“We all have been locked up in our homes for a year. Even if there is no lockdown in the city, most of us prefer staying at home because the pandemic is not over yet, and it’s still risky. I guess gaming is good way to make yourself feel positive in these tough times.”
– 35 year old female in Mumbai, Maharashtra.

It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, as we have covered in our previous article in June 2020. A plethora of daily routines and activities have certainly changed in the country as the virus’ spread forced people to adapt and react to the new reality. According to our interviews with gamers from across India as well as our research on the Indian gaming market, we in Niko Partners have found that the pandemic has, in fact, affected Indian players’ gaming behaviors, especially the time they spend with games.

Gaming has taken over as affordable entertainment that Indians can enjoy safely at home during the pandemic. Gaming has become a fun, safe, social pastime in lieu of activities outside, it’s even a welcome distraction from the fear of COVID -19. A 21-year-old freelance writer who lives in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, explains,

“I have a bunch of friends in a group on steam, we regularly talk and play games. I think the pandemic has pushed the growth of gaming in India. Things are rough in India currently, and gaming takes my mind off the negativity outside.”

As the Indian public remained home over the majority of 2020-21, smart phone and internet usage increased, with greater access to gaming apps. According to the Mobile Broadband India Traffic Index (MBiT) 2021 study, monthly internet consumption per user increased by 20% in 2020 and reach 13.5 GB from 11.2 GB. In the initial months of FY 2020, when the entire country was under a lockdown imposed by the government, number of game downloads soared, and time spent on gaming also increased. According to our Asia Games Market report, India is on track to becoming a billion dollar gaming market.

It is not just native gamers that are digging deeper into the hobby. Steam, social apps, smartphones, and improvements to mobile internet are making gaming available and appealing to a much wider audience. A 30-year-old yoga instructor from Hyderabad, Telangana offers her take,

“I hardly used to play before lockdown, Now I spend about 3-4 hours a week. It’s easy to play games on mobile. I saw my cousins playing games all day long, they mostly played PUBG Mobile until it was banned. I personally prefer gaming over any OTT platforms, its more engaging as a consumer.”

In place of social gatherings and for families displaced by the pandemic games offer new, virtual places to meet and connect. A 35-year-old jewelry designer from Mumbai, Maharashtra tells us,

“I started playing Ludo King in the lockdown out of boredom, it was the perfect game as it brought back my childhood memories, when we used to spend hours as kids playing it at home with friends. It also has connected me with my siblings and cousins again. More than just winning the game, I am more excited about chatting on the conference call while we play the game online.”

As of June 2021, India has over 29 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the second most globally, and over 350,000 deaths. Currently, India is under a second wave of COVID-19 pandemic which saw the daily cases peak at 414,000 on May 6, 2021. The Indian central government and the state government -imposed lockdowns again in April 2021, across India, depending upon the severity of local situations. India’s GDP contracted by a record 7.3% for FY 2020-21, the first full-year contraction in the economy since FY 1979-80.

The Indian economy recovered and escaped a technical recession by recording positive growth rates in the last two quarters of FY 2020. However, the onset of the second wave in March 2021 slowed down the growth momentum, as India struggled to contain the pandemic.

Many of the Indian gamers Niko interviewed reflected on the ways their habits would change as life and work return to normal. Although it remains unclear when that will happen. According to a 22-year-old Hospitality student from Delhi.

“As we have more free time we tend to play games more often. A lot of people have even made gaming their career. At the start of the lockdown, I spent around 14-21 hours playing PUBG Mobile and other warfare games every week. Now I spend less, around 7 hours every week playing games on my mobile phone.”

The pandemic also disrupted the Indian job market as unemployment stood at 10.72% as of April 2021. Over 15 countries, including France, Russia, the US, and the UK provided India with aid to contain the pandemic. The online gaming community in India also came forward to support the pandemic relief efforts. Baazi Games raised INR 331,000 (USD 4,540) through its poker game PokerBazzi. South Korea-based Krafton Inc., donated INR 15 million (USD 205,741) to the PM Cares Fund via its Indian subsidiary to help combat the pandemic. Esports and real money gaming platform Mobile Premiere League (MPL) raised funds through its initiative Gamers for India Fundraiser to fight the pandemic.

Gaming in India prior to the pandemic

India has the world’s second largest internet user population, at 697 million, second only to China. The games market in India has come a long way since the launch of Reliance Jio in 2016, which brought about a major change in the way Indians consumed content. Niko covered Jio’s entrance into the game market earlier this year. With the availability of cheap data, affordable smartphones, and better quality of network, Indians now have better access to games on their mobile phone. The COVID -19 pandemic, and the subsequent lockdowns imposed by the Indian government, led to growth of Indian mobile games market as more people were playing games on their smartphones while staying home. PC gaming is also growing, although the market is smaller than their mobile counterpart.

Impact on the game industry: Online gaming consumption

India had the highest number of game downloads globally in 2020 at 7.3 billion, which is 17% of the total game downloads worldwide. According to a survey by InMobi, 45% of Indians started to play games on their smartphones during the lockdown as an alternative to other entertainment. For example, A 22 year old student Niko Partners interviewed, explained that he started gaming last year and now spends around 6-8 hours every week playing mobile games, even after a year since the outbreak of the COVID -19 pandemic. A 20-year-old man living in Bhopal expresses a similar sentiment.

“I played games with my close friend during the pandemic. He is my neighbor and we spent around 3-4 hours every week gaming. This time has remained the same for us throughout the pandemic since the ongoing second wave means it’s still not safe for us to go out.”

For those returning to work the story may be a bit different. The 30-year-old Yoga Instructor from Hyderabad went from 8 hours a week to 30 minutes a day as businesses have been opening up in her city. A 22-year-old engineering student in Bhopal is also feeling pressure on her gaming time.

“I played I played Ludo King, Psyche, and Head Football 2 on my phone for around 4-5 hours every week during the first lockdown, but I hardly play any games on my phone currently as am mostly occupied with my entrance exams.”

What it all means

“I think the pandemic has had a strong impact on the gaming industry in India. I started playing games on my phone along with so many of my school friends. It’s a great way to talk to friends and at the same time engage in some virtual activity during a pandemic.”
– 18-year-old Student, Nagpur, Maharashtra

The COVID -19 pandemic has had a devasting effect on India, its economy, and its populace. However, the pandemic also created an opportunity for the gaming industry to grow in the country. With more exposure to mobile games during the lockdown, the average gaming time and number of gamers increased in the country over the past year. The industry received several investments, which signifies the investor trust in the Indian gaming market, and the growing popularity of gaming in the country. Watch for Niko Partners’ report on India’s games market with a 5-year forecast, later this year.


Author – Divya Somani