy, Wii and Kinect at the end of the 2000s. As technology improved, so did the games, with Ubisoft's Just Dance series becoming an annualized staple in the last ten years. But dance has also crossed into gaming via animated Emotes in games like Fortnite, and from there they traveled to playgrounds, where kids delighted in recreating the moves they'd seen on-screen.
England footballer Jesse Lingard scored a goal against Panama, during a 2018 World Cup game, and made global headlines by celebrating with a Fortnite dance. However, game makers like Epic have been accused of stealing popular dance moves invented by streamers and social media influencers, without due payment or credit.
Various studies in the decade prior to 2010 demonstrated that women characters and protagonists in games never broke through the 10% mark, while men were lavishly represented with numbers rarely less than 35% (the remainder is player-choice or unclear gender). Things have changed. According to Statistica, the 2020 number was 18% women and 22% men. Games are also far more likely to feature people of color, and a greater variety of sexualities, abilities, and ages.
Diversity in gaming is very much a work in progress, but it's one that started in earnest in the recent past
This has been driven by compelling, widely shared critiques of gaming's monoculture, and a gradual attempt by some companies to diversify their workforce. Independent studios and individual developers have also contributed greatly to increased diversity. Diversity in gaming is very much a work in progress, but it's one that started in earnest in the recent past.
Emotes (hearts, angry faces, thumbs-up and so on) have been a growing part of human communication since the coming of the internet and mobile phones. However, Google Trends shows this word on a flatline between 2004 and 2018, with a sharp rise occurring in 2018. This corresponds with similar rises for 'Fortnite' and 'Twitch' both of which make use of emotes to communicate the emotional reactions of users. Twitch users utilize a vast range of emotes amounting to a complex language all to itself. Fortnite uses character animations, most especially Dances that are sometimes monetized through Battle Passes.
Competitive, professional gaming made it really big from around the middle of the last decade, as streaming services added an afterburner to an already growing field centered on MOBAs, Hero Shooters and Battle Royale. In 2015, the global audience for esports was around 115 million people. Today, it's five times bigger, carving out an entirely new games industry that's currently estimated to be worth $1.2 billion a year, and which shows no sign of slowing down.
A Japanese import, gacha games use a toy vending financial model which entices players to spend money in the hope of receiving a valuable item, often an in-game character or card, that will enhance the player's collection. Although a form of Gambling, this mechanic is used widely in free-to-play mobile games, and in hits like Genshin Impact. Gacha-style mechanics are also common in games that do not charge for the pleasure of a prize-winning wheel-spin, such as the Forza Horizon series.
In the last decade, mainstream concern about the negative effects of video gaming on children shifted away from violence and towards gambling, as more and more games made use of Gacha techniques and Loot boxes to lure players into speculative purchases. Threatened with corrective legislation, game companies in the United States have pulled back on their most egregious practices, although pay-to-win games of chance are still common.
GaaS is the revenue model du jour. Inspired by MMOs like World of Warcraft, GaaS now encompasses multiple genres. In days of yore, players bought a game, and that was the end of the transaction, with a sequel seen as the best way to monetize the initial sale. Post-launch DLC became popular with the coming of digital stores, increasingly weighted towards pre-order special offers.
Initial game purchases are now viewed by publishers as merely the first step in a targeted attempt to sell follow-ups
Games like Civilization 6 continue to offer new maps, characters and challenges years after initial launch, while free-to-play online hits such as Fortnite rely almost entirely on updates (see Battle Pass). Initial game purchases are now viewed by publishers as merely the first step in a targeted attempt to sell follow-ups, with core games often heavily discounted as an enticement. As a result, video games enjoy a much longer shelf life than in the past.
