Gaming usage and viewership of gaming video content (GVC) increased in 2020.
But we expect some of this growth will taper off in 2021.
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As physical sporting events were put on hold and brick-and-mortar stores closed their doors, digital entertainment alternatives ranging from Fortnite to Animal Crossing provided consumers the ability to hone electronic communication skills and expand virtual cities and islands.
US digital gamers will reach over 177 million this year.
It comes as no surprise that gaming usage and viewership of gaming video content (GVC) spiked in 2020, as consumers spent more time at home and the video game industry provided a means to stay entertained and connected with friends.
But will this trend continue into 2021? Insider intelligence predicts that some of the gaming market growth will taper off in the coming year.
US Gaming Device Demographics & Trends
Gamers turned to their Nintendo, Playstation, and Xbox devices as time spent at home increased in 2020—monthly digital console gamers saw a larger increase than any other gaming device, growing by 6.3% from 2019.
Despite the rise in popularity of gaming consoles in 2020, the return to in-person work, school, and other events will cause this bump to plateau. Additionally, the way gamers play now has expanded far beyond the traditional “hard-core” narrative, of gamers who dedicate 20+ hours a week to their digital console.
Gamers turned to devices like Xbox as time spent at home increased.
Still, mobile phones are the most popular gaming device by a huge margin; there will be more than 150 million monthly mobile gamers in the US this year, amounting to over 89% of all digital gamers. The convenience of mobile gives it a leg up on all other gaming technologies simply because gamers can play on their device anywhere at any time—a quality that laptops and game consoles lack.
Other gaming platforms that serve as a happy medium between convenient mobile gaming technology and more advanced console systems are laptop and PC devices. There will be over 98 million monthly desktop/laptop gamers in the US in 2021. While this is a slight decrease from 2020, it still amounts to more than half of all digital gamers.
However, it’s important to note that Insider Intelligence foresees the number of desktop/laptop gamers decreasing once the pandemic subsides, as casual gamers will likely opt to play on mobile devices and more serious gamers will continue to spend time with console devices.
US Gaming Trends and Stats
The narrative of gamers being young, tech-savvy males has shifted to a more diversified audience. As stated above, mobile gaming jumped in popularity in 2020—and because mobile and cloud gaming platforms have built-in social components and offer a wide variety of gaming options, they attract a more diverse audience.
For example, in the first six weeks after it was released in March, more than 13 million copies of Nintendo Switch’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” were sold in Japan, Europe, and the US.
Mobile gaming systems like the Nintendo Switch are growing in popularity.
Joey Hadden/Business Insider
However, consumers who play first-person combat-style games on devices like an Xbox or PC still skew young and male. YouGov completed a survey in 2020 to identify “hard-core” gamers—those who dedicate more than 20 hours a week to console play. Seventy-seven percent of respondents over the age of 18 identified as male compared with 23% who identified as female, and 65% of the hardcore gamers were ages 18 to 45.
Overall, there will be 177.7 million monthly gamers in the US this year—this means that more than half of the US population will identify as a digital gamer by the end of 2021. And with the rise of gamers comes an increase in viewers.
Gaming Video Content (GVC): Game Streaming Viewership Trends
Hunger for social interaction in 2020 increased the demand for game streaming, where consumers could communicate with gaming influencers and other GVC viewers.
Twitch was the most dominant platform for GVC content worldwide in Q4 2020.
GVC will gain more than 4 million monthly viewers through 2023—with livestream service Twitch being the top competitor. Twitch was the most dominant platform for GVC content worldwide in Q4 2020, with 65.8% of total hours watched, compared with 23.3% for YouTube Gaming and 10.9% for Facebook Gaming.
Esports Viewership Trends
Esports is a subset of GVC content and is defined by Insider Intelligence as organized gaming competitions among professional players and teams. While in-person sporting events were delayed for months due to the pandemic, esports continued with online tournaments—allowing it to gain media coverage and viewers.
Overall, there will be more than 26 million monthly US esports viewers in 2021, amounting to over 47% of all GVC viewers.
Video Gaming Industry Forecast for 2021
Gaming market revenue is well-positioned due to the massive bump in monthly digital gamers—last year consumers spent a massive $44 billion in gaming software and services. But this growth won’t last too long, as monthly digital gamers are expected to increase by just 1.1% in 2021.
With more than half of the US population already being monthly gamers, there’s limited room for further growth, and much of the audience that gaming captured amid the pandemic may lose interest once more social distancing restrictions are lifted.
The ability to connect with others during the pandemic elevated the social aspects of gaming.
Katja Kircher/Getty Images
One element of gaming that will remain important in 2021 is its ability to provide social interaction in a virtual way. The ability to connect with others during the pandemic elevated the social aspects of gaming across all devices, especially mobile.
While interest in connecting with people through video games may recede as the pandemic subsides, Insider Intelligence expects the social element of gaming will continue to attract a larger audience to the ecosystem through 2021 and beyond.
Want to learn more?
The pandemic accelerated gaming industry growth, making the future of gaming both complex and important. That’s why Insider Intelligence put together The US Gaming Ecosystem 2021. The report breaks down forecasts for digital gamers across console, desktop/laptop, tablet, and mobile devices, as well as viewership of esports and other GVC.
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