Last year wasn't particularly exciting for gamers. Activision released a new Call of Duty, Electronic Arts joined the battle royale with Apex Legends and numerous companies decided it was time for games to start playing themselves. (See: Auto Chess, Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics.) Those were the highlights of 2019.
But the gaming industry didn't suffer for lack of blockbuster releases. It actually continued to grow year-over-year, according to SuperData, which said in its "2019 Year in Review" that the industry earned $120.1 billion in revenue last year. That's 4% higher than it was in 2018.
That growth occurred despite a 5% decline in the premium games market in that same period, the Nielsen-owned research firm noted.
Why? Well, because PC and console games pale in comparison to their mobile counterparts, at least where revenues are concerned. SuperData said that mobile games brought in $64.4 billion, PC games brought in $29.6 billion and console games just $15.4 billion. (Although the actual number could be higher; SuperData was only counting digital game sales.) It turns out that people like to play games on the go!
They also like to spend money on free-to-play games. SuperData said that free-to-play games brought in $4 out of every $5 the gaming industry earned in 2019. The most lucrative of those games was Fortnite, which brought in $1.9 billion in revenues, according to the report. Most of the other high-earning free-to-play games (Honour of Kings, Candy Crush Saga, et cetera) were also made specifically for mobile devices.
There was one area where mobile didn't reign supreme, however, and that's in XR (virtual, augmented and mixed reality). SuperData said VR headset shipments rose from 5.6 billion to 5.7 billion between 2018 and 2019. That isn't a big difference, but the kind of headsets being shipped changed dramatically. "Premium mobile" headsets were the most popular in 2018. The arrival of the Oculus Quest gave standalone headsets the lead in 2019.
What to Expect in 2020
SuperData predicted that gaming industry revenues would continue to rise in 2020, with the firm estimating a 4% growth rate to $124.8 billion this year. Some of that was attributed to the "gaming video content" market--which includes streamers, YouTubers and more-continuing to grow in popularity. But much of SuperData's stemmed from 2020 being a far more exciting year for gamers as well.
"Premium games will have their biggest year ever with $19.8B in revenue thanks to major releases in the first half of the year. Highly anticipated games like Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us Part II and Animal Crossing: New Horizons will launch before focus shifts to next-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony," the firm said.
And about those consoles. Not surprisingly, Microsoft and Sony are expected to play big roles in 2020, after console market saw flat revenue of $15.4 billion in 2019.
"However, a shift to next-generation systems represents a large expansion opportunity for digital games as powerful hardware enables new, more immersive experiences," SuperData said. "Steady improvements in Internet speeds (85% of U.S. gamers now have speeds of at least 25 Mbps) mean players will continue moving away from purchasing games on disc in favor of downloads on these new systems."
SuperData also predicted that more game publishers will focus on the mobile and free-to-play markets in 2020. Recent efforts to bring established franchises like Call of Duty, Mario Kart and others have been well-received both critically and commercially. It would be more surprising if other companies didn't attempt to follow that success. We're just glad they haven't ditched other platforms entirely.