2020 was always going to be a monumental year for video games, rumors and reveals of new hardware from both Microsoft and Sony dominated headlines and later resale sites for months.
We thought that brand new huge games like The Last of Us part two, Cyberpunk 2077, and even a new Half Life game would be more than enough to sustain the conversation around gaming, then something outside of our control happened and gaming accidentally ended up with more of a spotlight than we thought it would.
In a year when we were all cooped up inside, it was only natural that a lot of us would pick up a pad to wile away the hours.
What’s a form meaningful connections with others online, while zoom fatigue sets in multiplayer games such as jackbox and among us exploded with popularity, weddings, birthday parties, and even presidential campaign PR opportunities were held in Animal Crossing, with interest in the game causing shortages of the Nintendo Switch console for weeks.
In it’s 2020 evolution of entertainment report, the NPD Group found that four out of five American consumers had played a video game in the last six months, with those gamers spending more time and money on the hobby than ever.
But what happens next, let’s explore what the video game industry is doing to ensure that this new audience will be sticking around post pandemic.
Whenever that may be.
To discuss the topic from all angles, I’m joined By people from different areas of the video game industry First off, we’ve got Matt piscatella, Director of games at the NPD Group.
Great to be here.
Thank you for joining us.
We also have Victoria Tran, Director of Community at inner slough developer of the hit game.
Hi, thanks for having me.
And Greg Miller, former game journalist and now co founder and host at kinda funny.
Hello, Lucy Top of the morning to you.
Thank you everyone for joining us.
So I think let’s kick off by taking a look back at 2020.
So Matt, I’m gonna come to you first.
Can we have a look at.
How big a year was it in terms of growing that gaming audience?
Can you give us those headline figures, the hardware sales, maybe even demographic shifts?
It has been a remarkable year the past 12 months.
I’ve been in the total world pretty bad but in gaming it’s been pretty remarkable.
Overall sales of video games stuff from hardware to accessories to content.
We’re gonna end the year up somewhere between 18 and 22%.
We’re probably going to hit $50 billion in the US market which would be an all time record.
And we’re seeing growth in engagement and player count across every single demographic spectrum.
It’s been a heck of a year.
I was gonna say it’s almost as if forcing people inside.
It was only natural that they were gonna come and gravitate around those video games with those numbers.
It seems like such a huge jump.
Do we have any kind of indication?
Obviously it was the year of the Xbox series x and PlayStation five.
Do we think the jump was going to be that big?
In fact, the consensus among analysts going into the year is that we would be down in the market almost double digit percentages.
Through the launch of the Xbox series x and s and the PlayStation five, and in fact what happened is we started seeing 35% gains beginning in March, because of those things you mentioned and also because.
People didn’t have to spend money on things like travel or entertainment or dining out they couldn’t.
So what they did instead is they move their purchasing more towards things for the home like entertainment and home like video games, which they did to a pretty big extent.
Victoria I’m gonna come to you.
It was a enormous year for among us.
I mean, what was that like from the developer [LAUGH] point of view and also who’s playing because it’s not just the gamers [LAUGH] It’s true, it’s true.
I get to speak on what it was like to have Among Us really suddenly blow up, honestly, in a few months.
That was terrifying and amazing and wonderful, and there’s really no English word to kinda Made people comprehend how surprising and amazing it was.
But I think the best thing is always when you have new people who don’t necessarily quotation marks play games start playing your game and it’s great like we had I’ve seen teachers play with their entire classroom.
There are politicians that played their Esports scenes.
There are new streamers.
There are old streamers.
Families, adults, kids, it literally just spanned, like from like celebrity status and comedians and the WWE to just students in general.
And it was really wonderful to see.
What do you think it is about among us in particular that really helped take off.
I think it was a number of things, right.
So one, it’s kind of the core simplicity of the game.
You don’t need Like, high strategy in terms of coordination, you just need to know how to be able to talk to the people within your chat.
And also the fact that there was the kind of cross-platform play.
A lot of people don’t have the huge computer rigs or the PlayStations to play a lot of these games that normally that we all like to talk about.
