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Tech and Socialising: Are Gaming Giants the Real Winners?

By Asher Thompson

In a world where socialising has changed, are gaming giants the real winners?

The idea of a ‘winner’ from 2020 is a complex, and, honestly, insensitive thing. Everything as we know it has changed, and certain industries have capitalised on that. Tech corporations around the world have strategically altered their business practice to maximise profit, leading to incredible results.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, a number of things have changed. Our way of life, and the way we socialise was incredibly affected. Zoom, Houseparty, and Microsoft Teams simulated authentic interaction, and made work easier. Meanwhile, without bars, gyms, and schools, many younger people turned to video games to keep in touch with their friends. Furlough, and online school would give us more free time. With no choice but to stay inside, why not dust off the headset and get online? 

The first lockdown in England coincided with the worldwide release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In nine months, it became the second best-selling Nintendo Switch game, a testament to its online play, and social aspects. The Switch dominated console sales, holding a 52% market share in the UK throughout 2020.

Later in the year, Sony and Microsoft would release the PlayStation 5, and the Xbox Series X, respectively. These would sell out almost instantly and remain a hot commodity for months to come. Through online ordering, queues for consoles would become a thing of the past. 

Being unable to go out led to a weird state of disposable income. Clubs, pubs, and restaurants weren’t open, we couldn’t spend that way. Petrol and travel costs were non-existent for a lot of people on furlough. More people could afford a console, and more people actually had time to play them.

Even Pokemon Go, the mobile game dedicated solely to exploring your local surroundings, was modified to be played at home. Developers, Niantic changed the AR app on a global scale in a matter of weeks so that it could continue to be played while in lockdown. The intense restrictions saw little impact on their 147 million active global users.

Communicating via games was an accessible way of socialising for a younger audience. On average, 50% of UK households have a games console, not counting for PCs. Fortnite, for example, is a free to play game (with lucrative micro-transactions) where the majority of its players are under 24, with excellent voice chat features. Available on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC, with cross-platform play, joining a party with your friends has never been easier. 

Similarly, Animal Crossing provided an escape for a wide spectrum of people. As lockdown tightened, we were not allowed outside; Animal Crossing created a sense of bringing the outdoors in through its island simulator gameplay. Visiting your friends island replaced going for a cup of tea. It gave the individual touch of someone’s home, considering everyone’s hyper-personalised islands. 

It is clear that through 2020, games and communications companies profited massively in terms of sales. 2020 did, however, bring its fair share of challenges. With no mass gatherings in most countries, conventions such as PAX were unable to take place, removing vital exposure for smaller developers. The start of the year saw widespread layoffs in large and small companies alike, and downsizing in certain departments. 

Companies were gambling with their future by staying open. Without significant capital behind them, they had to save money however they could. The cost of their gain was the employee’s loss. Blizzard, responsible for World of Warcraft, gave their employees a pitiful $200 gift card to spend in their online shop. 

Communications giants, similarly profited from the pandemic by keeping us all in touch. Zoom calls replaced Sunday lunches and pub quizzes by offering free, and stable video conferencing. Founded in 2011, the California-based communications company exploded into the global domain during 2020.  The company went from approximately $66 per share, in January 2020, to peaking at $568 in October. At one point, it was worth more than global oil giants ExxonMobil, and now stands at $117 billion. 

Microsoft Teams, similarly, has seen their usage surpass even Zoom, over the summer of 2020. Educators have adopted the system, as it integrates well with other programmes. Universities have used it for the majority of their classes, as many universities run off of Microsoft already.  

The two primary industries that have really ‘won’ from 2020 truly have been communication and gaming. Their market shares have reached peaks, previously unknown to them. That said, in a year of constant flux, is it possible that there even is a ‘winner’? When we, the consumer, are forced to consume, is it only natural that they would win? So yes, the tech industry has earned it’s keep, but at what cost?