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Smartphone gamers lead in North America

December 22, 2021

Group of diverse friends playing game on mobile phone

Greg Sigel

SVP – North America

According to newly published research, computer gaming activity in the US exploded between February 2020 and May 2021 after the onset of coronavirus. The expansion was consistent across all platforms – mobile, console, and PC – expectations of further growth post-pandemic. That offers assurance for game publishers and a long-term opportunity for commercial partners bundling gaming subscriptions with their services, including telcos and mobile network operators.

The report – Beyond 2021: Where does gaming go next – conducted by Newzoo and sponsored by Google estimates that over 212m players in North America will spend a combined US$42.6bn on games in 2021, 27% more than they did in 2020. Newzoo polled 1,048 respondents aged 18 and 65 during April and May 2021, all of whom were based in the US.

Just under half of those surveyed were in the high spending 25-44yr age bracket, with a further 32% over 45 (making the average age of US gamer just under 39). Roughly 49% are also women, found Newzoo, a balance of the sexes similar to the global average.

Mobile gaming leads the way

Newzoo’s published research did not record how many US consumers were subscribers to cloud gaming subscriptions. However, all three categories of the title – mobile, console, and PC – are available in this format from various cloud gaming platforms (including Google’s Stadia). According to the company, mobile gamers make up the single largest segment in North America, numbering almost 194m. But unlike other countries of the world where mobile players vastly outnumber their counterparts on other platforms, mobile gamers in the US only slightly outnumber those that play on consoles (167m) and PCs (166m), estimates Newzoo.

Separate research published by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) confirms growing engagement with mobile games on a global basis. The Mobile Games Consumer Survey 2021 report surveyed 650 smartphone users in each of ten countries – the US and Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, Spain, and the UK – representing the views of 6,500 respondents.

The MEF found that 68% of smartphone users worldwide have played a game on their smartphone in the last six months, rising to 76% in Brazil and 75% in South Africa. That makes mobile gameplay more popular than either listening to music or watching video content on a global basis, though certain countries – notably China, Germany, Spain, and the UK – buck the trend. It also found high gaming activity levels amongst the 35-44 age group. Almost three-quarters (73%) of this demographic have played a game on their smartphone at some point in their lives, only slightly ahead of the 45-54yr old category (70%) and 25-34yr olds (68%).

Countries whose populations have high disposable income levels also seem to spend more time playing computer games. Newzoo calculates that while gamers in North America represent just 7% of the global total, they account for 24% of worldwide consumer spending.

The MEF also found that 52% of households classified as ‘high income’ are frequent smartphone gamers, compared to 41% of medium income and 37% of low-income households. The disparity stems from more than just the price of game purchases or subscriptions and is partly down to the cost of data access, whether WiFi or cellular, the company deduced.

Social interaction, mobile gaming, live streaming, and e-sports to drive growth

Newzoo and Google noted a series of changes to how consumers in North America engage with gaming platforms since the onset of the pandemic. Firstly, the activity appears to have become less about playing the game per se and more about socializing with family and friends simultaneously. A large proportion (43%) of US respondents said they used game worlds to socialize, with games that encourage this type of engagement, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Among US being amongst the 2020s most successful titles. Fortnite developer Epic also released Party Royale mode in May 2020, a version of the game where players stop fighting to hang out with friends and enjoy live entertainment simply. Among Us’s VR version, being developed by Schell Games, will soon launch on Meta Quest, Playstation VR and Steam VR. The most visibile testament of the social gaming phenomenon to date was Travis Scott’s Astronomical concert last year that witnessed over twenty-seven million users watch the live stream within Fortnite. The success was almost replicated by Ariana Grande’s concert. Fortnite has set the bar for video game concerts by providing eclectic experiences with some of the biggest artists around. No surprise then to see Pokemon GO following suit with a concert by Ed Sheeran this November.

Mobile gaming is already a mature market in North America, but 17% of players expect to increase their monthly spending in 2021 and beyond. Newzoo expects that it will drive a compound annual growth rate of 8.6% between 2019 and 2024, by which time the North American mobile games market will be worth US$19.4bn a year. That extra revenue growth is unlikely to come from any expansion of the mobile gaming audience but instead existing mobile gamers investing more money in the activity.

Last year also saw North American gamers begin to embrace live-streamed game content, though the region is still home to just 4% of the world electronics sports (eSports) enthusiasts (but 8% of its eSports players). Almost three-quarters (71%) of those polled by Newzoo said they watched live-streamed game content, most often gameplay content (31%) but also eSports competitions and other eSports-related content (17%). Although those rates are low compared to other countries, consumption of live-streamed game content in the US is accelerating – Newzoo expects the North American audience will grow to 91.5m in 2021, or 13% of the global total. Massively Multiplayer Online (MO) gaming, both on PC and mobile, have also been growing in terms of adoption and userbase in North America.

Mobile gaming is definitely a growth business in the US and the rest of the world. It now presents a wealth of opportunities for game developers to adapt their titles to meet changes in consumer demand for content and entertainment and for ecosystem partners to develop new products and services better aligned to how players want to access and pay for those altered gaming environments.

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