ESA Figures Prove What We've Suspected For Years: Classic PC Gaming is Dying

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News Posted: Wed, Aug 1 2012 3:18 PM
The ESA has released its yearly report on the state of gaming in 2012 and it shows significantly different trends than what we saw in years past. For this year's report, the ESA updated its questionnaire to reflect the growth of tablets and smartphones as gaming devices, rather than screening respondents based on their possession of a handheld, console, or dedicated PC. Thanks to these changes, the number of citizens 18 and under classified as gamers skyrocketed. The average gamer age also fell, from 37 in 2011 to 30 in 2012.



One of the heartwarming changes over the last seven years are the number of parents who say they play games with their children because it's fun for everyone. 66% was a pretty good figure in 2005, but the 90% response rate for 2012 is even better. Games aren't just fun -- they're seen as a way to connect across generations and boundaries. The number of parents who say that playing is one way to monitor content has held steady while other response rates have increased. Games can be a way to frame or discuss mature topics as well, though we've thankfully been spared the idea of a Sam and Max "Very Special Episode."

The ESA report also breaks down games by genre, with data on which categories are more popular for video games vs. PC games. We omitted a few categories to make the graph smaller, but this constitutes the majority of the data, including the most interesting differences.



Strategy and role-playing games were big wins for the PC space, with 'casual' growth largely driven by services like Zynga and Facebook. PC gaming is still largely solitary -- note the 0.1% share for 'Family Entertainment' on PC, compared to 11% on consoles. Sports games are also a non-starter on the PC, though that's partly due to viability; most of the large franchises have abandoned the PC or release poorly ported schlock. 'Action' games aren't a clear category given that we've already broken out role-playing, shooters, and RPGs -- this may refer to twitch-style gaming, or it could be a category for Kinect Sports, Wii Fit, and other titles that rely on motion control.

Here's the not-so-happy portion for those of us who prefer PC gaming.



For years, PC enthusiasts have argued that NPD data that showed slumping PC game sales was wrong because it failed to include digital transactions. In 2009, Gartner updated its criteria to include all of those channels. This is the result. Total unit sales, including digital sales, slumped 11.7 million units from 2010 to 2011 -- and 9 million of those units came from the PC business. The PC video game business is half the size it was in 2009. In 2011, PC game revenue actually increased slightly compared to 2010, up to $700M dollars. In 2011, it plummeted to $450M. Again, that's digital and retail both.

The steep decline in unit sales (including digital) has gone mostly unnoticed because of skyrocket growth in the casual sector. Denialists will point to this and shriek that it disproves my point. Whether or not that's actually true depends on whether you consider Angry Birds an effective replacement for Civilization V.

No, Civilization V isn't going anywhere, but Civilization is a 20 year-old brand-name with an established fan base. It's the other, less famous games that vanish, and perhaps more importantly, the games that never get made because investors won't back them that become the casualities of war. The affect isn't limited to PCs; major developers are shifting focus as well. Check out EA's Q3 lineup, courtesy of Kotaku:

Through the end of its Q4, EA is releasing 9 PC / console titles, and 25 social, mobile, and free-to-play games. That's not just because they take fewer resources and have smaller dev teams, it's part of an industry-wide trend to capitalize on mobile and tablet gaming as much as humanly possible. Casual games exploded on the PC due to Internet access, but in the long run, PCs will just be one small way to access titles that stretch across multiple platforms.

Will there be a Civilization or SimCity in the brave new world? Sure. And if we're really lucky, they won't be touch-optimized browser games that were ported for keyboard and mouse.
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Then why is STEAM so popular. Sure PC gaming is NOT as popular but they won't stop making games for the PC.

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Why would the European Space Agency give a rat's patoot about PC gaming? Or is this a typical case of a blogger assuming that everyone else's mentality is limited to what he knows, and he "knows" that ESA means something to do with software sales...

