With the rise of mobile gaming and consoles becoming ever more powerful, sometimes the question of whether or not PC gaming is dying gets tossed around the community. It’s a legitimate question as the only thing in life that is certain, is that nothing is certain. I decided to take a look at the situation myself and decide what I believed the future of PC gaming looked like.
While PC gaming has not grown at the same incredible rate as mobile gaming, it is definitely not dying.
This (somewhat bold?) claim will be backed up by data and logical analysis below.
Show Me the Money $$$
The easiest way to prove that PC gaming is not dying is simply to take a look at sales data. During the pandemic, sales of many things were skewed by the massive shift in consumer demand. Gasoline demand plummeted, and demand for crazy things like Peloton home exercise equipment skyrocketed. The gaming industry as a whole was obviously affected by this, with significantly expanded sales.
However, the situation that the pandemic created was never going to last. Eventually, people would have to go back to work/school and their commute/routine etc. With that in mind, I did my best to try to omit the data from the pandemic or, at the very least, acknowledge that any fluctuations would likely be fleeting.
2021’s digital content sales for PCs bumped up 5% to $7.9 billion from 2020. This shows that the industry is maintaining that growth even after the massive spike in demand caused by the pandemic. While there is a -4% sales projection YOY for 2022, it doesn’t look like the PC gaming industry will give up its massive pandemic gains.
Another thing to consider is how many new gamers joined the PC gaming community during/since the pandemic. Hardware sales for PCs (CPUs, GPUs, microphones, keyboards, etc.) were also up by 25% YOY in 2021. That is an incredible increase considering it comes on top of sales which were already up by 60% in 2020 due to the pandemic.
PCs are not a cheap entertainment investment by any means. Although they provide great value compared to other entertainment options, they have a steep entry cost, with most quality gaming pc setups starting around $1,000. This means that the new gamers the industry gained in the last few years will likely continue playing well into the future. I mean, who, in their right mind, would shell out a grand for a nice gaming pc during the pandemic only to scrap it and stop playing two years later? Game sales should thus at least maintain their growth moving forward, if not grow even more.
Yeah, But Is It. . . Fun?
Increasing games and hardware sales is one thing, but that alone doesn’t mean the industry is in good shape. I mean, look at the latest Jurassic Park/World/Whatever film. It made an insane amount of money, and yet, I wouldn’t say the franchise is in good shape moving forward after that stinker. Quality of entertainment matters. Sales aren’t everything.
To measure whether or not people are actually enjoying PC gaming and, thus, likely to continue doing it, we can look at a few metrics.
Take Steam user numbers, for example. On January 6th (2020, not the other January 6th), in the early stages of the pandemic, Steam had 18.08 million users with 5.64 million users in-game. Slightly less than a year later, on January 4th, 2021, there were 25.43 million users, with 7.08 million users in-game. An increase of 41% and 26%, respectively.
That is an immense increase but logical to expect during the heart of the pandemic. By January 3rd, 2022, there were 28.73 million users with 8.17 million in-game. This was a further 13% and 15% respective increase after the peak of pandemic sales.
This tells me that gamers continue to flock and stay on Steam (and thus PC gaming) because they like what they see.
Peak concurrent users for Steam have also increased from 18.5 million in 2018 to 24.8 million in 2020 to 27.4 million in 2021.
This statistic tells me that the gaming industry is still very capable of churning out blockbuster-type games that can galvanize and draw the interest of the wider gaming community.
Average playtime for PC games was also up 1 hour to 7.7 hours per week 2020-2021. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any data for 2021-2022, but I would expect that number to be slightly down, if anything, as more gamers have had to revert to a more robust and regular work and school schedule.
Taking on Goliath – Console and Mobile Gaming
The elephant in the room for this entire article is mobile and console gaming. Sure the entire gaming industry has done well since the pandemic, but how does PC gaming specifically stack up against the behemoths that are console and mobile gaming?
Not super well, to be entirely honest.
The greatest asset of mobile gaming is its accessibility. Almost every human being on the planet has a smartphone capable of playing games these days. This means they have no cost of entry to the gaming market as they already possess the device required to play. Additionally, many games on the mobile market follow the ‘Freemium” business model, which also removes another barrier to entry.
Finally, certain popular titles like Pokemon Legends Arceus, for example, are not available on PC, which helps to contribute to this disparity.
Mobile enabled new Gaming concepts
And Mobile is not limited to a location, so is the only platform enabling new game concepts like geo-based Augmented Reality games (Pokemon, Ingress). Even a laptop would be too bulky to play while walking around, and a console offers no functionality to take it with you.
However, PC gaming is fighting back. Titles like the incredibly popular FIFA and even Madden have PC ports now (see how to play MLB the Show on PC). This ensures that the sports gaming genre, once an ironclad monopoly for console gaming, will, at the very least be contested ground in the future.
Another worrisome sign for console gaming is that another of their strengths – simplicity and ease of use – has eroded over the years. Gone are the days when you could simply plug in your console, insert a game disc, and play your favorite game just minutes later. Now you need to regularly allow your console to update, wait for games to download and update, etc. There are fewer and fewer differences between consoles and PCs anymore which is terrible news for consoles as they will never have the high ceiling potential that comes with PCs.
What Does the Future Hold?
Like most everything else in our world, the gaming industry is in flux. To assume things will stay the same is naive. As it stands now, PC gaming has the smallest market share compared to console and mobile gaming. However, it also boasts impressive sales and user growth even when accounting for what would be expected from the pandemic.
I predict that PC gaming and mobile gaming will continue to feast on console gaming’s market share. Console gaming is in a weird position where it doesn’t really have anything unique to offer. If user accessibility is what players desire, they will increasingly go to mobile gaming. If high-end performance is what players desire, they will continue to look towards PC gaming which, through streamlining services like Steam, will continue to simplify the once daunting task of getting a game to run properly on a PC.
Mobile gaming will likely own the majority of the market as it is unbeatable regarding accessibility and on-the-go gaming. PC gaming will most likely dominate the high-end performance aspect of the gaming market. So far, nothing can match the performance ceiling of a PC, and as long as that is true, there will always be a place for PC gaming.
So is PC gaming dying? No. Not even close.