The gaming industry has thrived during the pandemic, but what’s next?

Emily Whitman
4 min readMar 11, 2021
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The economic damage caused by Covid-19 has been impossible to ignore but while many industries have suffered losses, video games have seen a surge in growth since the stay-at-home orders were first issued.

Development platform Unity released a report on the impact of Covid-19 on the video game industry and provides valuable insight into how and why the industry has thrived while others struggle to survive.

For access to the full report from Unity, click here.

New Players to the Game

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With many companies opting for employees to work from home, people have cut commutes from their schedule and have more time for leisure. Among the most popular activities were video streaming and video games.

Unity’s report divides platforms into two categories. The first is HD games which are those played on PC and console. The other category is mobile games played on smartphone devices.

The difference of percent change of Daily Active Users between 2019 and 2020 for HD and mobile platforms. Percent change is measured by the change from the baseline, or 0%, which is established by metrics from the first week of the year.

On the HD side, the number of daily active users (DAU) in 2020 increased by 46% in early March compared to the same time period in 2019. This doesn’t necessarily account for new users to these platforms, but it does show a significant increase in the number of players present each day.

Mobile games audience numbers increased by 23% in 2020 while in 2019 this number only saw a growth of 6%. While HD games require certain hardware to play, nearly everyone has a smartphone that can access mobile games. The ease of accessibility coupled with the need for new entertainment created an ideal scenario for mobile games gaining new users.

Mobile Game Ads

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With a larger audience playing mobile games, more people are seeing the ads included in these apps.

Percent change is measured by the change from the baseline, or 0%, which is established by metrics from the first week of the year.
Percent change is measured by the change from the baseline, or 0%, which is established by metrics from the first week of the year.

The change of ad impressions from the baseline established by 2019 data jumped from 25% in March 2020 to more than 75% by April 2020. Additionally, ad revenue increased by 59% during the same month.

The data goes farther than just impressions. The click-through rate of ads increased 34% and conversion rates went up 23%. This means that people are clicking on the ads they see and they’re downloading the apps that are advertised.

Distantly (and Digitally) Social

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Games aren’t the only apps smartphone users are spending their time on. Traffic on social media apps increased 83% due to the pandemic conditions. Since covid-19 restricts social gatherings, people have turned to digital solutions with multiplayer features as a way to be present virtually.

Percent change is measured by the change from the baseline, or 0%, which is established by metrics from the first week of the year.

The types of games people play has also seen a shift. “Commuter” app traffic declined 7% while traffic on apps considered “Mid” or “Hardcore” increased 39%. The decline in commuter apps doesn’t spell doom and gloom, though. Users still enjoy the ease of these apps thanks to their shorter play sessions and flatter learning curves and can be expected to rise again as public spaces open back up.

Conclusion: What’s Expected for 2021?

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A hopeful outlook for 2021 expects a return to some kind of normalcy as the pandemic is brought under control. While the gaming industry has seen a surge in growth due to social distancing and limited public gatherings, can studios keep this momentum when other entertainment options become available again?

Starloop Studios offers some strategies for game monetization in 2021. In-game ads provide a strong opportunity for monetization but to be effective, these ads should be focused on the users. For example, watching an ad gives the user an in-game reward afterward. Playable ads are another option that gives users a demo of the advertised game and encourages engagement.

Subscriptions are nothing new, but more developers are pushing players to become subscribers in order to access a premium experience of the game. Subscriptions help retain users and revenue by creating a loyalty program for the most dedicated players.

The pandemic has brought many lifestyle changes over the past year and only time can tell how many of them are here to stay. Whatever happens, video games are on the rise and they aren’t coming down anytime soon.

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