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Especially since PC Gaming was supposed to be dying 10 years ago. I don't take this article seriously at all. There will always be PC Gaming. There are recent articles talking of a resurgence because of Steam

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Although the denialist in me says this is an outright lie, the actions taken recently by companies like Steam may prove the point. Steam Greenlight is going to be very popular due to the overwhelming nature of their users. However, Valve is obviously worried enough about the PC gaming situation to create such a drain on their limited resources to create Greenlight. Having said that I would like to note that games never die, they just get emulated. Back in the early 80s everyone was worried about the gaming industry collapsing, it didn't. In fact it came back stronger than before, with Mario, Sonic, and other miscellaneous games. It ran another 20+ hard years until it hit another wall. This is just another fallback, give it a few years and you're all going to be singing a different tune.

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http://attackofthefanboy.com/news/pc-gaming-sales-stronger-ps3-electronic-arts/

PC Game sales stronger than PS3s.

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Bitrayahl replied on Thu, Aug 2 2012 11:52 AM

Why does this topic come up ever 5 months or so? For the past 12 YEARS? PC gaming is not dead, dying, or even shrinking. While I'm typing this, there are 3.5 million concurrent users online on Steam. There was a report from EA that their PC sales were better than their PS3s. In the past couple of years, we've seen a massive rise in the popularity, number, and quality of indie games on PC. People have already mentioned Steam's rise in popularity as well. PC gaming is not dying. I don't know how these figures were collected but casual observation and common sense tells me its flat-out wrong.

Call me a "denialist" (Not a word, by the way)all you want, I'm still enjoying the $100 worth of PC games I bought during the Steam summer sale.

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Joel H replied on Thu, Aug 2 2012 12:12 PM

MeldeeCA,

Do me a favor. Go pull data on PC games sales in 2002. Now compare them to PC games sales in 2012. You will find that while the gaming industry as a whole has exploded, PC game sales have shrunk in real terms. IIRC, PC gaming peaked at ~$1.5B in the late 90s or early 200s.

It's now a $450M market. True, that's not the same as dead, but PC games have gone from being a major focus for developers to being just one platform among a multitude.

The PC as a unique platform for development is being sustained almost entirely by casual games. Everything else is ports. Every year, there are a handful of specific PC-only titles that do very well, where once there were dozens. There was a time when playing on a PC meant having a distinct and different suite of games from a console. Now, the only categories that applies to are those where a mouse and keyboard are a practical necessity.

You can't argue with those figures. A blip of success from EA on a particular quarter doesn't shake the trend.

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karanm replied on Thu, Aug 2 2012 4:04 PM

Joel makes an excellent point, the release of games that require a mouse like Starcraft or Diablo can result in a great couple of months for PC gaming but it doesn't change the fact that developers are concentrating more on console and mobile gaming simply because those are easier to develop. Its simple simple business to create a product that will sell more units, costs less to produce and is less of a hassle to debug. IMO PC gaming has been on the decline for a while not because of a lack of interest but because of a lack of quality titles, online games like WOW or SWTOR or even the new Starcraft installments are keeping the die hard PC gamers but aren't bringing in a new generation of gamers. That's why PC gaming may seem like its slowly dying.

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Just because mobiles and console games are attracting more casual games, PC gaming is not dying and will not begin to die until technology which fully immerses you into the game world comes to existence. Hardcore games like the ones karanm mention (Starcraft and WoW) will always keep a competitive gaming crowd. I mean look at Starcraft 1 and its huge following. Up until the release of Starcraft 2 in 2010, gamers have been playing SC1 since its release in 2000. That's 10 years of professional gaming across North America, Europe, China, and especially in South Korea where Starcraft is treated like a religion. As for lack of quality titles, as an avid gamer I know plenty which are about to be released soon, such as Guild Wars 2, Borderlands 2, Assassin's Creed III, and Bioshock Infinite. All of which have had a large following in their prequels and no doubt will attract many more returning customers.

(Note: I am making this as a reply to you karanm not as an attack on you just as a response to two topics you addressed.)

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

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karanm replied on Fri, Aug 3 2012 10:38 PM

Umm I totally agree with you, love starcraft and bioshock and borderlands but the problem is Pc gaming is not attracting new gamers. "All of which have had a large following in their prequels and no doubt will attract many more returning customers". Returning customers are great but any business person will tell you in order to remain in business you need new customers. All of the games that we mentioned haven't done anything to bring new gamers to pc gaming like halo did for Xbox or metal gear solid did for the ps. Assasins creed and bioshock were not exclusive titles and as far as I know did not help pc gaming more than the other consoles they are available on. In fact a lot if games that were released on multiple platforms looked the worst on PC where they could have looked the best. This is because developers make their games for one console and generally port them over to others and the pc.

