The spread of Coronavirus has created an unprecedented change in U.S. societal behavior. Beginning in March, schools closed, working from home became mandatory for most, and nationwide travel plummeted. Gathering in groups —including professional sporting events, movies theaters and concerts— was prohibited for most Americans, and is still the case in many states today.
At the same time, we are the most connected society in history, largely enabled by smartphone devices. As a mobile app analytics provider, Flurry sees app activity on 2 billion smartphone devices each month, with a large concentration in the United States. This coverage provides Flurry a unique vantage point to share how mobile app usage is shifting during this time.
In this report, we evaluate how COVID-19 and social distancing have impacted the game app category. Why games? Games is among the most universally used app categories by all age groups, and serves as a bellwether to start understanding shifts in mobile usage behavior.
For this analysis, Flurry hand-curated a basket of gaming applications across various game sub-categories including puzzle, card, arcade, action, player-vs-player and more. We removed any applications that demonstrated unexpected spikes in usage over the inspected time period, likely due to acquisition campaigns by the app publisher. In doing so, we get a clearer picture of behavioral changes caused by sheltering-in-place. We’ll walk through analyses that show there is a marked step-up in the number of people using gaming apps, usage has grown by an even larger factor, and that the largest growth is concentrated among Gen Z. Let’s get started.
The chart above shows user growth in the Games category in the U.S. compared to the pre-coronavirus January baseline. In February, daily life in the U.S. had yet to be interrupted by the global pandemic, which explains a modest 3% increase in average daily users over January. In March, however, as states began to issue the first shelter-in-place orders, we saw an 8% increase over the January baseline. And by April, when most of the country was cooperating with shelter-in-place orders, daily average users in the Games category reached their peak, increasing by 14%. By May and June, as some states began relaxing restrictions, growth rates over January settled down to 9% and 3%, respectively.
We believe this sudden increase in usage is due to people having more time to fill at home, either looking for new gaming apps or starting to use dormant gaming apps previously installed on their phones. We see signs that people are backfilling the time they used to allocate to commuting, work, school and social-life with increased app usage on their phones. Let’s now move from the number of people playing, to how much more people are playing games overall.
This next chart, above, shows the number of sessions which is a better measure of engagement. Not only have the number of users increased during this time period, but also the frequency at which they are playing. In April, when most Americans were sheltering-in-place, sessions increased by 23% compared to the January baseline. This means new and existing users are both engaging in gaming more often. Again, this makes sense as people are partially substituting app usage in place of how they spent their time before social distancing – working or attending school, commuting, entertainment and other social activities. And as we saw in the previous chart, as social distancing guidelines were relaxed, usage over the January baseline settled, with 13% growth in May and 6% in June. Let’s finally look at which age cohort has most increased its use of gaming apps.
In this final chart, we show the percent change from January to June in active users playing gaming apps by generation. From left to right, we see that Gen Z leads the pack in gaming app user growth. Comparing average daily users in January to June, Gen Z users playing games grew by 31%. Next, Gen X grew by 12%, Gen Y by 9%, and Baby Boomers by 6%. We believe that user growth descends by age due to the amount of time that was newly created by social distancing. In other words, Gen Z (13-24 in our study since we exclude 12 and under) has gained the most “newly found time” and are partially filling it with increased app usage. This group is school-aged with largely reduced work loads and with all extracurriculars paused in their lives. As we get older, namely into Gen Y and X, whose ages span 25 - 54, most continued to work, many have children as dependents and have to continue running their households. While they increased available time because most of their social activities, travel and commuting has been paused, they have less net-new time gained compared to Gen Z. Finally, Boomers, 55 years of age and older, have a larger proportion of the retired population who have already adjusted to a post-work life. At the same time, games generally appeal more to younger audiences, so while they are showing a net increase in usage, it’s smaller than that of younger generations.
The coronavirus represents an unprecedented shift in behavior. Social distancing has forced people to remain home, and lean into new behaviors. We see this reflected in the usage of mobile gaming apps, and the largest surge in usage among Gen Z. Stay tuned for more reports on other key categories in the near future.