There has been a high increase of game players during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly following 16 March – the date the US president announced social distancing advice, including social gathering limitations, work from home, and attend school from home.
“We observed a 33% increase in the total player population of games after this date,” said UNSW Canberra PhD student Dulakshi Wannigamage.
Dulakshi has spent the last few weeks investigating changes in game player population size as well as daily and weekly patterns and how they have fluctuations during the COVID-19 period, particularly focusing on games available on the popular gaming platform Steam.
“In my PhD research work I’m interested in understanding digital game player populations like who is playing, what games are they playing, when are they playing and why,” she said.
During her research in this period, Dulakshi found many games displayed a high percentage increase in players during the pandemic compared to the same time last year, [the month following 16 March 2019].
“The game Tabletop Simulator showed a 480% increase, while The Jackbox Party Pack 3 showed an increase of more than 520%. What is interesting about this increase is that these two games contain common and social games that people play when they are physically together such as various board games: checkers, cards, Trivia Murder Party, Fakin’ it.
“Another interesting game where we found increased players was Plague Inc: Evolved, which showed a 245% increase. This game is quite relevant to the current pandemic situation where players have to evolve a plague to destroy the human population,” Dulakshi said.
In addition to population fluctuations, the research also observed changes in the daily population fluctuation cycle of most of the games. Patterns indicated more players during the daytime as well rather than just peaking towards the end of the day.
“Our previous study revealed nine weekly player population fluctuation patterns that existed before COVID-19. Basically, it showed that in most games the population increases from Friday to Sunday and that pattern is repeated each week.
“However, now around 76% of the games that previously displayed weekly patterns do not show any weekly seasonality. This could happen because most people, including younger players, have had to stay at home having more freedom to play anytime and this is leading to the blurring of weekdays and weekends.
“The increase of new players also adds more variability to weekly population fluctuations, disrupting the possibility of the repeating of weekly patterns,” Dulakshi said.