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Monday, August 31, 2020

Gamers Playing Longer in 2020 vs. 2019... and other ESSENTIAL FACTS

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Plus, data-driven stereotypes about women who play games.

It is a new year, and our favourite gaming industry lobbying group, the Entertainment Software Association, is out with a new report: 2020 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry. Like when I wrote the article from last year about the 2019 version, there are far fewer facts than 2020, but the facts that are there have some useful demographic information about the gaming scene in the United States. Of particular interest in this article is where there are wide variations between 2019 and 2020, likely due to how the Chinese Communist Party Virus has changed the landscape, obviously in more ways than just physical vs. digital distribution.

Back in 2019, my headline was that Millennial men dominated the console space, while pretty much every other demographic group focused on “casual” games on smartphones or games like Solitaire on the PC. This year, the ESA wanted to put some social media into female gamers, and we'll get into how that was not received well in a bit.

First, major differences:

In 2019, 54% of gamers were male, and 46% were female. In 2020, that changed to 59% were male and 41% were female. (Interestingly, among the approximately 4000 people surveyed in 2019 and in 2020, they all fit neatly into male or female.)

In 2019, adult gamers played games 4.8 hours a week with others online, and 3.5 hours a week with others in person. Somehow, in 2020, adults gamers played 6.6 hours a week with others online, but the in-person figure also increased to 4.3 hours a week. While the report refuses to say when exactly the survey was conducted, assuming it was post-March 2020 (because the foreword is about the virus), it's interesting how people are playing more in-person as well as online. 2019's survey didn't ask who people play with, but 2020's did:

2020 Essential Facts about the video game industry local online multiplayer survey America
If you're wondering, 2019's survey said 63% of videogame players play with others, which is pretty close.
I doubt those 42% friends are testing if they have coronavirus before doing local multiplayer sessions. Probably a good way for it to spread.

The ESA changed their 2019 survey from just asking about which common devices you use (being “dedicated game console” (49% play rate) versus “smartphone” (60% play rate) versus “personal computer” (52% play rate)) to asking which devices you own AND which devices you commonly use. The common use in 2020 was 61% smartphone, 52% game console, and 49% personal computer (PC and game console flipped %s), but PC apparently wasn't asked about in devices owned by gamers. (Maybe because it'd be 100%? Or it should be?) But 73% own a game console, and weirdly enough, 29% own a Virtual Reality device, with 25% owning a mobile VR device.

The most popular game genres were identical year-over-year: 71% casual games and 53% action games, with shooter games going from 47% to 48%. (Still unclear to me why shooter is a different genre than action.)

Perhaps the biggest change of the entire survey are parents’ views on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). While in both 2019 and 2020, 87% of parents who have children that regularly play videogames are aware of the ESRB ratings, only 83% of those parents in 2020 are confident that the ratings are accurate. This is down from 98% of ESRB-aware parents being confident the ratings are accurate in 2019. If I had to guess, the big 15% drop has to do with loot boxes, which is why the ESRB changed their descriptor policy this year. The only other explanation I can think of is that parents are getting less and less amused by the ESRB's “online interactions not rated by the ESRB” disclaimer, with stories like E10+ Minecraft being used as an avenue for terrorism spreading.

The survey read-out then goes into the gender-age demographics, and that's a tough comparison year-to-year because the ESA renamed/recategorised a bunch of things. They went and removed the terms Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer from 2019 to 2020 because “Boomer” is now seen as a slur. (Tell that to LEGO.) Female Millennial Gamers, for example, went from 76% most often playing “Casual games” to only 46% doing so, but the definition of Casual games was changed from “including Puzzle and Classic Arcades” to Tetris and Solitaire. But apparently their favourite games are Super Mario Party and Just Dance. (Though, notably, their second-favourite genre is Action.) Meanwhile, the aforementioned older folks are still playing casual games on their smartphones, or if they're senior citizens, Solitaire on their PC.

Console-playing action gamers, adventure gamers, and role-playing gamers, still seen as the core demographic, are still mostly the domain of Male Millennial Gamers, with some aging into Gen X. That's just what the survey indicates. Do I like it that way? No, but that's the state of affairs. Lots of other folks don't like it either. Check out this archived (now deleted) tweet from the E3 Twitter account, referencing the report. (Note that E3 is controlled by the ESA.) They advertised an article, stating, “Great list of games women gamers are playing--any of your favorites make the cut?” They deleted it hours later saying, “We messed up. We are taking down the post and apologize for perpetuating a harmful stereotype. We will do better.”

