It’s no surprise that the global pandemic has spurred a huge uptick in gaming, but we now have an idea of just how much more that might be.
According to figures released from Valve, the parent company of online gaming service Steam, subscribers spent some 31.3 billion hours playing PC games in 2020. That’s a 50.7-percent increase over the hours spent in 2019. Valve also gained 2.6 million new buyers for the year, a 21.4-percent increase over 2019.
Steam is the largest online service for PC gaming, and like most, it requires you to log in in to play a game. So if you’re looking for a sign of just how much more time people spent mashing keyboards or game controllers, it’s likely an accurate representation.
Valve said growth was already on the uptick when 2020 kicked off, but it believes many have turned to gaming during lockdowns. “While Steam was already seeing significant growth in 2020 before COVID-19 lockdowns,” the company said in a blog post, “video game playtime surged when people started staying home, dramatically increasing the number of customers buying and playing games, and hopefully bringing some joy to counter-balance some of the craziness that was 2020.”
For perspective, note that some 90 million monthly active players were logged by Steam in 2018. In 2020, monthly active players spiked to 120 million—a 33-percent increase since 2018.
Valve didn’t publish figures for 2019’s peak concurrent players, but in 2018 it reported about 18.5 million. In 2020, the figure jumped 34 percent to 24.8 million. Daily active players tracked at 62.6 million for 2020, compared to 47 million in 2018.
VR is not dead
Is the pandemic good for VR? Despite media and analysts’ diagnoses that “VR is dead,” Steam’s figures show that’s far from the truth. Valve said 104 million Steam VR sessions were kicked off in 2020, including 1.7 million first-timers. Game sales of VR titles increased 32 percent from 2019 as well. Sessions definitely aren’t as long, though, averaging about 32 minutes.
Controllers gain in popularity
Steam can answer the eternal question about keyboard vs. controller for PC games, too. Steam stats show 46.6 million players have used a controller, an increase of about 47 percent over 2019. Valve said 1.68 billion game sessions used a controller, which is up 67 percent from 2019.
25.2 million 1TB hard drives
And yes, a lot of data was downloaded from Steam too. In fact, Valve clocks the amount of data served up in 2020 at 25.2 exabytes, compared to 16 exabytes in 2019. How much is that? Well, pile up about 25.2 million 1TB hard drives, and you get the idea of just how much game data was delivered.
Valve said it saw about a 30- to 40-percent increase in downloads in March, when pandemic lockdowns started—but that was nothing compared to the launch of Cyberpunk 2077. The game set a record of 52Tbps downloads at its peak, which is double the previous peak record. During the preload period, Steam logged 26Tbps downloads.
One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.