And because among us could be played on mobile and PC and there was cross play.
I think that’s kind of what really helped everything come together.
So it’s breaking down those barriers to entry, you know, really simplifying the process and making people feel like I don’t need these huge expensive machines.
I can just play together.
Greg I wanna come to you because how has your audience changed this year?
Obviously the kind of funny best friends have had a long time relationship with each other, with you guys.
How is their relationship with you changed?
He was joined your audience this year.
Man, I think the way the relationship changes is that it grew so substantially.
And I think it was a reminder to a lot of our audience and to us of course how important that relationship is you call it out we call our audience the kinda funny best friends right?
Because that’s the The kind of relationship I’ve always had when I podcast that if you listen to what I’m talking about if you’re there listening to the many hours of content we put out you know me better than my family does right though weekly phone calls.
My dad doesn’t cover what Portillo just did or what’s going on in my personal life the way a daily podcast would And I was at the start of the pandemic worried I thought, for I think we all were, and we continue to be worried but and from a business owner perspective, I was concerned that we would see subscribers go down on Patreon, which of course, is one of our crowdfunding platforms.
I thought we’d see views go down, and it was the exact opposite.
Like we saw a huge year of growth and When I brought this to the audience and talk to them, right, because even looking over here, right, our YouTube channel 2019 to 2020, we saw an 876% growth in subscribers of people actually clicking the subscribe button in 2019 versus 2020 or 2020 versus 2019.
And when I asked them about this, like, why are you coming back and watching the kind of funny podcast in droves in a way that wasn’t happening before So many people said that they were looking for that relationship.
They were looking for normalcy and you know, we make distraction content.
We make content that you listen to, to have a laugh while you cook dinner or you know, in between car rides.
And what we saw in 2020 was people now.
In their house and not able to talk to their friends not able to go to their friend’s house not able to go to their bowling league competition.
They came to podcasts and they came to YouTube videos and droves for us.
So the three line here really is the people in 2020.
We’re just looking for that connection.
And so it’s really no surprise that the big like dice games were things like four guys among us Animal Crossing.
So games are bringing people together even if sometimes you’ve got to get someone out of an airlock.
But Matt, I’m gonna come to you.
Was it always, was this industry trend towards going towards these more social games?
Was that uptake just because of 2020?
Or has the industry been trending that way over the past few years?
Yeah, great question.
It has been trending that way.
And when we really dived into the data particularly a big study we conducted over the summer months to specifically gauge where people were playing what they were doing who they were playing with, and our conclusion was that 2020 really jumped us ahead, about two or three years On the trend line for that type of engagement and that type of behavior, what we saw was basically a big jump forward in terms of using gaming as basically social cohesion or social concrete.
And it’s one of those things we think is going to be a lasting impact of 2020, s the shift of folks connecting with family and friends.
We think that’s going to be a more permanent result of what we’ve all experienced over the past 10 months.
And Victoria what impact Have you noticed with among us.
With all the lockdowns of various events of 2020, there have been certain spikes throughout the year or has it just been this kind of snowball that people, they realize that they can connect with their friends and among us or have there been certain events in the real world that have really spiked interest in the game?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a mix of both right so when AOC\g stream the game, there was definitely like a huge spike in that.
But then also, of course, like all the streamers who played our game and who roped in their friends that always like helped us see a spike.
And I think what it really is about the lockdown is that it’s not just about the fact that you are able to connect among us and I think That’s sort of a thing that we’ve seen in the lockdown, is that being able to connect is not the same as actually feeling connected with someone.
And feeling like you have moments of bonding and time because if that were true, then we wouldn’t need games.
You could just Go on social media and just chat with anyone.
I think what it was that among us continually helped people, break down barriers and talk more with each other and really feel that sense of like human connection which we all need and still do need.
So that’s why we saw it in the classrooms.
And in the.
With random celebrities, it was that it was a chance to really connect with people and kind of get to know them a bit more.
It’s also funny, because I play a lot of multiplayer games with my friends.
And even though we talk every day, obviously no one’s really doing anything.
