Kids lap up subscription gaming services to fend off lockdown boredom

While the pandemic has been catastrophic for industries and economies at large, the video games industry has seen an incredible spike in demand from children across the world

If there were just one success story to emerge from the coronavirus chaos, it could easily be found in the video games industry.

With their ability to simultaneously stimulate, engage, educate, connect and inspire, it’s no wonder that digital games across every genre and platform have remained a pillar of strength for young people throughout the pandemic, helping them fend off lockdown boredom whilst their schools have been closed.

Now delivering its 13th edition, the Futuresource Kids Tech consumer survey explores gaming trends among young people, with this year’s issue showing how the pandemic has impacted video game consumption among kids in China, France, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, the UK and US. The fieldwork was completed via an online survey of aged 3–16 years and their parents in December 2020, collating responses from 1,400 participants from each country that took part (9,800 global respondents in total).

Whiling away the lockdown hours

According to the study, the time kids spent on video games towards the end of 2020 saw an increase of 65% – likely due to the social distancing measures in place at the time, which forced families to remain in their homes as much as possible.

The survey showed that by the end of last year, a third of participants across all seven countries gamed on a smartphone every day, rising to over 40% among young people from the US.

Ninety-four percent of children have spent more time on games since the pandemic began – something that can’t be said for the consumption of free online video content (such as YouTube) and TV, with 28% of children saying that time which previously would have been spent watching videos or TV is now spent on games.

The ‘Netflixisation’ of games?

Even pre-COVID, rumours surrounding the growth of subscription gaming services were ruminating among the tech press.

“With more investment in these offerings and, crucially, more compelling content catalogues, subscription gaming service providers are now starting to overcome the inertia that once hindered consumer uptake of nascent subscription gaming services…” – Morris Garrard, research analyst, Futuresource Consulting

On this trend, Morris Garrard, research analyst at Futuresource Consulting, commented: “The investment from tech giants and initial consumer anticipation of these services really underlines the opportunity for this model to develop further. Throw Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Now, Uplay+ and EA Play into the equation and we can see the momentum has really started to build.

“With more investment in these offerings and, crucially, more compelling content catalogues, subscription gaming service providers are now starting to overcome the inertia that once hindered consumer uptake of nascent subscription gaming services, with widespread consumer acceptance of the business model in video and music entertainment industries now finally cascading into the gaming industry,” he added.

The subscription gaming sovereign

According to the findings, Xbox Game Pass is the dominant force in the subscription gaming field, with more than 40% of survey respondents claiming they subscribe to the service.

Sony’s PlayStation Now comes in second place, with the remaining market contenders – including EA Play, Apple Arcade and Ubisoft Uplay + – also packing serious punch in the space.

Futuresource’s follow-up study, scheduled for June this year, will also delve into 2020 newcomer Amazon with its Luna release.

From play to pay

The diversity of the gaming content available today is undoubtedly impacting intentions to play and pay for games.

In light of this, Futuresource has ranked the ‘intention to subscribe’ to gaming content services in each country analysed. The US took the crown in this metric, with 22% of respondents displaying a desire to sign up, followed by Mexico (2nd) at 19%, and Brazil in third at 18%. France came last in this category with just 4% of respondents.

The results also showed that the age group with the highest ‘intention to subscribe’ was the 7–10 demographic at 14%.

“Game title loyalty and intention to subscribe will be driven by the time and energy kids invest in different games, as well as the social network of virtual playmates that are on said platforms,” Garrard explained.

Big franchises still making big wins

Minecraft remains the top PC and console title played across all countries surveyed, with major titles such as Roblox, Fortnite and EA’s FIFA series tailing close behind in each market.

In terms of mobile gaming, Candy Crush, Pokémon Go, Angry Birds, Subway Surfers, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Roblox and Fruit Ninja were top dogs in a much more fragmented market.

The ‘free to play’ dominance in the smartphone sphere is driving continued in-game advertising innovation, rapidly advancing and improving personalisation.

The social gaming network

But it’s no longer just about being ‘in the game’ for today’s enthusiastic young gamers; according to the survey, kids are investing more and more time watching their favourite influencers streaming gameplay via social media platforms, experiencing gameplay second-hand via increasingly powerful social influencers.

The study found that over 60% of 3–16-year-olds are consuming game-related content online, with 65% doing so via YouTube Gaming; 27% tuning in via Twitch; and 18% streaming via the newer, mobile-gaming-focused platform Facebook Gaming.

It seems that watching others play video games is fast becoming big business – a trend that will impact the entertainment industry at large as it draws advertising spend towards new, innovative mediums and business models within the gaming world.

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