Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.

June 07, 2022

Happy Tuesday. I was playing Horizon Forbidden West last night and I think I finally figured out how to effectively fight robot dinosaurs without dying all the time. Sometimes I just need about 30 hours with a game before it clicks.

Today's edition: 1,027 words, 4 minutes.

1 big thing: America’s gamers

Illustration of a gaming keyboard glowing with the colors and pattern of the American flag.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The number of Americans who play video games has declined slightly in 2022, likely due to the phasing out of pandemic-oriented lockdowns, according to a new report from the Entertainment Software Association.

Driving the news: The ESA’s new data, released this morning, shows the U.S. gaming population at 216 million, compared to 227 million for 2021.

  • The 2021 figure is still an increase from early 2020’s 214 million.
  • The stat is based on people who play video games at least one hour per week.
  • The latest U.S. census figures, from July 2021, put the country’s population at 332 million.

What they’re saying: “We actually view it as a good thing, as people are getting out, people are enjoying life, but people are still enjoying games,” ESA president Stanley Pierre-Louis told Axios.

  • Pierre-Louis said the slight drop lined up with assessments of big game companies. Many of those are reporting lower sales compared to during the worst of the pandemic but still elevated numbers from before COVID-19.

Details:

  • 48% of U.S. gamers identify as female, up from 45% the year prior.
  • The average age is 33, up from 31 (Pierre-Louis noted that there are once again more gamers 45 and up than those under 18).
  • Some of the biggest category gainers are: people who play games online or in person with others (83% of respondents, up from 65% just two years ago) and parents who play games with their kids (77% of American parents, up from 55% two years ago).
  • U.S. gamers spend, on average, 13 hours playing each week.

Between the lines: The ESA is the trade association that represents big game publishers and is the industry’s main lobbying group in D.C.

  • It commissions the survey annually and ran this year’s in February, surveying 4,000 Americans. The report has a +/- 2% margin of error.
  • Part of the ESA’s mission is to promote the positive aspects of games. To that end, the new report notes that 97% of Americans see some benefits to gaming (brings joy, inspires creativity, stress relief, etc.).

2. No canceled E3 regrets

Photo of people standing in a darkened conference hall in front of a massive sign showing a woman's face and the logo for 2K Games

E3 2019, the ESA's most recent E3 show. Photo: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ESA stands by its decision to skip its once-annual E3 trade show this month, citing the continued impact of COVID on conventions and other mass gatherings.

Why it matters: The ESA took some criticism in March when it said E3 2022 wasn’t happening, even as the group said it’d return in 2023.

What they’re saying: “Our judgment was that it’s better to focus on a reinvigorated E3 2023 than to hope for a positive result in 2022,” ESA's Pierre-Louis told Axios.

  • “And that ended up being really prescient because if you look at events over the course of the year, not just in video games, but in general communities, there has been some light attendance, there have been some COVID outbreaks.”

Between the lines: E3 was usually held in the massive Los Angeles Convention Center, drawing tens of thousands of mostly industry attendees to booths run by game publishers and showcasing the next wave of big releases.

  • In recent years, more digital-only events have emerged around E3.
  • The closest thing to an E3 replacement this June is Thursday’s Summer Game Fest showcase, hosted by former E3 business partner Geoff Keighley. It is largely a digital event.
  • Keighley has criticized E3's approach in the past and counterprogrammed Summer Game Fest news against news of E3 woes. But Pierre-Louis offered praise for efforts like Summer Game Fest: “We have a good relationship with Geoff. So from our perspective, showcasing the greatness of video games to the world can only end in positive ways.”

What’s next: E3 2023 will be a physical and digital event, the ESA says. But there’s no official date yet for it.

3. Need to know

😲 Employees of a Lincoln, Nebraska, GameStop walked out on the job this past weekend, complaining about bad working conditions and urging customers to shop elsewhere, Kotaku reports.

🎮 Capcom will be holding a gaming showcase on Monday, June 13, focusing on previously announced games, Polygon reports.

📝 Some games media moves: IGN editor-in-chief Tina Amini (and my former deputy editor at Kotaku, so, full disclosure: she’s awesome) is leaving IGN at the end of the week.

  • Popular gaming personality site Giant Bomb just had a big shake-up, as co-founder Jeff Gerstmann left for Patreon while a new roster at GB takes shape.

4. A judge and his gamer kids

Video game screenshot of a man being chased by a police car

Grand Theft Auto III, a game that would have been affected by a 2003 Washington law. Screenshot: Rockstar Games

A federal judge says his blocking of a 2003 Washington State law that would have made it a crime to sell kids video games that depict violence against police was an easy decision — one that got a little extra input from his family.

Driving the news: The unexpected insight into the old ruling emerged in a newly released transcript involving the February sentencing of video game hacker Gary Bowser.

Details: At the start of the transcript, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik greets the lawyers in the hacker case, which includes a representative from the ESA. That triggers Lasnik’s memory of the ESA’s push against the 2003 law.

  • “So I got all these video games that I took home, and my boys loved playing,” he said. “And, you know, as a judge, you can’t help being affected somewhat by your family, right? So the boys are saying to me, ‘Dad, if you uphold this law, we will not be able to show our faces in school again,’ and my wife is like, ‘If you don’t uphold this law, you are not going to get good treatment at home.’ So it sort of canceled the two things out.”
  • He found the law unconstitutional. That call was “relatively easy,” he said, because it’d mean banning something like Robin Hood, where the Sheriff of Nottingham “is his victim.”
  • The 9th Circuit Court upheld the ruling, and ESA-backed lawyers would later successfully defend video games’ First Amendment protections — against efforts to criminalize the sale of violent games — all the way up to a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling in the industry’s favor.

The judge acknowledged he might have over-shared, but such is life in a pandemic: “So I just put that on there because I haven’t been in court for so long, and I have all of these stories pent up in me.”

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Come to think of it, where are the Robin Hood games?