Coronavirus awakens nostalgia for year’s video games

According to the Israeli gaming company Overwolf, there’s been a rise of more than 50% in the number of downloads of computer and video games compared to before COVID-19.

Screenshot of a game of Counter Strike (photo credit: screenshot)
Screenshot of a game of Counter Strike
(photo credit: screenshot)
The pandemic, especially because of the two lockdowns that have kept us at home for weeks on end, has provided the impetus for people to return to computer and video games they used to play as kids.
According to the Israeli gaming company Overwolf, there’s been a rise of more than 50% in the number of downloads of computer and video games compared to before COVID-19, as well as a rise of more than 40% in the number of professional gamers joining competitive games.
While the general surge in the gaming market is understandable, what’s less obvious is the fact that at the top of the list of the most popular games being sold now in Israel are old games like League of Legends, which was originally launched in 2009 and has remained popular over the years. Recently, however, the number of this game’s active players has soared more than 40%.
Counter Strike, which was launched in early 2000, has seen an increase of more than 30% in downloads compared with the corresponding period last year. This is an impressive achievement for an old game that has relatively unsophisticated graphics. The third-most-popular game at the moment is Minecraft, which was first launched in 2009, and since COVID-19 has since seen a whopping 80% increase in downloads compared with last year. Further down the list are more contemporary games, such as Call of Duty: Warzone, which was launched in March of 2020 and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, which was launched in 2015.
During these troubling times, when we’re spending much more time at home, do people prefer going back to playing older games they know and love?
“In recent years, there’s been a huge surge in trendy genres that have become massively popular, and the gaming industry is trying to replicate these great successes over and over again. Gaming companies are constantly copying from each other, which means that the newer games that are coming out now aren’t very original,” explains Guy Shalosh, a senior executive at Overwolf.
“Add to that the fact that a large portion of the free games available today include content locking, which you need to pay for before they can be unlocked,” continues Shalosh. “This was not the case for games made in the 1990s and early 2000s. In those days, when you bought a game, you were getting a finished product that was elaborate, original and full of content.
“These days, due to the pandemic, people don’t have money to spare on game extras, and they’re also looking for something a little deeper, more intricate and not just recycled material. They long for the meaningful content they used to get in the games created in previous decades. That’s why these games are selling so much more recently, in my opinion. I too have found myself thinking back longingly to games I used to play in the 1990s, and it’s been really fun playing them again.”
“It makes sense that people who are familiar with the gaming world of yesteryear are going to back to playing games they loved in the past,” explains Ido Brosh, chairman of the Israeli Competitive Gaming Association. “And now there’s something new that wasn’t available back then: the option of watching games being played live online. That is a big draw for people.”
Another reason people are feeling so nostalgic for older games is the fact that companies are remastering older games and then releasing upgraded versions with improved graphics. What this means is that people can play the games they loved as kids and teens, but enjoy them even more now. One great example of this is Warcraft III, which originally came out in 2002 and just recently came out with a new version since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Another example is Starcraft, which was originally launched in 1998, and there are many more oldies but goodies that are currently being revamped.”
Brosh adds that gamers’ longing for games they loved as children is just one factor leading to the overall increase in the competitive gaming field. “We’ve seen a sharp increase in the competitive gaming field and the number of viewers on gaming websites,” he explains. “Viewing numbers are skyrocketing and people are being exposed to new worlds they’d never encountered before.”
“This growth has led to lots of conversations about what today’s games are like compared with ones from previous decades,” adds Eyal Milner, an avid gamer who works in hi-tech. “Games that were designed to be played on smartphones involve lots of short-term actions. Kids go into the game, play for a few minutes, perform their daily task and then move on to another game. It’s possible that these games were constructed in this fashion since they were geared towards today’s young people, whose attention span is much shorter, are much more impatient and are focused on lots of different things at the same time.
“In contrast, older games were one-time purchases and were meant to be played for hours on end, with players slowly progressing to higher levels. After talking about these old games at home, I suddenly began feeling quite nostalgic and so I decided to buy games I remember from my childhood. For example, Blizzard recently released a revamped version of Warcraft III with upgraded graphics that is being marketed to players in their 40s and 50s who played the original game when they were children. It’s incredible – they didn’t change the game at all.”
“Just this past week I downloaded Red Alert 1, which recently came out with a new upgraded version. I hadn’t played it since I was ten years old,” explains Tal Antebi, who describes herself as an amateur gamer. “One day some friends of mine from college mentioned how fun it was to play that game, and so we all decided to download it and play it together as a group. I have such great memories of playing it as a kid, and surprisingly enough, it’s still really fun to play.”
People’s nostalgia for games they played in their childhood isn’t limited to computer games. Many people are also buying games that require consoles. Slava Bochetsky, director of gaming at Best Mobile, reports that they’ve seen an increase of 30% in sales of computer game consoles of old games played on PlayStation and Xbox, compared to the corresponding period last year.
“So many people have been stuck at home with their children during the lockdowns and couldn’t go out much, so they look for things to pass the time,” explains Bochetsky. “Since the spring, we’ve seen a huge surge in sales of old consoles, even though there are many new consoles available for purchase. The new ones are also selling well, but not as well as the old styles.”
Why do you think people are becoming nostalgic for games they remember from their childhood?
“People have great memories from playing them, and now that they’re stuck at home for hours on end, it makes them feel safe to play games that remind them of the happiness they felt in their childhood. We’ve had great sales of the newly released versions of Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, as well other games that came out in the 1990s. Lots of our customers are waiting impatiently for the release of new versions of other games they played as kids. We’ve also had increased sales on Nintendo consoles.”
Sharon Yishai, the owner of the Tel Aviv company Computers, Cameras and Cellular – who cells “retro” game consoles that are designed to simulate the old Game Boy and Super Megason games that were popular in the 1990s and come with the old games with their terrible graphics – says sales of these items have increased more than 50% recently. “When I started offering these products, people didn’t even know what they were,” Yishai recalls. “They weren’t selling very well, but as soon as COVID-19 broke out, people were freaking out and trying to figure out to keep their kids busy at home. People began asking over social networking how they could find these types of games. Most of these items cost about NIS 100 and include 400 games, which is very different from more modern games, and so sales started going up. All of a sudden people were writing on Story about them, and now every kid wants one. They’re also relatively cheap so they’re selling like hotcakes.
“I’ve had an increase in sales of PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, too, which I sell as second-hand items. I also sell new PlayStations, but people seem to prefer the old ones that they’re familiar with. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to nostalgia for the world of gaming they remember from their childhood. I hope people will continue buying games even after things go back to normal.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.