Social Gaming Will Propel Post-Pandemic Growth for Video Games

Social Gaming Will Propel Post-Pandemic Growth
Variety Intelligence Platform; Adobe Stock

The new “Global Entertainment & Media Outlook” report from PwC projects digital formats like video games will fuel global spend, with gaming and esports growth expanding by 32% from 2021 to 2025, a rate second only to OTT Video.

PwC expects social and casual gaming (in other words: mobile gaming) to remain the key segment driving this growth on the gaming side, a projection consistent with how the mobile sector has been expanding in prominence yearly, per Newzoo.

Coming out of the pandemic, social games in particular will grow in prominence throughout the decade. 

Here’s why.

Casual and social games make bank, but social offers more incentive to keep playing.

Games of the casual variety, such as “Candy Crush Saga,” are structured around simple, repetitive play that is easy to duck in and out of during idle moments, while social games like “Among Us” are multiplayer-based and require you to stay focused as you play with friends or other assigned players online.

Both rely on live-service models where games are free for players, with revenue derived from frequent updates compelling players to purchase inexpensive digital items.

Such in-game spending is expected to remain a massive source of income for gaming, with Midia Research estimating it will stay consistently above $100 billion from 2021 to 2027, reaching $135 billion by the end of this timeframe.

Despite their accessibility toward inexperienced players, casual games aren’t so good at keeping players hooked, with one report from Facebook Gaming and Newzoo insinuating that hypercasual games in particular lose nearly 90% of players after just one week spent plucking away on their phones.

By contrast, games available on mobile that revolve around multiplayer gaming can maintain vast pools of players for months or even years.

Since exploding in popularity last fall, monthly active users for the whodunit-style murder mayhem of “Among Us” were nearly peaking at 200 million as of January 2021, even as overall downloads steadily decreased, per Apptopia. Meanwhile, leaked financial documents from the Epic Games v. Apple trial showed MAUs for Epic’s social-game sensation “Fortnite” were consistently averaging above 60 million each year.

Why such high numbers? It has to do with video games maximizing broad appeal across generations of players.

Smartphones have made gaming easily accessible at a time when younger gamers seek social gameplay en masse.

The Entertainment Software Association released a new report Tuesday showing that as many as 227 million people in the U.S. currently play video games to some degree.

Per the ESA, that’s a 6% increase from 2020, which saw a massive 30% spike in players from 2019—an obvious outcome from the circumstances caused by pandemic. This means that despite pandemic conditions having improved in the U.S. thanks to vaccinations and restrictions having been lifted in most states, the overall player base of video games is still expanding.

This isn’t surprising, as the report also has survey data that shows more than half of most age demos play on smartphones.

But significantly higher than most of the smartphone gameplay rates is the rate of gamers who play with others. For the 18-34 demo, nearly 9 out of 10 players do so socially.

With widespread gaming sustaining itself beyond pandemic conditions as 5G technology continues to improve the smartphone experience, the conditions are as good as they’ve ever been for friends (be they IRL or online-only) to stay connected through games.

AAA publishers are overhauling strategy around trends in social gaming.

Top publishers in the console space aren’t strangers to seizing on the mobile market. Electronic Arts recently acquired mobile studio Playdemic from Warner Bros. Games, granting the company access to “Golf Clash,” a popular title combining casual and social elements.

This echoes years of steady revenue Activision Blizzard has received from “Candy Crush” studio King following a 2016 acquisition.

But a look at quarterly segment revenue for the company shows Activision has been earning more than King each quarter, as opposed to 2019, due to since the March 2020 launch of “Call of Duty: Warzone,” a free expansion for the shooter series with annual releases meant to mirror the popular battle royale style of gameplay seen in games like “Fortnite” and “PUBG.” Like those games, “Warzone” has a mobile version.

Now, Ubisoft is getting in on the action with a project codenamed “Assassin’s Creed Infinity,” which will consist of a regularly updating multiplayer platform built from the long-running, otherwise single-player game series, per a Bloomberg report later confirmed by Ubisoft.

Given the success of “Warzone” and publishers seeking to replicate it, it’s clear the money made from social gaming is coming to drive the growth of the games market this decade in a way no company can or should ignore, as such a desire for social connection through virtual platforms is the ideal model to inspire robust consumer spending.