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As coronavirus forces people indoors, video games come to the rescue

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Services are starting to buckle under the strain

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Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

More and more, Americans are staying in and working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — but how are folks actually spending their time while indoors? Surprising absolutely no one, according to statistics released by wireless provider Verizon, they’re playing video games. Gaming saw a 75% increase, week over week, in data usage this March, Verizon said. Video games are proving to be a popular way to pass the time during lockdown — though we’re also starting to see the strain this is placing on various networks and services.

Steam, the popular PC gaming platform, recently broke a new record as 20 million people logged in at the same time. A similar increase also appears to be happening in the world of consoles. Recently, Nintendo experienced a nine-hour network outage. Over the weekend, Xbox Live also went down, preventing users from online play.

Gaming adjacent tools and services are also seeing a surge. As our sibling site The Verge reports, live streaming platform Twitch had a 10% jump in viewership. The popular communication app Discord, meanwhile, recently saw server outages that coincided days after it expanded its screen sharing limit for users.

The games that people are playing themselves are changing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, too. Pokémon Go, for instance, has tweaked its mechanics to make it easier for people to play from home, while also changing its events to make it easier for people to play solo. And in an effort to entice its players to stay home, Rockstar vowed to add fun bonuses to the MMO for players who are “spending a little extra time at home.” Elsewhere, game developers are starting to give out their games for free in an effort to help people stay indoors. It’s no wonder we’re seeing changes in usage, playtime, and outages across the board.

Fortunately, the increase in gaming playtime won’t come back to haunt users looking to pass the time — we may not always be able to log in, but at least network providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and T-Mobile are suspending internet usage data caps. All the more reason to download that huge game you’ve been meaning to finish.