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The State of Online Gaming 2021

March 1, 2021
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Original source: Limelight Networks

Executive Summary and Overview

The last year has been unlike any other. As people around the world quarantined and stayed home more than ever before, entertainment choices changed. With that, it is no surprise that online video game playing increased in both popularity and time spent playing. While some things such as high expectations for performance remain a top priority for people who play video games, much has changed in the past year since the State of Online Gaming 2020 report. Binge-playing increased significantly and for many people, social lives moved to gaming platforms.

The State of Online Gaming 2021 provides a global view of the current preferences and habits of video game playing through a survey of people age 18+ in China, Germany, Indonesia, India, South Korea, the UK and US. Highlights of this report include:

  • Globally, the average number of hours gamers play each week jumped 14 percent in the past year to an average of eight and a half hours.

  • Binge-gaming is on the rise. Globally, a third of gamers have played for more than five hours consecutively. Compared to last year, respondents consecutively played video games 13 percent longer. Younger gamers ages 18-25 have longer consecutive playing times, with the longest average duration of almost six hours. Aspiring professionals and experts have played even longer, averaging eight and a half hours and just over seven hours, respectively.

  • Mobile phones remain the primary gaming device followed by computers, gaming consoles and tablets.

  • Download speed matters. Globally, 87 percent of gamers find the process of downloading games frustrating. The downloading of games being interrupted is their top issue, with 38 percent of gamers citing this as their primary concern.

  • Fast performance is critical to gamers, being cited as the most important aspect of game play across all age groups. In fact, a third of gamers globally say they would upgrade their consoles for faster game play and updated technology. This is clearly a driver of the popularity of new faster game consoles such as the PS5.

  • Globally, casual single-player games are the most popular gaming category among respondents with 87 percent reporting that they play them occasionally or more.

  • Watching gamers play video games online is more popular than watching sports for those age 18-35. For players over age 36, watching traditional sports, either online or on television is more popular than watching online games.

  • Gaming can interfere with daily activities. Gamers from novices to aspiring professionals report they’ve missed daily activities due to playing video games for long periods of time. Across all the countries surveyed, missed sleep is the most pervasive.

  • Price is much less a concern this year for subscribing to a live streaming console-less gaming service than in 2020, dropping from 57 percent of global gamer’s concerns to 48 percent this year

  • There is a clear preference across all age groups, player types, and half the countries surveyed, to play video games over watching TV shows and movies.

  • Over the course of the past year, many novice players have advanced their level of play, as there is a significant drop in those considering themselves novices, and a corresponding increase in those ranking themselves in the higher skill categories.

  • Socializing around game play is an important aspect, with 53 percent of gamers saying they made new friends, and 36 percent responded that interactivity with other players is important.

Key Findings

Gamers spend more than eight hours each week playing, a 14% jump from previous year.

Video gamers spend an average of eight hours, 27 minutes each week playing games. Countries that were surveyed in both 2020 and 2021 increase video game hours by 14% in the last year. Forty-four percent play more than seven hours each week, with 25% playing more than 12 hours a week.

Gamers in China spend the most time playing, at an average of over 12 hours a week. South Korea had the lowest weekly average at 5.88 hours. China and Indonesia had the most gamers who play more than 20 hours each week at 18 percent and 14 percent respectively.

State of Gaming 2021 | Fig 1
Figure 1: How many hours each week do you spend playing video games?

Gamers age 36-45 spend the most time playing at 9.3 hours a week. Those 46-60 spend the least at 7.9 hours playing. These numbers are up significantly over 2020 by 15 percent and 20 percent respectively.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 2
Figure 2: How many hours each week do you spend playing video games?

There are no significant differences between genders in playing time, but compared to last year, female gamers’ play increased 17 percent, and males’ play jumped 24 percent.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 3
Figure 3: How many hours each week do you spend playing video games?

Not surprisingly, gamers identifying as aspiring professionals or experts play the most per week, especially those who report more than 20 hours per week (33 percent), while most casual gamers and novices play less than seven hours per week.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 4
Figure 4: How many hours each week do you spend playing video games?

A third of gamers have played for more than five hours consecutively.

Globally, gamers reported their average longest consecutive playing session lasted just over five hours. The longest playing session times range from 3.6 hours in South Korea to almost six hours in the U.S. One in 10 have played for more than 15 hours consecutively.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 5
Figure 5: What is the longest you have ever consecutively played video games at one time?

Average binge gaming times have increased in the past year across all countries surveyed in 2020 and 2021.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 6
Figure 6: What is the longest you have ever consecutively played video games at one time?

Younger gamers have longer consecutive playing times than older gamers. However, the longest average duration is for gamers age 18-25 at just under six hours.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 7
Figure 7: What is the longest you have ever consecutively played video games at one time?

Male gamers under age 45 play more than female gamers, however females over age 46 play more than males.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 8
Figure 8: What is the longest you have ever consecutively played video games at one time (average hours)?

Not surprisingly, aspiring professional and experts have longer consecutive playing times than casual or novice gamers. Both of these groups devote much more consecutive time of five hours or more.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 9
Figure 9: What is the longest you have ever consecutively played video games at one time?

