The gaming industry moves pretty fast, and there’s a tendency for everyone involved to constantly look at what’s next without worrying as much about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past. So, to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on the history of our field, GamesIndustry.biz publishes this monthly feature highlighting happenings in games from exactly a decade ago.
If it seems like only yesterday we published our monthly lookback column, well, it was.
But May 2013 played host to the Xbox One reveal event, a debacle that consumed the column on its own, leaving little room for other topics like the seemingly perennial one we’ll be talking about today: violence.
A decade ago, I wrote an editorial about the games industry’s growing reliance on violent games.
The key evidence was that M-rated games had been declining as a percentage of games released each year, but significantly increasing the amount of industry revenue they represented. In 2011, only about 9% of games were rated M, but together they accounted for almost 27% of revenue in the US.
The Entertainment Software Association stopped reporting the market share of each rating after the 2011 figures were released, likely because it was unclear how much more the M-rated market share could climb. The industry was still a goat. A popular scapegoat with many politicians, and even a Supreme Court decision affirming free speech protections for games wouldn’t stop them from being used as a cynical distraction from gun control.
So when I saw that editorial putting together the 10 Years Ago column this month, I was curious about what those numbers would look like today.
M-rated franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are even bigger now than they were a decade ago and changed, while Mortal Kombat, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil and God of War have seen their most successful entries released in recent years. . .
But the opposite end of the ratings spectrum is also considerably stronger now than it was in 2011, thanks in part to Nintendo’s relative weakness then and strength today.
The Wii phenomenon had all but collapsed in 2011, and the 3DS didn’t start turning the corner from its disastrous launch until the final two months of the year with the debuts of Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land.
Compare that to recent years where the Switch thrived alongside mega-hits like Fortnite (rated T) and Minecraft (E10+).
Add in the effect of the pandemic significantly growing the market by bringing in new and lapsed players, and you could have seen M-rated market share going either way.
Fortunately, the number crunchers at Circana (formerly NPD, which compiled the original market share figures for the ESA) were willing to indulge my curiosity, with a few caveats. I was given the M-rating market share for physical sales over the last five years, because Nintendo does not report its digital sales to the company, and the absence of its own Switch titles would significantly skew the results.
Beyond that, they noted that excluding DLC, microtransactions, and subscription costs from the equation means that these modern numbers aren’t quite as comprehensive as the ones we’re comparing from a dozen years ago. them.
That being said, it’s more information than we had before, many thanks to Circana.
And in case you’re wondering if the market share of M-rated titles has increased or decreased since 2011, the answer is “both.”
- 2018 – 35.1%
- 2019 – 30.1%
- 2020 – 26.2%
- 2021 – 20.6%
- 2022 – 22.1%
That 2018 figure is a bit terrible, right? That was a bit of an outlier year with M-rated games being the top two sellers (Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4) and only one Switch game making the top ten (Super Smash Bros Ultimate at Number 5).
I suspect Switch and the pandemic have driven the declines since 2020 as a broader audience of people rediscovered the consoles or gave them a go in the first place, though it looks like both effects may be wearing off.
Back then, I was worried that the medium would marginalize itself… but the world of gaming feels so much bigger these days.
And while the lack of Switch’s own sales on digital data would surely skew those numbers toward a higher percentage of M-rated titles, so would the fact that Switch’s broader customer base hasn’t embraced digital distribution as much. like others.
Nintendo reported that nearly 48% of software sales came from physical game sales last year, a far cry from game publishers like Far Cry.
Digital sales accounted for 85% of Ubisoft’s business last year. For EA, that figure is 90%. For Take-Two, digital accounted for 95% of revenue. For Activision Blizzard, it was 96%. Some of those numbers are skewed by overwhelmingly digital divisions like Blizzard, King, and Zynga, but the digital/physical mix in Nintendo games is quite an industry outlier.
The overall M-rated market share on consoles and PC can be really ugly when digital numbers are factored in, but even if it tops 2018’s high of 35.1%, I’d be hard-pressed to muster the same concern I had during a decade. back.
At the time, I worried that the medium would marginalize itself by relying too heavily on the gratuitous violence that was so often used as a sales pitch in the AAA world.
But the non-AAA gaming medium is much bigger these days. It’s not just that we have a seemingly limitless number of indie and mobile games that offer different visions of what gaming can be; it’s that many of them are successful enough to not only deserve mainstream attention along with the AAA world, but also to have their alternative approaches to everything and then feed back to AAA and influence what we see from there.
The industry has prospered and diversified over the past decade, producing mega-hits for a wide range of platforms, audiences, and monetization models. The Last of Us is not Candy Crush, it is not League of Legends, it is not Genshin Impact, it is not Minecraft, it is not Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
The M-rated end of the AAA PC and console space is less the face of the gaming industry these days and more just another face in the crowd. And that is ultimately a win for everyone involved.