Gaming at a glance – The state of the gaming industry and community

The Entertainment Software Association has just released its “Essential Facts” report for 2016. This annual survey of 4,000 randomly chosen American households aims to provide concrete numerical data on who is playing video games and why. It’s a useful snapshot of the gaming industry and community, and the numbers might surprise you. Let’s take a look at the state of our favorite hobby today.

Gaming Is Shrinking

While this may be perceived as heresy, the numbers show that gaming is shrinking overall. Forty eight percent of households reported owning a dedicated gaming console. This is down from 51 percent, a total which was reported for the last three years.

Even more surprising is that only 65 percent of homes owned any device that is used to play games. This is down from 80 percent reported in the previous year.

There are a number of reasons we could speculate as to why these numbers saw a drop. First of all, we are still making the transition between last gen and current gen systems. It’s possible that gamers have been getting rid of their older consoles without picking up newer ones.

It’s also hard to believe that 35 percent of households don’t own a single cell phone or computer to play games on. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of Americans own a cellphone. The ESA tracked people who owned devices that were regularly “used to play games” so it’s possible that large portions of the community own game playing devices but don’t play games on them. It’s also possible that households simply don’t look at their computers and cell phones as gaming devices, but rather communications devices.

This theory becomes more plausible when you consider that 63 percent of American households are home to someone who plays games more than 3 hours a week (which is the ESA’s current definition of “gamer.”) This falls in line with the statistic for game device ownership. If I might translate this for the average gamer on the internet, 37 percent of people are filthy casuals.

Gamers Are Growing

If you thought that games were simply toys for pre-teens and bro’d out frat boys, think again. According to the survey, the average gamer is 35 years old. These are the same people who first got into gaming when gaming was first becoming popular, back in the days of the Atari and the NES. They grew, and the industry grew with them. Only 27 percent of gamers are under the age of 18, even when taking more casual gamers into account. What’s perhaps more surprising is 26 percent of gamers are over the age of 50! Good work Grandma! Get that headshot!

Several additional statistics support these findings. The average numbers of years that any individual gamer has been playing games is 13, which is difficult for anyone under the age of 18 to accomplish. The average age of frequent game purchasers is 38, even higher than the age of the average gamer, which means most gamers are purchasing their own games, not having them bought for them by a parent.

Games are for Girls

Now let’s get to the sticky statistics about gender. There is usually an assumption that gaming is a boys club, but the numbers don’t support that. 59 percent of gamers are male while 41 percent are female, not nearly enough of a majority to be counted as exclusive. This is, unfortunately, down from 52 percent in 2014 and 49 percent in 2011.

This would suggest that gaming was not, as assumed, a boys club, but rather that it has become increasingly hostile toward women in recent years. Once again, there are many reasons we could speculate, most of which would reference recent happenings in socio-political drama, but that’s an article for another time. More interesting, is that this provides a reason for the sudden uptick in games with female protagonists .Besides the fact that increasing the amount of strong female characters in games is good in the first place, it also serves as a way to make gaming more welcoming to a recently alienated female fanbase.

Age demographics are different between male and female gamers. For example, the average female gamer is 44 years old, as opposed to the average male gamer who is 35. The age ranges of female gamers are more uniform. There are equal amounts of female gamers under and over the age of 35, as opposed to male gamers who, once again, skew younger. It is worth noting that more older women game than young men do. Women who are older than 18 make up 31 percent of the gaming population while boys younger than 18 make up only 17 percent. If anything, this still supports the previous statistics on age, which suggest that video gaming has become primarily an activity for 30 somethings.

We Are Gaming, Gaming Together

While the gaming fanbase might be shrinking, gamers are spending more time playing games. The average household has 1.7 gamers. The fact that there is usually more than one dedicated gamer (remember a gamer is defined by someone who plays games more than three hours a week) per house means it’s less of a niche and more of a mainstream hobby.

