Friday, April 12, 2024

A Drop in the Bucket

Something that frequently gets overlooked is that --relatively speaking-- non-mobile video games are still something that not a lot of people play. 

Sure, video games may make more money than movies and music do combined*, but when you look at sales of the games themselves, you realize that a lot of money globally comes from not that many people. 

I was curious about how many copies of Madden 2024 were sold, and I discovered that it was around 5 million or so. To put that in perspective, EA sold Madden 2024 to roughly the entire population of Alabama. That may seem like a lot, but when you remember the population of the US --the prime target of Madden, given it's American Football-- is 333 million, you realize that's kind of a drop in the bucket. And when you realize that the average viewership of CBS' comedy Young Sheldon is 8 million viewers, you get a better comparison between passive viewing and active playing. 

MMOs are even more of a niche market, given that the largest MMO out there, World of Warcraft, pulls in somewhere between 4 to 8 million or so subscribers** globally. Yes, only at best 0.1% of the world's population play WoW. 

So, when people talk about how WoW was a phenomenon, it's all relative. More than twice as many people bought the Spice Girls' Spice than the best numbers World of Warcraft posted in the last 8 years.

And we don't want to compare WoW to the number of people who have cable and/or satellite television subscriptions, do we?


So why bring this up?

I was reminded of this because I frequently interact with people at work and at other places who aren't gamers of any sort, and they have --at best-- only the vaguest idea about what might be going on in the gaming industry. They may know that game companies are making a ton of money because it improves their retirement accounts, but beyond that they are left in the dark.

When people find out I'm a gamer, I usually get a "Oh, like Madden?" question directed my way.*** 

If I respond with an "Actually, I play WoW," I get "those" looks. 

The "you're a weirdo" looks. The ones that I used to get when people found out I play Dungeons and Dragons.**** I have no idea what it'd be like if I said League of Legends or Fortnite --since I play neither of those-- but I'd imagine there'd be similar reactions. 

The irony is that people in my WoW friend group aren't all aware of the industry beyond WoW itself. When I mentioned Baldur's Gate 3, only one person in the chat said "Yeah, I play that too!" There were a couple "can't afford that right now" and a few "Huh? What game is that?" reactions.

Usually right about now someone will point out those profit numbers and how many people tend to watch the League championships. That's nice and all, but League still has a ways to go to match the viewership of the 2023 Major League Baseball World Series, and that World Series was the least watched Series in television history.

By comparison, 300 million people
worldwide watched Joe Frazier beat
Muhammad Ali in 1971.
From Sports Illustrated.

It's kind of strange how boxing doesn't have the cultural cachet that it used to have, but I honestly believe that the pursuit of profit and moving boxing from something you could see on television to a strictly pay-per-view environment hurt the long term health of the sport. If you don't have eyeballs watching your product, it'll fade from public consciousness.*****

So, video games are this financial juggernaut, but that's largely on the backs of mobile games and live service games, where you constantly feed money to the beast.

But the long term cultural impact? Well, that remains to be seen.

My perspective as a gamer is that gaming is having a large cultural impact, but that's because I'm inside the ecosystem. However, my work and life take me outside the ecosystem, and for that reason alone I remain skeptical. We may no longer be in a world where a single cultural event dominates over all others --such as the final episode of M*A*S*H or the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller-- but that doesn't mean that gaming is lost in the noise.

I think that we gamers just need to realize that we're not as culturally important as we think we are.

*As of 2022 via a Forbes article which I won't link to because it's behind a "stop using your adblocker" wall.

***If they don't at first think that I go out to gambling casinos, that is.

****That's gotten better over the years, but you still have to read the room before you declare your full frontal nerdity to people.

*****And before somebody pipes up with the violence inherent in boxing, the popularity of MMA and UFC belies that. Those latter two can be easily found on television without pay-per-view.


  1. This is a good point, thanks - on the last footnote, that might just be an America thing, over in the UK I have never seen MMA/UFC on TV, only as PPV stuff.

    1. There's some things on PPV, but there's plenty of weekly events on cable or regular television (such as ESPN). Even pro wrestling, which has embraced PPV, hasn't abandoned regular/cable television.

      I personally think that MLS' Apple TV streaming deal will harm soccer more than help in the US. Part of the reason why FC Cincinnati became so popular locally wasn't just that they were winning, but you could easily find them on both radio and television. By moving MLS to a streaming deal with Apple, of all companies, you're severely limiting your reach beyond your localities.