The UK gaming industry has experienced an exceptional amount of growth over the past 10 years, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. Retail sales revenue between 2009 and 2019 alone has increased by a huge 72.6%, recently bringing in a total of £3.77 billion between January and December 2019.
But what exactly is contributing to its growth? We’ve taken an in-depth look at how the UK's gaming industry is changing, and the key areas responsible for its success. From the importance of franchises and the effect of remakes and remasters, to the impact of digital downloads and mobile gaming.
Introduction to the UK Gaming Industry
The gaming industry in the UK is the biggest in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. It's currently estimated to be home to 37.3 million gamers, with 21.1 million now choosing to purchase games solely online.
As the birthplace of a number of influential video game developers, including Ninja Theory, Traveller's Tales and Rockstar North (co-creators of the famous Grand Theft Auto franchise), there's no doubt that the UK is a thriving hub for both gaming consumers and creators alike. In fact, between January and December 2019, the entire UK video game industry - which includes gaming merchandise, toys, films and more - generated a huge £5.35 billion in revenue, with a notable £3.77 billion of that total coming directly from video game software sales.
And the numbers are expected to keep on growing. Interest in the gaming world continues to skyrocket both in the UK and globally, with gaming culture in the UK specifically rising by 28.5% to reach a total value of £146 million, and gaming-related merch and toy sales increasing by 48% to £94.2 million, in 2019 alone. The hype surrounding remakes and remastered games appears to fuel interests even further too, attracting gamers old and new to try out long-time favourites on brand new consoles.
The Influence of Remakes and Remastered Games
Every year, developers release a number of new titles which introduce new worlds, characters and enable gamers to explore new concepts or move on to the next chapter of an already popular storyline. However, it's not just the 'new' that attracts the interest of gamers, there's a huge market within the gaming industry for remakes and remasters.
What exactly is a remake or a remastered game? The two are slightly different, but are usually grouped into the same category.
A remake tends to share a number of similarities with a pre-existing game, typically featuring the same characters and drawing heavily on old ideas and mechanics. However, you'll usually find a brand-new storyline, as well as modernised controls and visuals.
A remaster, meanwhile, sticks more closely to the original. Every individual remastered game will vary, but the changes made revolve heavily around enhancing the resolution, adapting the game for a new console and improving a number of other aspects. Some remastered games barely change, while others can have new graphics engines, performance improvements and more.
Remakes and Remastered Games: UK Chart Performance
Evoking a huge sense of nostalgia, remakes and remasters tend to receive the most interest from people who once played the original. Currently, many of the recently rebooted games were first released in the 90s and 00s, with teens during that time now being aged between 31 and 50.
Working with YouGov, we decided to review this audience to understand more about the demographic's attitudes towards gaming. As a whole, those aged 31 to 50 are far more likely to own a gaming console than your average Brit, with the stats revealing the group as 47% more likely to have access to a Nintendo Switch in the home, 42% more likely to have a PS4 and 44% more likely to own an Xbox.
This group are also 69% more likely than the national average to spend a substantial number of hours (21 to 28) every week playing video games. As a large and important part of the gaming community, it makes sense developers are looking for ways to appeal to this key audience. But even with an interested audience out there, just how well do remakes and remastered games perform compare to new releases?
We analysed the Ukie UK Top Selling Games List for 2019, to see just how well recent remasters ranked. Every single year, Ukie - a non-profit trade association - releases this list, and in 2019 three remastered/remake titles made their way into the top 50, competing with big names like FIFA 20 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy
At number 16, you'll find the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy: a remaster of three popular Crash Bandicoot games first released between 1996 and 1998. The remaster bundled the trio together, and launched in July 2017.
By February 2019, an outstanding 10 million copies of Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy had been sold worldwide, with numbers continuing to rise by the end of 2019. Still remaining in the Top 20 for the UK's best-selling games of 2019 two years after its release, and with around 6,600 unique searches every month, its continuing popularity speaks for itself.
But how does the remaster compare to sales of the original three Crash Bandicoot games? Stats from Gamasutra which measure worldwide sales up until 2003, show the first Crash Bandicoot game alone sold around 6.8 million units, while US figures show the second instalment Cortext Strikes Back sold 3.85 million units and the third, Warped, sold 3.74 million. While worldwide success of the originals is predicted to be higher, this remaster has certainly been a resounding success not just in the UK, but across the globe.
