By 2023, there will be an estimated 354 million PC gamers playing online games in China—more than the entire population of the United States. That overwhelming number of players will be responsible for making China's enormous games industry an estimated $16 billion USD by that same year—and keep in mind that mobile games is an even bigger market in China.
These figures come from the leading Asian game market research and consulting firm Niko Partners' 2019 China PC Online Games Market Report, which not only summarizes the 2018 year for PC gaming in China but also projects where that industry will be in 2023.
If you're surprised by the size of China's PC gaming market, you shouldn't be. It's been exploding in growth since 2001, when the total market was only worth $100 million, Niko Partners' founder Lisa Cosmas Hanson told me in an interview.
What is surprising, however, is how the Chinese PC games market has remained resilient in spite of heavy government regulations. In March, 2018, the Chinese government put a temporary freeze on the licensing all new games must obtain to legally publish and monetize in China. That ban on new licenses lasted almost a whole year and caused Niko Partners to adjust their initial forecast downward for 2018. In spite of that approval freeze, though, China's PC gaming industry still raked in $15.21 billion in 2018, with a total of 312.4 million PC gamers, 79.7 million of which were actually spending money on games.
To contextualize that figure, the entire US videogames industry—including PC, mobile, and console games—only brought in $30.4 billion in revenues in 2018, according to Newzoo.
Niko Partners' report also includes estimated revenue for Steam, which is becoming an increasingly important part of PC gaming in China. For the last few years, Steam has somehow managed to stay available to Chinese gamers while other services, like Twitch, have been blocked or altered by Chinese government censorship. Through Steam, Chinese players can play games that would probably never be approved for sale, like Grand Theft Auto 5.
Over 24 percent of Steam users have set their language to simplified Chinese, and China is the biggest source of download traffic from Steam. Earlier this year, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds said that Asia contributed to 53 percent of its $920 million in revenue.
The takeaway here is that China's PC gaming industry is massive and, though outpaced by mobile games and slowed by changes in regulations, still growing steadily.
Here's some other interesting facts from Niko Partners' 2019 China PC Online Games Market Report:
- Foreign games accounted for 60 percent of the China's PC gaming revenue in 2018
- China has 138,000 internet cafes
- Esports is the strongest driver of growth for China's PC games market. Esports revenue was $6.3 billion in 2018, accounting for 41.4% of PC online games revenue. It's projected to reach $9.5 billion in 2023.
Update, 5/4/2019, 12:10 pm: The original version of this article stated that Steam's estimated revenue from China wasn't included in Niko Partners' report, which isn't true. We've updated the article to reflect that and regret the error.