The Video Game Boom

What began as a simple curiosity has grown into a billion dollar industry that pervades our society, media, and commercial market. Video games have become a staple in entertainment, popular culture, and the average young person’s life for well over a decade. But they now seem posed to become the single-largest form of media ever, if current growth trends persist. The Economist reports:

OVER the past two decades the video-games business has gone from a cottage industry selling to a few niche customers to a fully grown branch of the entertainment industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a consulting firm, the global video-game market was worth around $56 billion last year, and has grown by over 60% since 2006, when the Nintendo Wii console was launched. The gaming industry is more than twice the size of the recorded-music industry, nearly a quarter more than the magazine business and about three-fifths the size of the film industry. PwC predicts that video games will be the fastest-growing form of media over the next few years, with sales rising to $82 billion by 2015. The biggest market is America, whose consumers this year are expected to spend $14.1 billion on games, mostly on the console variety. Consoles also dominate in Britain, the fifth-largest gaming market. In other parts of Europe, and particularly Germany, PC games are more popular. China has overtaken Japan to become the second-biggest market, and  is one of the fastest-growing, with sales rising by 20% last year.

And since I’m a visual man myself, here are two charts that better reflect the growth and dynamism of this massive industry:

Notice how games are booming outside their traditional markets – namely North America and Japan. As in most things, China is set to become one of the largest game markets in the world, and with time, may very well begin to churn out prominent video game companies of its own (so far, its game developers are largely domestic and relatively unknown).  The “Others” section is also pretty massive, suggesting that video games – like so many other products and media – are globalizing far beyond the long-established developed rich-world markets.

As a semi-serious gamer and world-culture enthusiast, I for one think it will be exciting to possibly see more game selections emerge from other countries. Of course, that assumes that the old guard of Japanese and (especially) American game companies don’t try to retain their long-held market advantage by buying off or out-spending their competitors.

Sounds familiar? These titans of industry are not unlike their contemporaries in other markets, from Hollywood to news media to oil: as their commercial markets expand, so to does their influence and power, and many gamers – myself included – are concerned about the perverse influence that all this growth and money will have on small or up-starting developers. Companies like EA Games, one of the largest media corporations period, have already developed a reputation suited to Industrial Era conglomerates: trying to dominate the market through cunning business practices and brute force.

Alas, that’s the way it goes for most things. People lament the loss of artistic and individual freedom in Hollywood, now dominated by a core of powerful studios and their mass-produced blockbusters; or of reliable news outlets similarly absorbed into just a handful of huge media corporations. The novelty and adventurism of a new idea – a sort of Wild West frontier that nearly all industries start off of – makes way for something that becomes too conformist, greedy, and soulless: the rehashing of the same formulaic but money-making stuff the draws in the larger crowd but leaves the veteran and enthusiasts reeling.

Granted, I’m not this cynical about it, but I’ve certainly heard this sentiment expressed with respect to video games, just as I have about virtually everything else that inevitably becomes commercialized once it’s popular enough. I think it’s a valid concern, but like anything else, this sort of development is a double-edged sword: after all, more money also means more technical innovation, and we’re seeing games become more cinematic and groundbreaking by the year.

Furthermore, the backlash against this sort of commercialization, coupled with the ubiquity of technology and programming skills, means that small-time game makers still have their niche, and we can still expect a fair share of quirky, innovative, and diverse selections to complement the “big box” stuff (which can also be pretty fun too). I know its all still debatable, and I don’t have the time to go into much more detail, but the game industry is moving so fast there’s no telling where it’s really going. I think there is reason for excitement and anxiety, and I’d like everyone’s thoughts on the matter.