The global gaming industry is expected to grow at a 19.1 percent CAGR to reach $30.1 billion in 2018, according to Frost & Sullivan, while over half of all U.S. households have a dedicated gaming console. Contrary to cultural stereotypes, the average gamer is 30 years of age while women over 18 years old represent a significantly greater portion of the market than boys under 17 years old, suggesting gamers on the whole have a high level of disposable income. As a result, investors may want to pay attention to some key trends occurring this holiday season and moving into next year.
1. PlayStation4 vs. Xbox One vs. Wii U
Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Nintendo Co. Ltd. are the three largest competitors in the game console industry. While Nintendo’s Wii remains the best selling console over the past five years, Microsoft’s XBox and Sony’s PlayStation have become the dominant players over the past two years. The PS3 beat out the XBox 360 during the 2012 holiday season in a trend that could extend into 2013. IDC predicts that Sony PS4 sales will barely outpace Microsoft XBox One sales this holiday season while the entire gaming console industry is expected to show a slight uptick. Sony’s win is likely going to be due to a lower price point for its PS4 consoles, but growing gaming subscription revenues for multiplayer games makes overall ROI attractive. In fact, console subscriptions are expected to surpass PC subscriptions for the first time ever this year.
Perhaps more importantly, these new gaming consoles are extending their functionality into the home entertainment space dominated by companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), and Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). Many popular gaming consoles can stream movies, TV shows, and other online content, while the Entertainment Software Association already reckons that over half of U.S. households own a console. It follows that a decent portion of these existing console-owners will be interested in upgrading to newer consoles with more capabilities. All manufacturers are moving in this direction, with the PS4 and Xbox One currently offering more entertainment features than Nintendo’s new Wii U.
2. Immersion Becomes Critical
New gaming hardware technologies, like Microsoft’s Kinect or Nintendo’s Wii motion sensors, have made games increasingly immersive over time. Mainstream gamers have embraced these features on the low-end, but immersion technologies geared toward avid gamers remain hard to find. Many game developers are also struggling with ways to implement new forms of hardware into gameplay without making it difficult or awkward to use all while maintaining and even augmenting the exceedingly realistic gaming experience.
Companies like The Guitammer Co. have started to address these kinds of markets with innovative technologies. Using their patented low-frequency transducer, the company’s ButtKicker Gamer and Simulator Kit technology enables users to actually feel the impact of explosions, racing engines, landing gear or other on-screen and sound effects. Gamers react favorably to the hardware with four- and five-star reviews at online retailers like Amazon.com.
Guitammer’s ButtKicker brand line of products have also been growing in popularity thanks to its use in over 13,000 cinema seats around the world and its recent launch of live tactile-enabled National Hot Rod Association (or, NHRA) broadcasts on ESPN2. By moving beyond just gaming, ButtKicker users can experience tactile sensations in movies and television, which could expand its appeal to a much wider audience. The company hopes to eventually license this patented broadcast technology to other sports leagues, broadcast networks, and live sports content providers and move from a hardware manufacturer to a technology licensing company similar to Dolby (NYSE:DLB) and Immersion (NASDAQ:IMMR).
3. Mobile Finds Its Footing
Most U.S. gamers have heard of the Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds, but many of the public companies behind these games have hit a wall. Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ:ZNGA) has lost more than half of its value since its initial public offering and is still struggling to make a profit. It turns out that many smartphone users are less willing to shell out money on $0.99 games than traditional console games that can run upwards of $50.00 each.
However, the mobile gaming industry has been rapidly adapting its strategy. Last quarter, Zynga and Glu Mobile Inc. (NASDAQ:GLUU) beat their consensus estimates on both earnings and revenue. Zynga has been successful in introducing real-money gaming in the U.K., but remains hesitant in the U.S. due to the regulatory environment. Glu Mobile has taken a different approach with Deer Hunter 2014 by introducing higher-priced premium mobile games.
Looking toward this holiday season and into next year, mobile gaming is likely to experience a shift away from free games and toward real-money or high-end premium games. In the meantime, advertising platforms like Google will continue to work on making mobile advertising more effective for advertisers and more profitable for publishers. Maybe then, companies like Zynga can return to focusing on free ad-supported games to drive revenues.
The gaming industry is set to expand this holiday season and into 2014, but there are a few key trends that investors should watch. Gaming consoles are increasingly moving into the home entertainment space with the PS4 being the best positioned to win in terms of units and subscriptions; gamers themselves will increasingly look toward immersion and realistic play with technologies like Guitammer’s ButtKicker; and mobile gaming will begin to make a resurgence by changing up strategy.
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