Changing lockdown habits boost video game industry

03 September 2020 4 min. read
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While economists continue to debate the threat to growth proposed by social distancing, lockdowns brought in to control the spread of coronavirus seem to have provided a major boost to the video game industry. A new survey has found the global gaming population is likely to have increased by a net of 4% since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Demand for the Nintendo Switch reached a record high in the wake of stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nintendo's profits surged by more than 400% in its fiscal first quarter ended June 30, as demand for the company's Switch console and Animal Crossing video game skyrocketed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The Japanese video game giant shipped more than 5.7 million Switch consoles in the quarter, up 166.6% year over year. The shipments included about 3 million of the original Switch device and 2.6 million units of the portable-only Switch Lite model – including a 106% spike in Europe.

According to a new study by Simon-Kucher, however, Nintendo was not the only manufacturer to benefit from the millions of customers left with huge amounts of time to kill in early 2020. Out of more than 13,000 respondents in 17 different countries, not only did 39% say they increased their spending on video games during the pandemic, but 21% of gamers suggested they were likely to spend more whenever a ‘post-Covid-19’ world materialises.

Gamers are spending 39 percent more on gaming during COVIDThis may remain even more elevated in regions where lockdowns continue – such as Australia. However, in countries like the US, where the government did not roll out as strict social distancing measures, the impact has been smaller. Simon-Kucher found that as the world’s largest transmission site of coronavirus continues to try and maintain light-touch regulations, the rise in spending among gamers is likely to plateau there at about 13%.

As well as pushing existing gamers to spend more on keeping themselves entertained during the pandemic, Simon-Kucher also discovered that the situation had led to the conversion of a sizeable number of new gamers. The consultancy’s cross-section of respondents suggested that a total of 1% of the population has taken up gaming for the first time since Covid-19 emerged. This amounts to a total market growth of 4% during the lockdown months.

The digital world has taken on greater popularity as a substitute for physical interaction, meanwhile. With social distancing meaning many households were legally forbidden from interacting with close friends, it is not a surprise that 60% of respondents told Simon-Kucher that they played more multiplayer games during Covid-19. Perhaps one consequence of this was that fighting games, multiplayer online battle arena games, and battle royales seemed to gain the largest amount of market share – as their potential for mass-interaction between different players drew respective 30%, 26% and 24% increases in use.

Respondents percentage change in game types they play most during COVID

Lisa Jäger, Partner at Simon-Kucher, said, “While under stay-at-home orders, video games are providing an enticing way to socialise with friends, and even strangers who share similar gaming interests. Due to the length of the Covid-19 shutdowns and the frequency with which social gamers play with one another, it is likely that gamers using video games for social interaction will continue to do so, regardless of lockdowns or not, and this increased focus on social interaction will be a trend with significant impact on the gaming industry for the foreseeable future.”

At the same time, the opportunity to safely explore or build new worlds in lieu of a holiday seems to have made people more adventurous in their gaming. Around 60% of respondents said they had been playing different game types from their usual favourites, because of the pandemic. Console gamers were found to be playing 22% more simulation and creation games to that end – though ‘rhythm’ games were most popular of all, seeing a 57% jump in use by gamers. This might be linked at least partially to the calming influence of such games, during an extended crisis which took a massive toll on the mental health of many people.

PC gamers did not unconditionally line up with console gamers in terms of their choices – support for rhythm and creation games was more muted in particular, limiting their overall average in uptake – but one area that was fairly consistent was the drop in sports gaming. The notable drop in use of sports games during Covid-19 seems particularly strange considering many sports fans – especially football supporters – complained of being starved for action amid the lockdown. It does not seem they sought to satiate their cravings digitally, however, with gamers saying they spent 12% less time on such games than before the pandemic.