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Pandemic drives UK games market to record 7bn year

Spending on video games products and culture rose 30%, topping 2018 record by more than 1 billion

The UK video games market generated a record £7 billion last year.

That's according to the latest annual market valuation compiled by trade body UKIE, released today to mark the start of the London Games Festival.

The research shows that spending on video games software, hardware and other related products grew by 29.9% over the past year.

The total breaks the previous record set in 2018 by more than £1 billion.

While the launch of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S will have boosted spending to an extent, a significant factor was the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures put in place to prevent its spread.

The bulk of the £7 billion can be attributed to software sales, which accounted for £4.55 billion, up 18% year-on-year.

Unsurprisingly, given the long-running closure of non-essential retail, digital represented the majority of spending on games -- £3.9 billion versus £689 million on boxed games.

Console drove the most digital sales at £1.7 billion, up 24.2% year-on-year. This was followed closely by mobile at £1.5 billion, up 21.3%, with PC up 14.8% at £669 million.

Boxed sales -- no doubt driven in no small part by online retail -- took £646 million last year. This was a slight boost of 7.1%, which is a marked improvement on the 21.7% decline seen in 2019.

Pre-owned sales dropped by 22.8% to £43 million.

Games hardware saw the biggest growth, up 60.8% to £2.26 billion -- a record year for the category.

Again, consoles accounted for the majority of spending at £853 million, up 74.8% year-on-year. While the launch of the next-gen consoles had a notable effect on sales, their forebears also contributed significantly.

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch all saw big uplifts in hardware sales during the initial lockdown. In fact, sales of Nintendo's console during the 13-week period rose 215% when compared to the same period in 2019.

According to GfK Entertainment's Dorian Bloch, Nintendo's Animal Crossing New Horizons Switch bundle was the best-selling hardware SKU of 2020, with the game itself holding the top spot of the charts for 21 weeks.

PC hardware -- encompassing graphics cards, laptops, 'gaming' mice and more -- wasn't far behind at £823 million, up 69.7% year-on-year.

Console game accessories rose 36.9% to £453 million, and even virtual reality saw a boost of 29%, with spending reaching £129 million.

The culture section of this year's market valuation saw fewer spikes, aside from the obvious: events and venues saw spending plummet 97.2% to just £249,000.

There were also declines in sales of movies and soundtracks -- down 22.2% to £22.9 million -- and books and magazines -- down 24.5% to £10.5 million.

These categories are often dependent on significant new releases; case in point, while the Sonic The Hedgehog movie smashed records for films based on video games, it was the only game-related movie of the year.

The decline in books and magazines was also partly due to the closure of the high street and reduced travel.

Toys and merchandising saw a 22.4% lift to £119.6 million. Finally, a new category was introduced for this year's valuation: streaming and game video content generated £45.6 million.

Overall, spending on culture products reached £199 million, up 36.3%.

The UK market valuation was compiled by UKIE with data sourced from ABC, BFI, GfK Entertainmnt, Kantar Worldpanel, Nielsen, NPD, OCC, and Omdia.

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