By Rahul Bhattacharya
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest global crisis that humanity is going through. The general consensus stands firm that life as we know it will not be the same ever again. We have learned many lessons from this pandemic. Be it on existential level or on the technical level. With millions of people trying Zoom for the first time, it became certain that an era of technological advancement is beckoning. People are living with lock-down blues and loneliness in these times. Given this scenario, it is no surprise that people have turned to gaming for a semblance of normalcy.
Covid and its impact on consumer sentiment
While COVID-19 has affected all major economic activities, gaming centres too have taken a big blow due to the health crisis. After the first wave, a boom was seen in demand for high quality VR & AR experiences. The increase in engagement was perpetuated by a new appetite for unique experiences. To break the monotony of life indoors, people craved high quality HD gaming platforms and an escape to get comfort amidst the chaos of the world.
Just when a glimpse of recovery started to surface, the second wave hit the country. This time, harder than before. With restrictions on public movement and social gatherings, the lack of social connection transitioned into an expedition for alternate entertainment for many. People grew tired of the times spent cooped up in their houses. Platforms like OTT and online games became a big hit. Consequently, mobile gaming platforms too saw exponential growth with entertainment starved audiences gravitating towards gaming online as the new avenue of entertainment and social connection.
Therapeutic aspect of gaming
With the closing of education institutes and schools, followed by the work from home model of professional operations, people have found more time to bring leisure into everyday life. According to the recent digital media trend survey by Deloitte, the onset of the pandemic has brought one third of consumers to subscribe to video gaming services. This was either through e-sports tournaments, a cloud gaming service or a virtual sports event. The readily accessible mobile phones become the best source of escape from the uncertainty and anxiety associated with present-day life.
VR-AR based gaming for once is no exception; it is a joy ride which is to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. Over the years the location-based gaming centres, have emerged as popular choice for entertainment and potentially an effective way to promote physical activity. The new normal has brought about a shift in the way we look at gaming. One of the most unique and interesting aspect of these location-based gaming centres has turned out to be its therapeutic effect on relieving stress, enable body movement and overall engagement of senses that helps in boosting release of endorphins as well as dopamine. This in turn benefits the well-being of players by helping them reduce stress, boost immunity and self-confidence. Recently, Boston-based company Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRX made history by becoming the first-ever video game to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a medical treatment for ADHD.
The Road Ahead
A huge chunk of the population considers enforced lockdown as a wakeup call to experience missed experiences. While the pandemic brought in a long-haul of social distancing, people have also learned the importance of shared experience and time with loved ones. This has also made them stumble upon newer ways of spending quality time with friends and family which can also help bring relief from present-day grievances.
VR-AR has evolved manifold in the last decade. Today, it has more to offer than what meets the eye. Virtual experiences are providing additional comfort and freedom to safe entertainment during the current circumstances. In the same context, gaming centres have implemented very robust disinfection processes and are ready to unravel the world of mixed reality for its players. All one needs to do is put on their headsets and get ready to unpeel the world of immersive gaming and unparalleled imagination.
On the other hand, there is a new trend of growing affinity for revenge experientials among consumers. While gaming has been perceived to be a sport for the young and the fit, these norms have changed completely as people from all age groups are digging the gaming world with unmatched enthusiasm. People from all walks of life are flocking around safe and fun experiences. Another trend is seen in the influx of sports professionals on gaming platforms. The boredom of restricted lifestyle during the lockdown has brought many professional players to seek solace in gaming hubs and entertainment zones. The ongoing pandemic has unlocked many trends such for the gaming world.
The days ahead promise a lucrative prospect of growth and opportunities for both gaming professionals as well as businesses. Engagements are more likely to grow once the tumult of the virus subsides. Additionally, with people getting vaccinated these centres are ready to serve its customers in a fun, safe and immersive way. With this, the popularity of VR-AR gaming is certain to grow even more this year while gaming centres look at spreading the joy of immersive and shared experiences.
(The author is co-founder and managing director, Microgravity. Views expressed are personal.)