Playing games online with friends remotely is expected to continue, and likely grow, even if more Canadians get vaccinated from COVID-19, says the CEO of Jackbox Games.
In the past year, Jackbox Games saw a 122 per cent increase in Canadian users. The company sells games in packs that users play together in person online, or virtually from separate locations.
Mike Bilder, the CEO, says that while the global pandemic made people stay at home and find ways to entertain themselves with friends and family in a remote fashion, the company has only “scratched the surface” of addressing the market.
“There’s a huge addressable marketplace out there that still is not familiar with our games,” he said in an interview, adding that he doesn't think people are going to stop playing games remotely anytime soon.
“There’s no doubt that there were some externalities in the last year with the COVID bump [in users], and we expect that levelling out. But what I can tell you is we’ve got a whole bunch of new customers that are in our ecosystem now,” he said. “It was accelerated in 2020, but we expect to continue to grow in 2021 and beyond.”
In 2019, the company had over 103 million users, and in 2020 that grew to over 240 million users, according to emailed data from the company.
And while Jackbox saw success in the past year, the biggest challenge was trying to explain how to play games remotely. Bilder says the company refocused its messaging from playing together in-person to playing together remotely and offering tutorials for a successful virtual experience. Moving forward the messaging might be a hybrid of both.
“Even if I can go outside again, I’m still not within driving distance of some friends and family members and it’s been nice to stay in touch with them. I expect those behaviours [of staying connected virtually] will continue,” he said. “We hope that people continue to enjoy our games over remote play but we also expect that we’ll go back to playing them in person at parties and events.”
Ramona Pringle, a tech expert and associate professor at Ryerson University, agrees that opening the world back up doesn’t mean people will stop connecting with friends and family remotely.
Social media and online games were used in the past as a way to facilitate an offline meeting, but the pandemic brought on a new reality where that wasn’t possible anymore.
“If you’ve been hanging out with friends who are in another time zone, you’re not going to stop doing that. I think it’s a new way of socializing, it’s a new reality,” Pringle said in an interview. “As the weather gets warm and people want to be outside and they get vaccinated and they’re able to see some of their friends in person, they may do less of [meeting remotely], but I think it’s still going to be a reality of the way people engage.”
Pringle says if companies aren’t going to innovate to stay relevant for a hybrid approach to socialize, then they’ll fail.
“It’s the big challenge that any organization, any sector has to figure out for the decade ahead is, how do you create that hybrid offering and how do you engage people online because it’s not going to be one or the other,” she said.