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Online Gaming: The Rise of a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

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Online gaming market graphic

Online Gaming: The Rise of a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

From tabletops to virtual reality, how we play games is changing with the times.

In just a few short decades, the world of online gaming has exploded in popularity. Estimated to reach $196 billion in revenue by 2022, it is now considered to be one of the fastest growing industries on the planet.

The infographic above explores the humble beginnings of the online gaming market and dives into the technological possibilities driving its future.

The Birth of Online Gaming

Although video game prototypes were created by scientists as early as the 1950s, the very first gaming console was not introduced to consumers until the ‘70s. Subsequently, use of online games began to proliferate in the ‘90s as a result of widespread internet adoption.

  • 1990s: Online gaming rapidly gains popularity due to the increasing availability of the internet
  • 2003: Digital storefront Steam launches, allowing gamers to buy and review games online
  • 2004: World of Warcraft launches, the first massively multiplayer online (MMO) to eclipse more than 10 million active subscriptions
  • 2007: Online gaming starts shifting to mobile
  • 2009: Minecraft launches and becomes one of the best selling video games in history with 176 million copies sold
  • 2009: Apple announces In-app Purchase feature for iPhone apps
  • 2015: 1.5 billion gamers around the world
  • 2016: Augmented reality game Pokémon Go is launched, generating the most revenue grossed by any mobile game in its first month.
  • 2019: Google releases Stadia, a cloud gaming service that allows gamers to play without a console

It is clear that technological innovation plays a huge role in fueling the evolution of online gaming, but there are also several other factors at play.

The Components of Online Gaming

In the world of gaming, there is often confusion between commonly used terms such as “online gaming” and “esports”—when in fact esports is just one segment that sits within the enormous online gaming ecosystem:

  • Distributors and Retailers: Platforms that distribute and sell games
  • Streaming Services: Services that allow users to livestream games
  • Hardware Developers: Companies that build the electronic infrastructure required to play games
  • Gaming Arenas: Venues that host gaming events
  • Esports: Organized, multiplayer video game competitions, typically between professional players
  • Software Developers: Develop applications that allow users to do specific tasks
  • Game Publishers: Companies that finance and distribute games
  • Game Developers: Studios that develop games

This ecosystem creates dozens of revenue streams for the industry as a whole. For every one of these channels, the shift to mobile gaming presents significant opportunities for growth.

Mobile: The Future of Gaming

Mobile is the largest gaming platform, producing $68.5 billion in revenue in 2019—45% of the total market that also includes PC and tablet gaming.

Although still a relatively new segment of the industry, mobile gaming has developed at an astonishing rate, with 2.4 billion people playing games on mobile in 2019. Part of mobile’s breakneck growth can be attributed to an innovative and seamless user experience which relies on engaging features such as in-app purchases and loyalty rewards.

With the 5G era quickly descending upon us, these pocket-sized game consoles could transform online gaming, and make the industry even more exciting.

Towards a New Age of Entertainment

As the number of players continues to grow, it is clear that the technological possibilities of online gaming are endless. Some are already beginning to take shape:

Virtual Reality

With industry leaders such as Oculus and Valve announcing cheaper headset options, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality is becoming more accessible for mass markets, and the pace could pick up further in 2020.

Cloud Gaming

Cloud gaming takes advantage of faster, more reliable internet connections by giving gamers the ability to stream games rather than playing on a console.

Real-time Personalization

In the future, games could automatically generate game content that is customized to fit each player’s personality and playstyle, based on their player data.

As these technologies develop, they alter the way users experience games, and provide new opportunities for brands and advertisers to tap into enhanced viewer engagement.

Many industry players will thrive in this new environment, while others will fall by the wayside. Who will emerge victorious, and lead us into the future of entertainment?

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Which Streaming Service Has the Most Subscriptions?

From Netflix and Disney+ to Spotify and Apple Music, we rank the streaming services with the most monthly paid subscriptions.

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Streaming Service Subscriptions 2020 - Share

Which Streaming Service Has The Most Subscriptions?

Many companies have launched a streaming service over the past few years, trying to capitalize on the digital media shift and launching the so-called “streaming wars.”