And so it’s difficult to just have the same hey, how are you, what have you been doing chat with everyone day in, day out.
And so That’s a real kind of gift that video games can give you is that you can be talking but you don’t necessarily have to talk about anything and it really helps take your mind off things.
Greg, we talked about how kind of [UNKNOWN] best friends have been flocking to your content and [UNKNOWN] but have they been playing games together, have you, you’ve always had this initiative of Grouping up people to play games together.
Have you noticed big uptick this year?
Yeah, of course.
I think everything we’ve said so far is just hitting the nail on the head here in terms of bringing games to people to bring them together and seeing what they do with it.
And yeah, you wanna talk about among us in Victoria like That was one of those breakthrough moments I’m talking about even outside of the kind of funny hardcore gaming community where, you know, I hear at the house we threw in January dinner party, I introduced the group of non gamers to jack box and then, in March when all this was happening maybe even early April, they were like, Hey, can we do that and I had to try to explain it.
And i was using discord to stream my game to them and then they’re on there it was just clunky and hard but then to have something like among us come out and do that right to have something like Animal Crossing come out and make it so that hey, here is an experience that has no pressure and doesn’t have the hardcore gamer slant to it that you can get into Yes.
And then for Our group that is you know, ride or die live and breathe video games.
Yeah, I saw such an influx in community game nights.
Everybody is streaming now and it doesn’t I think more than ever.
It doesn’t matter if they’re streaming to five people or 5000 people they’re finding a community and finding some exhilaration be able to share experiences and talk to people that way.
It’s good that you brought that up because I was gonna actually talk a little bit more and ask the panel about how people are engaging with video games beyond just playing with them because I think as we’ve all established here that building the community is such an important part.
Have playing games.
Victoria How have you found that plays have among us are engaging with the game outside of actually playing it?
Yeah, so the amazing thing about the among community and honestly a lot of game communities is just how much they engage with it outside of it.
So twitch saw 700 k viewers in total in a month at one point among us received 4 billion views in total in September of 2020 on YouTube, and the cool thing about that is 230 million views of those were animated content.
So people are creating kinda like their own characters, their own storylines, And it’s just an amazing thing to see.
Great, have you notice with the kind of funny bestfriends, have they’ve been talking about how they’ve been approaching the games they chose to play in 2020?
Are they kind of finally taking advantage of what more spare time to dip into more titles?
Or are they specifically honing in on maybe their backlog that they never got around to playing and Finally committing themselves to those games?
It’s a great question Luc what I’ve seen the most in this is tangentially of course is them committing to what they have playing games longer, playing games to completion, going for all the achievements, all the trophies sinking lots of time into it.
There still is that drive I think to have the you know what’s the next hottest title.
Be a part of that conversation.
But when you are at home.
[LAUGH] And during any coffee break, you can turn around and turn on a game for a little bit.
I’m seeing kids knockout games so quickly that yes, they are doubling back to their backlogs.
They’re doing more video game book clubs.
They’re engaging in longer form conversation about what they’re playing and digesting and really wanting to share that with each other.
Matt, in terms of the broader figures, is that being supported by what we can see in the kind of funding community?>> Yeah.
And I think even to expand on what Greg was saying what we really have seen is an increase in that type of engagement across age groups.
And in fact, the group that has the highest growth and engagement both in terms of player count And the hours played since the pandemic began.
Were those 35 years and older.
So it’s not just the younger, more core audience that has been playing more.
We have a whole generation of either lapsed or new gamers coming to the market and they’re doing it across PC and mobile.
And one other note, I just want to touch on Greg mentioned the the boom in the number of people streaming.
He’s absolutely right.
In fact that has doubled since 2018.
Our studies show that about 8% of video game players in the US actually have stream themselves playing.
And that’s double the 4% that we’re doing that back in 2018.
We’ve also seen an increase in the amount of content being watched online and a resulting corresponding increase in play hours.
So yeah, that engagement level continues to go higher both in its breadth and its depth.
I want to touch a little bit more on the the new gamers the older population who are finally Or maybe returning to video games.
