The need to physically distance from each other during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of major social events and activities. School, shopping, partying, weddings and concerts, and essentially every other activity that can’t comply with the lockdown have been put on hold indefinitely. The result? People have begun flocking to the best alternatives they have.
Video games have been the obvious escape for millions across the globe. They offer not only an escape from the stress and challenges in the real world but also a place to communicate and have fun with friends. With the huge boost in both revenue and players, the gaming industry has been experiencing several notable changes. Are these trends positive or negative for gaming as a whole? Are they going to last when the lockdown is over? We have the answers to those questions, alongside four major trends in the gaming industry that have come about from the COVID-19 lockdown.
1. Game Companies Coming Together to Promote #PlayApartTogether
In an effort to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19, 18 video game companies have teamed up with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the #PlayApartTogether initiative, which has gained the support of over 40 companies since its launch in April. Among the 18 leading companies are major players in the industry like Twitch, Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, and Unity. The WHO ambassador for global strategy, Ray Chambers, hopes that this coalition can “reach millions with important messages to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” as reported by USA Today.
These major companies have come together to promote a message to their shared global audience of over 3 billion people. A coalition of this magnitude and purpose has never happened before in the gaming industry. To see these industry players using their platform to promote messages of social welfare, such as social distancing and hand hygiene, is a relatively new phenomenon.
The question is, will these sorts of coalitions happen under different circumstances now that the barrier has been broken through? It’s difficult to say, given that the #PlayApartTogether initiative is ultimately entirely in the industry’s favor. Perhaps one day, the ethics of how video games and consoles are created, marketed, and sold will be the catalyst of a new social movement for companies of all sizes to get behind.
2. Games Hosting Online Social Events
The industry is currently seeing traditionally offline social events being converted to unique online experiences through gaming. The best example of this innovation is through Epic Games’ hit battle royale game Fortnite. Epic Games hosted a hugely successful in-game Travis Scott concert in Fortnite, which was viewed by 12 million players at once.
Though Fortnite had hosted concerts previously, nothing reached the heights of the Scott performance. The ambitious and eye-catching visuals, paired with a giant digital Travis Scott walking across the map itself, were completely new to viewers. This reveals the true potential that games have to host formerly offline social events in a way that is comparably fun while also distinct from the original event.
Several companies may be seeing the lockdown as an opportunity to expand the content hosted by their platforms, but will people’s interest subsist once they can attend events in person again? If the Scott concert is anything to go by, game companies can absolutely keep this trend going, so long as they innovate on the in-person alternative. For example, attending a traditional Scott concert would cost more, might not be accessible to people of all abilities, and might not have the best visibility. Epic Games’ alternative solved all of these issues.
The best comparison to this innovation is with online education programs. Though in-person education is incredibly limited, there are various online schooling programs that can teach people everything from agriculture to IT networks and system administration.
3. Millions of Converts and Doubled Engagement Numbers
As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, the gaming industry has seen a massive surge in both players and the amount of time spent on their platforms. For example, Microsoft had a 130 percent increase in multiplayer engagement during both March and April, the beginning of the lockdown in the majority of countries. Similarly, Twitch reported a 50 percent increase in gaming hours viewed from March to April. Console sales also increased, particularly for Nintendo’s Switch console, which saw a 24 percent increase from last year as of late March.
Are these new gains sustainable as lockdown restrictions begin to relax? Somewhat. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the lockdown for gaming companies has been all the new players as opposed to the one-time sales. If they’re able to keep the interest of these new converts, then they won’t experience a massive drop-off the moment people are able to leave the house again.
4. New Marketing Methods
A new trend resulting from lockdown guidelines has been gaming companies finding new ways to get around challenges and delays. Possibly the best example of this comes from Riot Games. In an effort to stand out among competitors, Riot Games made beta access to their game Valorant available to those who watched a playthrough of the beta on Twitch. This collaboration offered somewhat of a tutorial for the game itself while benefitting both Twitch and Riot Games.
The full version of Valorant and many other games have been delayed as a result of the pandemic. However, many companies are finding ways to turn this problem into a marketing opportunity, creating new ways of making games accessible to players everywhere. This trend will definitely subsist beyond the lockdown, especially these collaborations between game developers and streaming services like Twitch.
Oli is a working mum who has a passion for teaching and all things educational. With a background in marketing, Oli manages the digital channels and content at Courses.com.au.