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The gaming statistics technology innovators should know

If your business is contemplating any kind of digital transformation, it's instructive to look at past technology trends, how markets changed, and the competitive landscape. As it turns out, you can get that perspective from the computer game industry.

It’s entertaining to think about gaming in personal, consumer terms. After all, 65 percent of Americans play computer games at least occasionally, so statistically, the subject is relevant to your own interests.

However, there’s actually a work-related element in tracking how games are used. Honest.

Ever since computers were invented, game developers have pushed the programming envelope. Popular games have often required the fastest desktop computers and the highest-resolution screens. Sure, plenty of PCs were sold to crunch numbers in spreadsheets, but we've upgraded our home computers—at our own expense—in order to improve our ability to vanquish enemies.

As a result, it can be instructive to look at gaming trends in the context of digital transformation. Businesses invest in technology when they see a financial or branding payoff, with their execs wrangling over where best to spend the money. For consumer spending, the decision-making process is much simpler: What makes it easier to vanquish enemies?

But the business of gaming is another thing entirely. The huge computer gaming industry has a lot of moving parts, sometimes literally—an ongoing transformation serving a fickle, changing customer base. A game’s popularity lasts as long as an ice cream cone at a state fair—or it becomes a classic. Gamers find favorite genres (such as first-person shooters or puzzles), platforms (desktop, gaming consoles, smartphones), and methods of play (solo or in multiplayer dungeons). Their choices have a social impact—or at least they raise ethical questions for the companies that publish the games.

The gradual and not-so-gradual shifts can give us a better view of technology change. Or at least one that’s fun to contemplate.

For instance, any IT department worth its salt is paying particular attention to its corporate users who access the company’s applications on a mobile device. With the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, it makes some sense to evaluate the behavior of people who acquire mobile devices for their own needs. (In order to vanquish enemies.) Looking at the gaming industry statistics is also a useful exercise for those who consider how best to engage user communities with improved user experiences, which incidentally may include gamification.

“It’s now more important than ever to understand who America’s video game players really are and what’s driving them,” say the authors of the Entertainment Software Association's (ESA) report, "2019 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry." Fortunately, there’s plenty of information to mine on the subject.

Everybody’s doing it

Computer gaming is a huge market. In 2018, U.S. video game revenues reached $43.4 billion, according to research firm NPD Group. “Over 164 million adults in the United States play video games, and three-quarters of all Americans have at least one gamer in their household,” it says.

In fact, you’re an outlier if, as an adult, you don’t play some sort of game: As noted earlier, 65 percent of American adults play video games. The average gamer is 33 years old and has been playing for 14 years.

Despite their ubiquity, games are not the only way people entertain themselves. “Most Americans choose to watch movies and TV over listening to music, playing video games, and other forms of entertainment,” according to NPD Group. In 2018, 27 percent of all entertainment hours were spent watching TV and movies, followed by 19 percent listening to music and 16 percent playing video games, the research firm found.

Market size in hand

You can play computer games on anything with a chip: a desktop computer, gaming console, online community, or mobile device. Unsurprisingly, the balance among these platforms is changing.

Primarily, games have become more mobile: “Of the 283.1 million mobile users in the U.S. and Canada, 210.9 million are mobile gamers, a 5 percent increase over 2017,” NPD Group reports. Global smartphone ownership has increased by 15 percentage points since Q3 2015; it has reached 95 percent among Internet users ages 16 to 64, according to statistics from a Global Web Index report, "Gaming: The trends to know in 2019."

But mobile users do not eschew other platforms. Games are played on smartphones (62 percent), PCs (50 percent), and dedicated game consoles (49 percent), the ESA reports.

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Smartphone gamers typically play games on their phone on a daily basis. “Mobile gamers are now spending an estimated 3 hours and 44 minutes per day online on their smartphone (climbing to just under 5 hours in Latin America),” the Global Web Index report says. "Put this in the context of rapid improvements to processing powers and screen resolutions in the smartphone industry, as well as the on-the-go advantage offered by mobiles, and we can really see true potential of these gaming devices.” 

As with other technology adoption, the U.S. is not always the center of the universe. Internet users in fast-growth markets are the most avid mobile gamers. “More than seven in 10 Internet users in [Asia-Pacific] and the Middle East and Africa are gaming on their smartphone,” according to the Global Web Index report. “It’s in these regions where Internet penetration rates are at their lowest globally and where the online population is most rapidly expanding, suggesting great room for growth.”

Your work-related reason to care: Everything is going mobile. But that doesn’t mean people stop using other platforms.

Right. But which games?

You can fall into a rabbit hole if you look for definitive numbers about “the most popular computer games of all time.” There are worse ways to get lost on the Internet, though, although this search may not help you settle a bar bet. Let me state up front: I spent a while trying to figure this out, and I still don’t know.

According to one 2016 article, the most popular games ever are/were Tetris, Minecraft, and Wii Sports. But there are battling stats, in part because of recent successes. Those don’t include the 50 million copies of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or 20 million copies of Diablo 3.

And industry associations report numbers only on the games from companies that belong to their associations.

But with 170 million games sold, nobody debates that Tetris was incredibly popular, particularly in the context of the era in which it was released, since there were far fewer home computers in 1984—and that's not counting a lot of knock-offs before the PC-DOS game fell off the charts. Any “of all time” list has to take time into account, too: It took 10 years for Minecraft to rack up 176 million users, which now exceeds Tetris’s numbers. Though what’s a couple of million between friends?

