A lot of what Sphinx does is watch patterns. Cool people call these trends but that word means something fleeting and malleable to many and the changes in patterns especially in the past few years have been slower moving but overall more permanent. What follows are our thoughts on how our core pop culture markets are changing and that includes the past few years not just 2016. Overall reoccurring theme is a desire for the return of something tangible. Even before the election, the number one thing people were looking for period was trust. The collapse of wall street and the rise of the millennial created a powerful shift. Heavy branding became a turn off. An importance for knowing the company or maker of said item, or at least the illusion of this, built a level of trust. Now, it’s more important then ever. Authenticity plus transparency is what builds trust in a brand and in the geek market authenticity is everything. Add to that a day and age of digital customizable everything we want something to hold at the end of the day as well. The result of all this is both a resurgence in high end detailed collectors edition as well as a surge in vinyl sales. On one end of the spectrum a geek can enjoy an incredibly expensive keepsake that they will cherish forever, on the other end even the most broke millennials can walk away from a thrift store with 10 vinyl pieces for $5 and still have cash left to buy a new vinyl record. Add to all of this nostalgia and escapism go hand in hand for better or worse. With an incredibly tumultuous year..those elements play into all trends and we are going to discuss the elements that play into that.
Horror has had a fantastic boom since the economy crash. As technology gets better and more affordable, indy horror film creators have gotten to bring their nightmares to light. Women have taken a more active role in everything from film making to publishing. The Babadook is a great example of groundbreaking storytelling. It ignited the horrors of motherhood that many women don’t talk about. Overall horror press is overwhelmed with content to cover. Many vehicles that are smaller in size are restructuring and adding in writers to handle the load. Horror as a genre has so many different types that it is extremely hard to over-saturate the market. Diversity and representation in media is rising in importance and this will grow in the next couple years. This market understands the overall trend of needing something tangible and numerous collectors editions of classics decades old are finding new audiences and revitalizing old.
Tabletop gaming is also incredibly strong. There has always been a tactile tangible aspect to most gaming mediums and that helps. Gaming kickstarters have seen some incredible crowd funding campaigns repeatedly breaking a million dollars. These surges are a direct result of a gap created by video games and even RPG related products which are often seen as a niche market within gaming are doing well. Pathfinder and D&D are seeing a little competition and that’s because RPGs specifically focus on creating intricate, vivid, detailed worlds that are both affordable and re-playable. Representation of different ethnicities and sexualities are beginning and this is both good and creating a time of transition. There has been a surge in reports of women or people of color being harassed or not feeling comfortable at conventions or at game nights in the past few years. We only came to understand after the elections what was going on and we learned that there was a heavy conservative christian demographic within hobby-games. That by NO means is a direct cause and effect to the questionable incidents. What it does show is simply that there was a misguided perception within gaming a perceived values of the consumers. That if you are into elves, orcs, and toy soldiers you must be rather progressive/liberal when the exact opposite may be true. This cause conflict and confusion over what is perceived as appropriate and helps create these situations. The real issue in all of this is simply this; Hobby-gaming as a pastime started up via groups of people. It has a high nostalgia element that goes along with the escapism. Your Wednesday gaming group used to be people you knew from x shared experience. Now they can have one or two people who are not only complete strangers but people who you simply have little to no shared values with. Feelings of betrayal and hurt erupt and unfortunately some choose to lash out.
Video Games: (This section was written by John Galati – Sphinx’s Secret weapon who contributes to all video game related clients and more.)
As 2016 comes to a close, trends come into clarity. Three major ones in particular seem to be pointing towards a major shift in 2017.
1.) 38% of Steam’s entire catalog was released in 2016. This is in large part due to the continued proliferation of easy to use programs like RPG maker and Novelty, the expansion of early access and patreon models, and unrestricted access to the store.
2.) The review system is struggling, but the worst offender isn’t “the press”… it’s online store reviews. These are unlocked, ungated systems that have had to be reviewed in many places due to abuse, ballot stuffing, and harassment. It turns out that as a group, users aren’t interested in being objective critics themselves. Second in line has been the decline in effectiveness in streamers in terms of consistently influencing viewer buying habits.
3.) AAA games continue their decline. 2015 saw the first clear cracks in AAA gaming, but the model has persisted this year to similar results. This echos a larger problem in media, with blockbuster movies following similar issue. Like movies, gaming has seen a splinter between AAA and now AAA+, which is billed as the biggest of the biggest of already big games.
4.) Games as a Service is a continuing trend as developers produce increasingly expensive games and users look for ways to extend existing titles rather than buy multiple titles.
There are two main takeaways from this.
A.) Gamers are being more insular, retreating to smaller communities and forming deeper roots there. Developers of all sizes should be more selective in what fans they attract and retain. The immediate future is going to be about shoring up a smaller group of die-hard fans who stay with you for a year or more of content, over attracting a wider pool of temporary fans with repeated injections of new titles.
B.) Gaining attention is going to be about standing out as distinctly as you can, as deep as you can. The immediate future is going to be about the unexpected, stand-out games. Or games that play hard to a marginalized fan base. Big budgets are no longer the key to success; being smaller, highly passionate, and uniquely promoted is going to be the key to lasting success going forward. And compulsory promotion is not just dead, but increasing reviled.
And we end with comics:
Growth in the comic market in both sales as well as diversity has been welcome all around. Publishers of all sizes are struggling with promotions of a high amount of titles in a way that penetrates to consumers. Diamond is seen as a thorn in many a side to both retailers and publishers and is as much as a character in the comic market as seen on an actual page. Diamonds latest trends towards automation are both welcome and questioned by many. Women have taken up a firm foothold in the industry with females under the age of 30 take up a straight split in the comic market. Digital comics are proving a fantastic introductory tool especially to women as it eliminates a feeling of being “pressured to buy” and should be used as a way to drive print sales. Digital has shown no evidence what so ever to cannibalize print sales. Representation within the comic market is at an all time high historically for women and there have been incredible trends within the medium to represent alternative lifestyles as well. The online attack of Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain was a reflection of what’s going on with hobby-gaming. Nostalgia and escapism are heavily tied and once again feelings of betrayal of the comics of today no longer reflect those of our childhood and the way each person perceives what that should look like according to the individual creates turmoil.
Where we go from here:
All of these markets are colliding. The idea that someone is say primarily a comic book geek but likes board games is now the low end of the spectrum. Many geeks are into all of them in one aspect or the other. Communication in pictures and video will be the safe new normal. Facebook is absolutely the biggest bang for your buck to focus on both. If you have to use words to communicate make sure you are as specific as possible in all matters and NO BUZZWORDS.
All forms of pop culture are about reflection and this will be key. How one wants to be reflected in regards to the medium of their choice. Am I the hero or the villain? Do I save the day? Do I lose everything? Accurately reflecting the audience of your choosing will create the sales to be sustainable but you most choose an audience you can authentically create for. Consumers will be looking at how companies reflect their character in their products and will be looking for reasons to trust them both as artistically and commercially. Show don’t tell has always made for good storytelling and this is more important then ever.