Gaming has been steadily on the rise for years but the pandemic was a boon for the industry, catapulting it to record levels of revenue and usage. To understand what entertainment and gaming habits will look like in a post-pandemic world, Activision Blizzard Media conducted research on consumer entertainment changes over the course of 2020. The company announced the findings during a segment in its Cannes Lions Live content series, “The Future of Gaming.”

In “How Gaming Found Increased Purpose in 2020,” Activision Blizzard vice president of global business marketing, measurement and insights, Jonathan Stringfield, discusses the implications for marketers trying to keep up with the shifting behaviors of gamers.

According to the research, conducted by Activision Blizzard in conjunction with MFour Mobile Research and OMG Research, there was a 91 percent increase in digital media consumption, with shopping apps, short form video, streaming and gaming among the top forms of media consumed. Below we break down the key takeaways from Stringfield’s analysis.

Social Connectivity

Given the solitude experienced by many last year, social connectivity was found to be a primary purpose of digital media consumption, according to the research, notes Stringfield. Specifically, of those who were newer or returning to gaming last year, roughly 40 percent indicated social connectivity as one of the primary reasons for engaging with it. Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a perfect example of how consumers found a medium in which to relax and socialize with others in a virtual world. Innersloth’s online multiplayer game Among Us marks another example of how friends and coworkers interacted in a natural and fun way during lockdowns.

Stringfield reports that although all age groups turned to games as the medium through which they connected with family and friends, it was parents in particular who were some of the “biggest gamers out there.” Given that they were called upon to parent even more—to act as a teacher at times while juggling work from home—gaming played an integral role in how they connected with their children. Gaming also enabled them to achieve a sense of escapism and decompress amid the chaos of the year.

Of the 27 percent of individuals who reported being new to gaming in 2020, over 76 percent stated that they were revisiting, according to the research. Given that the majority of gamers last year weren’t new to gaming, Stringfield is frequently asked the billion-dollar question: will individuals stick with it in a world quickly reopening and returning to normal?

Simply put, video games will be a part of our media ecosystem in the long haul. Roughly 73 percent of individuals surveyed intend on maintaining habits like gaming. This isn’t a conclusive answer, so only time will tell how the current patterns shift and evolve. But as Stringfield notes, given that human behavior tends to change fairly slowly, the research points to the probability that gaming isn’t a “one-and-done” for 2020.

Emotional Need

In addition to the social connectivity that multiplayer and online games afforded consumers, respondents reported feeling emotions such as happiness, calmness and the feeling of being entertained while playing games.

Among the individuals that increased streaming video consumption, that uptake was almost synonymous with video games at  about 76 percent. Stringfield says that this finding highlights a “strategic blind spot” in the industry that video games are as fundamental to individuals’ media ecosystems as other entertainment forms like streaming, which most would consider indispensable today.

Implications For Brands

Activision Blizzard’s research solidified that digital media played the role of “the hero” for individuals throughout 2020. Now brands have an opportunity to capitalize on consumers’ growing relationship with games, namely integrating with these platforms in a way that’s mindful of the need states that users have for engaging with them.

Stringfield says that it’s imperative brands integrating in this space understand why individuals come to these platforms. Doing so will create connections with them that are stronger than the connection otherwise created by advertisements that ignore the game’s context and purpose. Integration should be seamless enough to the core experience so that individuals are not broken away from the platform or miss out on the benefits they derive from them.

To answer the question of whether video games are here to stay, Stringfield affirms that gaming has been on the rise for years, so the numbers witnessed in 2020 were only building on a trend that’s been in the making. And the games won’t just be played by tweens, but by all cohorts — millennials, Gen Z and older generations.