Video games have long been polarizing, with people either loving them or hating them. Coronavirus has effectively turned the tables for many in the hate camp. Video gaming trends have experienced a massive surge in players and revenue recently. Many individuals have purchased gaming consoles for the first time as a means of entertainment. These new players are also benefiting from the social function of online multiplayer gaming. Practicing social distancing and observing stay at home orders have motivated many people to play more video games to find a connection with others. Even parents who have long limited screen time for their children have seen the distraction of video games to be welcome.
Synthesio, an Ipsos company has tracked COVID-19 conversations since the outbreak of COVID-19. We dove into the data to see what individuals are saying about gaming. Thanks to social listening technology, fascinating new trends have emerged from all corners of the internet.
Huge Wins for Trending Video Gaming
Financially, the video game industry has thrived in the conditions created by the pandemic. Companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, Twitch, and Activision have all reached new heights in player investment thanks to people staying home. In April, Microsoft reported that subscribers to Xbox Game Pass, a Netflix-like subscription service, topped 10 million. Among those subscribers, Microsoft also reported a 130-percent increase in multiplayer engagement across March and April.
The same is true of engagement numbers. According to data from StreamElements, Twitch, the most popular video game streaming platform, saw 1.49 billion gaming hours watched in April, which accounts for a 50% increase since March. Steam, a popular PC gaming platform, hit its all-time high user count at over 20 million people in March.
The surge in gaming amid coronavirus lockdowns follows a roster of new game releases. One of the latest online games, “Call of Duty: Warzone,” has found massive success. The game is a free-to-play online battle royale video game launched on March 10th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Within its first 24 hours, publisher Activision said more than 6 million players had played the game.
Nintendo has also found great success among the chaos. Sales of Nintendo’s Switch console were up 24 percent from last year, mostly thanks to a wave of hype around its new game, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” This latest edition of the Animal Crossing series has sold more than 13.5 million copies since its release in late March.
It is possible that “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” may have found such success due to its timing. The game centers around a character whose days are spent decorating their house, interacting with animal neighbors, fishing for new species to put in the town museum, and planting fruit trees. People’s desire to escape combined with the need to be indoors in this social distancing era aligned for “Animal Crossing” to be a hit.
As part of a campaign dubbed #PlayApartTogether, 18 video game companies have banded together to spread important messaging. The coalition has encouraged players to physically distance themselves during the coronavirus crisis by playing video games. Major players like Twitch and Activision Blizzard have promoted games as a way to continue to connect socially with others.
With a global audience exceeding three billion, the games industry has a lot of influence. Primarily, gaming companies can help spread necessary messaging to its users around self-isolation and social distancing. Multiple initiatives have launched in recent weeks such as #PlayApartTogether and “Stay At Home. Stay Safe,” among others.
WHO ambassador for global strategy Ray Chambers said in a statement that he hopes the gaming industry can “reach millions with important messages to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” according to an article by USA Today. Below is a tweet of his from March 28th in support of video games:
New In-Game Experiences
Epic Games’ wildly popular Fortnite has also grown to new heights. New social events like an in-game Travis Scott concert saw over 12 million concurrent views from players. In April alone, players racked up a combined 3.2 billion hours in-game.
The show was the first of a series of virtual global tours that many artists have taken note of and are looking to replicate themselves. Scott released a new single with Kid Cudi during the Fortnite set, perhaps signaling a new era of music releases. Fortnite has held concerts in the past, even a live album listening party with Weezer. It’s all part of developer Epic Games’ tentative plans to spin the popular free online game into something bigger than just a battle royale platform. Fortnite as a social network and impossible-to-ignore cultural phenomenon that experts anticipate will only keep growing.
Video Gaming Trends, Parenting, and Education
The never-before-seen stay at home orders worldwide has meant more time in front of gaming devices. With schools and workplaces being closed, it also means young kids are sharing space with their parents. For busy parents trying to balance work, kids, school, meals, and more, any entertainment source can be a welcome virtual babysitter.
Research shows that for kids of all ages, video games can provide significant social, motivational, emotional, and cognitive benefits. It can also be a vital element of developing education in young children, teaching everything from colors to ABC’s. Active games that get players to move their bodies like the wildly popular “Just Dance” game have the additional benefit of getting people moving in their homes. Perhaps the new research flooding in daily will change the cadence around kids and video games for good.
Now, let’s get into what social listening data can reveal to us about gaming during the coronavirus crisis.
What People Have to Say Online
First and foremost, we wanted to see which brands were driving the most conversation among online users talking about video gaming trends.
Nearly all major gaming companies are driving a significant amount of discussion around their platform, brand, and games. Microsoft takes the lead with the most mentions, primarily about the upcoming release of the highly anticipated new Xbox gaming system. Epic Games, of Fortnite fame, comes in with the second most mentions. Next, thanks to “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” Nintendo follows closely.
A preliminary look at the timeline of the online mentions for each brand reveals that each gaming company trades off having a commanding presence in the community discourse. As each company hosts virtual events, releases new games and consoles, or updates and upgrades existing games, they jump to the top of the conversation. Gaming companies need to keep publishing content throughout the pandemic to stay relevant to and for consumers.
Overall, sentiment analysis shows that positive mentions about gaming occur nearly twice as often as negative mentions. This result is likely due to the welcome distractions and sense of community that many games are fostering.
By looking at the top emojis used, one can double-check the generally positive sentiment seen behind comments about video games. The positive connotation of various user’s emojis about video games shows that individuals are excited, engaged, and happy with their gaming experiences during the quarantine. Perhaps there is a positive light at the end of the tunnel thanks to video gaming trends bringing us together.
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