There’s been a lot of recent buzz about the video game industry, especially in light of the uptick in pandemic-related player migrations fueling and increasing the desire for downloads and fresh online content earlier this year. According to CivicScience data from the past three months, nearly half of the general population (45%) plays video games to some degree, and player time has only grown during the recent summer months.

With so much driving the future of gaming, CivicScience wanted to revisit the ever-evolving realm of video game streaming services and subscription packages. Notably, as both Microsoft and PlayStation race to launch their newest consoles just in time for Holiday 2020

So, are people still gaming as much as they were at the start of quarantine? Actually, slightly more so, even as students return to school and workers resume pre-summer office hours. While overall gaming might have incrementally dipped in the last month, daily and monthly gaming has recently increased by two percentage points (2%). 

PWNing Games Vs. Subscription Play

To accommodate both the expanding gaming community and rising demand for accessible content, major developer companies and small indie labels alike have largely shifted to cloud gaming infrastructures as a conduit for bigger offerings and more robust access networks. Regardless of varying commitment and experience levels, all gamers – from novice to hardcore – want additional choices and access options. The solution: streaming subscriptions – think of ‘Netflix’ for video games – that offer catalogs of well-known as well as novel content, dynamic pricing, and a variety of package touch points with upgrades and in-game add-ons. 

According to an earlier CivicScience survey of thousands of Americans this year, almost half of the general population had at least heard of gaming subscriptions. Furthermore, 40% of gamers prefer downloading new game purchases from online gaming services. But recent data show that only about one-third of the population are buying video games. Could it be that more gamers are becoming favorable to streaming games rather than fully purchasing to own? 

They would have a lot to gain from doing so. Extensive guides have been written by everyone from gaming pros and major technology review publishers advising users how to pick the best gaming subscription that fits their unique interests, lifestyles, and player-access preferences. Whether looking to enhance console experiences or hoping to access early title releases and exclusive content, one thing is for sure: those who are favorable to gaming subscription services are dedicated (or maybe even hooked) to the subscription-level engagement method. Twenty-one percent of people have used or intend to use gaming subscriptions and platforms, holding steady since mid-April. 

Interestingly, video game streaming services appeal to roughly the same amount of women and men, with men being 13% more favorable to the concept of gaming subscriptions (55% compared to 48%).

A Streaming Subscription Battle Royale™

Similar favorability tracks with how users describe their personal experiences with the most popular subscription services. Microsoft leads in popularity as both the most positively reviewed and most widely used platform among gamers. Again, Sony’s platform falls only slightly less behind, with Nintendo coming in third as a respectable competitor among the top gaming content development companies. 

Audience Depends On Age, Income, and Twitchiness 

A deeper look into just who exactly makes up the current gaming-subscription community may be helpful to marketers eyeing up ways to reach future subscribers. For one, and perhaps a surprising detail about potential target audiences, those in the 25- to 34-year-old age group skew more favorably toward subscription services than their younger counterparts (ages 13-25). Gamers between 25 and 34 represent the largest favorability cluster at 34%, and are more likely than their younger counterparts to show some level of engagement with streaming gaming content via a platform’s package or service. 

When it comes to gaming, another notable feature of subscription adopters: income doesn’t necessarily mean that much in terms of likelihood to use While low-threshold commitment rates, coupled with a range of prices and connection methods, do add to the continued appeal of online gaming services across income levels, lower-income households (18%) are only marginally less likely than their middle-income (19%) and high-earning counterparts (19%) to access subscription services. 

Perhaps most importantly, Twitchers represent a key target audience for anyone looking to reach potential subscription customers. 

Not only are the lion’s share of Twitch users more likely than not to play video games, but the majority of them (66%) aren’t using game subscriptions, which could be a sizable untapped audience. 

The question is, will new features and offers increase Twitch-base favorability and spending as options roll out ahead of the long-awaited major next-gen console releases? It may be too soon to tell. 

Boutique-Label Challengers

Household-name game developers aren’t the only winners in the subscription access battle. Console-hungry noobs and pros both rise to the call of play with offerings from boutique gaming houses, like Activision Blizzard, via access passes to Humble Monthly and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. Among gamers surveyed, many reported using studio subscription bundles and specialty streaming platforms, too, such as Activision Blizzard’s BattleNet. Of those surveyed, nearly 1,400 gamers favored a variety of popular titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft

The Future of Gaming

So, while the industry – and to that effect, gamers at large – haven’t fully pivoted away from physical games, adoption of online gaming services and subscription upgrades continues to grow in popularity to resonate beyond one-fifth of the U.S. population. Especially as gamers clamber for fresh content, new features, and back-compatibility with the anticipation of the new 2020 Xbox and Playstation console deliveries.

Interested in discovering more insights about the gaming industry, like which snack foods and brands win with Twitch users? Take a peek at all our previous studies on PC and mobile gaming, as well as our other gaming content gems in CivicScience’s latest insights. And be sure to check in next week for a can’t-miss study on pre-teen and holiday gaming trends.