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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Analysing the ESA's 2021 Essential Facts About the Videogame Industry: Greater Connectivity

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Now political correctness is getting in the way of useful demographic breakdowns.

Today, America's favourite videogame industry lobbyist group, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), released the 2021 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry report (archived version here in case they delete or move it later), the 2021 version of their annual survey series. (As opposed to two-thousand twenty-one essential facts. You might be able to come up with that many facts about the gaming industry, but they won't all be essential!)

In 2020's Essential Facts report, KoopaTV's big takeaway was that gamers were playing longer than before, likely due to the pandemic. 2021's survey was conducted in February 2021 (still pandemic!) with ~4,000 adult Americans. The headline you might read on other sites is “ESA Report: There are nearly 227 million players across all ages in the United States!”

I'd say the big takeaway for this is how much more people are playing together. Multiplayer stuff. Maybe part of that is that the popularity growth of games like Among Us would take place after the 2020 survey, and now many people are playing that together and talking like idiots in a weird coded language.

To be exact, in 2020, 65% of survey respondents said they play videogames with other people. That number jumped to 77% (on a weekly basis). While adult gamers played on average 6.6 hours a week online and 4.3 hours with others in 2020, that's increased to 7.5 online hours and 4.5 in-person hours a week in 2021. (No one's asked how much they play by themselves.) But it's not just quantity of hours. They're making friends, too.

In 2020, the number of survey respondents who said that they “met people through video games that they otherwise would not have met” was 40%. That jumped to 54%. In terms of quality relationships (“a good friend, spouse, or significant other through video games”) it's gone from 30% to 42%. That means significant numbers of people are, whether intentionally or not, using gaming as a venue to forge new connections with other people, and many of those are high-quality connections.

Games are also good for bonds between people you already know. 74% of American parents play games with their children on a weekly basis, which has increased massively since 2020's 55%. Additionally, games are also becoming a vector for education—the 2021 survey asked questions specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic, and 59% of parents said their child used education games during the pandemic. Of that number, 63% of parents said the education games were very or extremely effective (as opposed to being a forced burden, I guess). Math was the most popular genre of learning games, which is why KoopaTV reviewed Calculation Castle: Greco's Ghostly Challenge "Division" a year ago.

Meanwhile, only 90% of parents “require their children to obtain permission from a parent before making any purchase using real money within a game.” That might sound like a large percent, but consider that means there are millions of parents who don't require their children to seek the parents’ permission before spending what's presumably the parents’ real money on what's likely predatory in-game payment schemes. If they haven't set permissions yet, maybe they should take a closer look at their credit card statements.

The rest of the report goes into what should be very interesting demographic breakdowns. In 2019, my analysis of the Essential Facts was about how male Millennial gamers are hard-carrying the non-casual console industry. Older people and women are much more into the casual gaming genres. In 2020, those trends largely continued, but the ESA got torn apart by apparently hardcore gamer women for promoting an article on social media about 25 online games that women enjoy that were mostly casual games.

I think the bad optics of how large the taste differences are between the average American man and the average American woman lead to how the survey is reporting the stats in 2021.

Entertainment Software Association 2021 2020 Essential Facts video game industry gender breakdown male female
2020: Players “are” male/female.
2021: Players “identify as” male/female.
Don't think I wouldn't notice that change. (Apparently 0% of respondents identify as non-binary.)

Since gender isn't a concrete thing people are anymore, the report's demographics do not break down by gender. Age, yes. Gender, no. The ESA has the gender-based information. But they didn't present it and won't provide it to the public. So you can't compare things year-over-year. But casual games are still the winning preferred game genre across all of those groups. I'm sure if you split it by gender, it'd be different for male Millennials. But the ESA wants to avoid gender-based controversy!

(Age-based controversy is still okay, and it's controversy that I regularly partake in.)

Since the ESA wants to conceal the info, that really just leaves the better connectivity figures to talk about. And that's great. I just wish they didn't invalidate what I found to be really insightful info. (They also didn't ask about, or didn't publish, information on gamers’ political leanings like they have in past years. All we know is that 77% voted in the 2020 election—up from 59% saying in 2019 they were certain they'd vote in that election.)

What interesting insights can you glean from what the ESA's report provides? Do you think that there are more proportionally women playing games in 2021 versus 2020, or are there more former-men who are now identifying as women in the current year? Have YOU found friends or significant others via gamer culture? You obviously found KoopaTV, and that's a net positive on your life!

Finally! The 2022 Essential Facts have arrived, and many numbers have gone up from 2021.


  1. People playing games together with each other is definitely something I support. And if we can manage it in greater proportion sans asinine BS like the stereotypical trash talk or otherwise saying things like "git gud," even better.

    1. Well, if you're playing with your friends instead of with randoms, that significantly increases the chance that it's less toxic!

    2. Yeah...wish I had gaming friends. :/

    3. Guess you don't consider yourself part of the 42% who met a good friend through games. >.>


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