After Netflix grew from a small DVD-rental company to a household name, every media company from Disney to Apple saw recurring revenues ripe for the taking. Likewise, the audio industry has long-since accepted Spotify’s rise to prominence, as streaming has become the de facto method of consumption for many.

But it was actually the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic that solidified the foothold of digital streaming, with subscription services seeing massive growth over the last year. Although it was expected that many new services would flounder along the way, media subscription services saw wide scale growth and adoption almost across the board.

We’ve taken the video, audio, and news subscription services with 5+ million subscribers to see who came out on top—and who has grown the most quickly—over the past year. Data comes from the FIPP media association as well as individual company reports.

Streaming Service Giants: Netflix and Amazon

The top of the streaming giant pantheon highlights two staples of business: the first-mover advantage and the power of conglomeration.

With 200+ million global subscribers, Netflix has capitalized on its position as the first and primary name in digital video streaming. Though its consumer base in the Americas has begun to plateau, the company’s growth in reach (190+ countries) and content (70+ original movies slated for 2021) has put it more than 50 million subscribers ahead of its closest competition.

The story is the same in the audio market, where Spotify’s 144 million subscriber base is more than double that of Apple Music, the next closest competitor with 68 million subscribers.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s position as the second most popular video streaming service with 150 million subscribers might be surprising. However, Prime Video subscriptions are included with membership to Amazon Prime, which saw massive growth in usage during the pandemic.

ServiceTypeSubscribers (Q4 2020)
NetflixVideo203.7M
Amazon Prime VideoVideo150.0M
SpotifyAudio144.0M
Tencent VideoVideo120.0M
iQIYIVideo119.0M
Disney+Video94.9M
YoukuVideo90.0M
Apple MusicAudio68.0M
Amazon Prime MusicAudio55.0M
Tencent Music (Group)Audio51.7M
ViuVideo41.4M
Alt BalajiVideo40M
HuluVideo38.8M
Eros NowVideo36.2M
Sirius XmAudio34.4M
YouTube PremiumVideo/Audio30M
Disney+ HotstarVideo18.5M
Paramount+Video17.9M
HBO MaxVideo17.2M
Starz/StarzPlay/PantayaVideo13.7M
ESPN+Video11.5M
Apple TV+Video10M
DAZNVideo8M
DeezerAudio7M
PandoraAudio6.3M
New York TimesNews6.1M

Another standout is the number of large streaming services based in Asia. China-based Tencent Video (also known as WeTV) and Baidu’s iQIYI streaming services both crossed 100 million paid subscribers, with Alibaba’s Youku not far behind with 90 million.

Disney Leads in Streaming Growth

But perhaps most notable of all is Disney’s rapid ascension to the upper echelons of streaming service giants.

Despite Disney+ launching in late 2019 with a somewhat lackluster content library (only one original series with one episode at launch), it has quickly rocketed both in terms of content and its subscriber base. With almost 95 million subscribers, it has amassed more subscribers in just over one year than Disney expected it could reach by 2024.

ServiceTypePercentage Growth (2019)
Disney+VideoNew
Apple TV+VideoNew
Disney+ HotstarVideo516.7%
ESPN+Video475.0%
Starz/StarzPlay/PantayaVideo211.4%
Paramount+Video123.8%
HBO MaxVideo115.0%
Amazon Prime VideoVideo100.0%
Alt BalajiVideo100.0%
YouTube PremiumVideo/Audio100.0%
DAZNVideo100.0%
Eros NowVideo92.6%
Amazon Prime MusicAudio71.9%
Tencent Music (Group)Audio66.8%
New York TimesNews60.5%
SpotifyAudio44.0%
HuluVideo38.6%
ViuVideo38.0%
NetflixVideo34.4%
Tencent VideoVideo27.7%
iQiyiVideo19.0%
Sirius XmAudio17.4%
Apple MusicAudio13.3%
YoukuVideo9.6%
PandoraAudio1.6%
DeezerAudio0%

The Disney+ wave also spurred growth in partner streaming services like Hotstar and ESPN+, while other services with smaller subscriber bases saw large growth rates thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lingering question is how the landscape will look when the pandemic starts to wind down, and when all the new players are accounted for. NBCUniversal’s Peacock, for example, has reached over 30 million subscribers as of January 2021, but the company hasn’t yet disclosed how many are paid subscribers.