Mobile phones remain the primary gaming device.

Mobile phones remain the most popular device used to play video games globally. Gaming consoles and computers have the highest usage in India.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 10
Figure 10: How much of your total time playing video games is on the following devices? (Scale 0-4 where 0 indicates the device is never used and 4 signifies the device is used most of the time)

Mobile phones are the most popular device across every age group followed by computers. Gaming consoles are most popular with gamers 26-35.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 11
Figure 11: How much of your total time playing video games is on the following devices? (Scale 0-4)

Popularity of console and computer video game play falls off most with novice and casual gamers.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 12
Figure 12: How much of your total time playing video games is on the following devices? (Scale 0-4)

Casual single-player games remain the most popular.

Globally, casual single-player games and casual multi-player games like Words with Friends, remain the first and second most popular type of video games. These were followed by first-person shooter games and multi-player online battle arena games, and battle royale games like Fortnite and PUBG.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 13
Figure 13: How much of your time playing video games is spent playing each of the following types of games? (Scale 0-4)

Although casual single-player games are the most played game type across all age groups, gamers 18-25 continue to prefer first-person shooter and battle royale games, and these games maintained their popularity in this age group compared to 2020. Older gamers show a clear preference for casual single-player games.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 14
Figure 14: How much of your time playing video games is spent playing each of the following types of games? (Scale 0-4)

Watching other gamers play online is popular with younger gamers.

People who play video games are watching traditional sports, both online and on traditional broadcast TV at similar hours per week. Respondents’ time spent watching video game play is up 27 percent over last year. Time spent watching traditional sports online is up 34 percent and watching sports on TV has increased 30 percent respectively. India stands out across all these activities with over five hours per week for each.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 15
Figure 15: How many hours each week do you do the following?

Gamers 18-35 watch people play video games online more than they watch traditional sports online or on television.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 16
Figure 16: How many hours each week do you do the following?

Three in four (74 percent) gamers globally watch other people play online weekly, an increase of 11 percent from respondents in the same countries last year. However, viewing rates vary greatly by country, with nearly 89 percent of gamers in China and Vietnam watching weekly, versus approximately 55 percent in the United Kingdom and United States.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 17
Figure 17: How many hours each week do you watch other people play video games online (such as Twitch or YouTube Gaming)?

Female gamers consistently watch the least traditional sports, whether online or on television. They prefer e-sports and others playing online than males.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 18
Figure 18: How many hours each week do you do the following?

Performance is critical to gamers.

Gamers rated the importance of various aspects of playing video games. In every country except China, fast performance is the most critical aspect of playing a video game, followed by simple gameplay, the ability to play offline, interesting storyline and ability to interact with other players.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 19
Figure 19: The percentage of responses from each country ranking importance of each aspect of game play.

Performance is the leading issue for players of all levels. For experts and aspiring professionals, being able to interact with other players is their second most important aspect.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 20
Figure 20: How important are each of the following when playing a video game?

Gamers are frustrated by slow downloads.

Globally, 87 percent of gamers find the process of downloading video games frustrating. In India, only six percent of respondents said the download process is not frustrating. When the download process is interrupted and has to be restarted was noted as the top issue globally, with 38 percent noting this as their primary issue. This frustration is highest in Indonesia where 56 percent of gamers report download interruption as their top concern. China and Vietnam also cited download interruption as their top concern. It’s not surprising that this was lower in regions with better internet connectivity.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 21
Figure 21: What is the most frustrating part of downloading video games?

Frustrations with download interruptions are the top concern across all age groups.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 22
Figure 22: What is the most frustrating part of downloading video games?

Gamers across all levels agree that the most frustrating parts of downloading video games are interruptions and speed. Experienced gamers are more likely to play more complex games that require larger downloads, so download performance has a greater impact on their gaming experience.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 23
Figure 23: What is the most frustrating part of downloading video games?

A third of gamers would upgrade to a next-gen console for the updated technology.

Updated technology and faster game play are the top reasons for upgrading game consoles. Gamers in the UK and US are least interested in upgrading their consoles, with the highest interest coming from gamers in China and Vietnam.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 24
Figure 24: Are you considering upgrading to a next generation console? If so why?

Gamers over age 46 are less interested in upgrading their consoles, yet they report the benefits of updated technology is nearly as important to them as the younger generations.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 25
Figure 25: Are you considering upgrading to a next generation console? If so why?

Aspiring professionals and experts are most interested in upgrading their consoles.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 26
Figure 26: Are you considering upgrading to a next generation console? If so why?

Price and performance are major factors in subscribing to a console-less gaming service.

Price sensitivity is the dominant reason preventing gamers globally from subscribing to a console-less service, followed by performance issues such as latency. Indonesians are most sensitive to price, and Chinese and Vietnamese respondents are more concerned about performance.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 27
Figure 27: Of the following options, which is most likely to prevent you from subscribing to a live streaming console-less gaming service (such as Google Stadia)?

Price and performance concerns are the primary issue for gamers across all age ranges. For those over age 36, price becomes even more important, and performance less so.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 28
Figure 28: Of the following options, which is most likely to prevent you from subscribing to a live streaming console-less gaming service (such as Google Stadia)?

