Behind the Data: Worldwide Digital Games Market Dips 2% Through December 2018

The worldwide market for digital spending on games dipped 2% throughout December 2018.

The festive period is typically a pivotal one for game downloads, as new devices arrive as Christmas presents, and gifted money is spent in app stores. But looking behind the new data – made public by Superdata – it appears that the dip isn’t too much to worry about.

The 2% tail-off saw consumers spend a still considerable USD$9bn (£6.9bn) in December. The dip is really a quirk of bundling PC, console, and mobile digital games spending into one pot. As such, a 21% drop in premium PC spending through December 2018 pulled the overall numbers down. In the same period, digital game spending on console rose a striking 12%, while mobile dropped by a single-digit percentage.

The reason for the significant drop in premium PC spending by the consumer? According to SuperData, it appears to be down to the wild success of the sector through December 2017, when PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (commonly ‘PUBG’) was enjoying sensational sales, and eSports title Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) saw a spike in popularity. As such, the 21% year-on-year digital spend dip on PC through December 2018 comes, by comparison, to a very successful close to 2017.

However, the interest in PUBG clearly hasn’t entirely waned. In December 2018, 2.75 million units of the game sold across console and PC, according to SuperData, demonstrating that the hugely successful game hasn’t yet saturated its potential audience.

SuperData’s charts demonstrating the overall winners, with regard to worldwide digital game spending through December 2018

It was PUBG’s genre-mate and great rival Fortnite, of course, that really thrived through the festive period last year. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Epic’s game spearheaded a 209% increase in spending in the free-to-play segment on console. Free-to-play games have long existed in console, but before Fortnite, the monetisation approach was not as defining to the platform as it has long been on mobile and – to a lesser extent – PC.

There is another fascinating quirk in the data, with regard to the health and impact of PC digital game sales. Despite having its impressive late-2017 sales highlighted as part of the reason December 2018’s overall PC spending was down significantly by contrast, CS:GO continues to do very well, albeit in a reinvented form. Having gone free-to-play and added a Fortnite-style ‘battle royale’ mode in December 2018, the game has enjoyed its highest monthly active user count on record.

As revealed by data firm Newzoo earlier this week, CS:GO was played by 16.7% of core PC gamers worldwide in December. Not bad for a game originally released in 2012.

December 2018 also saw Fortnite have its best month ever, though SuperData hasn’t yet made those figures public. We at least know it capably topped the console charts through December 2018.

Over on mobile specifically, household name hits that can boast of dizzying revenues dominated the global digital spending charts. Tencent’s multiplayer online battle arena Honour of Kings took the top spot for December 2018. Behind it came familiar releases including Pokémon GO, Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Puzzle & Dragons.

So, while global digital spending on games did drop in December 2018, there is plenty to be optimistic about. Console is booming, and PC may simply be responding to a shift in the way its games best thrive. Fortnite’s influence is increasingly hard to understate. Mobile, meanwhile, has fallen a little – perhaps in part thanks to the impact of China’s game freeze – but continues to do very well. And some of the biggest games there are continue to grow despite lengthy periods of success.