Likewise, competitors are investing in content libraries to try and make up ground on Netflix and Disney. HBO Max is slated to start launching internationally in June 2021, and ViacomCBS rebranded and expanded CBS All Access into Paramount+.

And international growth is vital. Three of the top six video streaming services by subscribers are based in China, while Indian services Hotstar, ALTBalaji, and Eros Now all saw surges in subscriber bases, with more room left to grow.

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How Do Esports Companies Compare with Sports Teams?

With some esports companies more valuable than traditional sports teams, we visualize esports vs sports in franchise value.

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Esports Companies VS Sports - Share

How Do Esports Companies Compare with Sports Teams?

Are esports on the same level as “real” sports? These comparisons range from tricky to subjective, but the monetary value of companies speak for themselves.

The world’s largest esports companies have definitely risen to the occasion. Valued at almost half-a-billion dollars, they’ve started to pass some sports franchises in value.

In the above graphic, we compare Forbes’ valuation of the top 10 esports companies in 2020 against median franchises in the “Big Four” major leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL). Despite competitive gaming’s rapid growth, there’s still a long way left to go.

Esports Impress but NFL Teams Reign Supreme

The world’s top esports companies have grown quickly, and impressively.

As of 2018, there was only one esports company worth more than $300 million in valuation. By 2020, four of the top 10 were valued at more than $300 million.

Esports CompanyGames with FranchisesValue (2020)
TSMLeague of Legends$410M
Cloud9League of Legends, Overwatch$350M
Team LiquidLeague of Legends$310M
FaZe ClanCall of Duty$305M
100 ThievesLeague of Legends, Call of Duty$190M
Gen.GLeague of Legends, Overwatch, NBA 2K$185M
Enthusiast GamingCall of Duty, Overwatch$180M
G2 EsportsLeague of Legends$175M
NRG EsportsCall of Duty, Overwatch$155M
T1League of Legends$150M

When compared to traditional sports valuations, esports companies have already reached major league hockey status.

TSM, the world’s most valuable esports company in 2020, has a higher valuation than five NHL franchises. In fact, four esports companies were estimated to be more valuable than two NHL franchises, the Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes.

But other sports leagues are further away. While the median value of an NHL franchise in 2020 was $520 million, the MLB, NBA, and NFL all saw median values of over $1.6 billion.

Esports vs. Sports FranchisesLowest Valued TeamHighest Valued TeamMedian
NFL$2.0B$5.7B$3.0B
NBA$1.3B$4.6B$1.8B
MLB$980M$5.0B$1.6B
NHL$285M$1.6B$520M
Esports (Top 10)$150M$410M$188M

Differences in Esports vs Sports Structures and Growth

Try as we might to make a clean apples-to-apples comparison between esports and traditional sports teams, there are significant differences in the business models to consider.

For starters, major esports companies own multiple franchises and non-franchise teams across many games. Cloud9 owns both the eponymous Cloud9 League of Legends franchise and the London Spitfire Overwatch franchise, for example, as well as non-franchise teams in Halo, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, and other games.

The revenue streams for esports companies are also extremely varied. Companies like TSM, 100 Thieves, FaZe Clan and Enthusiast Gaming made 50% or more of their revenue from outside of esports, having instead expanded into diverse companies with an equal focus on content creation and apps.

But it’s this greater ability to diversify, and the still-increasing size of esports fandom, that continues to grow esports valuations. In fact, TSM’s estimated 2020 revenue of $45 million is less than half of the Arizona Coyotes’ estimated revenue of $95 million, despite a $100+ million valuation difference in favor of TSM.

That’s why the continued maturation of esports is only going to make traditional sports comparisons easier, and closer. Instead of having to pit companies against franchises, direct league-to-league comparisons will be possible, and the differences will likely shrink from billions to millions.

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