In July 2019, spanning three days, the largest gathering of gamers from around the world – 40 million – took part in the Fortnite World Cup tournament. Hailed as a monumental moment for esports, the winner, a 16-year-old, took home £2.42 million. The prize sum overshadowed the £1.6 million Shane Lowry won at this year’s Golf Open Championship in Portrush. The esports industry is becoming increasingly popular, rivalling many traditional sporting events with the Fortnite tournament watched by 23,000 people in a sold out New York stadium and millions more through live streams.
This highlights how the gaming industry and its place in culture has evolved, with gamers stepping away from their own consoles to watch others play their favourite games. And not surprisingly, this is reflected in the size of the gaming market which continues to grow rapidly. According to Newzoo, there are reportedly 2.3 billion active gamers globally and 46% of those (1.1 billion) spending, the financial impact to the establishment is significant. More so with the forecasted growth of gaming from $137.9 billion in 2018 to more than $180.1 billion by 2021. Looking just at the UK, the gaming market is now worth a record £5.7 billion thanks in part to the strong foundations in place for innovative games and entrepreneurial developers.
The next 12-18 months looks set to be a very interesting for the sector with some of the big names in gaming hardware expected to reveal their next generation platforms. Expectation is that Sony, who have sold 525 million consoles since launching PlayStation in 1994, will start to ship their latest console in the second half of 2020. And of course both Nintendo and Microsoft will be in the mix too. Microsoft officially announced its next generation hardware, codenamed Project Scarlett, during its E3 2019 conference and it’s due for release in time for “Holiday 2020”.
Before that is the exciting debut of Stadia in Q4 this year which may be a potential fly in the ointment for the established gaming brands. Google’s launch of Stadia is a game-changer, and a move that will have Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony quite concerned. No downloads, no patches and no console makes this the cloud gamers dream, and Google is delivering this incredible service without compromising on graphics quality.
As Phil Harrison VP and general manager at Google stated when launching Stadia: “It’s a new generation platform, rather than a next generation platform”. In evolving the concept of platforms, rather than recreating them, Stadia will be a tough act to follow, with sharing options via YouTube, which has 63 million daily viewers worldwide, Google Assistant built in, 4K resolution games at 60 frames per second with HDR (High Dynamic Range), and a plan to support 8K resolution in the future.
The excellent features are great news to those who have grown up used to on-demand web-based entertainment, app-based games and instant updates to technology, but for generations who are familiar with buying physical consoles and games, this could be a transition they may not make because nostalgia can come into play. Owning a console and saving up to buy the latest must have game and completing it before trading it in to buy the next release, has been a pleasure to many.
The generational changes in consumers has seen Millennials identify with nostalgia and they recapture their youth through console gaming just as they have been doing for over 20 years. There is a shared enjoyment amongst social groups in getting together and playing a multiplayer game on Mario Kart on the original Wii. It’s also interesting to see how the retro gaming sector tapping into this and making headlines. Available to buy this Christmas will be a reimagined full-sized reissue of the Commodore 64.
Giving this generation a chance to either buy or play the consoles and games of their youth could open up a new opportunity for gaming retailers, because a streaming service is not great news for those retailing the hardware to eager gamers needing to upgrade to access the dream being sold by the platforms. Indeed, GAME has been battling tough high street conditions and has seen in the past three months a successful take over by Sports Direct. The British sports gear retailer said it did not believe that, as a standalone business, GAME was “able to weather the pressures that it is facing”.
Furthermore, the introduction of streaming could see the resale market suffer too, again a blow to high street stores such as GAME and CEX.
This is an evolving and exciting market with opportunities and pitfalls for the whole supply chain. I started this piece discussing the phenomenon that was the Fortnite World Cup and for retailers, this presents a huge opportunity to tap into this ‘experience’ economy and revive their fortunes by using empty high street spaces to create purpose-built gaming arenas for live gaming where the community can come together. But there’s no doubt that we’re going to see a ferocious battle between Stadia and the console manufacturers – so let the games begin.