UK video gaming industry sees huge growth during lockdown with more Brits playing than ever

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With more people staying home and social distancing rules reducing physical interaction, people searched for another way to socialise and fill their free time during lockdown.

The Entertainment Retailers Association announced that the UK games industry banked a revenue of £4.2billion in 2020. This is a 14.5% increase from 2019 which saw sales decline for the first time since 2012.

This comes as people stuck at home in lockdown sought out new hobbies that provided entertainment and were different from binging TV shows or scrolling on your mobile phone.

Adam Brigges, a worker who was put on furlough like so many others during the early parts of lockdown, found himself with so much extra time on his hands.

Adam feels playing games in lockdown has given him a sense of achievement.
(Image: Eugene Sowah)

He said: “I didn’t really have much to do after being put on furlough and by the third week into lockdown I had watched pretty much every show on Prime and Netflix.

“I own a Playstation 4 with some games but I never really had the chance to play them because of work, but they have helped to fill my extra free time whilst also giving me a sense of achievement for completing the difficult levels.”

Janice Fleming has been working from home since the pandemic started and was looking for a means to escape her single room office.

She said: ”Working and living in the same room every day really began to take its toll on me. I would go for walks and video call friends but still needed more escapism when not working.

“I do enjoy reading books, but I wanted something that would help me unwind but was still goal orientated. My mate suggested I play games like Inside and Limbo.

“These games were a perfect fit for me as they weren’t too demanding while providing the escapism and the mental stimulation I was looking for.”

Games like Limbo helped to provide escapism for Janice
(Image: Playdead / Microsoft Game Studios)

The UK video game industry saw 43 million games being sold in 2020 which is a 17.7% increase from 2019 based on GSD data from retailers.

With other entertainment industries such as film taking a huge hit due to cancelled releases and delayed schedules, the game industry was able to capitalise on this with publishers able to constantly add to their library.

Dave Hobbs, an industry professional, saw a rise in the number of people playing games due to them looking for something to give that extra incentive.

He said: “With so many people not being able to go out, they began looking for a different release, craving that social connection and extra stimulus.

“People suddenly had extra disposable income on their hands that they would’ve normally spent on going out to the theatre or a meal now found themselves turning to gaming.”

Dan Maher, a video game creative, explains why people felt the need to turn their attention to video games over other forms of entertainment.

He said: “When people realise they are going to be indoors for the long haul, the thing you want to do is keep yourself entertained for as long as humanly possible and obviously you’ve already got your Amazon Prime and Netflix subscriptions so you won’t be spending more on that.

“Also with the lack of cinema releases, there wasn’t really much to add to your expenditure. However, games weren’t heavily impacted in terms of release schedules, with new games constantly coming out allowing people to buy.”

Dave Hobbs believes games provided extra stimulus during lockdown
(Image: Eugene Sowah)

Having access to a large digital library played a massive role in this increase with digital game sales rising accounting for £3.6billion of 2020’s sales increasing by 16% from the previous year.

Maneet Barmi has played games for a long time and saw the easy accessibility of digital libraries very helpful during the pandemic.

She said: “I feel there is something special about owning a physical version of a game. However, I was slightly worried about ordering games from online retailers as I wasn’t keen on receiving products that had been handled by other people.

“I also suspect many people don’t really want delivery men at their doorstep. So it was great to have easy access to a large amount of games at my fingertips. Also with games being released digitally, it meant that most of the games I was looking forward to could still be released, which was amazing.”

Being unable to meet with people outside of support bubbles meant games with a social element proved to be the most desirable. FIFA 21, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Grand Theft Auto V and Animal Crossing topped the charts in 2020, with online play being a big part of their overall experience.

FIFAis one of the best-selling video game franchises ever and Derek Flores found it as a fun short-term replacement for not being able to play football in the park.

He said: “I owned the previous FIFA games, but never really played beyond the odd Friday night. I never really thought about playing it over the real thing, but it was great to play matches with my mates online.

“It is not a replacement for the real thing and never will be, but it was great to still be able to engage in the sport, especially with the football season also being on hiatus.”

Dan Maher says people grew tired of streaming and other forms of entertainment
(Image: Eugene Sowah)

Dave Hobbs is an avid fan of Grand Theft Auto, using the online functionality to have an active social life during the pandemic.

He said: “The Grand Theft Auto games are complete masterworks of creativity and technology, with online offering a very different experience to the offline game.