Resident Evil 2
Just below Crash Bandicoot at number 21 on the Ukie Top Selling Games of 2019 list is Resident Evil 2. The remake of the 1998 original was available to buy at the very start of 2019, released globally on the 25th January.
The Resident Evil 2 remaster certainly spiked the interest of gamers, and keywordtools.io shows a huge 49% increase in search volume over the past 12 months alone. With an average of 27,100 monthly searches, the franchise's decision to reboot this classic was certainly welcomed by the industry.
And it was welcomed by consumers too. Sales show just how popular the remake of Resident Evil 2 was, with the sales figures for the 2019 same bypassing those of the 1998 original. Resident Evil 2 (1998) sold a total of 4.96 million units, while Resident Evil 2 (2019) sold approximately 5.8 million copies worldwide and 6.5 million by March 2020.
Released in April 2020, the remake of Resident Evil 3 is set to follow in the same footsteps, shipping 2 million copies within 5 days of its release.
The Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening
The final remaster included in the top 50 of Ukie's Top Selling Games of 2019 list is The Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening.
Originally launched on the Game Boy in 1993, the remake was designed for the Nintendo Switch. Bringing an old favourite to a new console, the game was released towards the end of 2019 in September, making its position in the UKIE list of number 32 even more impressive, with just 3 months of sales counting towards its rank. As of March 2020, however, the new Link's Awakening has sold more than 4 million copies globally, and it's one of the best-selling games of all time for the Nintendo Switch.
One to watch: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
A recent remaster to keep an eye on for 2020 is Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 from Activision. First released on 31st March exclusively for PlayStation 4, and then a month later for PC and Xbox One, the remaster follows in the footsteps of an outstandingly successful original title.
The original Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 was released in 2009, breaking sales records across the world. Within 24 hours of its release, the original title had sold around 4.7 million copies in North America and the United Kingdom alone - bringing in around $310 million and claiming the title of the highest grossing launch for a console game at the time. By 2013, the game had sold around 22.7 million copies.
The remaster has big shoes to fill, but thanks to already exceptional sales we're predicting it'll rank highly in Ukie's 2020 list of top sellers. Selling 3.4 million copies in the first month alone, and an estimated 622,000 copies on its day of release, it's a brilliant example to demonstrate that it's not only brand-new titles which bring success for gaming franchises.
The Importance of Franchises and UK Best Sellers
When comparing the UK's best-selling games over the last few years, a significant trend emerges. It's strikingly clear that big-name franchises, such as FIFA, Grand Theft Auto, the aforementioned Call of Duty and Pokémon, perform extraordinarily well year after year. Of course, remakes and remastered games from the same franchises also fall under this umbrella, but while evoking a sense of nostalgia through previously loved titles performs well, it seems they can't quite compete with brand new titles.
Whether it's the launch of a new world populated with beloved characters, the release of a new chapter in a pre-existing story or new players and features being added to a well-loved format, new games from the world's largest franchises repeatedly bring in the highest retail sales.
Just take a look for yourself. Below you'll find two different lists covering the UK's best-selling games. The first is a rundown of the UK's number one best-selling game between 2011 and 2019, with data gathered from VG Chartz and Statista. The second list, also from Statista, covers the top 10 video games in the UK for 2019.
UK's Best-Selling Video Game: 2011 - 2019
Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/274072/most-popular-games-in-the-united-kingdom-uk-by-unit-sales/ for 2019 statistic, and https://www.vgchartz.com/yearly/ for 2011 - 2018 statistics.
UK's Top 10 Games for 2019 (Physical and Boxed Sales)
As you can see, FIFA not only claims the top position in the 2019 bestseller list with FIFA 20, the franchise dominates the yearly charts, sitting at number one every year since 2014. Developed by EA Sports, FIFA's popularity certainly isn't faltering - in fact, the opposite is occurring, and the number sales continue to rise, with reports showing a significant increase in the number of copies sold year-on-year. FIFA 15, for example, sold a total of 790,784 units, FIFA 18 brought in 1.25 million units and the latest release, FIFA 20, has currently sold just over 1.5 million copies in the UK.