The article they linked to was “The Games We Play! 25 Online Games That Women Enjoy” by freelancer Nicole Pajer. That is also an archived link since Parade, the outlet, deleted it. Apparently all of their work are just abysmal listicles, though Nicole did claim she conducted a survey (without providing any details on it). She referenced the 2020 Essential Facts report in her opening paragraph. Among games that women play that are deemed “free online games for women” by Nicole Pajer are: Sudoku (which is a wonderful game), Candy Crush Saga, Animal Crossing: New Horizons (which is far from free, but it's spot-on that women enjoy it), Solitaire, Tetris (and those two were cited in the ESA's survey), and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood Adventure. I suppose it's possible there were real respondents who said that last one was their favourite game, but lots of people were upset with it in E3's tweet's replies. (I'm mostly upset that the listicle was outright lying about games being free and online.)

By the way, if you want to hire a qualified female freelance writer for a game-related article, check out Samantha Lienhard. She's great. I don't think that Nicole Pajer person is, at least not on games.

But here's the thing: The data from ESA's survey supports much of what she asserted in her (shoddy) writing. People who were upset over that were shooting the messengers (Nicole and E3/ESA). ...Though I guess you could say that Nicole/E3 were promoting the listicle as “best” or “great” games, as opposed to “this is what the average woman is playing”. (That said, the ESA is supposed to be a lobby for the whole industry, so I don't think they can necessarily say that, say, Splatoon 2 is an objectively better game than Bejeweled Classic. Electronic Arts is a dues-paying member!)

How do we change the scenario? Well, should that be the question we're asking? What if the women that Nicole allegedly surveyed and the ESA definitely surveyed don't WANT to play “hardcore” games? Forcing your interests onto others, especially when you're statistically in the minority, isn't, you know, accurate. Think about that before you object.

Ludwig would love it if more women enjoyed the kinds of games that he enjoys, if only because that'd help the Ace Attorney series get more sales and developer support. ...And women (and men) would enjoy that. Feel free to comment on anything in this article, from the gender gap to the ESRB to people playing games more per week in 2020 than 2019...and in local multiplayer, no less.

Ludwig elaborates on Sudoku being a wonderful game here.
Deloitte has a survey commissioned during February 2021 that asks different generations about their entertainment preferences, including games.
The 2021 Essential Facts are out, and the gender controversy caused the ESA to stop reporting on gender stats.


  1. I personally don't feel threatened being told women in general prefer casual games. I do understand why this observation is so hated though. Women and girls who do play the categories that aren't considered casual have probably dealt with sexism such as the gatekeeping of "name ever official enemy name in the entire game series" or something, faking for male attention for a potential boyfriend and the like. So to see lists that have the causal games is considered to give ammunition to the sexists. I don't feel I need to prove anything and why should I bother with random idiots anyway? Those sexists who gatekeep most likely are the "forever alone" whiners anyway because they fulfilled a self defeating prophesy on themselves instead of taking a girl/woman at her word so now no one wants to date them.

    Reminds me of right wingers who wonder why women don't like being told men generally are better at STEM stuff and why it isn't enough to say they are better at stuff like empathy and verbal skills. Maybe it is because STEM is considered more valued in society or something and women have the negative stereotype of being chatty so why should they be told they are better at verbal skills?

    1. As a strong, shiny Girafarig who has laid two eggs and is skilled in making soft cultural artifacts with her hooves, you ought not have any trouble clearing through arbitrary gates.
      That said, I'm pretty sure that the average woman gamer, as presented in this study of random Americans (and thus not among self-selected people who consider themselves gamers), like what they like not because they couldn't get through gates to other games, but that's just...what they like. What soothes their moods. ...Or whatever.

      Well, I definitely notice your recent theme (or maybe it's been long-standing and I haven't noticed it until now) of women going to STEM fields. (And there was this from last year.) And I was just thinking today that I don't think I have ever visited my primary school's science centre. Of course, why go there when King Dad has an in-castle lab, but still. So I dunno the gender make-up of the locals there.
      Though I'm pretty sure I've expressed a similar sentiment, akin to what I wrote here about women and “core” games, of not forcing people to STEM fields if they don't wanna go to STEM fields. (Eh, nah, I just said we should force people to learn English and civics.)

  2. So, my reaction to the title was "No **** Sherlock, the pandemic kind of influenced things," but then I actually made an effort to read it, and that is some rather thorough data.

    1. I'd like to think you should expect non-obvious observations and takes from me. >.>

    2. I do. That's why I actually made an effort to read it.

    3. Aw, what a nice compliment. ♥

      Well, be sure to read through the newsletter I'm cooking up.
      (As a matter of fact, I just finished the brand new Feedback Form and Quiz... and haven't started writing the newsletter. Usually I do it the other way around!)

    4. koopa ur content sucks and is brainless

    5. I mean, you tend to just look at the title and jump straight down to the comments section to post whatever nonsense comes to mind, so you wouldn't know what my content is like...!


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