For several years they have been more than just pixels that entertain. Video games have transcended screens, controllers, consoles and computers. Its cross-cutting impact has led to new job opportunities, such as streamers, who make their living on the Twitch platform by broadcasting live content. It has generated parallel industries, there are electronic sports. It has found its way into sectors a priori very remote, from human resources departments to hospitals. And most significantly, it has permeated the vast majority of social layers.
In the words of Ernesto Fernández-Maquieira, Nintendo Europe’s business development manager, they have gone from being cursed to being a recognized sector. “The whole world has been digitized, and many of its processes are gamification. Everyday life is gamified, like buying in an application. The video game does not only mean fun ”, adds Héctor Puente, doctor of video games.
The launch this month of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X is just one more milestone in the queen of entertainment industry. According to the estimates of the Newzoo consultancy, video games will generate more than 135,000 million euros worldwide this year. If we compare it with those who are now its little brothers, the film sector would reach 84,000 million – a historical maximum according to the Motion Picture Association – and the musical sector would barely exceed 18,000 million, according to the Statista portal. “There have been different golden eras of video games, although this is perhaps the most public and visible of all. There are more titles, more players and more ways to play than ever before, ”says Jamie Woodcock, a professor at The Open University.
Faced with such dizzying numbers, big technology companies have set their sights on this market. It is no coincidence that Google, Amazon and Facebook have landed on it with force. The first two trying to change the way people play through the cloud – Stadia and Luna, respectively – and the last one reinforcing its live streaming platform, Facebook Gaming, after absorbing Mixer. “Leisure time in modern societies moves a very large volume of interest and money. Companies that have ambition to grow here have found a profitable sector with a future. I understand that big tech is coming towards videogames ”, argues Fernández-Maquieira. Much of the evolution of the sector is conditioned by the names always associated with the industry, such as Sony, Microsoft, Sega or Valve. Without its innovation and technological commitment it would be unthinkable that the screens would have overflowed. The arrival of fifth-generation consoles opens a new chapter in its history. 4K resolution, the cloud as an indispensable technology, less time in loading processes and greater immersion and customization in the gameplay, but it must also respond to a series of challenges. As Puente explains, they are devices that collect permanent information to optimize the experience of each user. Or, what is the same, that they can control us. “As with other technologies, you have to think about it and avoid harmful effects,” he says.
This exponential growth also implies greater pollution, especially in terms of electricity consumption. Despite the fact that the industry aims to improve the energy efficiency of devices and their production processes – at Nintendo they have been betting on sustainability for two decades, according to Fernández-Maquieira – it is not yet fully aware. It is not even an element of business differentiation, as is the case in the textile or food sectors. Puente is clear that this is due to the fact that video games still have a long way to go before they reach their entire target audience, which would open the door to looking for more ecological market niches.
The climate emergency is only one of the negative consequences that has caused the popularity of the gaming. Video game addictions are increasingly present in society. The World Health Organization itself identified them last year as a disorder. And it is still a business based on capturing our attention, in which we want to spend hours and hours playing. Many video games will require us to constantly pay small amounts to improve our experience or even to win. It is a very widespread model that has turned a good number of adolescents into gamblers. These integrated payments, according to a study by Juniper Research, will bill 40,000 million euros in 2022.
The alleged glass ceiling that accompanied the industry has been broken for a good handful of years, although some shards remain to be resolved. Like all rising sectors, the new working conditions are not well resolved. Woodcock assures that some gender discrimination and marathon working hours still prevail. The creation of the Game Workers Unite union shows that something is moving in the environment. “If employees have more voice in how they develop games or what titles they make, there is the potential to profoundly reshape the industry.” This is no longer just about pixels. They reign in entertainment, culture, and society.