Like many hobbies that can be enjoyed at home by yourself, gaming saw a rise in popularity during the pandemic–especially as internet connectivity and streaming have made gaming more social.
Many reported turning to games to cope with stress and isolation while in lockdown. Throughout the UK, people spent almost 30% more time on video games after the beginning of the pandemic than they did the previous year. The industry boasted over 6 million new customers in 2020–a huge jump–and that number is expected to continue growing towards a total of around 38 million gamers by 2025.
Some sectors have seen especially rapid growth. Mobile gaming, for example, grew 50% since the first national lockdown. Online games posted an average of 13.8 hours of playtime per user per week–and that was from new users alone (established online gamers still played a lot during the pandemic–an average of 11.1 hours per week–but not as much as their n00b counterparts). Pre-pandemic averages tended to max out at around 9 hours per week.
These new users, nicknamed “covideogamers,” reported a number of reasons for picking up the hobby during lockdown to surveys, but by far the most common–cited by over a third of respondents–was boredom. Games had the power to break up the monotony of evenings without movies, pubs, and other popular in-person entertainments.
While well-known titles like Fortnite, EA Sports’ FIFA, Grand Theft Auto, and Call of Duty all continued to do well, the drastic leap in mobile and online gaming was partly thanks to activities many hardcore gamers don’t consider “video games” at all, like solitaire, Sudoku, and Scrabble. Many survey respondents mentioned keeping their mind sharp and creating a sense of accomplishment during an uncertain time as key reasons to pick up the phone or controller and play.
The industry made £4.2 billion in 2020, thanks in large part to the way games helped the nation get through the pandemic. They both brought people together and gave people some time in their own worlds while locked down with their families. They inspired competition, cooperation, and everything in between. The pandemic impacted the game industry–but even more than that, games impacted our experience of the pandemic, giving us small successes to cling to when so much was out of our control.