Even before March 2020, all sectors of the Vegas Casino gaming industry – brick-and-mortar casino gambling, sports betting, esports, online casino sites, video gaming, etc – were seeing slow but steady growth.
Now all of these industries are thriving, despite the widespread economic disruption that the pandemic has caused. Consumer and business activities have plummeted due to social distancing but, for many people, gaming offers just the distraction that they need to experience social interaction from the comfort of their own homes.
Online Casino Gaming
Data from the last 8 months shows a huge growth in sales and playing time. The global online gambling market is showing a growth rate of 13.2%, an expansion from $58.9 billion in 2019 to $66.7 billion in 2020. Current forecasts are that the market will reach $92.9 billion in 2023, giving it a CAGR of 11.64%.
The pandemic is the cause of much of the increase in gaming but there are other reasons as well. They include access to VR headsets that give the player a genuine atmosphere of casino gaming, more access to blockchain technology which prevents fraud and increases the trust that people have in the gambling sites, improvements to bandwith and gaming hardware and mobile accessibility for almost any game.
The business model of video gaming has evolved significantly in recent years and, of course, even now during the pandemic. Consumers are buying fewer games but are spending more time with those games. Video game providers must shift their business model. It’s not enough to rely on single-unit sales. The video game salespeople must focus on how to maximize recurring revenue as generated by active users.
The video game industry is now looking for ways to increase engagement per user. The strategies vary – from making each game as compelling as possible to in-game monetization opportunities which involves additional downloadable content (DLC) such as new features and new characters, “loot boxes” (virtual items) and expansion packs.
eSports is a whole separate sector of gaming. eSports competitiors play many of the same games that other gamers enjoy but they play in an environment of interactive, multiplayer, organized gaming competitions. In 2019 the esports sector was worth an estimated $454 million and this year the forecast is that the sector will be worth just over $1 billion.
eSports competitions are more fragmented than those of traditional sports but the business model is basically the same – revenue comes from broadcasting and advertising. eSports is still one of the smallest gaming sectors but its upward trajectory is confirmed by the continued growth of gaming in general.
On the one hand, the gaming industry has benefitted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The gaming audience is much larger today than it was 8 months ago and it continues to grow. Of those players who were involved in gaming before the pandemic, their engagement has expanded as they are playing more games and exploring different sectors of the gaming market.
The gaming industry has also had its share of setbacks that can be traced back to COVID-19. eSports, which once relied heavily on live events, was affected with many events being cancelled or postponed and others taking place without audiences.
The World Economic Forum quotes Mike Sepso, co-founder and CEO of the Vindex esports infrastructure platform who said, “We have directors, producers, broadcast engineers and professional gamers all working remotely to recreate the excitement and quality of a live event/ Esports has been able to continue while traditional sport has not because the playing field is virtual and can be replicated online; however, nothing can truly replace the social richness of the live experience.”
eSports, however, can bounce back. Perhaps more than any other gaming sector except online casino gaming, esports can take advantage of today’s technology and put everything online. NASCAR quickly created an iRacing Series to fill in for its cancelled 2020 events and it has proved to be very popular – one event attracted 1.3 million viewers.
And despite a decline in revenues, esports has grown in prominence as increasing numbers of people understand how a sector can bounce back through online activity and new options for low-cost marketing.
One complication that the gaming industry is finding particularly troublesome is the supply chain interruptions caused by the pandemic. Having people working from home is causing a loss in efficiency and factory closures means that its harder to produce and deliver gaming hardware.
Some producers including Amazon, Sony and Square Enix are having more problems than others such as Epic Games so the industry is hopeful that solutions can be found quickly to these issues.
Observers are noting how the recent spike in gaming could spell future transformations in the industry.
First, as noted, the pandemic seems to be leading to industry acceptance of esports. eSports have been popularized and legitimized due to a number of reasons as athletes, broadcasters, leagues and streamers turn to the esports ecosystem as a strategy that helps them interact with the large fan base.
This is particularly noticeable among those aged 15-35 who are turning to esports after losing contact with traditional sports leagues for a number of months. As the number of games, streamers, broadcasters and advertisers grows, so does the sector.
Gaming is increasing its partnerships with entertainment sectors. This process has already started with many online casino games developing from popular movies and TV shows and video games like Fortnight which have spilled over into the television, sports and music sectors.
Fortnight recently hosted a live rap concert that attracted close to 30 million viewers who watched the concert on a live streaming channel. Other popular games such as Grand Theft Auto and Roblox are also crossing over, generating more playtime and more active users for their own games.
Sony is one of the first developers to take advantage of this crossover in a big way – they are building a media team that will be focused on the intersection of gaming and music which will, in turn, create opportunities for technology companies which supply the content that supports these types of experiences.
Monetization is another long-term trend. Subscriptions make it easier to monetize smaller, quality games whose developers don’t have the needed marketing budget to promote the games.
Free-to-play games are attractive to consumers because they don’t have to make up-front purchases and are attractive to the distributors because large numbers of players upgrade their gaming experience with in-game upsell opportunities. The “cheap” entertainment ends up being a money-maker for the gaming companies.
Finally, mobile and cloud-based platforms make it easier for gaming companies to distribute their games to a public that values convenience. Gamers can play streamed games using basic hardware across multiple devices.
The pandemic has reinforced the notion to brands and media companies that there is a seemingly endless market of consumers who, if approached correctly, will increase their engagement with their gaming entertainment.