“I had a regular thing of playing every Friday night, like looking forward to the weekend. I was living for playing GTA on a Friday night because that was my social during lockdown.

“One of the great nights was hosting my friend's birthday on GTA online, it was as difficult as arranging a real birthday party. We had a great laugh, and that's what GTA has become. It’s almost like a second life.”

With schools being closed for the majority of lockdown, children have had a lot of free time on their hands after home schooling. Parents may worry about their children potentially playing more games, but some parents see the benefits gaming has served during lockdown.

Kesandu Okon, a mother of two who had to home school her children, bought them a Nintendo Switch which proved a better investment than she initially thought.

She said: “I’ve never really played games and thought it was all guns and zombies but another parent told me about Animal Crossing and how it was keeping her daughter entertained by allowing her to fish and farm with some of the other kids in her class.

“After doing some research I felt comfortable with my two kids playing Animal Crossing as it felt like a safe space and seemed engaging for them. Funnily enough, I’ve found myself sneaking in a game after they go to sleep.”

Ceyhun Doğan is a single dad who wanted to find a way to help keep his son in contact with his friends.

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He said: “Being a parent in lockdown hasn't been easy, with the stresses of work and knowing that my son misses his friends. But gaming has helped as he has been able to stay in contact with his friends and have fun. We have also been able to spend more time together playing games we both enjoy.”

Gaming has always been linked to negative effects such as poor mental health, social disconnection and more. There have been many conversations around playing video games and mental health, particularly since the WHO ruling in 2019 on ‘gaming disorder’.

As the Covid-19 pandemic developed, gaming has been increasingly considered as a tool to help maintain social distancing whilst maintaining social bonds with the #playaparttogether. EA partnered with the Department of Media, Culture and Sport and the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) to raise awareness of and combat loneliness.

Jake, a charity worker who has suffered with OCD throughout his life, praises gaming for being a constant positive aspect of his life providing the escape he needed.

He said; “Without gaming I wouldn’t be in this position, in the job of my dreams or as confident.”

Jake goes on to say how gaming may have been helpful during the pandemic: “People are realising gaming is just as valuable as a real life memory can be. I think if you talk to anyone during this pandemic there will be a gaming memory somewhere.”

Jake Smith believes gaming can be a positive tool for well being
(Image: Eugene Sowah)

Isabella Colijn has underlying health problems which have made it hard for her to see anyone during lockdown. She found solace and mental stimulation in playing whilst being alone for long periods of time.

She said : “Having severe asthma meant that I wasn’t able to meet people due to the shielding rules.

“I found the prospect of not being able to physically see anyone for an extended period was really daunting. I did video calls with friends and family, but being alone began to take its toll on me.

“However I did find the company of a new game with new stories, new characters and new objectives really gratifying because I always had strong narratives to keep me preoccupied like The Last Of Us.

“I found other games like Animal Crossing a real lifeline as I was able make new friends and tackle new challenges daily that kept my mind off what was going on in the world.”

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2020 proved to be an amazing year for the industry with people turning to gaming for various reasons and whether these new gamers remain will be pivotal as restrictions begin to ease.

The industry was also helped with the additions of new consoles and a constant stream of games. Recent figures show that gaming is enjoying a much stronger start to the year than last, and hasn’t been hindered by other industries adapting their strategies for home consumption.

As society's view of gaming may have changed it will be interesting to see just how many of these new gamers will stay invested in their newfound hobby. With restrictions looking to lessen and more people being allowed to leave their home, portable gaming could be the future and with Nintendo still enjoying an amazing rise with console sales being up 81% in the early parts of the year compared to 2020.

Handheld consoles such as the Nintendo Switch are still in high demand
(Image: Eugene Sowah)

In a report by YouGov, their data showed that out of the gaming population in the UK, 52% of them played games on their mobile phone during the pandemic. This shows the huge scope of the platform and with big publishers such as Nintendo and Square Enix investing into mobile, more people could turn to mobile phone gaming when restrictions ease.

Annette Cross was a casual gamer before the pandemic, but playing mobile games such as Pokemon Go has helped her to cope with lockdown.

She said: “Pokemon Go has been a very welcome distraction during a difficult time and having tasks and goals in the game helped to motivate me to get out for walks which has been great for my well being.

“There are also special community days each month which has been really nice as most people in the WhatsApp group play along and it turns into a fun, sociable experience. It’s been quite isolating to spend so much time at home so having these sociable experiences has been uplifting and helped me feel a bit more normal.”

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