61% of Americans, or 190.6M people, play video games | ESA



The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reported that 61% of Americans ages five to 90 — 190.6 million people — play video games.

In its annual Essential Facts About the U.S. Video Game Industry report for 2024, the ESA also offered qualitative insights into the positive impact of games across all demographics, including race, gender,
ethnicity and age. This year’s report also marks the first time that children ages 5-17 are included in the quantitative data, based on interviews with kids with the permission of their parents.

Approximately 190.6 million people play games at least one hour each week in the United States, said Stanley Pierre-Louis, president and CEO of the ESA, in an interview with GamesBeat. (Next week, the ESA head of communications Aubrey Quinn will moderate a panel on games at GamesBeat Summit 2024; you can use this code to register for a 25% discount: gbs24dean25).

“What the 2024 Essential Facts really reveals that video games are a lifelong source of entertainment for many Americans. It’s not simply a fad, or things people do in their childhood. It is really a cultural and social phenomenon that continues to have emotional impact for people across all demographics, race, gender, ethnicity, age. You name it. Every group is playing,” Pierre-Louis said.

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He added, “They have positive sentiments towards video games, and the emotional social benefits of play. We continue to see that everyone plays, and that video game players reflect the diversity of American society, and that there is a game for everyone.”

The average player is 36 years old, and the average adult player has been playing for 17 years, demonstrating video games are a permanent pastime and source of entertainment for many players, not a fad or childhood hobby, the ESA said.

Positive sentiment toward video games remains strong amongst all Americans, not just those who play, as does the recognition of the mental and social benefits of video games.

“Video games have been a fixture in American life and culture for generations,” said Pierre-Louis. “Players of all ages, backgrounds and abilities are embracing the positivity that video games bring to their lives. While the games we play—and how we play them—evolves over time, what remains consistent is how video games enhance our lives in ways that inspire us and bring us closer together.”

Essential Facts report highlights

Gamers are everywhere.

Video game players reflect the diversity of American society. The gender split of male and female players remains at about half-and-half – 53% of video game players identify as male, 46% identify as female and approximately 1% selected non-binary or preferred not to identify for the survey.

Of American adults who play video games, 75% are White, 19% are Hispanic, 12% are Black, 4% are Asian/Pacific Islander and 3% are Native American.

In qualitative terms, the theme of nostalgia came up a lot, as older gamers have fond memories playing games with friends. And they want their kids to have that opportunity.

Pierre-Louis said that studies in other countries mirror many of the observations from this study in the U.S. He said that the overwhelming number of players find that games bring joy, mental stimulation and relaxation — and that tracks in other countries.

Pierre-Louis noted that one small data point is that the ESA found that more people are identifying as LGBTQ+, with the number standing at 11% now. For the Boomer generation, that was in single digits. In this respect, diversity continues to grow every year.

“We’ve seen the audience get more diverse,” he said

Stress relief and mental stimulation

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Gaming provides stress relief.

Video games are widely viewed as contributing to social and emotional wellbeing across all age groups. A large majority of U.S. adults (79%) agree that video games bring people joy, provide mental stimulation (77%) and stress relief (76%).

Most players (77%) believe video games provide mental stimulation, with Boomers and the Silent Generation most likely to agree with this sentiment (92%) vs. Gen Z (84%).

“Above 75% are saying in some way, shape or form, it brings you joy or relaxation or relief in some way,” Pierre-Louis said. “The top reasons people play are still relaxation, which is 60% and having fun 67%. So having fun and relaxation are very closely intertwined with playing games. And that just speaks to how they help on emotional well being.”

Among adults, using video games to relax (68% of players) and to have fun (67% of players) are the top motivators to play.

Nearly three-quarters of American adults agree video games can help improve cognitive skills (73%) and provide accessible experiences for players with different abilities (74%).

U.S. adults also agree that video games can teach problem-solving (73%), teamwork and collaboration (64%), adaptability (59%), conflict resolution (47%) and communication (51%) skills.

Generational differences

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Gen Alpha and Gen Z have a lot more gamers in their ranks.

Generation Alpha (Gen Alpha) and Generation Z (Gen Z) are emerging as enthusiastic player cohorts and enjoy game play in a wide variety of ways.

Gen Alpha (age 5-10) is the generation with the highest percentage of video game players – 79% of Gen Alpha plays weekly, compared to 56% of adults 18 and older.

The most popular game genres played by Gen Alpha are arcade (64%), action (60%) and puzzle (56%). Gen Alpha and Gen Z are the biggest users of consoles (58%) and PCs (54%) to play video games.

He noted that the players are getting younger, thanks to games being the “babysitter” and more young folks playing with smartphones.

“I think the pandemic certainly created new opportunities for all ages to experience games in different ways on different platforms,” he said

Friends and family

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Friends and family bond over games.

