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Online games on the up in 2020 due to Covid-19, according to Ofcom

Playing games online was one of the main ways that people in the UK unwound during the Covid crisis, according to a new report from Ofcom.

Nearly two thirds of all adults (62%) and the vast majority of 16-24 year olds (92%) said that they played games on an electronic device during 2020, with over half of all players agreeing that games helped them to get through lockdown.

But the report’s findings didn’t end there. Let’s take a look at what else Ofcom found out about play online in the UK last year.

Who played online games in the UK in 2020?

2020 saw a big leap in the number of people playing online games, driven in large part by the imposition of lockdown measures on the country.

Research from Opinium showed that the overall population of players in the UK increased by 63% over the course of Spring 2020, as people turned to online games to replace interactions lost through the course of lockdown.

Online play popular with younger players. 67% of all 18-24 year olds played games online. In comparison, 39% of players aged 35-44 played with other people online and only 6% of players aged 65+ did.

From Ofcom's Online Nation 2021
From Ofcom's Online Nation 2021

Games were equally popular between men and women, but men were more likely to play games online. 37% of respondents who identified as male said they played games online or with people, in comparison to 27% who identified as female.

Online play was also interestingly distributed along lines of social class. While groups AB, C1 and C2 were similarly likely to play online games, ranging from 34%-38% of people,  only 24% of social group DE – representing semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupations – reported that they took to playing games online. This could be reflective of the existence of the digital divide in the UK.  

Which were the most popular games platforms in the UK in 2020?

Smartphones are the most widely used devices for games in the UK. 39% of adults use smartphones for games, with games consoles and computers close behind.

Mobile games are more popular amongst women than they are with men. 43% of female respondents claimed to play games with smartphones, with men more likely to play games on their computer (29%) or on a console (32%).

From Ofcom's Online Nation 2021
From Ofcom's Online Nation 2021

Age also played a factor in determining the most widely used devices. In all but one category, 16-24 year olds were most likely to have used a device for play including smartphone, consoles (handheld or attached to a TV), computers and virtual reality headsets.

However, there were some notable patterns for older age groups. 25-34 and 35-44 year olds were equally likely to play games on computers (29%) and handheld consoles like the Switch (17% and 18% respectively.)

Players aged 45-54 were also most likely to use tablets to play, with 26% reporting they had played games on such a device in comparison to 23% of 16-24 year olds. With 45% of 45-54 year olds also playing on smartphones, there is a real opportunity to engage older players on mobile devices.

What was the most popular game in the UK in 2020?

Finally, OFCOM took a look at the game that defined lockdown for many people across the UK and the Ukie team: Among Us.

While a range of mobile games such as Candy Crush Saga, Roblox and Pokemon Go remained ever popular throughout the year, Among Us soared to become comfortably the most popular mobile game throughout the Autumn and Winter 2020.

From Ofcom's Online Nation 2021
From Ofcom's Online Nation 2021

Explaining its success is relatively straightforward. After being picked up by a number of Twitch streamers, Inner Sloth’s free to play social deduction game naturally captured the interest of conversational starved players across the world – especially as lockdowns were reintroduced at the close of 2020 (and as the nights drew in across the UK.)

Since then, its success has dropped off as socialising outside of the home has become more possible since lockdowns have started to ease.

However, it will be interesting to see whether it returns to prominence later this year as the weather turns colder and people return to socialising indoors.

Read Ofcom’s Online Nation 2021 report in full here.