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Video games attract millions of players as the world “shelters in place”

A person plays Mario Kart 8 on a Nintendo Switch console

What to do while stuck at home? Play video games, of course. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Nintendo of America

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A lot of industries have been hard hit during this pandemic with widespread restrictions on movement. One industry, though, is booming: video games. People are staying home, booting up their consoles and playing for hours.

In fact, a World Health Organization went as far as to recommend video games as a way to play with others while social distancing.

For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass migration to a tropical island filled with talking animals. 

I’m talking about Nintendo’s new game, Animal Crossing: New Horizon. It’s sold millions of copies in less than two weeks. The goal? Catch fish, befriend locals, wander around. 

“It is a kind, nice environment,” said Dmitri Williams, a professor of communications at USC Annenberg. “And at a time when the world is dark and uncertain and grim, sometimes the best thing you can do is go into a warm, safe space.”

With people forced to stay home around the world, online games are also a way for friends to stay connected. Fifteen million people played the latest “Call of Duty” game in three days of its release. That’s a record. Neil Macker, a senior equity analyst with MorningStar, said more players also means more in-game purchases or “microtransactions.”

It’s not all good news for the industry, though. Sony’s new console, the Playstation 5, is supposed to launch this Christmas.

“Normally they would start production in, ironically enough, Wuhan, China, about right now to get enough consoles made in order to launch globally,” said Mike Salmon, senior vice president of games at Magid, a consumer research company.

Salmon said that timeline will likely be delayed. And new games are also hitting snags as creative teams have to figure out how to work from home.  

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