Already Outpacing Movies, Gaming Industry Still Looks To Expand

It's a big week for the video game industry; Sony just released the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft will release its new Xbox games console Friday. All Tech Considered is kicking off the week with a look at just how big the industry has become and who plays these days. Robert Siegel talks with industry expert John Davison. He's currently general manager of content and publishing for video game company Red Robot Labs.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. It's time now for All Tech Considered.

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SIEGEL: Imagine for a moment that millions and millions of people discover preferable existences in a synthetic reality they entered through a video screen, a world they can tailor to their own taste and where they encounter like-minded individuals. Imagine that they await enhancements of their chosen reality from electronics mega-corporations that update their worlds every few years.

Science fiction? Well, imagine this. Last Friday, Sony released its PlayStation 4. This Friday, Microsoft releases its Xbox One. And for millions and millions of video gamers - including, no doubt, many people listening right now - these are hugely important events.

Our Tech team is devoting the week to gaming. And in a few of minutes, we'll hear how an example of how sophisticated video games have gotten. First, though, how big is the video game market, who plays and who buys?

John Davison has written about gaming for decades. He's currently with Red Robot Labs and joins us now from San Francisco. Hiya.

JOHN DAVISON: Hello. How are you?

SIEGEL: And how big is the video game market?

DAVISON: So this year, it'll be a little north of a $20 billion business, which - to put that into some context - movie box offices in 2013 will be a little over 10 billion.

SIEGEL: Twice as big as movies, you're saying.

DAVISON: Yep.

SIEGEL: According to the Entertainment Software Association, they say 58 percent of Americans play video games. Do we know how many of them are people who own a console and, you know, put in serious time into doing that and how many like me may play against the free chess app once every few weeks, 'cause I can win against this thing...

(LAUGHTER)

DAVISON: I mean, it varies. I mean we know how many of the individual consoles sold. So something like the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 had sold between 70 and 80 million units worldwide. You know, in previous generations of hardware, we've seen that number go north of a hundred million worldwide and a good percentage of that is in the U.S.

When you start looking at games on your phone, though - there's a game called "Candy Crush Saga" - they announced last week that they have now been downloaded half a billion times.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: These are like "Angry Birds" kind of numbers that you're talking about.

DAVISON: Yeah.

SIEGEL: So in that sense, there's a bit of that population that is familiar with playing games on at least a small screen. And then there still are millions and millions of people who own these consoles.

DAVISON: Yes, I mean, very much so. And I think the - as a business, the games industry has relied on the 18 to 35-year-old guys that are still the real core of the audience. And we've seen that expand. And I think, as people have grown up with video games, they're introducing their kids to it now. They're introducing their spouses to it. And on the high-end of it - I'm sort of past the high-end of that now, and I...

(LAUGHTER)

DAVISON: ...you know, my kids have grown up with video games around them all the time. And I think what we're seeing is that its gone from being this almost niche part of entertainment to being a real staple of everyone's entertainment diet.

SIEGEL: Does the market look so good to Sony or other game developers that they can wait for more kids to grow up and have their own kids and play video games or do they need to get older guys like me involved in this for the market to check out?

DAVISON: Ultimately, we want everybody playing. I've been writing about video games for over 20 years. And, you know, it went from being, you know, guys like me and no one else understood what we were talking about if we, you know, if we were out in polite company. And people would say, well, what do you do? And, you know, everyone would look at you blankly when you said something about video games...

(LAUGHTER)

DAVISON: ...to now, I think, people are aware of the brands, at least. There's still some fear around it. And...

SIEGEL: You mean, even - the scare is my 12-year-old kid is a gangster in his private life and shooting prostitutes...

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: ...somewhere in a dark alley, that sort of thing.

DAVISON: Right. I think, you know, there's a fear of the unknown, like there is with any entertainment. I think one thing that is very encouraging right now is - much like in the movie business - there's a very thriving indie video game development scene. And it's global and these are small teams of people that are making very experimental and arty games that are pushing the boundaries of what people expect from a video game. And that's really helping draw other people in, as well.

SIEGEL: Well, John Davison, thanks for talking with us about the video game market.

DAVISON: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: John Davison is director and general manager of content and publishing for Red Robot Labs.

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