ESA president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis
Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for E3/Entertainment Software Association

The pandemic made gaming a universal pastime, new ESA study finds

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we have an interview with Entertainment Software Association CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis about the state of the game industry, some key hirings for the metaverse and Apple’s uphill battle to legitimize gaming on Mac.

The US gaming audience, by the numbers

The gaming industry is bigger and more diverse than ever, according to a new report from the Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that represents the world’s largest video game publishers, console makers and game studios.

Last week, I sat down with ESA’s president and CEO, Stanley Pierre-Louis, to discuss the organization’s latest report on U.S. metrics and talk about the trajectory of the game industry following an unprecedented boom during the pandemic. In particular, we had a chance to discuss how gaming’s larger role in mainstream culture and the rise of mobile gaming will affect ESA’s flagship E3 as it tries to rebuild the brand in the wake of two consecutive cancellations of its physical Los Angeles event.

Gaming has had a pandemic-fueled sea change. The ESA surveyed roughly 4,000 Americans aged 18 and older in February, with slightly over half of participants saying they played at least one hour of games per week.

  • The ESA found that 97% of Americans say they think gaming is beneficial to areas like skills development, mental health and community building; 65% play games actively, a figure the ESA claims translates to roughly 215 million Americans when applied to the total population. The average time spent playing games per week is 13 hours, up 7% from 2021.
  • “You play, you grind, you lose, you try again, and it allows you to figure out a way to create that resilience in a way where winning and losing is part of the fun in getting to the next level,” Pierre-Louis told Protocol.
  • The ESA found that gaming has had an especially positive effect on mental health since the start of the pandemic, which helped create an economic boom for the game industry as scores of people worldwide turned to online gaming to stay connected and pass the time. Around 89% of people said games provide stress relief, and 83% of respondents said games helped introduce them to new friends and relationships, a 5% increase over last year.
  • “Players view video games as having a positive impact on their mental health. The mental health numbers are surprisingly up,” Pierre-Louis said. “It just goes to show that video games can play this critical role in helping people.”

Gaming’s demographics are changing. The ESA, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., primarily functions as a lobby group on behalf of traditional game developers, which means both its member list and its E3 showcase have in the past skewed toward console and PC gaming. But the gaming audience has begun diversifying at a rapid rate, and mobile now reigns supreme.

  • The average age of people who play games is now 33 years old, the study found, and nearly one-third of adult video game players are parents. And 69% of all households have at least one video game player.
  • Gaming divides roughly 52%-48% male to female, the ESA found, and 70% of players play on their smartphone, with 18% gaming exclusively on mobile. “Casual genres, such as matching, brain puzzles, party, music and dance, and exercise games, continue to be the most played,” the ESA said.
  • “Consoles remain important to the growth of the industry. But the largest population of players who play games are on mobile,” Pierre-Louis said. “The console makers themselves have talked about the importance of being able to play from the cloud, whether its Xbox Game Pass or some of the services that Sony has made available.”
  • “There’s a strong interest in being able to play on any device, anywhere, with anyone,” he added. “I think you see there are major companies looking to see how they can reach consumers where they are.”

The future of E3 is in flux. While the ESA has pledged to host an in-person gathering in 2023, the pandemic-induced shift to digital-only events has forever changed the game industry. And it’s too early to tell what that means for E3, which companies might participate and whether the event can succeed as a hybrid conference.

  • “We’re always thinking about how we promote the industry. We look to see how others are doing it, and we look forward to finding new ways to expand public information and what’s new in games,” Pierre-Louis said. “The more distribution methods out there for marketing, the better.”
  • Pierre-Louis said the ESA would look to see how it could better “harness” digital event formats going forward, like the digital-only Xbox showcase Microsoft is hosting on Sunday and Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest event on Thursday.
  • When the ESA announced E3’s full cancellation in March, the organization said it would rethink the event to deliver “a revitalized physical and digital E3 experience next summer,” with an "all-new format and interactive experience."
  • But the ESA isn’t yet talking about what that might look like, especially as the larger gaming demographic continues to trend toward casual and smartphone gaming.

