The game industry is booming, with global revenues expected to hit $125.4 billion in 2018, according to market researcher Newzoo. But if you look under the surface, not everything is great. We can see winners and losers in various markets, regions, platforms, and game categories. We’re going to explore the state of games at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2018 event in just 10 days, and we hope we’ll come out of it with real perspective.
It’s great to see resilience across so many categories, like esports, augmented reality, virtual reality, consoles, PC games, and mobile. If any one of those sectors weakens, the other can pick up slack. Economically, that’s good for any region, whether it’s an emerging market or the U.S. But the U.S. got a dose of bad news this week from the job site Indeed.com, which applied analytics to its trove of big data on game jobs.
U.S. game tester and quality assurance roles are down 36 percent since last year and down 43 percent since 2015, Indeed.com found. You can guess that those jobs are moving overseas, where wages might be a tenth of what they are in the U.S. While those aren’t high-wage jobs, they are important as the entry-level pathway into the game industry.
And U.S. game designers, developers, and engineers aren’t faring much better, with postings for designers down 30 percent since 2015 and postings for developers and engineers dropping by 36 percent since 2015. Another set of stats shows the foreign game companies are gaining. 16 of the top 25 public game companies are outside the U.S., according to Newzoo.
From a bird’s-eye view, you might find this disturbing if you’re an American game developer.
But up close, with so many cool things coming from Red Dead Redemption to the Siren demo that Epic Games showed off at the recent Game Developers Conference, I’m not so worried. I have a certain faith that the U.S. game developers will figure out how to survive and thrive and lead the industry, as they always do. Fortnite and HQ Trivia were made in the U.S.A., and they’re going viral. And the GDC, which likely drew at least 25,000 people to San Francisco, seemed busier than ever.
Some of the flattening of the world’s playing board is natural. Mobile has become a $50.4 billion industry, and you can make mobile games anywhere, like Helsinki (where Supercell rules mobile thanks to Clash of Clans and Clash Royale) or Shenzhen, where Tencent has come on strong with titles like Arena of Valor. The U.S. has no monopoly on mobile games, and startups in other countries are proving to be just as competitive. Most of the top mobile games of 2017 were made in other countries.
I don’t want to come off as xenophobic. It’s absolutely wonderful that games are lifting the economies and peoples of distant lands. But it’s really great that the governments of those countries realize how important games have become.
“We have this whole [government] interest in the video game industry from almost out of nowhere,” said Javier Entelman, CEO of Inca Games in Buenos Aires, at our Akamai emerging markets breakfast during GDC. “We’re making these studios into factories of games.”
In the U.S., pockets of the country are thriving, like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, and San Jose. But many places are not, and the loss of a single game company can be devastating for a region. Maybe what we’re seeing happen in the U.S. is Los Angeles gaining traction over San Francisco, thanks to trends like esports and Hollywood intellectual property growth.
Indeed.com found other bright spots in the U.S. The number of job postings for VR and AR have risen 93 percent since 2015. And job postings related to esports are up 18 percent since last year and up 57 percent since 2015. Jobs seekers, meanwhile, are aiming toward the hot category of esports. Searches for esports jobs are up 117 percent since last year and up 336 percent since 2015.
But esports celebrities are kind of a rarity, like a one in a million job. More than 35 percent of gamers want to go pro, saying they would quit their jobs and become professional gamers if they could support themselves by doing so, according to a survey by Limelight. Drilling into the young millennial male generation (ages 18-25), 50 percent said they’d go pro. Esports has gone from the nerdy kid to the hot jock at the party.
But a new survey conducted by analyst firm DFC Intelligence and commissioned by Mobcrush found that only 14 percent of gamers have livestreamed their gameplay, and among those who do, 85 percent do not make any money. Of 1,500 people surveyed, only seven made more than $1,000 a week, said DFC analyst David Cole. Is it a fool’s errand to try to make a living at esports? Or livestreaming?
We’ve got a panel on the topic of the Leisure Economy at GamesBeat Summit 2018, and I sure hope that we’ll create more jobs that didn’t exist a generation ago, such as esports stars, cosplayers, streamers, YouTubers, modders, and others who get paid to play games. I know that the U.S. is always strong in media, and perhaps that will preserve the U.S. role in games in a very big way.
American ingenuity is still strong, particularly among platform companies. Magic Leap has created more than a thousand jobs for its augmented reality glasses in Florida, of all places. Even if it doesn’t succeed, those jobs are keeping a lot of people busy. Facebook’s Oculus division is still trying to lead innovation in virtual reality, and you have to believe that Apple is working hard to stay in the lead in mobile games — and maybe AR too. And somewhere inside Google, Phil Harrison’s team is cooking up something new. Amazon and Microsoft are keeping game makers busy in Seattle, and even that American stalwart Atari is taking another crack at making a game console.
The presence of these platform companies in the U.S., and the proximity of developers to them, is perhaps our strongest advantage.
But game companies have to worry about a few new things. U.S. President Donald Trump is pointing fingers at China for engaging in unfair trade. For games, some of that has been true, and it has gotten tougher as China has become the world’s largest game market. U.S. game companies face piracy, censorship, and acquisition by companies that have much more development and financial resources in China. It has been a friendly relationship so far, but I wouldn’t call it fair.
After all, a U.S. company like Blizzard can’t go into China and operate a game like World of Warcraft without first setting up a joint venture with a Chinese domestic game company. China protects its home-grown companies, and that has allowed it to foster competitors to companies such as Google and Facebook. U.S. companies can’t invest, distribute, or operate with a free hand in China. I don’t think trade wars are good for anybody, but if the U.S. is to regain its footing in games, some of these problems have to be addressed through trade policies that have largely been nonexistent to date.
I’ve thrown out a bunch of numbers for this story, but I really wish we could measure this industry much better because then we’d know where the game industry is headed. But I hope you can join me at GamesBeat Summit 2018, where we’ll try to tackle some of these big questions. I’m confident the worldwide and the U.S. game industries will remain strong, and I don’t think that’s wishful thinking.