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The Entertainment Software Association has released their 2016 “Essential Facts” report that covers sales, demographics, and usage data about the computer and video game industry.

The report is based on research conducted by Ipsos MediaCT for the ESA. The data was gathered from over 4,000 American Households. The heads of household as well as the most frequent gamers in the households were polled on a wide range of questions relating to the gaming industry.

63% of U.S. Households have at least one person who plays video games for 3 hours or more per week. 65% of U.S. Households have a device that is used to play video games, and 48% of households have a dedicated game console. It stands to reason that the split between these latter two numbers are for devices used for things other than gaming such as mobile phones and personal computers.

Games just aren't for kids anymore; Only 17% of gamers are  under the age of 18 and 29% of gamers are aged 18-35.

Games just aren’t for kids anymore; Only 17% of gamers are under the age of 18 and 29% of gamers are aged 18-35.

The average gamer is 35 years old, and the average gender split is 59% male to 41% female. Gamers have been playing video games for an average of 13 years which makes sense considering the age and reach of the industry.

The demographics of who buys games lines up neatly with the average gender split. The most frequent purchasers of video games are 60% male and 40% female. More than half of the most frequent  gamers feel that video games provide a better value for the money spent compared to DVDs, music, or going to the movies. People have limited time and so these other entertainment mediums are likely to suffer; gamers who are playing more games than they had three years prior are spending less time playing board games (49%), watching TV (37%), or going to the movies (37%).

Most gaming consoles aren’t exactly collecting dust; 95% of the most voracious purchasers of games purchase video games for them. Consoles have expanded to become media centers in the previous generation and are used as such by gamers. 50% of gamers use consoles to watch movies. 34% use them to watch television shows. 28% use their consoles to listen to music, and 21% use their consoles for “Live and other content”. There’s no specification of whether streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu fall under “watching movies/television shows” or “Live and other content.”

86% of parents are aware of The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (or ESRB), the governing body for games ratings in the United States. The Essential Facts report also states that 97% of parents feel that the ratings system used by the ESRB is accurate. “Everyone” was the most frequently issued rating for games at 37% followed by Teen (29%), Everyone 10+ (23%), and Mature (11%).

Parents in the surveyed households are on the ball when it comes to supervising their children. 91% of parents are there when games are rented or purchased, and  9 out of 10 parents requires that their children ask permission to purchase or rent a game. 95% of parents covered by the Essential Facts report “always or sometimes” pays attention to what games their kids are playing. 62% of parents pick up a controller and play games with their kids at least once a week.

People buy video games for a wide range of reasons. Only 21% of gamers consider price a factor in their purchasing decisions. 12% are primarily hooked by the graphics, and only 9% of gamers will make a purchase because a game is a sequel.

People buy video games for a wide range of reasons. Only 21% of gamers consider price a factor in their purchasing decisions. 12% are primarily hooked by the graphics, and only 9% of gamers will make a purchase because a game is a sequel.

When it comes to sales, the Essential Facts report has a lot to say. The top 5 best-selling video games of 2015 were Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Madden NFL  16, Fallout 4, Star Wars Battlefront, and NBA 2K16. When the scope is narrowed to PC games only, the top 5 best sellers were The Sims 4, Fallout 4, The Sims 3 Starter Pack, The Sims 4: Get to Work Expansion Pack, and StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void.

These differences in top-selling games are also reflected in the sales splits based on genre. Shooters and Action games dominated the console platform at 24.5% of sales and 22.9% of sales respectively. PC was instead topped by Strategy games at 36.4%, Casual games at 25.8%, and Role-Playing games at 18.7%.

Consumers spent a total of $23.5 billion dollars on the gaming industry in 2015. Digital sales are steadily growing as well. In 2010, games sales were 71% physical and 29% digital, but in 2015 digital sales now make up 56% of all purchases by video game consumers.

There’s a lot more interesting numbers in the report itself; you can view a PDF of the report here. The Entertainment Software Association is the organization that runs the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (otherwise known as E3). It was also responsible for the founding of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board in 1994.

Quick Take

Hoo boy, this report sure does a lot to dispel a lot of the myths we might expect in the gaming industry. Though we’ve all heard the meme of Wiis and Wii Us collecting dust, the numbers in the ESA’s Essential Facts report don’t hold up to that idea. The idea of careless or irresponsible parents also doesn’t seem to match up with the data when basically nine out of ten parents are keeping an eye on what their kids are playing and nearly two-thirds of parents play games with their kids on a weekly basis. I imagine this has a lot to do with the age of the industry and the fact that many parents today probably grew up playing video games themselves.

What do you think of the contents of the ESA’s Essential Facts report? Do you feel the averages represented within fall in line with your own experiences? Do you find any of the presented numbers particularly surprising? Let us know in the comments below!

Robert N. Adams

Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!

  • Andy McGlame

    This is a really great great study and I’m glad to see it. The only question that i have is how they’re defining “video game”. I know some studies included things like Angry Birds and Solitaire (which is why we saw people claiming that middle aged women were the largest demographic of games) so I’m just curious. That said, I’m sure this is a MUCH better study.

  • Yeah, that’s one specific that they didn’t really get into detail. Some of the elements of the study are vague enough once you know even a little about the industry. Then again, this report is probably intended to be a pretty broad one overall.

  • DukeMagus

    You’re into semantics on that one… They probably use the commercial definition: if it’s marketed as a game, sold at th game department of a store, rated and reviewed by video game focused sites and sections, it’s a game, at least as a product

  • Andy McGlame

    It is semantics but I feel like it’s an important one. As Robert said, it’s probably meant to be very general which explains it. I’ve just seen the anti-gamer and SocJus outlets lie with statistics so many times that I get wary when something is general.