— Nick Statt

Making moves

Disney poaches an Apple Arcade exec for the metaverse. Mark Bozon left his post last month as games creative director for the Apple Arcade subscription service to join Disney’s Next Generation Storytelling initiative. The initiative, a cross-division effort at Disney, includes building new experiences for the metaverse in addition to games, TV, film, toys and theme parks.

Solar Ash game director joins Annapurna. Media firm Annapurna has hired Chelsea Hash to lead a new internal creative team working on an unannounced game project. Hash was previously game director on Heart Machine’s Solar Ash and Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch, both of which were published by Annapurna’s game division.


There are three things that companies need to know when it comes to setting climate goals. The first thing I would say is that if you're going to set a climate goal as a business, it needs to be a businesswide effort. It cannot live within just the corporate responsibility or the sustainability team as it often does.

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In other news

Epic Games opens its doors to blockchain games. The Epic Game Store will feature its first blockchain-based title when Gala Games’ Grit battle royale launches later this year. Epic said last year it was open to blockchain gaming, provided companies follow a set of rules.

Apple has reportedly signed Jon Favreau for VR content. The actor-director is supposed to help Apple produce immersive content for its upcoming headset; Favreau previously made the VR fantasy experience Gnomes & Goblins with VR startup Wevr.

Loot boxes under fire … again. Advocacy groups are calling on the FTC to investigate loot boxes as potential child exploitation and illegal gambling, just as Blizzard’s newest mobile game, Diablo Immortal, arrives stuffed to the brim with loot box microtransactions.

Netflix eyes Formula One rights. The streaming service is competing with ESPN, Amazon and NBCUniversal; F1 is reportedly looking to sell its broadcast rights for up to $100 million.

Microsoft’s union pledge. The Xbox maker said it wouldn’t fight employee unionization as part of a companywide pledge announced last week. Microsoft is currently in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard, a subsidiary of which just voted to form an unprecedented union of QA workers last month.

Sony’s PS5 milestone falls short. The PS5 took longer than its predecessor to hit 20 million units sold, while Sony plans to ramp up production this year. Meanwhile, the company announced Spider-Man PC ports and new VR games for its upcoming headset.

Supply chain shortages are a problem for Netflix. Higher TV prices and availability issues are among the reasons fewer people are signing up for the streaming service.

BioWare contractors form a union. Quality assurance testers at Keywords Studios, a contractor of the EA-owned Mass Effect developer BioWare, voted unanimously to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union on Monday, Polygon reported.

Mac gaming's uphill battle

Apple hosted its WWDC keynote yesterday with a dedicated (but short) gaming segment touting the benefits of Apple Silicon, its ultra-efficient and speedy custom chip line. The company even brought out a Capcom representative to announce a port of Resident Evil Village for the Mac, coming later this year.

Apple exec Craig Federighi said "Apple Silicon has changed everything" about gaming on Mac and pitched developers directly by saying there is now a "huge and fast-growing opportunity for game developers” on macOS. But Apple has a lot to prove in the gaming department. The demos of Resident Evil Village and No Man’s Sky didn’t look especially impressive, and those ports may likely require compromises on frame rate and resolution to run on less powerful Apple laptops, even with the new M2 chip.

But the main problem: There just aren't enough games, as PC Gamer concluded last fall when reviewing the gaming prospects on Apple’s newer M Series lineup. Even if Apple’s chips are up to the task graphically, only a small handful of titles over the last five years are compatible with Apple’s operating system. So if Apple wants people gaming on the Mac, it has to convince developers there’s a market for it, and one that won’t be made obsolete by the rise of game streaming.

— Nick Statt


Once a company understands its sustainability baseline, it is important to identify areas that the company can feasibly make more sustainable, and then address those areas. Implementing technology that improves connectivity and provides greater insight into operations will prove to be the solution for many companies.

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