Seventy-five percent of China’s 720 million gamers live outside the biggest cities, according to a new study by market researcher Niko Partners.

Niko found that the 720 million figure is roughly 51.3% of China’s total population, a new milestone that shows how quickly China’s game audience has grown. That is up from 48.9% in 2019, 40.5% in 2016, and 29.7% in 2014. By comparison, 65% of the U.S. population plays games. The rapid industrialization and modernization of China has happened more obviously in the big cities, but the smaller cities are big by Western standards and a huge source of gamers these days.

Another interesting fact is that 48% of gamers in China are women and girls, Niko said. And of people ages 18 to 35 years old, more than 90% are gamers. These stats suggest China has changed so rapidly that it won’t be long before it catches up with the demographics of gamers in the U.S. Niko forecasts that China will rise to 772 million gamers in 2024 — more than twice the U.S. population.

The report shines a light on gamers throughout China, not just in the major cities, and is Niko’s first with a detailed analysis of gamer behavior and spending by geography, gender, and platform. Cities in China are separated into five tiers, and the report urges game companies to acquire users in smaller cities because 70% of game revenue comes from tier three to tier five cities.

Gamers in China spend more time playing games than participating in any other activity surveyed. Eighteen percent play games more than 30 hours per week. And they spend vastly more entertainment time online than offline. For example, 45.2% go to the cinema, but 91.8% watch movies online, and 68.9% go out shopping, while 86.8% shop online.

Niko president Lisa Cosmas Hanson said in an email that global gaming companies see China as a huge market that is difficult to enter, and yet they see the gamers in major cities as worth the marketing effort needed.

“One important takeaway from this report is that if a company is going to make the effort to market and target potential gamers in China, they should carefully examine the differences in gaming behavior and requirements city to city, tier to tier, to make sure that the effort made is appropriate for acquiring as many users as possible,” Cosmas Hanson said. “Niko Partners has been tracking the video game market in China for 18 years. To us, it is no surprise that gamer behavior, spending, and preferences differ between the major cities and the smaller cities. Our data clearly shows that the ratio of the population who are gamers is rising, and the growth of gamers in the smaller cities is rising because of access, infrastructure, and evolution of gaming preferences.”

Eighteen years ago, tier five cities in China didn’t have running water or electricity, but now they’re responsible for a big chunk of game revenues. Cosmas Hanson said gaming is the leading form of social entertainment in China. It can be inexpensive and readily available — particularly on smartphones.

“Many female gamers are mobile gamers, and as the mobile games segment expands in terms of game genres, monetization models, and user acquisition models, more [women and girls] come into the gamer base and then incorporate gaming as part of their social entertainment system,” Cosmas Hanson said. “With such a huge population (1.4 billion people), a small change in the industry can result in a large increase in gamers and spending.”