COVID-19 and Video Games


Written by plinq

 On 5/31/20 5:11 PM





Economic crises, natural disasters and pandemics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic we find ourselves in, tend to accelerate certain market trends that existed before the crisis. In the past five months we’ve seen an increase in the adoption of subscription content, online shopping and remote work. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Zoom are all thriving. 

And so are video games.  

More people are playing video games than ever before

As a result of lockdown measures and social distancing people are spending 75% more time playing video games. In March 2020, video game sales in North America were up 34% from those in March 2019. Steam, a platform that allows players to purchase, download and play games online, saw its highest number of concurrent players ever (23 million). Twitch, a streaming platform (where the most watched content is games), saw a 20% increase in the amount of time watched compared to the same time last year. Many game-launch records were also broken, including Call of Duty Warzone which gained 13 million players in three days, dwarfing the previous best of 10 million by Apex Legends in 2019, and Animal Crossing sold 13 million copies in the first 6 weeks after its launch


(Animal Crossing)

Video game hardware sales are up, as people search for more ways to entertain themselves at home. All console sales were up by 150% in the week March 16-22, especially for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

These new hardware owners are likely to continue playing more games after the pandemic, so at least some of the increase will be permanent. Games are easier to produce remotely, meaning they will be less stunted than other forms of media, and more likely to meet this increased demand with new content. 

Mobile gaming has the lowest barrier to entry for players; more than two-fifths of the global population owns a smartphone and many mobile titles are free to play. It’s therefore not surprising that mobile has experienced the biggest rise. People are downloading more mobile games; the first quarter of 2020 was the largest for mobile game downloads ever, with 13 billion installs across the App Store and Google Play Store. They're also spending more; in April mobile game revenue grew by 10% month-on-month world wide. 


Games — a place to be together that is not Zoom

Multiplayer games offer another way for friends to connect digitally (Fortnite recently topped 350 million register players). Whereas online "get-togethers" diminish in value as people run out of things to talk about, games provide a treasure trove of engaging, shared experiences. They can even serve as "venues" for other entertainment, such as the live Travis Scott concert in Fortnite that attracted 30 million viewers. Esports is another form of entertainment that has seen significant increases in the absence of traditional sport.


(The Travis Scott concert in Fortnite)

Companies and organisations have supported this increased adoption of video games. The WHO (who in the past classified video game addiction as an official mental health disorder) has begun recommending people play more games. Several U.S. game companies are joining the movement (#PlayApartTogether) by making certain content available for free or adding new features and extra rewards.

Not all games have benefited from the quarantine; games that require augmented reality and geolocation such as Pokémon Go and Wizards Unite saw a big drop in players. Although esports has experienced massive growth, events with live streaming in front of audiences have been suspended. 


(Esports can be played in the comfort of your home)

Understanding the pandemic through games 

One way that people are trying to come to grips with the pandemic and its implications is to consume more media related to the pandemic. Just as books about the Spanish flu and films about world wide epidemics have spiked in popularity, so have games.

Sales of 2014’s Plague Inc. (a game where you play as a pathogen tasked with infecting and wiping out the world) have peaked, while many other games centered around COVID-19 have been released since the pandemic started. 

These include: 



(Plaque Inc.)

Using games to educate people about serious topics, such as infectious diseases, is not new. Cambridge Infectious Diseases has a list of games doing just that, and includes titles such as Medical Mysteries, Killer Flu and Epidemic II. There is also CDC's game Solve the Outbreak.

Serious games such as these go beyond pure entertainment: they raise awareness around important health and social issues.  

How can you benefit?

People (as we at Plinq have said many times) don't like ads at the best of times, and advertising during COVID-19 is particularly horrid. Current ads fall into two categories: “you need us now more than ever”, and “we are in this together”. 

If you want to give your customers a fresh take on your role in the crisis, or your role in their lives, one way to do it is to use a compelling game to make your case. This is the best time for this form of engagement, and a way to set you apart from your competitors.

You can see how companies in the past have used games in advertising in our massive list of advergames

If you want to know more about what you can do with games, request a plan.

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