Video games grow up

In 1973, Atari sold 2,500 units of its coin-operated arcade game Pong. Each unit cost $1,200. Last year, the video game industry topped $100 billion.

For Jayson Chi, a McKinsey partner in Hong Kong, what started as small-time hobby has turned into a large-scale professional passion. The head of our burgeoning video games practice remembers playing Pong at the age of four and, when he was six, cajoling his parents into buying an early Nintendo console. Later he would sneak into arcades to play Street Fighter. As an only child growing up in Hong Kong, video games were a good way to make friends. He recalls: "All my school friends wanted to come over because I had the coolest games."

A fascination with high tech and business led Jayson to Stanford University in California for a joint degree in engineering and management science. When he moved to Tokyo in 2003 to pursue an interest in Japanese media and culture, the gaming bug came back with a vengeance—including a marathon 60-hour session playing Dragon Quest VIII right after its release on PlayStation 2.

When he joined McKinsey in 2006, Jayson was eager to serve gaming companies but dismayed to find that the firm had few active clients in the sector. So he took a bold step: writing a turnaround plan for a troubled video game company and delivering it, unprompted, to the company's turnaround officer. It was well received. Introductions and inquiries from other gaming companies soon followed. Fluent in Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, business- and gamer-speak, Jayson was well equipped to help. Many of these early clients operated at the intersection of social media and mobile gaming, a model that served as a blueprint for the free-to-play games now ubiquitous on smartphones the world over.

The boom in gaming has not slowed. Today, Jayson and colleagues serve a wide variety of gaming-industry clients, as well as non-gaming companies intrigued by the industry's innovation and growth. Their work for clients ranges from strategy and consumer insights to advanced analytics. "I am so fortunate to have such a breadth of insight across gaming; I don't think there's a more interesting job."

Back at McKinsey in Hong Kong, Jayson's office is a popular place to hang out for the same reasons as his childhood living room. "I have an Oculus Rift headset and companies send me games in beta to play."

Why everyone should try gaming (at least once)

  1. It's the future.
    "In the future, a lot of consumer services—booking a trip, taking a course, buying an appliance—will be interactive, personalized, and gamified in some way. If you want to understand what these daily experiences will be like tomorrow, then you need to actually try gaming today."
  2. It makes money.
    "Gaming monetizes easily and abundantly. Mobile gaming is the fourth most popular activity after messaging, browsing, and watching video. A peek in any mobile app store will bear this out. Think about it: if it's engaging you the most, then you're probably willing to pay something for it. Understanding how games monetize has application to other industries as well."
  3. It's key to understanding the Internet or tech space.
    "This is especially true in Asian countries. Gaming and the Internet vertical go hand-in-hand. Most of the biggest players have a stake in it."
  4. It's fun!
    "Some people don't play because they're afraid it will suck their time. But you can sample a little bit here and there. Gaming today is multi-genre, with quizzes, storytelling, strategy. It's not like 10 years ago, when shooter and racing games dominated. There are games with low barriers to entry, with five- or ten-minute sessions, and it's really fun if you pick the right ones."

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