In 1998, the total amount spent on video games was $2.6 billion. In 2014, that figure topped $24 billion. That figure is more than double the amount spent on movies (approximately $10 billion) per year. Not only does the amount spent on video games continue to rise, so does the popularity of video games as a leisure activity. Many researchers say that video game play is beginning to threaten traditional home entertainment choices (especially television), posing a very real threat to other mediums’ revenue streams.
The reasons for the video games growth in sales and popularity can be credited to the growth in the popularity and the technical advances in the mobile sector.
The evolution of the video game is truly astounding. In a very short period of time we have moved from rudimentary game consoles that allowed for simple physics and puzzle games, like Pong, to mobile apps that allow us to play MRPGs and MMORPGs during our commute.
The evolution in the hardware, from set top box, to PC, to PC and game console, to mobile device has changed more than the number of games available; it has radically shifted the demographic makeup of the players and had significant social impact.
The iconic gamer image was that of a guy in his teens or early twenties sitting in a room surrounded by empty pizza boxes and computer screens. Today, over 90% of the world’s population has a mobile phone and 56% of those are smartphones. The widespread popularity and availability of the devices has rendered that old stereotype to a relic of another era. Over 60% of all gamers today are adults, with the fastest growing groups being women and players over the age of 50.
The days of solitary play is also quickly vanishing as more and more game play is with friends and family or on social networks. Instead of parents limiting their kids’ video game time, approximately one third of parents say that they play video games with their children at least once a week.
An interesting side effect of the growth of gaming and its social nature is the effect of game play on traditional relationships. A study of gamers in the UK (where most players are males over the age of 35) showed this trend clearly. The average gamer stated that they had disagreements with their partners due to their game play at least twice a week, and 15% stated that a relationship had ended due to the amount of time they spend playing.
The number of mobile devices available has only been part of the reason for the growth of video games. Gaming companies have significantly changed their marketing strategies. Whereas in the PC era, purchase of the software was required, the mobile marketplace is filled with free-to-play and free-to-try games. Free games with in-game purchase options (so called “freemium” games) and advertising supported games dominate the market. Instead of only playing one or two games, players routinely have a large number of games loaded on their devices.
Changes in technology have also had a huge impact. Mobile devices continue to have increased speed, HD displays and stronger processing power. Software tools have made game design within easy reach for those with limited “formal” computer knowledge to develop and launch games quickly. Tilt technology (the ability to control game action by moving the game device) is unique to mobile platforms and is a major factor in the growth of mobile gaming. This technology coupled with touch screen capabilities has made the games far more player friendly.
While many of the traditional PC games and genres have remained popular, new genres are the fasting growing.
Casino games are one of the fastest growing genres for mobile gaming. Players flock to online poker, and other casino games, often as a way of learning the games in preparation for visits to brick and mortar casinos.
Online poker especially has benefited from advances in mobile technology. While many casino games can be played for very short periods of time, poker has traditionally required a substantial time commitment due to the pace of the game. However, poker apps have enabled players to enjoy the game during their commute or during lunch breaks, where players are moved to a new game and dealt a fresh hand immediately after folding their previous one. The ever increasing processing power and graphic abilities of mobile devices support this type of fast-paced game, and along with the prevalence of touch screen technology, these advances have freed players from their laptops and desktops.
Social games, like Words With Friends and Boggle, are pacing alongside of casino games in terms of growth and percentage of the top video game market. These games had limited traction in the laptop and pc arena but their popularity has exploded in the mobile arena, especially with upper demographics and those who would never consider themselves to be “gamers.”
Mobile technology is also spurring the development of new genres.
Improved health is one of the unexpected offshoots of gaming. Studies have shown that computer games help players relax and improve their general mental health. Games like Fit Brains are designed to increase cognitive and reasoning abilities, while a large number of games, like Nexercise and Foodzy, make healthy activities and choices into games.
In a somewhat major reversal from the time that video games were seen as a waste of time, they are now being increasingly used as teaching tools. Math based games like Dragon Box are increasingly popular; other games offer a wide variety of lessons such as how to memorize classic poetry, write haikus, increase reading speed and comprehension, learn a language, and learn computer coding.
Mobile devices make exponential technical advances with each new version released. In 2013, Forbes noted that these advances mean that the “future of gaming isn’t proprietary hardware, it’s in user-choice and cross-platform playability.” The fact that mobile technology has improved the player experience and resulted in increased popularity of a number of genres is only one positive. The growing popularity of video games has also opened up huge career opportunities, which is sure to continue as mobile technology advances.