John Poelking
John Poelking is a Gaming Analyst at Mintel. His passion for live entertainment, movies, television, video games, technology and travel informs his sector knowledge.

Gaming has undoubtedly had a moment in the US, as consumers have dove headfirst into their gaming passions while in quarantine, and gaming industry leaders have been reaping the benefits. In its first fiscal quarter of 2020, Nintendo’s operating profits grew a staggering 428% from the same quarter the previous year, driven by the success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons which has sold more than 22 million copies since its release this past March.

Source: Nintendo

According to Mintel research on women and gaming, nearly three in five gamers said they were playing more during their lockdown than they typically were before COVID-19. The big question that remains is one that has been asked since gaming started to hit the mainstream: will this last?

The answer to that question is simpler and clearer than it has ever been before: absolutely. Here are some key indicators that show what has happened in the gaming industry, and where it can go beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women are increasingly playing more video games

According to Mintel research on women and gaming, a quarter of adults started playing games regularly in the past two years. The stigma of gaming as something predominantly for young males in their parents’ basements lingers, as fewer than half of people who play video games consider themselves to be “gamers.” However, the diversity of gameplay, especially in the mobile gaming market, has opened up the gaming culture beyond this stereotype to bring in a wider array of interests and nowhere is this truer than in the female gaming market. The share of women playing video games has risen 26.3% from 2018-20, compared to an 18.9% increase of all adults. New gaming audiences have more corners of the gaming market to explore, giving brands an opportunity to offer recommendations on how they can dig deeper into this new passion.

eSports have gone mainstream

COVID-19 postponed or modified the regular seasons for most traditional sports. eSports organizations had to cancel in-person events too, but they were much better equipped to translate these events to digital-exclusive presentations. As a result, many esports competitions could continue, filling the hole left by other sports. In an upcoming Mintel report on e-sports viewers in 2020, nearly a quarter of esports viewers in 2020 watched their first esports competition. New viewers could experiment with esports to scratch that competitive itch, thereby lowering the barrier to entry for an activity that many non-viewers find confusing or boring. Even as traditional sports competitions resume, more people than ever have been able to at least explore the appeal of esports without discarding it to the outskirts of pop culture. eSports have become mainstream entertainment, creating a larger audience that’s more dedicated than ever for brands of all kinds to engage with.

Gamers play to relax

Despite the highly-competitive nature of action games that dominate media coverage, the majority of players want video games that feel more like a breath of fresh air than a blast of icy wind to the face. Nearly two-thirds of gamers play games to relax. The success of Animal Crossing showed that relaxing games can live outside of smartphones to become a cultural moment. As the country enters a recession and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, players will look for games that can help them escape and unwind. Brands can look outside of the audiences playing Call of Duty or Fortnite to find a sustainable group of people looking to take a break from everyday stresses even as life transforms into the “next normal.”