About 54 percent of gamers play games with others, and 51 percent of gamers play a multiplayer mode at least once a week. Unsurprisingly, 40 percent of gamers most frequently play multiplayer with their friends. Perhaps disappointingly, only 15 percent of gamers regularly play games with their spouse or partner. Each of these statistics is gender independent, meaning you are more likely to play a game with a platonic female friend than you are with your girlfriend. Rough…

Multiplayer gamers spend on average 6.5 hours a week playing with others online and 4.6 hours a week playing with others in person. While it’s no surprise that online play surpasses face to face play, the totals are closer than you’d expect. It’s possible that the growth of eSports has spurred us to game in meat space more often. Further statistics support this, as 50 percent of gamers follow eSports. Oddly enough, eSports are primarily followed via social media posts on services like Facebook and Twitter. Streaming, which you would think is the primary way to follow eSports, is in fact the least used platform. More gamers watch eSports on cable TV than on Stream. If you didn’t even know eSports was featured on cable TV, I’m right there with you.

The Games We Want

So what games are we actually playing? Whatever is shiniest and cheapest, it looks like. Forty one percent of gamers purchase new video games without having tried them in any way, while only 30 percent purchase games after trying a demo first.

Beyond all other factors, price is what motivates gamers to buy games. More than story, more than graphics, more than name recognition, gamers are simply more likely to buy a game if it’s cheap. Maybe that’s why cheaper indie games are becoming so popular. It’s easy for a $10 to $20 game on Steam to appeal to millions of gamers, especially during Steam sales. Perhaps that’s also why the gaming fanbase is shrinking while gaming hours are growing. People have less money to spend on games, and spend more time playing the games they have with friends.

Many people said that video games simply provide more value for their money than other forms of entertainment. Twenty three percent of gamers said that games were a better purchase than DVDs, 14 percent said it provides more value than music, and 10 percent said it provided more value than going to the movies. The increase in game play time has also created a decrease in other pastimes. Forty nine percent of gamers say they are playing fewer board games and more videogames, while 37 percent said they are spending less time watching TV and going to the movies.

We tend to purchase digital games more often than we do physical games. Fifty six percent of game sales were digital last year, while only 44 percent were physical. However, when you look at the total amount of money spent in the digital and physical spaces, the two become even more split. 11.2 billion dollars were spent on digital games, DLC, microtransactions, and the like, while only 5.2 billion dollars were spent on hardcopy game products. When you put together all the hardware, software, and accessories, we spent a total of 23.5 billion dollars on games last year.

Finally, I have some good news for the so called “PC Gaming Master Race.” You guys are actually winning. For the first time in years, the PC has beaten the dedicated gaming console as the primary system of choice. 56 percent of gamers said that they frequently play on PC, while only 53 percent said they play on console.  The golden realms of mobile gaming are actually drying up, with only 36 percent of gamers playing on a smartphone, and 17 percent playing on a dedicated handheld device like a 3DS.

What’s even more interesting is that game genres vary wildly depending on what you use to play. Gamers who play primarily on consoles played Action and Shooter games the most, while PC gamers played Strategies, RPGs, and, hilariously enough, Casual/Party games the most. For anyone still playing games on smartphones, puzzle games are your game of choice.

What Do All These Numbers Mean?

When you put all the numbers together, it points toward an interesting trend. Gaming is moving away from being a hobby and instead moving toward being a part of day to day life. It’s less a thing you spend money on, and more a thing that you simply have access to no matter what life you lead.

For example, console ownership is down and PC gaming is up. It’s simply more likely for someone to have a PC than a dedicated gaming console, especially since money is a driving factor in game sales. More people are playing games per household and gaming for longer periods of time, while social gaming is on the rise. We are enjoying the games we love with the people we love, rather than keeping up on the AAA yearly single-player release treadmill. Gaming is no longer that thing that weirdos do in their mother’s basement. Instead, it’s something that is there for you to experience on whatever devices you have. It keeps friends and families together. It’s a way to bridge gaps between people who live very different lives. It’s a way that that we can enrich ourselves, as 75 percent of people say that playing games acts as some form of education and metal stimulation. Gaming is just a thing we do, and it makes us better for it.

At least until we all get absorbed by our brand new Virtual Reality porn, which, according to the survey, 40 percent of us will be utilizing next year.

Don’t believe me? Check out the report yourself and draw your own conclusions. Let us know what you think about these numbers in the comments.