Was there a specific game or kind of timeframe when you notice the uptick starting?
Yeah, it started in March and April, and we saw a significant uptick on the mobile space.
We also saw some pretty big pickups in PC.
And then of course, we had a number of those people pick up a switch And Animal Crossing in particular.
Lucy, you mentioned earlier about how this was a big year for the Xbox series consoles and PS five, but really 2020 is the story of the switch.
And it’s becoming one of the best performing platforms of all time and I think it’s that broad appeal That is accessible to folks not just who have been gaming forever but for those folks who may have had a we back in the day or even had a 2600 when they were a kid and are coming back to gaming again for the first time in a long time.
So we finally made it through the gamut that it was 2020 2021 maybe not off to The first stop that we all hoped it would be.
However, let’s talk about what the video game industry is gonna be doing to hopefully hold onto that new audience that came to them in 2020.
So Victoria, I’m gonna come to you.
What are [UNKNOWN] doing to ensure that all of these millions of fans of Among Us are gonna be sticking around?
Well, for sure we’re going to be doing the kinda typical things that games do, which is like the new map.
We’re working on that right now.
There’ll be new tasks.
We’re hoping to build a friend system so you can kind of create that social network within the community.
And but and basically just better gearing it up for retention and community building, but not only that, it’s really trying to Remain engaged with the people who aren’t necessarily like again, like continually keeping up with the gaming news, reading the gaming sites, doing all of that, right?
So, we have like our Twitter followers and we have our TikTok community and we have newsletters, and we it’s
Basically trying to capture on remain like kind of on the top of people’s minds because what I think is really powerful is when you have people who don’t necessarily always consider themselves core gamers to be a part of your community because that’s really powerful and you can reach out to them and we have.
Some secrets in the works that I unfortunately cannot talk about.
But I think for anyone in game development like we’re just trying to welcome more and more people into the communities that we have.
And as well that must be such a challenge not only with maintaining an ongoing game but to develop and adapt to things remotely.
I mean, you’ve been working in game development and with game developers for a long time, like, how have you noticed that shift change in 2020?
And how have you noticed developers Coming to terms with having to work remotely and, not not in meeting rooms all together to bounce ideas off each other.
Yeah, it’s definitely a picking up new technologies, new kind of software’s to better track bugs, to better communicate with each other.
Some studios have been totally fine because they’ve been completely remote.
And others are definitely adjusting right especially the huge companies that have had to basically split up their workforce.
But it’s something that I think has been coming along for games right already because it’s such a global workforce.
It’s such a global audience.
There’s been they’ve been slowly adapting for sure.
And I think it’s going to work out.
Greg in terms of your audience what makes them stick with games you obviously talk a lot about Platinum trophies, on the podcast etc is there more to To it and that is that elements of challenge are gonna keep people sticking with games?
I think it’s that and the fact that games continue to grow and be so diverse.
What I’ve talked about for years is that I’m lucky that in my lifetime games have grown with me.
And I think where continue to see that to a point that games are as close as you can make a comparison to movies in terms of what fo you feel like playing tonight?
It’s not like you have a limited, I’m gonna play a platform or I’m gonna play a RPG, right?
There’s any shade of emotion you’re feeling there’s a video game
For and I think that’s comforting because I think so many people, myself included, this is our preferred form of entertainment.
Like I don’t enjoy sitting and watching stuff I enjoy playing and interacting and that can be as simple as a point and click I’m moving things around, it can be a puzzle or it can be something that where I want the surround sound and lights off and to be lost in that experience.
I think the fact as the
That games continue to be driven by such creative minds and you see people being inspired by other people’s creations, you continue to see [UNKNOWN] Just astronomical, into what games can do.
And I think that’s what keeps people around, is that excitement of what’s gonna be next.
And what’s going to be, not only the next huge triple-A hit, but what’s going to be the next Fall Guys, what’s going to be the next Among Us.
What’s going to capture Catch you off guard.
What is the industry been doing to be more welcoming for new and returning audiences.
Why they Greg hit the nail on the head.
It’s about delivering a diverse assortment of experiences that allow people to play when where and how they like.