As you might expect, experts put performance above other non-pricing concerns for their willingness to subscribe to console-less gaming services.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 29
Figure 29: Of the following options, which is most likely to prevent you from subscribing to a live streaming console-less gaming service (such as Google Stadia)?

Gaming can interfere with daily activities.

Gamers ranging from novices to aspiring professionals all experience gaming sessions that get intense enough that they miss normal daily activities. Across all the countries surveyed, missed sleep is most pervasive, with a global average just below half of gamers. Indonesians lead the way at 57 percent missing sleep, and 44 percent missing showers. Skipping a meal is the second most reported daily activity missed due to long game playing, closely followed by time to socialize with friends. Gamers in Vietnam took the top spot in missing meals, to play games. South Korean respondents missed the fewest showers and meals.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 30
Figure 30: What daily activities have you missed due to playing a video game? (Select all that apply)

Age does not have a strong correlation with missed activities, but younger gamers are more likely to miss a meal, work, or a shower.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 31
Figure 31: What daily activities have you missed due to playing a video game? (Select all that apply)

Both aspiring professionals and experts missed showers, meals, socializing and work more than casual and novice gamers.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 32
Figure 32: What daily activities have you missed due to playing a video game? (Select all that apply)

Half of gamers play at work.

Nearly half of gamers who work, play video games during work hours. When comparing countries consistently surveyed, the number of people playing video games decreased by 11 percent compared to 2020. The highest rate is in China where 71 percent play during work, and the lowest is in Germany at 32 percent.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 33
Figure 33: How often do you play video games during work?

Gamers 18-45 are most likely to play at work.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 34
Figure 34: How often do you play video games during work?

Experts and aspiring professional gamers play at work far more than novice and casual gamers.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 35
Figure 35: How often do you play video games during work?

Entertainment preferences for watching TV and movies versus playing video games.

In half of the countries surveyed, there is a strong preference for playing games over watching movies or TV shows.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 36
Figure 36: Would you rather play video games or watch TV shows and movies?

There are clear preferences by age groups, with the preference for gaming most pronounced in the 18-45 age group.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 37
Figure 37: Would you rather play video games or watch TV shows and movies?

Aspiring professionals and experts prefer playing video games to watching TV shows and movies.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 38
Figure 38: Would you rather play video games or watch TV shows and movies?

Most gamers consider themselves casual players.

By far, most gamers put themselves in the casual player category. A higher percentage of gamers in Indonesia rank themselves as aspiring professionals than any other country, yet the lowest percentages of expert and casual gamers, and the highest percentage of novices.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 39
Figure 39: What type of gamer are you?

It appears that over the course of the past year, many novice players have advanced their level of play, as there is a significant drop in those admitting to being novices, and a corresponding increase in those ranking themselves in the higher skill categories.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 40
Figure 40: What type of gamer are you?

Events of the past year sparked interest in playing games.

Over the past year, many people started playing video games and watching others play. In addition 53 percent of respondents made new friends through online gaming – a sentiment that was similarly reflected in an earlier question about what aspects of gaming were most appealing where 36 percent responded that interactivity with other players was important.

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 41
Figure 41: In the past year, have you done any of the following?

Conclusions and Recommendations

To maximize revenue opportunities gaming companies should consider the following:

Optimize the game download process.

Providing gamers with the highest-quality online experiences starts with making sure the game download process is fast and robust. Nearly 87 percent of gamers find the process of downloading video games frustrating, with slow download speeds as the primary complaint. Other complaints included interruptions or other failures during the download process. To ensure all customers receive the fastest download speeds when you post a major new release or software update, utilize the services of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) with the global capacity and performance to handle spikes in traffic. Utilizing CDN storage that places content like game files close to your audience will help speed download times. A CDN with a dense caching architecture, and direct peering with ISPs and major end-user networks will provide the highest performance by ensuring gamers are able to download games from a direct connection to a local point of presence where the software is available. Be sure to position game software in caches prior to release to ensure all gamers get the fastest download performance as soon as the software is available.

Console-less gaming services are gaining traction – make sure the games perform.

The survey data shows that the top concern regarding console-less gaming services after subscription pricing, is game performance – specifically latency. Latency issues affecting game play have been well publicized, especially with fast action play. Players notice the difference when comparing performance against downloaded versions of the same game. A high-quality gaming experience is dependent on high quality and high-speed internet connections to handle the interactions between the remote gaming servers and the player. With console-less gaming, processing power is moved from a console to the cloud. Rendering the video is computationally intensive, especially as we move to higher definition games, which creates additional latency for gamers who are geographically situated farther from data centers. Now with the advances in edge computing, latency can be minimized by moving the processing power closer to gamers, leading to improved interactive gaming experiences.

Demographics

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 42
Figure 42: Gamer Type

State of Gaming 2021 Fig 43
Figure 43: How old are you?

Methodology

This survey was fielded by a third-party company with consumer panels in China, Germany, India, Indonesia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam. 500 responses were collected from each country for a total of 4,000 global responses. Survey responses were collected between January 5 and January 12, 2021.

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