While everyone's stuck indoors practicing social distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it's causing a not-so-surprising boon for the video game industry. More people are on Steam than ever before, and Verizon has revealed a massive uptick in gaming data usage. While this pandemic comes with plenty of obvious downsides for the industry as E3 was canceled, the one game that seems to be benefitting the most is undoubtedly Call of Duty: Warzone. As millions of gamers look to entertain themselves, the new battle royale is reaping all the rewards
There's no way for us to know how long Activision had planned on releasing Call of Duty: Warzone on March 10, but the wider gaming community had no idea until a massive leak happened less than 36 hours before release. On the very next day, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. In the days that followed, millions around the world hunkered up indoors, and many of them seemingly decided to play a lot of video games. By that Friday, Activision announced Warzone had already hit 15 million players.
A week-over-week report from Verizon released on Tuesday confirmed that gaming data usage on the company's networks has increased by a whopping 75 percent. This is much more than both web traffic, which went up by 20 percent, and video streaming, which saw 12 percent growth. Verizon CTO Kyle Malady points out that "as more entertainment options are canceled in communities across the U.S., an increase in video traffic and online gaming is not surprising." More and more people are gaming, perhaps more than ever before.
While social isolation due to the coronavirus will have widespread effects across the gaming industry for months and perhaps years to come, Call of Duty: Warzone seems like the one game that has benefited the most from a surge in people staying home and turning to games as a major source of entertainment.
How social distancing helps Call of Duty: Warzone:
As a free-to-play battle royale title with a connection to a major franchise, Call of Duty: Warzone was in an uncanny position to capitalize on the current circumstances. The game's release has been a perfect storm for Activision. Warzone had its launch issues, but its March 10 launch could not have been unintentionally timed better. Precaution efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus began to gain traction right around that time as people were told to work remotely or just stay home in general. Call of Duty: Warzone was there for them when that happened.
A 150-player battle royale that's even bigger than Fortnite in terms of players-per-match, Warzone is an accessible free game that will feel familiar to anyone who's played a previous Call of Duty game — which is probably the vast majority of people who have held a game controller.
Thanks to cross-play, anyone can connect across the console divide during this time of isolation, a rarity for online multiplayer games. The battle royale formula has also proven to be a time-consuming and captivating game format thanks to titles like Fortnite. Being free-to-play helps Warzone perhaps more than anything else. As long as you have a console, you might as well download this brand-new game for free and try it out. Anyone can just hop right in and not worry about spending money, and in a time like this when money can be tight, gamers probably don't want to spend a lot on new experiences.
It's been almost a full week since Activision announced 15 million players for Warzone, and those have almost certainly increased since then. Warzone hasn't reached the player counts of Fortnite or Apex Legends yet, but it's one of the best digital launches ever thanks to social distancing. And it's only just begun.