Don't worry about me taking offense to your opinion, this is a great forum to voice what you have to say and maybe change your view about something by learning something new. Just don't be offensive (which you definitely were not).

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InsideSin replied on Fri, Aug 3 2012 10:58 PM

Also very true, however I would say that developers for such successful games on the PC are too afraid to change much in what seems to them like a good formula for making their games. I guess it's find that balance between retaining the game the way they have it against changing it drastically to invite new customers. The worry is that if they make it too easy to get into, Starcraft for example won't retain it's challenging-ness enough causing some hardcore/pro-gamers to leave.

I love this forum :]

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

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Joel H replied on Sat, Aug 4 2012 1:53 PM

Here's what the naysayers don't seem to understand.

Yes, we get new Starcraft. New Warcraft. New Diablo. All made by the same, enormously successful company.

Quick: Name another enormously successful PC-centric developer. Valve gets some credit here, because it definitely cut its chops on PC gaming, but Valve is cross-platform now. So is Bethesda. There are a handful of other, enormously successful PC franchises -- nearly all of which have been absorbed into publishing conglomerates and all of which cross-publish.

The problem is, PC gaming is declining in relative *and* absolute terms. It's not just that our games are ports or that we're a niche market, one of many players -- it's that the amount of money spent by gamers on PC titles has been falling *nearly* constantly for over a decade. The enormous success of companies like Blizzard and Valve is no longer indicative of the relative health of the market. Instead, these companies are islands of profit and success in a declining field. 

My grandfather was diagnosed with chronic leukemia when he was 71. Average lifespan for someone post-diagnosis is 10 years. He made it 11. Technically, he died of pneumonia. But what really killed him was the damage the leukemia did to his immune system, combined with the treatments and his age.

Point is, a diagnosis can be simultaneously fatal and long-term. If you're diagnosed with a chronic illness of sufficient severity, it doesn't mean you die the next day, or the next week -- or even ten years later. What it means is that despite ups and downs, trends and developments, new treatments and inventions, everybody knows what's probably going to get you.

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karanm replied on Sun, Aug 5 2012 12:20 AM

Couldn't have said it better my self. Also my sympathy for your grandfather, he must have been a very strong man to survive for 11 years with those treatments.

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KBennett replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 6:06 AM

Meh if I made the money Steam makes in a week I could live like a king! The problem with these kinds of "studies" is they could pretty much ANYTHING as a "game", even those spamming FB clickers like Farmville. Saying those are indicative of gaming is like saying gaming is dead because monopoly boards aren't selling as well.

The simple fact is there are more free options than ever for the PC so naturally people aren't buying as many boxed units (ask Valve how much they make off hats and you'll see why the MMOs are all going FTP) and thanks to all the games being cross platform now there is no reason to upgrade nearly as often, so naturally hardware sales are down.

To use some very old wisdom "correlation does not equal causation" and just because companies like EA, that squirt out the same game year after year with a few shiny bits tacked on, are not doing so hot doesn't mean the rest aren't doing well. Just ask the ones that made Limbo, or Minecraft, or all these other indie games that are racking up the sales what THEY think about PC gaming. Personally i think its never been better, or cheaper, or easier to be a PC gamer and I for one and really happy. if this is "failure" can we have more please?

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annun replied on Sun, Feb 24 2013 1:54 PM

I would just like to point out that there is one glaring lie in this article - the graph with total units sold does NOT contain digital sales, even though the autor say the opposite.

If you check the original ESA report (the link to which is conveniently missing: http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_ef_2012.pdf) you will quickly discover they have added a note underneath the graph clearly stating the following fact: "Figures are sales of new physical content at retail exclusively".

They have included another graph that does contain digital sales, however is it not clear from that one how much of the digital content is PC and how much is console. Looking at articles like this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngaudiosi/2012/03/06/gdc-2012-pc-games-raked-in-18-6-billion-in-2011/ I would say it is a lot.

But I guess that wouldn't make such an interesting article.

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