Video games bring Americans together and help develop and maintain connections with friends and family. About 72% of American parents play video games and 83% of them play video games with
their children. Parents cite quality family time and shared enjoyment as the top reasons to play together.

Across all ages, 55% of players play with others on a weekly basis. When it comes to staying connected, adult players agree that video games help make lasting memories (53%).

“When it comes to staying connected, 73% of players agree that games are a great way to meet people, and 39% of players state that they’ve met a loved one or significant other through games,” he said. “So games are bringing families together and helping people forge new friendships at a very deep level.”

Pierre-Louis believes that data show that games bring people together and can be a tool for forming and maintaining connections with friends and family.

In the pandemic, he said, “People started turning to games in larger numbers. And for those who hadn’t played in a while, they were amazed by the change in photorealism and the sound effects and how the games played, how comfortable it was. They were favorably impressed and excited about what they were seeing and the ability to connect.”

He also said that parents loved connecting with children in a kind of digital playground with friends and family.

“72% of American parents play video games themselves, and of those 83% play with their children. And they cite family time and shared enjoyment as the top reasons for playing together. And we saw that start to rise during the pandemic. And it’s really maintained a strong foothold. So we see that playing together has brought people together parents and their children,” Pierre-Louis said.

This year marks the ESA’s 30th anniversary serving as the voice and advocate for the U.S. video game industry. This year’s Essential Facts report includes retrospective facts from reports of years past that shed light on the evolution of who plays and how we play video games.

It’s also a year when it hits home that E3 — the Electronic Entertainment Expo — is no longer with us. The Summer Game Fest, scheduled for June 7, has taken its place as the place for big game announcements, as has a new IGN fan event on the weekend of June 7 to June 9.

Aging up

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More older folks are playing games.

In 2004, the average video game player was 29 years old. Today, the average player is 36. Since 2012, those who play video games on their mobile device has grown from 33% to 78% in 2024. And 18% of players played online in 2012, and now that percentage is 90%.

And while gamers like to be tribal, 19% of all players eight and above play across all three platforms — PC, mobile and consoles.

“It reflects the population. And it really reflects all of the diverse makeup across race and ethnicity. The second point is that people of all ages enjoy playing video games, and they’ve been a fixture in American life, and culture for generations. People don’t age out of video games. They grow and evolve along with them,” Pierre-Louis said.

He added, “As a case in point in 2004, the average video game player was 29 years old. Today, the average age is 36. We also took a look at Generation Alpha and Generation Z are really emerging as enthusiastic player cohorts and enjoy gameplay in a wide variety of ways. Generation Alpha has the highest percentage of videogame players. 79% of them play games on a weekly basis. “

Some data has shown that players are sticking with their favorite games longer, playing for years as games-as-a-service are more popular. But they also love finding new games as much as they take comfort player games that they grew up with, he said.

During the pandemic, people were able to play more and experience new games. They played nostalgic games. He noted that games like Hogwarts Legacy were extremely popular and turned into a cultural phenomenon. (Call of Duty: Warzone was similar in its spike during the pandemic).

Older generations are enjoying video games at increasing rates. In 1999, only 9% of players were aged 50+. Twenty-five years later, 29% are. U.S. video game industry sales have grown significantly. In 2002, the industry reported $11.7 billion in consumer spending. In 2023, that number totaled $57.2 billion. The ESA’s economic impact study shows there are 104,080 people employed in games in the U.S.

Methodology

The ESA did the report with YouGov, an international online research data and analytics technology group. YouGov and ESA conducted a 20-minute online survey in the US from October 23-31 among
5,000 total respondents recruited from YouGov’s proprietary online panel. Data is weighted to
be representative of the overall US population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education,
census region, and the distribution of gamers who spend at least one hour/week playing video
games on a smartphone, tablet, PC, console, or VR headset vs. non-gamers.

The 18+ respondents were asked about all members of their household in order to size gamers as young as 5 years old. Gamers aged 8 to 17 were asked to complete the survey under the supervision of a parent.

The funk in games

Off topic from the report, I asked if the funk in games — prompting tens of thousands of layoffs in the past year and a half — was due to the rise of games in pandemic and then a subsidence during the post-pandemic period.

He said, “You’re right to point out that the pandemic saw a rise of number of people playing video games, because they were home a lot more. We are seeing the tail end of the COVID spike leveling out.”

Pierre-Louis also said, “I think there’s also a normal cyclical of rise and fall of the percentages of people playing over time. If you look over our studies, it’s always been above 60%, but in some way, shape or form, you know, fluctuating a little bit but it’s still well within the margin of error. And it’s still an enormous number of people playing. And we think that’s exciting. And it’s in part because more games with diverse, you know characters and plot lines and storylines and narratives are reaching different audiences and expanding the universe of people who want to play so we view this as still a strong environment for game playing, and for really developing games for broader audiences.”



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