Video gaming has long been a mainstream hobby and yet it reached absolute heights in terms of spending and user engagement during the initial outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Players worldwide turned to gaming as a new or comforting hobby, to connect with friends and family, or to make new friends while various social distancing mandates were in place around the globe. As the world is slowly moving towards a post-pandemic mindset with all the factors that determine a post-boom industry, revenue projections for the video gaming industry are normalizing too after the double-digital growth in 2020 and 2021. Despite this, global video game industry revenues are set to surpass 200 billion U.S. dollars for the first time in 2022.
The global gaming market
While the continuously declining physical game sales received a bump during the pandemic, digital sales account for the vast majority of video gaming revenues worldwide. Overall, mobile games are the biggest digital gaming segment, with more than 150 billion U.S. dollars in annual revenues. This is also reflected in the gaming industry revenue split by device – mobile gaming is estimated to account for more revenue than console and PC gaming combined.
In 2022, the number of gamers worldwide was estimated at three billion, down from the 3.2 billion global gamers during the height of COVID-19 in 2021. Despite this momentarily decline, global gaming audiences are projected to increase at a steady growth rate and surpass these figures within 2023. As with revenues, the easily-accessible genre of mobile gaming is also the most popular in terms of audiences – current figures estimate about 1.7 billion mobile gamers worldwide. The power of mobile is also reflected in other ways – mobile-first markets such as the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam top the ranking of global video gaming penetration as over 93 percent of internet users play video games in these markets. The video gaming penetration worldwide was 83.6 percent across any device.
A global 2021 survey found that more than eight in ten internet users aged 16 to 44 years played video games on any device, with men being slightly more likely to do so. During the survey, more than 68 percent of internet users stated they played video games on smartphones, making them the most popular gaming devices among global gaming audiences. PCs were ranked second with 36.8 percent of gamers stating they played games on the device.
Gamer preferences can vary vastly across age groups, genders, and regions – luckily there is a seemingly infinite range of games to choose from. A survey of gamers worldwide revealed that shooter and action adventures were the most-played gaming genres among most age groups, with simulation and racing games following in terms of general popularity. Younger gamers were the ones more likely to play battle royale titles, whereas puzzle and casino gamers stood out with older gaming audiences.
Spotlight: mobile games – on every platform?
With the nearly universal availability of mobile devices and connectivity worldwide, mobile gaming is arguably the easiest way to get into gaming. This is also mirrored in the popularity of the casual gaming genre on mobile, and the enduring fame (and revenue) of some of the most popular mobile gaming titles such as Candy Crush Saga (originally released in 2012).
However, while the average mobile device can run most mobile games, mobile gaming has gotten increasingly sophisticated over the past years, adapting to the increased hardware capabilities and gamers’ appetites. An April 2022 survey found that mobile gaming audiences were increasingly interested in playing their current mobile game on PC or console, signaling consumer interest in cross-device play for mobile-first titles. While cross-device gamers generally expected a mobile-first title to have better graphics, sound effects, and controls on PC or console, 39 percent of responding gamers did not expect any difference in mobile titles to be worse off in terms of storyline or narratives when compared to being played on PC or console. Some blockbuster titles like Genshin Impact or Diablo Immortal, as well as MOBA game Pokémon Unite are already delivering on this.
Streaming and video as a part of gaming
Playing video games is not the only way to engage with the medium – gaming video streams produced by professional video content creators are also a popular way to engage with video games. Major streaming platforms such as Twitch or YouTube Gaming Live saw significant growth in streamers, audiences, and content from 2020 to the beginning of 2021, and although still above pre-pandemic levels, user engagement on these platforms now again declining. A July 2021 survey found that about nine percent of internet users worldwide followed gaming influencers. Video streaming platforms are also strong indicators of which games are currently popular and talked about. The most-followed game on Twitch worldwide was Fortnite, followed by Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTAV).
Gameplay is not the only thing that is popular with streaming audiences – many game conventions also feature live stream content for announcements or industry showcases. The same goes for gaming industry award shows: for example, the annual The Game Awards ceremony saw 85 million people watching the event across multiple platforms in 2021, up from 45.2 million in 2019.
eSports – making a living from gaming
Video gaming is not only a solitary endeavor or social pastime with friends – there are also eSports, which are organized multiplayer gaming events, mostly between professional players. There is usually a series of tournaments that culminate in championships, both at a regional and a global level. The growth of streaming and eSports are strongly connected, and the top tournaments draw millions of enthusiasts and casual viewers alike.
Sponsorships, media rights, merchandise, and tickets are a lucrative way of making money with video games. Danish player Johan Sundstein (aka N0tail) has so far earned 7.18 million U.S. dollars throughout his recorded eSports gaming career, making him the highest-earning eSports player worldwide. The earnings of the highest-earning female eSports gamers pale in comparison – top-ranked Shasha Hostyn (aka Scarlet) only made 423 thousand U.S. dollars in lifetime player earnings.
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