NBA 2K League's collaboration with PS5 underlines the churn in gaming industry

Anand Krishnaswamy
·6-min read

It is a well-established fact that the gaming industry is on the rise. The ongoing pandemic that now seems to have almost no end in sight has further cemented this growth over the last year. While many sectors of industry have been in trouble, the gaming industry has been a notable exception.

The area of the gaming industry that has grown tremendously is the mobile gaming segment. As per the KPMG media and entertainment report, the gaming userbase for India surpassed 365 million as of March 2020. Mobile users form 85 percent of the industry with PC being at 11 percent.

The data collected by SensorTower reveals that India rose to the first spot in terms of mobile game downloads over the first nine months of 2020. Indians did about 7.3 billion mobile game downloads during this period, which is 17.2 percent of the total mobile game downloads for this period. US are next with 9.8 percent of the total downloads in this period being made by them.

All the data and trends point towards a growing interest in the mobile gaming sector, even though the pride of PC gamers does not want to accept it. The other major segment in this regard has always been consoles. For the longest time, the argument has always been between PC gamers and console gamers, with PC gamers believing themselves to be the more serious of the two in gaming-related matters. Mobile gaming is often still looked at as a bit of a gimmick or fad by the players who make up the userbase for both these segments. This brings up the question of why has mobile gaming suddenly become so big and where does this leave console gamers?

The biggest contributing factor to the rise of mobile gaming in a country such as India is the sheer convenience of it. With an increasing number of people having access to smartphones and cheap, high-speed internet on their mobile devices, it has become available and affordable to people across the economic divide. While most games are best enjoyed on the latest generation flagship devices, they also run very well on budget smartphones or the flagship devices made a few years prior.

These points are not as true for PC and console games. In the case of consoles, the games can't be enjoyed unless a person invests in buying the console, and with the rising prices of consoles with each successive generation, it has become difficult for quite a few people to justify the cost.

While PC gaming is a bit more inclusive, it does also suffer from the fact that lower-end computers and laptops struggle to run the latest games at anything even remotely close to enjoyable settings. The latest games that have come out this year with features such as real time Ray-Tracing can be enjoyed only if the computer or laptop is equipped with a high-end gaming GPU. Many of these GPUs are supposed to cost almost the same amount as a gaming console (forget the money required for the rest of the computer), but today with the high demand for them and limited supply, one is often required to pay as much as 2.5 times of the actual price to secure one.

So, where does this leave console gaming? In the past, consoles were considered a cheaper or more casual alternative to PC gaming. It is still looked down upon by PC gamers, most of who vehemently refuse to accept mobile gaming, which seems to be going down the same route as console gaming did in the past, the difference being the sheer number of people who are into mobile gaming.

However, a recent announcement for the NBA 2K League reveals that maybe there is no real threat for console gaming. They dropped a bomb on the gaming community recently when they announced that the official device for the eSports league would be PS5 (PlayStation 5).

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This step might be a business move but it does provide some excellent PR for the PS5 and hence, by default, also for their closest rival, the XBOX Series X/S as well. I might even add that it boosts the Nintendo Switch a bit (even though the Switch has always done well due to the fact only Nintendo devices can be used to play Pokemon games, other than Pokemon GO).

The fact that despite the growth of mobile gaming and PC gaming having generally taken the limelight, a developer has chosen a gaming console shows that the industry might be moving in a new era where the device being used to enjoy the game is less important.

Further proof of this evolution can be found in the fact that there are beginning to emerge companies that have stakes across many of the largest brands in the industry. A great example of this is Tencent. The company is further expanding its influence with the announcement of its new game, Undawn.

This game is being developed by Lightspeed and Quantum, the same studio that worked on PUBG Mobile. The publisher for this game will however be Garena, the company behind Free Fire (a popular eSport). At first glance, this comes as a bit of a shock that Tencent would work with another firm to bring out their game. Some might even feel it is done to avoid bans similar to the ones faced by PUBG. While this might seem like a plausible reason for the partnership, it is not the real answer. As a matter of fact, Tencent in past, has gone with the idea of using Garena as a publisher for its games in the South East Asia region, a good example would be League of Legends (LoL). While LoL is owned by Riot Games, it is also a fact that Tencent owns Riot Games.

Tencent has several other notable investments in the global gaming industry. These include the investments into Sea Limited (the parent company for Garena), 40 percent stake in Epic Games (Fortnite), and minority stakes into Ubisoft and Activision.

These trends show that the gaming industry is changing and evolving. The first possible super company in the industry has appeared and yet there is no clear standardisation in terms of equipment. The move by 2K to announce PS5 as the official console is proof of this, given how PC has been the long-term gold standard for competition unless the game is mobile-based.

In the coming few years, big companies within gaming are likely to make decisions regarding the competitive environment. Decisions such as the choice of devices for use in tournaments will become more standardised. Tencent, being one of the biggest players, may influence many of these decisions based on the choices it makes for the various games it has stakes in.

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