It wasn’t too long ago.
In fact back in like 2013 when.
We had a bunch of articles and people talking about the death of consoles because mobile gaming was getting started.
And instead what happened is mobile gaming allowed a whole new audience to participate.
It brought new business models and brought new ways of people to, of all economic backgrounds to participate in gaming.
And as that business has been proven to be not only viable but thriving, the willingness of the industry to adopt new platforms to bring in new forms and new ways of people to engage with content is only going to continue to help that market grow.
Whether that’s cloud The traditional console experience or mobile, or subscription or soft stuff we haven’t even thought of yet.
It all is going to help grow or lift the overall tide of the market.
And that’s what’s exciting.
It’s funny you mentioned that so my next question for the panel was going to be what trends do you think will emerge in 2021 to kind of Keep and maintain those audiences is going to be the subscription models.
Is it going to be the consolidation of the subscription models we’ve seen Microsoft snapping up EA Play that could be there.
The rumor mill is running wild that there might be more new services being added to Xbox So I’m going to put it to the panel.
Victoria, let’s start with you.
Do you think it’s going to be something like cloud gaming, 5g or is there another trend that is kind of emerging that we might be able to see more of in 2021.
Honestly, I think it’s a mix.
So one of the parts is that what I hope for 2021 is just the redefinition of what being a gamer means because I think for so long that games have felt like this fringe in Popular media and news outlets still kind of talk about it like it’s this outside thing that like, My gosh, what a surprise that games are popular when so many people are playing games, whether you’re playing on your phone or you’re playing on the PS five that still counts as you’re playing a game and the fact is, it’s just that People think you have to be this like hardcore gamer, you have to have all the consoles in order to be considered this gamer that I hope that what 2020 has shown everyone is that the more people you have kind of playing your games and having fun and connecting over them, is just a plus for everyone.
So I think one is just going to be a mindset change or I hope Hope there’s a mindset change.
And I guess what’s next I, I feel like more subscription services will become a little bit more popular.
I’m totally coming at this from like, I don’t have data on this right now, but more so that.
I from the ways that like we’ve seen Netflix and Spotify become a thing and I’m a little bit nervous about it.
It’s like I feel like a subscription service is slowly coming and I am excited for it.
I fear it.
It’s a mix of feelings for sure.
I’m really glad you said about the redefinition of gamer because I think it’s always been the gamers whose been yelling We’re bigger than movies and TV and everything.
And I really hope that 2020 has shown people that you know, we’re definitely here to stay.
So thank you very much for saying that.
I’m very glad.
Greg, same question.
What kind of trends Do you think it will be emerging over the next few months?
You know what’s fascinating?
I think everything’s in the mix from what we’ve talked about.
I don’t think it’s going to be cloud gaming 5G.
I think that that if you would have asked me this last year in 2020, I would have been right there I would have been like stadia is gonna come on strong XCLOUD is gonna come out of beta.
There’s gonna be a great argument for it.
I was super excited for it because in 2019 and start of 2020, I was on the road every other weekend and I was stoked not to have to think about packing a console anymore.
Just having a phone or a tablet and controller, I was ready for that.
Whereas now I feel like that’s tech still going and still super exciting and will be important to the future.
I think right now We’re cool on it because we’re all at home anyway, what’s it matter?
I think the one that might not see this might not bear fruit in 2021, but the seed is planted and we’re gonna see it continue is triple a gaming accepting early access as a viable way to actually release your video game.
I think we look at the end of the year and the awards and we look at cyberpunk and you say, Man, cyberpunk got its messaging wrong, it failed its audience, arguably CD Projekt RED lied to people.
And then you compare that to Hades, a game that was released in early access and is on most people short game for Game of the Year, if not their game of the year.
And what do you see?
You see Hades developers sitting right there?
Supergiant saying we didn’t crunch for this.
And yes, we released in early access and this is the way it could be.
And I think as we go forward with the lessons of cyberpunk.
You look at somebody like Bethesda and you have to imagine especially after Fallout 76, that they’re sitting there going.