New Call of Duty games - alongside remasters - also consistently sell well, both in the UK and with gamers across the globe. For 2019, Call of Duty Modern Warfare claimed the number 2 spot in Statista's list, selling 1,192,211 copies. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 ranked at number 3 in Ukie's UK Top Selling Games of 2018 list, and Call of Duty: WWII secured the number 2 position in Ukie's 2017 list.
While Statista's list stops at number 10, trade body Ukie has published an extended version - covering the top 100 (including physical video game copies only). If you take a closer look at the titles that appear, you're sure to be familiar with franchises, even if you're not a big gamer yourself. Star Wars, Crash Bandicoot and Grand Theft Auto all rank highly. Five unique Mario games, alongside four separate Pokémon titles, also make an appearance in the completed list.
Digital Downloads and Mobile Gaming
Traditionally, video games sales were focused purely on the number of physical copies flying off the shelves, but in recent years the ever-changing gaming landscape has been significantly impacted by digital downloads. This not only includes digital copies of both new and old titles, but also the introduction of online gaming subscription services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Now, as well as the ongoing rise of the mobile gaming sector.
Data from Statista's Download Games report shows just how significant of a role digital downloads have played in the growth of the UK gaming industry. It appears a huge shift has occurred, with consumer preferences favouring digital. Stats for 2019 reveal that downloads account for over two thirds (69.71%) of the UK's total video game sales revenue, generating a total of £2.63 billion.
Even more remarkably, 42% of the above revenue comes directly from mobile games. It seems that UK gamers are not only changing the way they purchase games, but thanks to recent advancements in smartphone technology - including cinematic displays, advanced GPUs and even the introduction of high-speed 5G - they're also expanding the devices they actively play on too.
With a projected 2.39% compound annual growth rate, the already huge surge in the mobile gaming sector is predicted to maintain its momentum. An estimated 21.07 million people in the UK played a mobile game in 2019, with 19% of users aged 18 to 24 , 37% falling in the 25 - 34 age bracket and 23% aged 35 - 44.
Must-have mobile games
And exactly what games are consumers playing on their handsets? With mobile gamers spread across numerous generations, developers definitely aren't restricted when it comes to releasing new titles. Alongside mobile-only hits like Candy Crush Saga and more niche launches like platform-adventure game Witcheye, you'll find many of the big gaming franchises have more-than-just dipped their toes into the mobile gaming world. When you explore the App Store and Google Play Store, you'll quickly notice that many of the most popular console and online-only games have now been adapted for mobile.
More recent successes for mobile include Pokémon Go which launched in July 2016. So-far, Pokémon Go is worth $4.7 billion and reached 1 billion downloads in 2018. PUBG Mobile shares similar success, with 50 million daily active users, over 400 million total downloads and a total revenue of $2.56 billion.
There are plenty on console adaptations gamers can explore on both iOS and Android smartphones too. Once a Sega Genesis exclusive, there's an entire collection of Sonic the Hedgehog mobile games available, including the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. You'll also find the Grand Theft Auto series there as well if you need your GTA fix while you're away from your Xbox or PlayStation. Rockstar Games has made favourites Grand Theft Auto 3, the classic Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories all accessible on mobile.
Fortnite, Minecraft Pocket Edition, Rayman, Tomb Raider, multiple Final Fantasy games and a huge selection of classic and retro favourites are now playable via mobile. Accessible to just about anyone with a smartphone and attracting a new era of gamers who don't need to have access to a console, it's no surprise that the mobile gaming sector is booming.
In the UK, and all across the world, there's no doubt that the gaming industry is growing at a rapid speed. The excitement for the next remake or remaster makes sure there's still a place for the old, while the huge shift towards digital assures the industry and its consumers can keep up with the new.
Mobile gaming is already huge in 2020, and will only get bigger in the years to come. If you're interested in trying out some of the very best mobile games like PUBG and Fortnite for yourself, make sure you have an amazing handset to play on. Most flagship handsets now have the technology to play your games at 1080p and with an impressive amount of frames per second, you’re sure to get a great gaming experience with devices such as iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S20 or Oppo Find X2 Neo.
Data taken from keywordtools.io. ↩︎