U.S. Spending for Gaming Shrinks, But Number of Payers Grows

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U.S. spending on digital games is declining. In 2012, the total spend was about $21.9 billion compared with an expected total of $20.5 billion in 2013. But the news isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s even pretty good. The number of gamers who will spend money on games is expected to rise from around 86 million a year ago to 102 million this year.

The data comes from a Netherlands-based research firm called Newzoo which tracks gaming trends around the world.

Revenue from 2013 U.S. retail sales of new boxed games contributes aboutt 31%, or $6.4 billion, to the total sales figure. Sales of used games adds another 4% to retail sales for a total of about $7.2 billion. Newzoo also notes that retail stores are shifting focus from boxed game sales to console hardware, accessories, pre-paid game credits, and other items. New consoles from Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) have seen strong sales in the first few weeks after they were introduced, and maintaining those sales at a reasonably high level after the holidays could be a key revenue driver for retailers like GameStop Corp. (NYSE: GME) and Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY).

The rest of the revenues — 65% — comes from digital gaming on consoles, PCs, smartphones, and tablets. The estimated 102 million paying U.S. gamers will spend an average of $16.50 a month to play games according to Newzoo.

Game playing on the iPad from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has already surpassed playing on the iPhone and Newzoo projects a compound annual growth rate for tablet gaming of 47.6% by 2016 compared with a growth rate of 18.8% for smartphones. That is, perhaps, the single biggest reason that game revenues are so much higher on Apple devices than on devices that use the Android operating system from Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG). Fragmentation in the Android tablet market virtually guarantees that Apple will maintain its healthy lead gaming revenues through 2014.

More than 40 million U.S. gamers play games on all of Newzoo’s four screen categories: the entertainment (TV) screen; the computer screen; the personal (phone) screen; and the floating (tablet/handheld console) screen. That’s an increase of 25% in just 2 years. As a result, the time spent on game playing has also risen, Newzoo says, following a “shift towards games-as-a-service and the free-to-play business model that now dominates all screens except the TV.

The impact of digital distribution and mobile devices on the global game-playing market is firmly cemented in the industry now and the issue now is how to covert more players into payers.