Record Gaming Engagement Will Continue Post-COVID

Record Gaming Engagement Will Continue Post-COVID

Over the past two months, game publishers have seen record engagement from their users. A few highlights:

  • Activision Blizzard – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has sold more units life-to-date than any prior Call of Duty title at this point after its release. In addition, it’s free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone has reached over 60 million players since its March 10th launch.
  • EA – Madden NFL 20 has reached the highest engagement levels in franchise history. While pre-COVID, Apex Legends was the most downloaded free-to-play game on the PlayStation 4 in CY19, beating out Fortnite.
  • Take-Two – Take-Two expects NBA2K20 to have the highest lifetime units sold, recurrent consumer spending, and net bookings of any 2K Sports title. Epic Games Store is giving away GTA V for free, causing the store to crash on the first day. The influx of players led to GTA’s online services going down due to “extremely high player volumes.” There’s also the alien battle on GTA that has partly taken over Tik Tok.
  • Ubisoft – Rainbow Six Siege had record engagement in each of the first three months of the year. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey sell-thru, engagement, and player recurring investment (PRI) is higher than its previous version, Origins. Looking forward, the next installment in the series, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, saw 100 million trailer views in 10 days, a record for a Ubisoft game announcement.

The question is: what happens to gaming engagement when we return to normal and people are spending less time in their homes?

We think about engagement in two ways: total time spent and active users. Total time spent is the aggregate hours a game is played, or content is watched in a given period. Active users are the number of players who play a game or tune into Netflix in that period. Both streaming and gaming are benefitting from people staying at home, as engagement overall is higher.

As restrictions are lifted, it seems a given that time spent for both gaming and streaming will recede from record highs. People will eventually spend more time away from home, meaning they will have less free time available to game or stream. With less free time, we’ll inevitably consume less content.

The real difference in gaming vs content streaming coming out of the pandemic will be in active users. We think it is likely that gaming will maintain the surge in active users despite overall time spend decreasing, while streaming may have a harder time hanging on to new users that came on from the pandemic. The core reason is that gaming incorporates a powerful social element that streaming does not. Games have become a place to play with friends, meet new people, and otherwise engage with the world. Gaming provides community and interactivity, something that people will always desire and obtain in various ways in life. As the world is slow to return to large gatherings and events, gaming provides a strong substitute. Streaming, on the other hand, is more solitary by nature. It can be done with friends in a room, but not with huge communities or crowds.

For publishers, it’s important to support the social elements of gaming and to encourage players to play with their friends. Whether that’s in-game or ad-hoc tournaments, new downloadable content, or specific changes to battle passes to encourage playing with teammates, keeping content fresh will keep the active user count high, despite a likely reduction in time spent after restrictions are lifted.