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Mobile games see coronoavirus surge as Chinese citizens stay home

Amid bleak warnings and reports of industry disruption, another statistic emerging from China over the last month brings some humanity to the situation. Millions are turning to games while they must stay home to avoid the coronavirus, officially named Covid-19, which continues to sweep through China.

Mobile gaming dominates in China, and China’s App Store has the number to prove it. Between January 11 and February 9, 2020, there were 45% more first-time installs of games compared to the same period last year, according to analyst group Sensor Tower.

People aren’t just downloading games only to forget about them after. Spending is up 23%, with Game for Change (China’s version of PUBG Mobile)Honor of Kings, and Brain Out among the top performers. Players are likely spending more time with those games, giving them time to become invested enough to spend more money than they otherwise would on microtransactions.

It’s not just games seeing an uptick. Education and business apps are on the rise as people in China stay home from work and school. Katie Williams, mobile insights strategist for Sensor Tower, says the data implies parents are using apps to mitigate the learning time their children are missing.

Chinese workers, however, are expected to do as much work as possible, as the government instructed professionals to work from home. Remote working apps – with DingTalk, Tencent Conference, and WeChat Work leading the charge – saw large bumps over the last month.

Conversely, travel app usage is down. Sensor Tower reported a “significant decline” of 36% year over year, which it attributed to the travel restrictions put in place in response to the coronavirus.

All of this comes with the caveat that app usage and spending do rise over Chinese New Year celebrations, which fell on Saturday, January 25, this year. However, Williams said the comparison over the same period last year, and the weight of the figures, mark a change even when factoring in the New Year.

Chinese citizens are slowly returning to work, but reports note that the situation is far from over. It remains to be seen how long the coronavirus effect on gaming and apps will last, and what the broader implications will be.

Despite the positive turn for gaming and apps, coronavirus has negatively impacted business across the globe. The massive Mobile World Conference in Barcelona was canceled, companies relying on production and material in China have few options, and even some gaming companies face delays and product shortages.

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Lisa Marie Segarra
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Lisa Marie Segarra is the Gaming Section at Digital Trends. She's previously covered tech and gaming at Fortune Magazine and…
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