Just how many PC Gamers are there?

This is a loaded question I get asked all the time. So I’ll do my best to explain the ball park ranges I’ve arrived at. Typically my first question back is what is your definition of a PC gamer? Should I count every consumer that’s ever played a casual free game on their PC? Should I only count those PC gamer/consumers that have paid for, or pirated, a game in the last three calendar years? There are multitudes of ways to slice and dice this data and it often results in some very spirited debates.

I encourage people to compile as broad a range of information from as many resources as humanly possible. For me personally I like to take a ‘top down’, and a ‘bottoms up’ approach. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to paid-for research available from professional research firms compile as many of those you can. (E.g. ABI, Cassandra, DFC, Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Jon Peddie, Mercury, Nielsen, NPD, & PCGA’s Horizon’s Report to name a few). I’ve found some other great data points published over the years in a variety of other sources ranging from: any of the great PC Gaming publications (e.g. PC Gamer, Play, Game Informer, CPU, Game Developer Magazine, etc), to a ton of great online resources (e.g. Wikipedia, VGChartz, Toms Hardware, Valve’s Steam Survey, IGN, Anandtech, Firing Squad, etc)((for online - be wary of over inflated numbers/claims)) to other publications such as The Wall Street Journal, and Business week for example.

My top down approach typically starts with some world population numbers (US Census, CIA fact book online, etc). I then work down in figuring out the number of households (HH) there are worldwide (WW). The next step usually involves focusing in on key geographies where the bulk of the world’s Desktops and Laptops sell. Then I start drilling down to get more granular.

The bottoms up approach for me ranges: to surveys, to Game ISV and or OEM discussions, to cross checking actual internal sales numbers. Quite frankly the problem fast becomes one of having too much data. However; it’s always good to have these stats handy to cross check your other data points to sanity check things.

So what are some of my ball park conclusions?

From a sheer hardware perspective PC Gaming is pretty large. I can’t pin exact figures but consider this. In 2008 well over 120 million discrete video cards sold thru last year. By comparison there were about ~45 million total consoles sold (Includes: PS2/3, 360, Wii) in that same period. Between a quarter to a third of those video cards went into laptops from what I can tell.

From a software perspective PC Gaming holds its own pretty well. However; Games Software can be a bit trickier to determine. People come up with all sorts of figures here for PC gaming units. Based on public and non public revenue figures, & I’m speaking very broadly here, it appears that the world-wide Retail PC Gaming unit sales were at least around ~60 m units in 1998, peaked to over ~100m units in 2002, and now the latest trends show a steady decline in 2008 back down to ~60m units. However; now we have to factor in Non-Retail trends in purchasing or downloading games from: Amazon, Steam, Orb et al. Also; and unfortunately, we can likely estimate that at least ~20% of PC games are pirated. We also can’t forget to include the MMO space where gamers tend to buy a game once and play it for two, three, four years or longer. (Does an MMO games monthly subscription count as a recurring unit sale?) What about secondary sales? Games loaned to friends or sold on Ebay or Craig’s list? Games bundled in OEM systems or with video cards? Some people purchase several games a year while others have long dry spells. Another phenomenon is PC Bangs and Internet Cafes that are very popular in places like South Korea, and China. When you add all of these up I think the number of PC game units moving annually, is likely between 60-80 million legitimate units a year. It’s probably not too far of a stretch to say it could even be as high as ~100 million PC games units a year.

So this leads back to the original question: How many PC gamers are there? I’ve seen estimates under a ~100 million, to highs of over ~300 million. Personally I lean more toward the high end of the spectrum. If I had to put a stake in the ground I’d say that there are at least ~100-150m enthusiast (high-end) and mainstream gamers, and potentially another ~100-200m more casual gamers. It can also fluctuate a little up and down based on AAA game availability.

So my question back to you is do you think we can double the number of PC gamers over the next ten years? Personally I think we can!
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parthassp's picture

Nice article!!

parthassp's picture

first to comment??

's picture

Without a doubt the numbers will double. I wouldnt be suprised if they more than doubled. What I'm interested in seeing is what kind of games are still being made in 10 years, and what side of the market ( casual / hardcore ) is most dominate.

gaston-hillar's picture

Hi Matt,

I have no doubts that the numbers will double. I think that animated 3D films and 3D cartoons are also promoting 3D games.
However, let me add some information to your report. You said: "unfortunately, we can likely estimate that at least ~20% of PC games are pirated".
I made a research about Latin America gaming piracy in 2007... Unfortunately, I repeat, Unfortunately, in Latin American countries, the research showed ~80% of PC games are pirated.



Gastón C. Hillar
's picture

What sources did you use to compile your numbers?

's picture

There was an estimate of 100-200M PC gamers as of 2011. Whether serious or non-serious, roughly 160,000,000 individual people use PCs for some sort of games fairly frequently. It's also the second biggest existing gamer market, behind the iOS platform, with 300M sales.

iOS- 300,000,000
PC- About 160,000,000
Playstation 2- 155,000,000
DS- 149,000,000
Wii- 89,000,000
PSP- 72,000,000
Xbox 360- 58,000,000
Playstation 3- 56,000,000
3DS- 7,000,000