The gaming industry isn’t an industry per se. It is a collection of industries that are segmented by platform, by hardware and software, and subsegments within them.
Those segments get measured by units shipped, units installed, dollars spent on the games and on the platform, and as the games are played. There are also adjacent markets for the software tools, the OS, and the transmission costs for streaming and online multi-player games. But no matter the segment, the heart of the industry is content. It’s the game that motivates a consumer to reach for his or her wallet. Then consumers consider the hardware. It’s always been like that since Magnavox introduced the first TV-based game console (Odyssey) in 1972.
Various firms track game sales, and when added up, they make for an impressive-sized market. Jon Peddie Research (JPR) tracks hardware game sales, and although not as large as the games themselves, the market value is quite impressive, nonetheless. The total gaming market in 2018 was worth $237 billion, and JPR estimates there were 2.5 billion people playing games, plus another million or two watching people play games in what is euphemistically being called eSports.
APIs, OSs, and Processors
The quantity, quality, and frequency of PC and console games took a giant leap in the last few years due to standards, both actual and de facto, that reduced the number of platforms game developers must address in order to reach the most gamers. In mobile devices, the API standard was OpenGL ES, and in PCs it was, and still is, DirectX. Recently, Khronos, the API standard organization and provider of OpenGL, introduced Vulkan, a new, more efficient API that runs on mobile devices, PCs, and consoles. Apple has a similar approach in Metal.
A cross-platform API, the software link between the application and the hardware makes producing games much easier for game developers and publishers.
In mobile devices, Android has become the de-facto standard, with 55 percent market share. On PCs Windows has a 99 percent market share. Consoles each have proprietary operating systems that look and feel very much like Linux, which, by the way, is also at the heart of both Androids and iOS. That means the software tools game developers now use are very similar across platforms. Moreover, that means the game developers spend less time dealing with their tools and more time producing games, which, in turn, means the games are better and introduced more frequently.
Also, with mobile devices, the CPU is ARM. In PCs and consoles, the CPU is x86, from AMD or Intel. Here again, the game developers get an advantage. In the past, each console had its own proprietary CPU (and, subsequently, its own API and OS); now with just two CPU types to deal with, developers can do more in less time.
The net result of all these software and hardware developments is a fantastic selection of games across all platforms that deliver astounding 4K HDR vistas in immense, detailed open worlds. It wasn’t very long ago when gamers had to find their way down spare, dark hallways and rooms because of hardware limitations. The most popular games feature fast action, measured in high fps (frames per second), but for the longest time, speed was a trade-off for graphics. Game developers resorted to clever tricks to improve performance and graphics, yet figuring out those tricks ate up time, delaying the introduction of new titles.
New games still stress the hardware, but they are so incredible now, with artwork, characters… lots of characters… physics, and AI, that you can honestly lose yourself in the immersion of the game – no headset required – as any good 27-inch or larger monitor or TV will deliver breathtaking images to fill the gamer’s screen and head.
State of the Game Industry?
Since you asked: Fantastic – nothing less in all respects. Fantastic games, platforms, and market size and growth.
In late 2018, Nvidia introduced the latest evolution in PC gaming: real-time ray tracing. As is always the case, the hardware is ahead of the “game” compared to software, so the content – the games that can effectively exploit the ray-tracing accelerator – are coming out slowly. But they are coming, and it’s a safe bet that all mid-range to high-end titles will support hardware-accelerated ray tracing.
All of the PC GPU suppliers are now supporting Adaptive Sync, also known as FreeSync, the monitor and GPU specification AMD developed and VESA supports that prevents taring, stuttering, and frame drop. The result is that games run smoother at higher refresh rates. And those game are running on big monitors, 49-inch-wide curved monitors, or 32-inch 4K and 8K monitors.
It all starts with the games, and they are great. The gamer market is expanding, with new gamers entering every day. They are attracted to the medium by seeing professional players work their magic, and they can even try before they buy through streaming services. The net result: There is a platform, a genre, a price point, and an experience for everyone. We’re all gamers now.
Dr. Jon Peddie(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a recognized author and pioneer in the graphics industry, president of Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, CA-based consultancy specializing in graphics and multimedia that also publishes JPR’s “TechWatch,” and named one of the most influential analysts in the world.
(Image at top from Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts III.)