A new generation -- born between 1997, and 2010 -- is coming of age. Social experts tell us that Gen Z is way more digital savvy than anything that's come before. They've spent a lot of their time playing faddish mobile games, briefly, while also saturating themselves in creative worlds like Minecraft for years on end. They are the first generation to grow up inside a fully operational internet-entertainment complex, but if previous generations are anything to go by, they will strive to take care of their own needs and desires, rejecting the dead weight of history. Good luck to them.
A new GaaS subgenre that merges first- or third-person shooting action, with the MOBA-ish emphasis on strategy through character choice. Games like Overwatch (2016), Apex Legends (2019) and Valorant (2020) place a heavy value on the introduction of new characters, and so take on the form of a superhero franchise, in which narrative plays a key role, and players enjoy their own favorites.
Loot, in the form of goodies like weapons, upgrades, characters, and more, has long been a part of gaming, generally "dropped" as a reward for, say, killing a boss or completing a level. The loot box is a kind of gacha mechanic, although it's generally an addition to a game or franchise, rather than its core mechanic.
Electronic Arts launched FIFA's Ultimate Team mode in 2009, under the aegis of the core game's executive producer Andrew Wilson. Players were invited to earn real world soccer players, or to buy them through random packs, modeled on real world packs of sportstar cards. It was a smash.
Wilson was soon head of EA Sports, and then running the entire company. Other game companies took note and started implementing loot boxes in order to raise extra income from their games. As always, the companies pushed too hard, until players revolted, and the practice was paired back. But not before various governments began taking an interest, and concluding that the practice looked a lot like Gambling.
Hard games have always been with us, but masocore (a portmanteau of masochist and hardcore) explains three phenomena: a game that offers a huge challenge, the kind of players who enjoy that challenge, and a gaming subculture (sometimes, but not always including Toxic gamers) that celebrates difficult challenges, including speedruns, unlikely in-game tricks, and other feats of excellence.
A future digital world (or worlds) which is populated by human avatars engaging in social activities, gaming, and consuming. Currently a honeypot for billionaires and big brands. Most likely scenario is that it won't look anything like the hyper-capitalist fantasies we've seen so far.
The game industry remains a male-centric culture, dominated by men who are often highly resistant to change
A 2017 hashtag that changed the world, and has also made its way to gaming. Since women in all walks of life began sharing stories of sexist and sexual abuse, via social and mainstream media, the male-dominated game industry has begun the painful process of change. Prior to #MeToo, men who perpetrated abuse in gaming were rarely confronted or punished.
Now, we see the occasional "resignations" or firing of serial offenders but more importantly, we see companies either taking action to improve their cultures, or facing the fury and censure of activists and employees. As with most progressive movements, change is frustratingly slow. The game industry remains a male-centric culture, dominated by men who are often highly resistant to change.
Prior to around 2010, the number of games released in any given year, with beautifully written plots, characters, and themes, hovered around the zero mark. The coming of digital distribution, crowdfunding, social media, and low cost development tools changed all that.
Narrative games, mainly released by indie teams, are now a staple of gaming. Many seek to tell stories that impact real world issues like grief, disenchantment, loneliness, racism. Some weave their tale through standard gaming mechanics, while others walk the player through a story, with minimal action, but plenty of immersion.
You've already read a bunch of explainers for this acronym, which has taken on all the hallmarks of a fad, or possibly a scam. In games, it's essentially individualized content (costumes, weapons, and so on) that has the power to accrue, or to lose, value. Individualized, consumer-generated, monetizable gaming content is probably coming. Let's hope it arrives with a better name. See also Metaverse, Blockchain.
Launched in late 2011, Nintendo Direct is a regular, direct-to-consumer marketing and messaging video, in which Nintendo tells fans about new games and updates. Widely covered by the same media it seeks to replace, Nintendo Directs allow the famously controlling Nintendo -- and its imitators -- to deliver messaging without the lottery of the media, or the cost, hassle and confusion of a show like E3. These events mark a diminution in the power of the gaming media.
