In the console hardware industry, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are the only major manufacturers left from what used to be a much more crowded field.
Although videogame console sales had been declining earlier in the decade, the market research firm, Newzoo, reported that consoles were the fastest-growing during the late 2010s. Sales reached $47.9 billion in 2019, up 13.4 percent from 2018, and were expected to continue growing, reaching $61.1 billion in 2022. Newzoo claimed that console games had surpassed their mobile counterparts for two years in a row. Because gamers were anxiously awaiting the next generation of consoles, this would likely have a negative impact on sales during the second half of 2019 because of delayed purchases.
Console manufacturers, in an attempt to make their product a central entertainment platform rather than just a game delivery system, have given them the capability of streaming video from sites such as Netflix and YouTube, as well as playing music CDs and movie DVDs. The downside of this strategy is that the manufacturer sells the console at a low price and depends on sales of game software to make up for its lack of profits from the hardware; but use of the console for purposes other than games does not generate revenue for the manufacturer.
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the computer and video game design industry has been mixed. The industry has seen an increase in the number of players and the frequency of video game play due to quarantining and social-distancing measures. For example, Nintendo reported that sales of its Switch console rose 24 percent year-upon-year in 2020, and the latest game offering in its Animal Crossing series reached 22.4 million units sold since soon after its launch in late-March. While isolation and lack of other activities led to increased interest in video-gaming, supply chain shortages led to difficulty in meeting demand for gaming consoles, especially Sony's PS4, and gaming PCs, which rely on components produced in China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began. Other forms of gaming, such as mobile and tablet gaming, saw increased demand as well and no product shortages because the games are delivered as downloads.
The gaming industry overall is expected to grow by more than 9 percent annually through 2025, according to a November 2020 forecast by Reportlinker.com. As of December 2020, the video game market in the U.S. was valued at about $67 billion, with 196,600 business employing 258,659 people. The research group IBISWorld predicts moderate growth for this sector through 2025, and this growth will "likely continue to significantly outpace most other United States industries."
The rise of phone- and tablet-based gaming is a major factor in the past decline of consoles. People seem to enjoy the convenience of being able to play games anywhere without being tethered to their television sets or to a dedicated hand-held device. According to Newzoo, mobile gaming dominated the global gaming market in 2019. Following growth of 10.2 percent over the previous year, the category's sales reached $68.5 billion.
Mobile gaming was expected to account for nearly half of the entire gaming market by 2022. Smartphones, remain the key growth driver in the segment. While growth in the mobile gaming sector was slowing down in more developed markets, including North America, the firm indicated that emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia were fueling growth. Even still, factors such as an uptick in the number of available titles and the advent of faster 5G mobile networks were expected to bode well for mobile games in the coming years.
According to Reportlinker.com, post pandemic, the global mobile gaming industry is projected to reach more than $153 billion by 2027. Mobile gaming has grown popular due to the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and user engagement is expected to continue growing after the pandemic is contained.
These new platforms have helped change the business models by which publishers monetize their games, partly because people expect to pay much less for a smartphone app than they would for a console game. Some of these games use advertising for support—not an entirely new practice in games, but one that people are used to seeing in apps for these platforms. The "freemium" game is a fast-growing model: Gamers can enjoy a simplified game at no charge but, once they are hooked, they must pay to unlock the game's more engaging features. Some of these games allow players to purchase virtual objects that they can use within the game.
Many highly popular games are offered online and are not specific to a given hardware platform. By 2019, free-to-play "battle royale" games had become extremely popular. Epic Games' Fortnite, which had an estimated 250 million players in 2019, was a prime example. Rather than charge customers to play, these types of games, which pitted multiple competitive shooters against one another amidst a changing landscape, generated revenue from optional purchases made within the game. Fortnite, and other titles like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), had affected the videogame industry by taking customers away from paid titles, dealing a blow to some videogame producers and their clients.
Subscription, cloud-based videogames were extremely popular at the end of the decade. September 2019 marked the launch of Apple Arcade, giving subscribers access to more than 100 new games that could be played on iPads, iPhones, Apple TVs, and Mac computers. Google's Stadia was slated to come online just two months later. In addition to other supported devices, customers could combine the service with a Chromecast Ultra device and Night Blue Stadia Controller for enjoyment on televisions, including 4K TVs. In May 2020, Nvidia GeForce Now added 19 games to its cloud gaming library and announced that it was planning to add an additional 18 new games, according to a Reportlinker.com article.
Internet downloads are gaining ground as a way of distributing software. This change is due partly to the rise of mobile platforms, partly to the widespread Internet connectivity of consoles, and partly because the industry wants to discourage the resale of purchased physical media. Downloadable games are sold on media sites such as iTunes and on specialized gamer sites such as IGN. According to Statista, game downloads generated $14.7 billion in revenue in 2019. A growing number of people have downloaded games during the pandemic and this growth is expected to continue post pandemic. Statista predicts that in 2021, most revenue in the download games sector will be generated by the U.S. For the global download games sector, revenue is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.6 percent from 2021 through 2025.
Distribution by download has increased the opportunities for independent game producers to find a market and will enrich the industry with original game ideas. Some indie producers are using crowdfunding Web sites such as Kickstarter and ArtistShare to raise the funds necessary to turn a good idea into a finished, marketable game.