This week seemed to bring a bit of good news for U.S. video game developers and fans of the games they make, as the Entertainment Software Association published a report claiming that the video game industry is growing at four times the rate of the American economy, with video game industry job growth increasing 9 per cent year over year since 2009.
This claim came as something of a surprise after years of reports that the video game industry is in decline, so we took a closer look at the report to see how accurate it was. One claim immediately jumped out as being suspect, especially to anyone who has been following news about video game sales over the last few years.
“According to industry statistics, U.S. sales of computer and video games have grown from $10.1 billion in 2009 to well over $15.4 billion in 2013.”
We contacted the ESA and the author of the report to try and clarify where these figures had come from and it soon transpired that, unfortunately, the U.S. video game industry hasn’t actually experienced a great boost in software sales since 2009. In fact, the opposite is true.
The $10.1 billion in video game software sales from 2009 only included physical retail sales, whereas the $15.4 billion from 2013 is a combination of retail sales and “other delivery formats” i.e. sales through digital distribution platforms like Steam, revenue from social networking games i.e. Farmville, and downloads of mobile game apps.
The good news is that video game software sales experienced a 1% increase between 2012 and 2013 (which may or may not be entirely due to the release of Grand Theft Auto V), but have still slid downhill from 2010’s $17.1 billion in software sales.
Putting aside the erroneous claim about increases in video game sales, is it at least true that the video U.S. video game industry has been growing at four times the rate of the American economy? Well, maybe. The report acknowledges that it’s impossible to get a completely accurate picture of the industry’s real annual growth rate, since “the statistical agencies of the U.S. government do not release detailed information on the U.S. video game industry.”
Because of this, the figures regarding the number of employees within the video game industry and their respective salaries are pieced together from a range of different sources – from sites like GameDevMap to surveys filled out by game developer conference attendees and members of Gamasutra. The word “estimate” occurs 47 times in the 28 page report, and when a final figure is derived from so many estimated figures there’s always going to be room for error.
The report is definitely an in-depth and fascinating read for any0ne interested in the business of video games (top tip for job hunters: employees in game publishing sectors earn a considerably higher average salary than those in game development), but take the ESA’s claims of a booming video game industry with a pinch of salt.