Your work-related reason to care: Analytics are hard because you have to trust the source of your data and your data-collection methods.

eSports on the rise

You can and should consider gaming platforms as a symbol of the pendulum shifts in computational devices. I won’t go so far as to say that the rise in spectator gaming and live streaming will directly affect enterprise computing platforms. But it’s not a bad thing to consider how disruptive new markets and products can be, particularly in geographies where Internet access is different from that in the U.S. Not to mention that contemplating video game monetization is more fun than thinking about the best way to charge for enterprise cloud services.

“With the migration of gaming activities online, a whole host of behaviors falls within the remit of gaming, even those that don’t involve picking up a controller and playing a game,” the "Gaming: The trends to know in 2019" report points out. “Indeed, the very idea of what constitutes as ‘gaming’ entertainment has evolved and expanded, even to sitting and spectating while others play your favorite games.”

Market research firm NewZoo estimates eSports online competitive multiplayer matches will account for $1.1 billion in global revenue in 2019, up more than 26 percent year on year. “The global eSports audience will reach 453.8 million this year, made up of 201.2 million eSports enthusiasts and 252.6 million occasional viewers. On its current trajectory, we estimate the eSports market will generate $1.8 billion in 2022,” the researchers conclude. It’s quite an example of a hockey stick graph: In 2015, the global audience for eSports was $115 million.

Over a third of gamers have watched a live gaming stream in the past month, with more than a quarter having watched an eSports tournament, according to the "Gaming: The trends to know in 2019" report. That’s particularly so outside the U.S. “More than four in 10 people in the Philippines have watched a live gaming stream in the last month, compared to 8 percent in Switzerland,” it says.

However, not every innovative idea takes off. While the add-on market for gaming gear (gaming keyboards, mice, speakers, monitors, and even chairs) has always been healthy, the much vaunted virtual reality headsets have never become a must-have.

Your work-related reason to care: Don’t be side-swiped by new markets. But don’t bet the company on them, either.

Games’ social impact

The gaming community suffers from a huge amount of misinformation, from its makeup to whether playing games causes people to become more violent. The statistics give us a more accurate picture.

First, why do we play games? In the ESA survey, more than three-quarters of gamers said video games provide them with mental stimulation (79 percent) as well as relaxation and stress relief (78 percent). The results may be as real as the game is fantasy: One 2016 Yale University study demonstrated that students who played a brain-training video game for 20 minutes three times a week for four months performed better on reading and math tests.

The role of video games in the American family is changing. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of parents believe video games can be educational for their children, and more than half (57 percent) enjoy playing games with their child at least weekly, according to the ESA. Ninety percent of parents pay attention to the games their children play, and 77 percent use the ESRB ratings, which “encompasses guidance about age-appropriateness, content, and interactive elements.”

Once, gaming was a solitary pursuit, but today, many games offer multiplayer options, both live action and in online communities (such as Words with Friends on Facebook). Sixty-three percent of gamers play with others regularly, an average of 4.8 hours per week, according to the ESA.

The stereotype of a gamer is a dude huddled in the basement who never emerges. However, gamers are just as likely as non-gamers to exercise, take international vacations, or explore the outdoors, per the ESA’s report. Computer gamers are more likely to have a personal hobby (56 percent do, compared with 49 percent of Americans at large), play a musical instrument (32 percent do, compared with 27 percent of non-gamers), and meditate (32 percent versus 27 percent).

Gaming is most popular among males ages 16 to 24 (64 percent), although a quarter of all those 45 to 54 years old also say they have an interest in it, according to the "Gaming: The trends to know in 2019" report. As respondents get older, the ratio tends to be much more even: For those 55 to 64 years old, more females cite gaming as an interest than males (19 percent versus 17 percent).

Gaming has a reputation as a “guy thing,” a stereotype perpetrated by Internet trolls who would prefer it to remain that way. In fact, the numbers show that to be a myth, as 46 percent of gamers are female. Women who play games are slightly older (an average of 34 years old, compared with 32 for men). But they aren’t as likely to play with other people; for instance, 45 percent of millennial women play in groups, where 66 percent of men do. (The misogyny in the gaming community might be one reason women are more likely to play solo.)

There are additional differences by gender and age ranges. Male millennials (ages 18 to 34) prefer action, shooter, and sports games; women of the same age are more likely to play casual and action games. Among Gen-X gamers (ages 35 to 54), casual games played on their smartphones are more popular (women 70 percent, men 62 percent), where men of that generation turn first to sports, racing, and shooters. Boomers (ages 55 to 64) choose board and puzzle games and are more likely to play alone (65 percent of men play solo, as do 58 percent of women). Some of us have been doing this for years: 22 percent of female boomer gamers have played for more than 25 years; that’s so for 25 percent of men. (I surely still have my Infocom disks around here somewhere.)

Although men and women play games with roughly the same frequency, it’s still primarily men creating those games. Three-quarters (77 percent) of developers are male and 19 percent female, according to a survey for the Game Developers Conference of nearly 4,000 game developers.

Your work-related reason to care: Technology decisions have consequences. How much thought are you giving to the social impact of your innovations? Who’s designing those solutions, and for whom?

If you want more gaming stats—because who doesn’t?—you should see this compendium of video game statistics.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.