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When did the video game industry overtake Hollywood and the music industry?

For those who came in late, the computer games industry has been bigger than Hollywood for a while. I came across this helpful graph in a post by Matt Topley:

This graph is good as far as it goes, but it’s missing important information about consumption of movies and television at home:

So the difference isn’t as huge as it seems. As another interesting reference point, Amazon turned over nearly $400 billion in 2020.

Byte Out of the Market; Or, For Those Who Came in Really Late; Or, Quarterly Returns

The graphic put me in mind of articles I read a decade ago about video games overtaking global cinema – “Surely this isn’t news as such?” – which made me want to put a more exact date on the phenomena. This tremendous Wikipedia page helpfully points out the astonishing fact that the revenues of the video game industry had in fact comfortably overtaken those of the rest of pop culture combined by the early 80s:

By 1981, the arcade video game industry was generating an annual revenue of $5 billion in North America, equivalent to $12.3 billion in 2011. In 1982, the arcade video game industry reached its peak, generating $8 billion in quarters, equivalent to over $18.5 billion in 2011, surpassing the annual gross revenue of both pop music ($4 billion) and Hollywood films ($3 billion) combined at that time. This was also nearly twice as much revenue as the $3.8 billion generated by the home video game industry that same year; both the arcade and home markets combined add up to a total revenue of $11.8 billion for the video game industry in 1982, equivalent to over $27.3 billion in 2011.

The arcade video game industry would continue to generate an annual revenue of $5 billion in quarters through to 1985. The most successful game of this era was Namco’s Pac-Man, released in 1980, which would go on to sell over 350,000 cabinets, and within a year, generate a revenue of more than $1 billion in quarters; in total, Pac-Man is estimated to have grossed over 10 billion quarters ($2.5 billion) during the 20th century, equivalent to over $3.4 billion in 2011.

You Know Where – Video Game Industry

Who knew? Perhaps this was common knowledge to readers of The Economist in the 80s. I had assumed that all the action in terms of revenue happened of the late 2000s.*

To conclude: computer games are going to be a thing / even more enormous influence on culture than they already are / finally recognised as an important artistic form before too long**. Hollywood stars will become relatively less important.

You heard it here first (depending on what you were reading in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s).

*At the time I was far too busy growing up in the arcade-and-software-piracy heaven that was 80s and 90s Hong Kong to read The Economist.
** Sturgeons Law not withstanding.


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