In March, as countries around the world were heading into lockdown, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was released and became a record hit for Nintendo, selling 26 million copies at $60 apiece. People loved “Animal Crossing” for its ability to transport them to a deserted island, where they could architect, granting them control and a sense of adventure.
“Overall, 2020 added to the need to escape reality, release tensions and frustrations, uplift the spirit at a time where we were forced to do most of that at home,” said Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst at research firm Creative Strategies.
“As people begin to responsibly edge back into our pre-Covid routines, I believe many will continue to turn to gaming,” said Vivek Sharma, vice president of Facebook Gaming.
Not every gaming initiative was a smash hit.
How 2021 could shake out
Yet most companies in the games industry are bullish that the growth will continue into 2021 despite the recession and high unemployment.
“Even in this economic state, we see a lot of people willing to put down $500 for a new console,” said Carter Rogers, an analyst at Nielsen’s video game arm SuperData. “We don’t foresee anything sort of gaming crash due to economic factors because there are a lot of people stuck at home, shifting discretionary spending into gaming.”
“The games business is a tough business… There’s a reason why there hasn’t been a major new entrant into the gaming space since the Xbox in the early 2000s,” said Jack Buser, games director at Google Stadia, who previously worked at Sony for over seven years. “Have we made mistakes? Absolutely. Have we learned from those mistakes? Absolutely. Will we make mistakes in the future? I’m sure we will. Right. And that’s part of what it means to be in this business. But one thing is for sure: we are committed to it.”
Google’s video platform YouTube logged its best year ever in 2020 with more than 100 billion hours in gaming content watched. Ryan Wyatt, head of YouTube Gaming, said economic conditions like the recession are “ultimately out of our control” but that the company would continue its strategy of entertaining people next year while vying for their attention spans.
Jessica Stout, a 31-year-old mother of three who has a YouTube channel with more than 7 million subscribers, told CNN Business that she believes gaming growth will slow if people are able to venture outside safely again. Stout, who goes by the name “Aphmau” on her channel, said that “a lot of people are going to spend more time going out than they ever have before, after being inside for so long.”