It's a decrease of just over 1% when compared to last year, but the COVID-19 has resulted in a nearly impossible benchmark to surpass.
At the beginning of July, analytics provider Newzoo released its Global Games Market Report examining the state of the games industry in 2021. According to the data, the business will generate somewhere around $175.8 billion in consumer spending by the end of this year on the back of an estimated gaming population of 3 billion.
That much revenue seems monumental, but Newzoo notes that the estimate is actually a 1.1% decrease over last year, a drop perpetuated by an estimated 2.8% decline in the PC and console markets. Meanwhile, the mobile segment continues its steady growth; Newzoo is predicting that market to grow 4.4% in 2021.
An overall decline in consumer spend, however slight it may be, was perhaps always inevitable in 2021. By now, the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the games industry has been well-documented, and 2020’s sky-high spending numbers cut an imposing measuring stick.
“You could call 2020 an anomaly in terms of consumer spending, as it is simply unsustainable to maintain these growth numbers for another year,” Tom Wijman, Newzoo’s lead analyst of the games market, told GameDaily.
Newzoo’s numbers aren’t necessarily a deviation from existing trends, though. Wijman notes that the pandemic has likely accelerated observable revenue growth, with last year’s spike reflecting expected numbers given the last several years of revenue, albeit at a much quicker pace.
“For the most part, the pandemic accelerated existing trends that were already shaping the games market, '' Wijman said. “But there are some unique circumstances that cause this year's decline, such as the impact of COVID-19-related lockdowns on game development processes, which is the cause of the light release schedule for AAA console and PC games.”
In terms of player growth, both the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Latin America regions are seeing more widespread adoption of gaming. According to Newzoo’s data, these two regions have seen a 10.1% and 6.2% year-over-year increase in player numbers, respectively, pointing to strong untapped revenue potential there.
“The main catalysts for growing interest in gaming in these regions are increases in online population, better internet infrastructure, affordable smartphones, and mobile data,” Wijman explained. “At the same time, growth opportunities are growing scarce in the markets where today's large publishers earn the majority of their revenue. Therefore, to keep growing, they will eye growth markets such as Latin America and MENA”
As a result, many publishers are eyeing these regions, either as targets for game localization, local marketing initiatives, local payment options, or even new office sites.
Elsewhere, the Asian market continues its domination of the global games business. Representing the most lucrative and populous market in the world, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than half--an estimated 55%--of the planet’s game players, a year-over-year increase of 4.8%. As such, Wijman expects many Western developers and publishers to continue making a play for this market where already a number of prominent studios have found considerable success.
“Blizzard games such as StarCraft, Overwatch, and Riot's League of Legends (who is owned by Tencent, a Chinese company) are games developed in the West that have attracted a massive audience in Asia. More recently, EA has achieved success in Asia with Apex Legends,” Wijman said.
It can be challenging for Western companies to succeed in Asia--China in particular--thanks to regulations there that require foreign organizations to partner with local businesses in order to secure licensing rights. Further, competition is fierce in Asia’s most lucrative regions of China, Japan, and South Korea.
While Western developers and publishers continue seeking an audience in Asia, Asia’s most successful companies are expanding westward. Most notably, Tencent has been on an investment and acquisition spree outside of China, and has even been opening a number of new studios in the U.S.
For Wijman, the biggest takeaway from Newzoo’s report is the importance of gaming as a social vehicle. COVID-19 lockdown efforts has led to a search for ways to connect with distant family and friends, and gaming is uniquely equipped for such a task.
“The lasting impact of COVID-19 isn't so much on player numbers or revenues but the growing role of gaming community and gaming culture, and how important social gaming has become,” he said. “In a year where being physically together was challenging, we saw substantial growth in games that featured social aspects.”
Considering this, it’s not surprising that 2020 saw an exponential rise in popularity of social games like Among Us, Fall Guys, and Fortnite. Further, the livestreaming scene has become a go-to platform for social connections, resulting in record-breaking audience numbers for the likes of Twitch and YouTube.
All told, there’s no denying the impact that COVID-19 has had on the video game medium. Many of the trends highlighted by the pandemic may have already been in place, but they have been emphasized in a way that no analyst could have predicted. Moving forward, publishers and developers will no doubt be trying to maintain this momentum, but these inflated revenue numbers represent a neigh-insurmountable figure for the short-term. Still, expect long-term growth to continue, even if it’s at a more familiar rate.
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