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Digital games raked in $120 billion in 2019 — three times more than all movies combined

By Benjamin Bullard

The gap between movies and gaming is only growing, and if new estimates for total sales numbers from both fields is any hint, it’s video games that are setting an almost mind-boggling pace when it comes to how much money people are willing to spend on entertainment.

One thing that’s important to note from the outset here: The gaming figures mentioned below refer to digital gaming media only, which means they don’t yet include 2019 sales totals for old-school physical media like discs or — (we see you, Nintendo Switch) — cartridges. In other words, once those figures are compiled and added in, last year's total global gaming take is bound to soar even higher than what we’re discussing here.

With that out of the way, just-revealed estimates for global spending on digital-only games and other forms of interactive media in 2019 show a widening gap between gaming’s already distant lapping of the movie business when it comes to dollars spent. Nielsen’s games-focused SuperData analytics division reports a record-setting (and downright incredible) $120.1 billion spent worldwide last year on digital games, microtransactions, mobile-only titles, games streaming platforms, and other downloads.

The bonkers earnings figure almost triples, by contrast, the estimated $41 billion (via Deadline) that movies took in at box offices across the globe last year — a sum that scrapes just beneath 2018’s record-setting $41.7 billion worldwide. And we have the newly expanded Disney-Fox studio behemoth to thank for a lot of that: All by its lonesome, the post-merger giant rode the success of Avengers: Endgame, Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and more huge releases to an $11.1 billion global haul, according to Variety.

Peering a little further into the gaming numbers, a remarkable fact jumps out: Despite their no-cost point of entry, free-to-play titles represented all but roughly 20 percent of the money earned by all digital games last year. That means in-game transactions and, to a much lesser extent, associated revenue generated by F2P-friendly streaming channels like Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer (responsible for $6.5 billion across the board) are responsible for $96 billion of the global gaming market.

One difference worth noting is that a direct money-generating comparison between gaming and the movie box office is a bit of an apples-to-oranges proposition. Unlike screen entertainment, which tracks its revenues separately between theater releases and home-based viewing, gaming figures like Nielsen’s track anything and everything that can have the “video gaming” designation applied to it — whether it be on mobile devices, PC, or consoles.

Still, with physical media sales numbers yet to be revealed for 2019, and keeping in mind that digital-only console sales — the easiest for the general public to associate with the idea of conventional gaming — already account for $15.4 billion in last year’s huge total, it’s clear that it’s video games that are showing the rest of the entertainment world just how high the “shut up and take my money!” spending ceiling can rise.