Dec 29, 2022 - Technology

Gaming takes over everything

Illustration of PacMan's mouth about to eat a glowing Earth.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Video games will move to the center of the entertainment and pop-culture universe next year.

Why it matters: Streaming services, Hollywood studios, tech giants — even the Saudi government — are racing to capitalize on gaming's vast and ever-expanding popularity, and its lucrative intellectual property.

Gaming movies are the biggest challenger to Hollywood’s superhero hegemony:

  • 2023 will bring "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" — a partnership between Nintendo and Illumination, the studio behind the Minions.
  • HBO’s first prestige series of 2023, mid-January's "The Last of Us," is an adaptation of a hit PlayStation video game.
  • Streaming platforms are preparing a pipeline of games-turned-shows, including adaptations of God of War, Fallout and Assassin's Creed.

The big picture: Gaming is now a $184 billion business, a lucrative IP resource for other media — and the leading edge of the tech industry, both as a business and a harbinger of the industry’s policy battles.

  • It's the foundational tech inspiring Meta's costly adventure into virtual worlds.
  • It's how Netflix plans to grow its subscriber base, as the streamer tries to become a top video game developer and distributor.
  • It's the industry that Saudi Arabia's ruling class has chosen to invest $38 billion in, for the sake of economic diversification and image.
  • It's the locus of a growing labor movement in tech, where gaming workers at Activision-Blizzard, Microsoft and elsewhere are moving to unionize.
  • It's a recurring target of the Federal Trade Commission. The agency is trying to score a historic antitrust win with its attempted block of Microsoft’s $69 billion bid for Activision — and just secured a $520 million settlement with Epic Games over child purchases run amok in Fortnite.

The games themselves are poised for a blockbuster year, too:

Reality check: Not every bit of video gaming breathlessness works out.

  • E-sports is growing awkwardly. It's still picking up viewers — but its poor profitability is scaring off investors.
  • Google, which thought it could be a gaming disruptor, is shutting down its Stadia game-streaming platform in January.

Between the lines: This is what happens when a subculture has been deepening its roots for a half-century.

  • Many of the first kids who grew up with gaming become gamer parents, ready to pass gaming to the new generation.
  • Power takes notice. Outside elites elbow in.
  • Inside, young workers and players look around and see their once-rebellious pastime as an establishment that needs to be challenged.

The bottom line: From World of Warcraft to Wordle, it's a game-lover's world.

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