Some people are worried about how they’re going to stay sane during a prolonged period of federally-recommended social isolation. Then there are video game players, many of whom see this as an opportunity.
According to the independently-run SteamDB, the online digital games marketplace Steam had an all-time peak number of users online during the weekend of March 14, hitting a high of 20.3 million simultaneous players on the afternoon of March 15. This is a new record over the previous high of around 19 million, which was only achieved about a month ago.
In fairness, when you look at the numbers, roughly 15 million of those users simply had the Steam application open, whether they were shopping, using the chat application, or simply left it running in the background. Players who were actually in-game on Steam peaked at just over 6 million.
The most popular games on Steam over the last few days included the military-themed multiplayer shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which became only the third game on Steam to reach one million concurrent players on March 14, as well as Valve’s DOTA 2, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege, and the seemingly immortal Grand Theft Auto V.
There wasn’t actually a big release weekend on Steam, so you can probably chalk the record high number of players up to the work-from-home, social distancing, and school closure mandates being enforced worldwide.
Bloomberg reported that Telecom Italia SpA saw increased network activity from online games such as Fortnite over the past two weeks.
While it’s easy to joke that having to stay home over the weekend gave people a chance to catch up on their Steam backlogs, some of Steam’s boost in popularity may also be attributable to a well-publicized Xbox Live outage on March 15. While Live was only down for a couple of hours, it was its second outage of the week, and lasted just long enough to get a Twitter topic trending.
Gearbox’s hit FPS Borderlands 3 did make its long-awaited debut on Steam on March 13, after previously being PC-exclusive on the Epic Games Store, and the popular New Zealand-developed dungeon crawler Path of Exile put out a new expansion, Delirium, which also drove it to break its own previous concurrent-player record.
Another company that’s actually lucked into a windfall from COVID-19 is the Chinese publisher Tencent, which picked up millions of new players for its mobile games like Honor of Kings and Peacekeeper Elite during the lockdown in China.
This coming weekend is likely to be, if anything, a bigger weekend for video games. Both Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal are coming out on March 20. (The two vastly different games sharing a release date has led to both games’ fans producing a lot of art and short cartoons involving an unlikely friendship between Animal Crossing‘s Isabelle and the Doom Marine.)
Bellevue, Wash.-based Valve, which operates Steam, is looking to finish out March with an additional milestone, as its hotly anticipated VR title Half-Life: Alyx is scheduled for release on March 23.