Online gaming usage increased 115% in the US due to Covid-19, a recent study from Verizon shows. In addition, Twitter reports a 71% increase in conversation volume about gaming worldwide and a 38% increase in unique authors on the topic from the first to second half of March.

In short, online gaming is hot. In our house, the male gen-z kids play online sports games like NBA 2K20 – a lot. They sometimes play shooter games like Call of Duty. During the lockdown, my wife has taken up online bridge as a substitute for her thrice-weekly bridge games. (She’s a regional master.) The kids love it. My wife still has trouble adapting to online play. I haven’t yet tried it. (I’m still hooked on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and PBS.)

Online gaming was already growing consistently over time, but coronavirus lockdowns greatly accelerated the trend. With in-person entertainment options unavailable, the spike in online gaming is not surprising. Online gaming won’t fade when lockdowns disappear, experts say. Online games will become more advanced, connection tools more immersive, and people more eager to interact with each other through games.

“The trends and habits formed during COVID-19 could lead to a massive shift in how the next generation looks to meet-up, attend social events, and more,” says Andrew Hutchinson at Social Media Today. “If you’re not paying attention to the influence of gaming on modern culture, you’re missing out on maybe the biggest shift in how the next generation connects.”

It’s not all roses in online gaming, however. Some parts of the gaming industry suffered disruptions due to cancellations of public gaming industry events. The closure of retail outlets and supply chain issues have disrupted marketing plans and launch timelines. The internet has been stressed as more people work from home. (My wife’s online bridge game often crashes. Popular games from major game producers like Electronic Arts, Activision and Take-Two work more reliably.)

What Marketers Should Know about Online Gaming

Gamers are no longer only adolescent males — 46% are now female. Many are middle-aged women. While action-packed car racing and battle games remain pervasive, especially among males, online board and card games are also increasingly popular.

Top gaming sites include Mixer and Twitch, which boasts an average viewership of 1.5 million. YouTube Gaming is also emerging as a popular platform. Online gaming is both a participation and spectator sport. Many gamers spend as much time watching others play, especially the top players, as they do playing themselves.

Brands seeking to reach gamers typically partner with leading players, who can attract millions of followers. “All it takes is the right partnership with a relevant player, and your product can go stratospheric,” states the Digital Marketing Institute.

Kaya Ismail, founder of content marketing agency Wordify, recommends that marketers work with influencer partners who have:

  • An established and steadily growing audience and chat,
  • A regular broadcast schedule of at least three times a week,
  • Content that conforms to the platform’s Rules of Conduct, Terms of Service and Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notification Act (DMCA) Guidelines.

Continuously audit the messaging and creative being used in campaigns, advises Rick Kelley, Facebook vice president of Global Gaming. Review whether the language of existing campaigns is still appropriate to use, and consider what imagery of people interacting might seem insensitive given the social distancing measures and ‘stay at home’ restrictions in many countries.

Bottom Line: Online gaming has exploded due to COVID-19 lockdowns and will likely remain popular as it continues to attract more females and older players. Experts recommend that brands take a serious look at adding online gaming to their marketing strategy.