China to lose top spot to U.S. in 2019 gaming market

China is losing its global lead in games. By the end of 2019, the U.S. will replace China as the world’s largest gaming market with an estimated revenue of $36.9 billion, says a new report from research firm Newzoo.

This will mark the first time since 2015 that the U.S. will top the global gaming market, thanks to healthy domestic growth in consoles. Globally, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and other console games are on track to rise 13.4% in revenue this year. Driving the growth is the continued shift toward the games-as-a-service model, Newzoo points out, on top of a solid installed base across the current console generation and spending from new model releases.

China, on the other hand, suffered from a nine-month freeze on game licenses last year that significantly shrank the stream of new titles. Though applications have resumed, industry experts warn of a slower and stricter approval process that will continue to put the squeeze on new titles. Time limits imposed on underage players will also hurt earnings in the sector.

As a result of China’s slowdown, Asia-Pacific is no longer the fastest-growing region. Taking the crown is Latin America, which is enjoying a 10.4% compound annual growth.

Despite China’s licensing blackout, Tencent remained as the largest publicly-listed gaming firm in 2018, pocketing $19.73 billion in revenue. Growth slowed to 9% compared to 51% from 2016 to 2017 at Tencent’s gaming division, but the Shenzhen-based company is back on track with new blockbuster Game for Peace (和平精英), a regulator-friendly version of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, ready to monetize.

Trailing behind Tencent in the global ranking is Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Activision Blizzard.

Other key trends of the year:

Rise of instant games: Mini games played inside WeChat without installing another app are becoming mainstream in China. These games, which tend to have strong social elements and easy to play, have attracted followers including Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) to create with their own offerings.

Facebook’s Instant Games have also come a long way since opening to outside developers in 2018. The platform now sees more than 30 billion game sessions played across over 7,000 titles. WeChat doesn’t use the same metrics but for some context, the Chinese company boasted 400 million monthly players on mini games as of January.

Mobile momentum carries on: Mobile games will continue to outpace growth on PC and console in the coming years. As expected, emerging markets that are mobile-first and mobile-only will drive most of the boom in mobile gaming, which is on course to account for almost half (49%) of the entire sector by 2022. Part of the growth is driven by improved hardware and internet infrastructure, as well as a growing number of cross-platform titles.

Games in the cloud are here: It was a distant dream just a few years ago — being able to play some of the most demanding titles regardless of what hardware one owns. But the technology is closer than ever to coming true with faster internet speed and the imminent rollout of 5G networks. A few giants have already showcased their cloud gaming services over the last few months, with the likes of Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Tencent’s Start slated to test the market.

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