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Video games are 2020’s biggest entertainment moneymaker, blowing past movies & sports combined

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Dec 23, 2020, 6:23 PM EST (Updated)

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, gaming already was on track to widen its lead over a doing-just-fine movie industry — that is, before 2020 showed up, bringing widespread production stops and theater closures.

Now, in a year that’s seen relatively little competition for eyeballs (and money) from other forms of entertainment, video games have surged even farther ahead of their screen-based counterparts. A new report from MarketWatch estimates that 2020 games spending will account for nearly $180 billion in revenues by the time the calendar flips over to 2021, a massive sum that eclipses the global revenue haul — in pre-COVID 2019, no less — enjoyed by both movies and sports combined.

As the year draws to a close, video game revenues worldwide will reportedly reach $179.9 billion — a figure that dwarfs the combined TV and film industry’s 2019 global take of $101 billion, which it achieved on the strength of movie blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame, the live-action remake of The Lion King, Frozen IISpider-Man: Far From Home, and Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker. This year’s box office is expected to come nowhere near that record, of course: Variety reported earlier this month that the film industry could see a 71.5 percent box office drop this year because of the pandemic’s effects.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that gaming has incrementally been extending its lead over other forms of entertainment for a few years now, and that this year’s $179.9 billion — an estimated 20 percent revenue leap over the previous year — comes as the PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X/S are just beginning to find a sizable install base among early-adopting players. That means 2021 could be another record year for games, especially with the Nintendo Switch showing no sign of relinquishing its top-selling crown. Analyst Lewis Ward, however, did tell MarketWatch that he expects things to settle down some in 2021 or perhaps 2022, once vaccines against COVID-19 have been fully rolled out and the movie business (hopefully) begins getting back to normal.

Regardless of which entertainment format is winning the race for dollars, video games have set up shop in the pop culture zeitgeist in a way that’s not likely to ebb. Monster Hunter is among the few movies to enjoy a big-ticket theatrical release this year, and it’s based on Capcom’s beloved video game franchise. Even Batman trilogy director Christopher Nolan, one of the most bankable names in blockbuster moviemaking, recently indicated he’s interested in the idea of dipping a toe in the world of game making — a sign that games are increasingly being viewed by creators outside their native industry as a great way to tell unique stories.

“I think my time and energy, I’ve just wound up devoting it all to film. Just seeing how difficult [making a game] is, it’s not something you’d ever take on lightly,” the Tenet director said during a recent interview with Geoff Keighley. “But it’s definitely something I am interested in. It’s an amazing world.”