We examined the most played games of 2020: Here’s what we learned

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The gaming world has been accessible to people around the world for years, but recently we have seen an increase in the number of people who purchase and lose themselves in video games. According to stats published by DFC Intelligence, there were nearly 3.1 billion video game consumers by the mid-2020. This means that almost 40% of the world’s population (around 8 billion people) were playing video games as a way to escape from the pandemic and reconnect with friends in the online world. When you picture a gamer, you might envision them as only a console or PC player. However, data reveals that the largest proportion of these gamers is actually on mobile, meaning most people during 2020 were glued to their smartphones. 

Android users account for nearly half the world’s gaming population while only 3.1 billion are on a console such as Xbox, Playstation or Nintendo. Statistically, console gamers spend more time gaming, according to the report, but PC gaming has been seen to be on the rise as 48% (1.5 billion) prefer this form of game compared to the other three platforms. The data allowed us to gain an insight into what part of the world these gamers are in; further to this, we wanted to delve deeper to find out not only where games were being played in the UK, but also which were in fact the most played of 2020.

What Are The Best Online Games in the UK?

While overlooking research provided by Gamebiz and Statista, we have been able to create a list of the most played games in the UK. To help spot which are the most loved games amongst the gaming community, we have ranked these games in accordance to the amount of sales made online and in-store to help highlight the top 10 games played throughout 2020 by Xbox, Playstation, PC and Android gamers. 

FIFA 21 was revealed to be the best-selling game of 2020, with almost 2.2 million (2,182,694) copies sold. It outshined Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which secured 1.42 million sales (762,341 less than FIFA 21). In third place was Grand Theft Auto – the sales figures released by ERA revealed that the RockStar game sold 1,127,222 units in the UK. FIFA 20 sold 904,000 units, putting it in fourth place, with there being a notable 16% increase in EA sports game sales in 2020 compared to 2019. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was the fifth most played game of 2020, with 897,000 games sold since its release date in October 2019. 

1) FIFA 21 (2,182,694 units sold in the UK)

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FIFA 21 is an association football simulation video game published by Electronic Arts as part of the EA Sports FIFA series. It is the 28th installment of the FIFA series and was released on 9th October 2020 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows along with technologically advanced consoles like PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S. The story mode follows the career of the football manager. You can jump in and out of games in play or complete them instantly, dropping the former career mode where you control a player in active matches and develop their skills and abilities, as well as earn transfers and international call ups.

The FIFA Ultimate Team has been a major part of the game for years as it lets gamers build their dream XI, combining players from different clubs, leagues and nations all in one squad. Players can be found in packs bought in microtransactions from the store or acquired on the transfer market.

The FIFA 21 player count now stands at 31 million players across both PC and consoles, and the Ultimate Team features 100 iconic players, including 11 new names: Ashley Cole, Eric Cantona, Petr Čech, Samuel Eto’o, Phillip Laham, Ferenc Puskás, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Davor Šuker, Fernando Torres, Nemanja Vidić, and Xavi. The Ultimate Team also sees the addition of a co-op gameplay feature in the form of Division Rivals, Squad Battles and Friendlies, which allow you to play with a friend online to unlock objectives and rewards

2) Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (1,420,353 units sold in the UK)

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Set during the Cold War in the early 1980s, the main storyline follows the green beret soldier Russell Adler and his mission to stop a terrorist extremist group in 1981. The campaign features real-world locations and is inspired by actual events. 

Released in November 2020, it quickly made its way to being the biggest selling title in the world with 5.8 million copies sold worldwide, of which 1.4 million sales were in the UK

When playing Black Ops Cold War, levelling up is unified. This means that whatever game mode you play, the weapons you unlock can be accessed across all game modes. This also includes attachments, perks and wildcards. This is also applied to cross platform playing, so even if your buddies are on PS5 and you’re on a PC, you can still take advantage of the goodies you’ve unlocked. 

You can take part in solo or team-based Frag Fests, on the new front test, your nerve with new game mode, Escort as you are tasked with escorting a lightly armed player to an extraction point or taking them out if you are on the opposing team.

For something less intimate and way more frantic, try Dirty Bomb. This 40-player game mode pits 10 squads against each other, and the fighting is concentrated around a handful of uranium deposits.

The game also includes the franchise’s most popular sub-category of games: Zombies, in which players can immerse themselves in a new multiplayer story mode.