These events mark a diminution in the power of the gaming media
Streamers started seriously eating into gaming YouTube's influence around the middle of the last decade, competing to offer charismatic live footage of themselves playing games, mostly via Twitch. The best of them are intimately involved in the games they stream, and in their audience.
Anyone can stream, and many do so for their own entertainment, or as a way to connect with friends. Professional streamers work hard, using every trick in the book to win fame and riches -- from charm and intelligence, to shock tactics and vulgarity. The most famous of them have millions of followers, and are courted assiduously by brands seeking to reach Gen Z.
Ten years ago, most gamers would likely have jumped at the idea of paying a few bucks a month, and playing any game they liked. Now, it's a common way to consume games, but with caveats. The reality of these buffet services is a schism of offerings of wildly differing value, pitched according to a range of corporate ambitions.
Microsoft sees Xbox Game Pass as a platform-agnostic delivery monolithic, while Nintendo sees Switch Online as a nifty way to monetize particular online services and retro collections. PlayStation Plus, Humble Choice, Apple Arcade, EA Play, and Ubisoft Plus are all works-in-progress, tilting towards a business model that dominates in music and TV consumption, but faces an uncertain future in the world of gaming.
Data analytics have progressed markedly in the last ten years, especially in the age of digital distribution and GaaS. Publishers watch player behavior like never before, gathering data to inform future design decisions ranging from simple A/B cosmetic binaries, to the lay-out of entire levels. A decade ago, big game companies might have hired a person or two to monitor player-stats. Now, whole departments and third-party specialist organizations are dedicated to crunching the numbers, and informing and/or pressuring development teams to act upon their findings.
This global behemoth represents three trends in the game industry: large holding companies with a growing portfolio of gaming interests; the growing power of China in gaming; and social media companies that are investing heavily in games.
Since 2011, the company behind WeChat -- one billion users, most of them in China -- has purchased wholesale or significant holdings in a host of large games companies including Riot, Epic, and Turtle Rock as well as developers like Dontnod, Sumo, and Paradox. There are more than 600 million gamers in China, with a market that generates around $50 billion a year.
2014's Gamergate was a short and furious outburst of reactionary poison from right-wing activists, and self-styled keepers of the true gaming faith. It was a nasty revolt against many of the progressions mentioned in this list, including better representation in games, and improved accessibility. While GamerGate mainstreamed the concept of toxic gamers, they've always been there, lurking in online game lobbies, spouting hatred and abuse.
Game companies and streaming services, belatedly and slowly, are trying to figure out ways to clean up online gathering points through AI learning tools and reporting mechanisms, but toxicity has a way of ducking under barriers. The fight goes on.
Until recently, the lack of unions was reasoned away by the notion that individual talent will always be rewarded by companies competing with one another to hire the best. This is now recognized as bollocks
The game industry is rife with abusive practices, like crunch, predatory contracts, and lack of job security. Until recently, the lack of unions was reasoned away by the notion that individual talent will always be rewarded by companies competing with one another to hire the best. This is now recognized as bollocks. Unionization is rapidly taking shape, as employees at notoriously bad employers like Activision Blizzard take collective action against specific abuses.
In 2012, as the indie boom flourished, game development engine Unity boasted an impressive 300,000 monthly users. By the time the company went public in 2020, it claimed 1.5 million monthly users, and a current market cap of $34 billion.
Unity provides a core engine and a vast array of assets, plug-ins and tools that developers at all experience levels can use to create games at a low cost. The return to consumers is a massive library of games built on Unity, including unexpected commercial and critical hits like Valheim, Fall Guys, Outer Wilds, Totally Accurate Battlegrounds, and Return of the Obra Dinn.
Video conferencing and voice chat apps have gone from novelty to an essential working tool. To Zoom is to have a meeting (some companies use Discord, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and others), most especially since the coming of the pandemic in 2020. This has led to a drastic reevaluation of working and hiring practices in the game industry, including remote working, more relaxed attitudes to timekeeping, and a greater emphasis on quality of life.