We cannot release our next grand RPG and have it be a buggy mess.
Like people won’t accept that anymore.
Yes I honestly I really hope that that’s the way, the way the tide is gonna turn in the industry because cyberpunk was unfortunately a mess and kind of it sold extremely well but it did put people off and it lost CD Projekt RED a lot of goodwill with that community.
Matt, same question.
Yeah, so number one, the answer is yes.
All of it, but in particular, I think what has the industry most excited is the community and in-game event aspect to what’s happening.
Folks like Victoria and her team have really inspired a great deal of developers and publishers to try to make their games bigger than games.
It’s about them becoming social hubs It’s about bringing excitement from other entertainment properties into their games.
And basically broadening the appeal even more, I think that’s what we’re gonna see.
A lot of effort put to you is that community and that in game event type stuff, because he just can’t be some of those engagement metrics coming out of those types of games.
Actually, that’s a great segue to ask how have the existing audience been treating all of the new players?
Greg, I’ll come to you first.
Well, that’s a loaded question, Lucy, as I’m sure you’re aware, I think if you took a passing glance at the Internet, you’d say badly horribly.
Look at these people yelling at each other look at the bigots and the racists that are on the internet That’s always what grabs the headlines because of course we need to excise that and get that out.
But I think beyond that you find audiences that are welcoming and do want to help and you know, as somebody who subscribes to the Animal Crossing, so Reddit right like going through there that is always 98% extremely positive, welcoming, answering questions showing new designs trying to share things.
You know, I just started my playthrough of Bloodborne and sure There’s plenty of people who wanna talk crap and tell me I’m way late and yada yada yada.
But there are so many other people who come into my stream are like, Wait, is he playing?.
He wants advice but not too much advice.
All right, and then they recommend people and they recommend communities like That is out there and I think that is what we’re talking about of changing the definition of what gamers are.
As we bring more people in and they realize it’s not the angry kid in the basement on his keyboard yelling at somebody, it is this diverse group of people who love something and want to share that love with other people.
I think that is there in You know, just huge amounts,
And Victoria with a community as huge as the one for among us.
How have you noticed the old guard playing nice with the new God?
Honestly the same as Greg said the people who tend to get the most attention are the loudest but honestly from my years of working in community, whether it was with among us or past studios, Majority of the time everyone is just so welcoming and just happy to have new people in the game because it just means you have more people to get excited with.
And I know that we talk about triple A a lot, but I think one of the things is that indie games have always kind of had this diverse community that have.
Really wanted to tell their own stories and to see that reflected I hope that also kind of integrates with the old and new communities, right.
We’ve seen games like Venmo, which are about an immigrant family cooking for [LAUGH] their children.
Like that’s a huge thing and I see a lot of like old Guard gamers, let’s say really embracing that kind of thing.
Like they love the diverse stories.
They love seeing new fresh ideas because that just keeps gaming interesting.
So I think so far it’s been really wonderful.
And Matt, what about you?
So we have four out of five US consumers playing video games in 2020.
Video games are no longer just a small niche audience we’re talking video games are as mass market as anything out there.
And what we saw over the course the pandemic is the new players, their family members, their friends, their people that people were hanging out with in real life before.
But are looking for other ways to connect and get together.
So in the industry and those of us who are really connected to the gaming internet, we see a world that a majority of the game playing audience doesn’t.
They don’t know about Reddit subreddits or they don’t know about message boards.
They just know that like my cousin wants to play call of duty with me, so I’m going to play call of duty with them, and so I think that it’s not just the mass audience of gaming that matters.
It’s the micro audiences, it’s those small groups.
It’s the group of friends that get together on Friday to play among us and have a cup of cocktails.
Like that’s what is, that’s the emerging audience in gaming right now?
And in a lot of ways, it’s really beautiful that people can connect that way inside of these games that we’ve loved forever.>> Couldn’t agree more.
I want to extend a great big thank you to all of our panelists for joining us today and providing such incredible insights.
Into an industry that we all love so very much.
For more coverage of this year’s CES, make sure you keep your eyes filled to CNET.com.