The video game industry has been forever changed by the pandemic, and it's now on track to more than double in size by revenue over the next give years, according to a new report from game development toolmaker Unity.
Unity on Wednesday published its annual game industry trend report highlighting six major shifts in how games are being played and how developers are creating and monetizing them. One standout figure is Unity's estimate that the game industry will grow to more than $300 billion over the next five years, thanks to pandemic-induced accelerations in the number of people who play games, the number of games that are made and the amount of money spent on both new titles and existing live service games.
The report, which draws on data from the roughly 230,000 developers who use Unity's game engine and other tools, underlines just how drastic the effects of COVID-19 have been on the game industry, which saw an explosive 2020 and steady growth all last year as people stayed indoors and spent more of their income on at-home entertainment.
Though the rate of growth the industry saw in the first year of the pandemic slowed in 2021, Unity said global game industry revenues still grew annually by 30% last year. Daily active users on PC and console are up 62% and up 74% on mobile since the beginning of 2019.
Much of the growth is happening on mobile, the report said. The number of games being developed across categories ranging from hypercasual to large, console blockbusters is increasing alongside the total number of developers, with a huge influx of new games in the hypercasual category on mobile.
"Publishers on the Unity platform built 93% more games in 2021 than in 2020 – that’s almost twice as many games as the year before," the report said. "What’s more, there are more creators using the Unity platform to build games than ever before. In 2021, the number of Unity creators increased 31% compared to 2020."
Unity's report also highlighted the growth and importance of cross-platform and live service gaming, two trends the company said will become huge pillars of both how games are created and what titles maintain popularity and financial success well into the future.
"If a game can follow a player from their home console to their mobile phone or tablet, it cuts down the chance that they’ll switch to another game when they change devices," the report said. "It also improves the player experience, making it easy for players to access their save files, in-game purchases, and content anywhere." Unity spotlighted Genshin Impact, a game that's available across Android phones, iPhones and iPads, PlayStation consoles, and PC; it made $2 billion in revenue in its first year since launching in September 2020. The company said it "expects this feature to become standard throughout the industry" down the line.
Unity also said modern games are now less like complete and standalone pieces of content, like a book, and now more like television shows. "In particular, live games have demonstrated their popularity with gamers, who now expect games to have regular content updates – new challenges, modes, maps, cosmetics, character options, and storylines. Many of the most popular games today are built as services, including Genshin Impact, Apex [Legends], and League of Legends," the report said.