3) Grand Theft Auto V (1,127,222 units sold in the UK)

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Grand Theft Auto was originally released as a top-down scrolling game following a criminal and his rise in status across the criminal underworld across three fictional cities.

Since its original release in 1997, the franchise has had a huge upgrade and, as a result, now commands one of the world’s biggest selling franchises of all time. Despite being released in 2013, sales are still going strong in 2020 with over 1.1 million units sold in 2020 alone.

The game is set in the fictional state of San Andreas in and around the city of Los Santos. Not much has changed from the original concept of the first release, but the storyline and missions do change from game to game.

Stats from Player Counter show that people are still averaging about 100,000 players at any given time across the world.

The game is played from either a 3rd person or 1st person viewing perspective, and its world is mostly navigated by foot or vehicle. Players control three main protagonists throughout the single player campaign mode and switch between them outside and during the missions. 

Players can use either melee attacks, firearms and explosives to fight other gamers. Each character has a set of eight skills that represent their ability in specific areas such as shooting and driving. Though skills improve through each play, each character has a skill by default. Trevor has the flying skill, Micheal enters “Bullet Time” in combat, and Franklin slows down time while diving.

One of the reasons GTA V is still so popular is that, similar to other games such as Roblox and Minecraft, it has become a place to hangout – it’s like a venue rather than a game. Unlike previous hardware generations when players simply bought sequels to experience their favourite titles, we’re now in an age where single games can be endlessly remodelled and re-equipped for newer, better game consoles.

4) FIFA 20 (903,810 units sold in the UK)

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FIFA 20 is a simulation-based international football game. This instalment features leagues from over 30 different countries and has detailed information on more than 700 clubs. The detail is so granular that it includes more than 17,000 individual football players.

FIFA 20 introduced a new game mode called VOLTA, which is the Portuguese word for “return”. This game mode allows players to take the game back to the streets in a 5-a-side mode, away from the big game stadiums of mainstream clubs.

“For millions of people around the world, the streets are their stadiums,” said VOLTA producer Jeff Antwi. It focuses on the same sort of gameplay as normal mode but includes tweaks to really submerge the player in the new game style.

Kick Off mode is the easiest way to get started in FIFA 20, using the Classic Match option, which is a friendly game with the option of extra time and/or penalties if the game finishes in a draw. You are able to choose any two teams from around the world, including international teams and women’s teams. There is also the option to play single small-sided games in VOLTA football friendlies, one off cup finals, two-legged Home and Away ties or a Best Of series where the first player to get a certain amount of wins is the champion.

FIFA 20 sold over 900,000 units in 2020 despite being released the year before, proving that it’s a fan favourite across the UK. The online game player website playercounter.com shows that about 350,000 people play the game at any given time.

5) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (897,350 units sold in the UK)

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Call of Duty is a huge game franchise that really came to fame with the original release of Modern Warfare, which harnessed the PlayStation’s true potential and set up what was once the world’s greatest online multiplayer matches outside of the PC. 

This 2019 reboot saw nearly 900,000 units sold in 2020. It received 6 awards in 2019 and 2020, with achievements in the following:

  • 2020 Esports game of the year
  • Best Audio Mix
  • Use of Sound
  • Best Audio Design
  • Original Score – Video Game
  • Best Online Multiplayer

Since then, it has earned over £730 million in revenue for Activision.

The reboot follows a new game mode called Warzone, where 64 players all compete in a Battle Royale-style deathmatch.  

The game actively has roughly 2 million players online at any given time, making it one of the most popular online games today.

6) Animal Crossing: New Horizons (810,462 units sold in the UK)

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Animal Crossing is a family-friendly title published by Nintendo where the characters are themed as humans who all live in a village inhabited by various animals. The successful family-friendly game sold over 800,000 units in the UK during 2020 and sold 26 million units worldwide by September 2020. 

According to Player Counter, the top percentage of players came from the United States with 39.48% of worldwide stats coming from American accounts and 5.41% UK accounts. Animal Crossing has an average of 250,000 people playing the game live at any given time.

Animal Crossing was nominated for 20 awards during 2020-2021 and won 9 awards in some of the gaming industry’s biggest award ceremonies, such as  Famitsu Dengki Game Awards, The Game Awards 2020, Japan Game Awards, Golden Joystick Awards, and the British Academy Games Awards:

  • Best Game in China
  • Game of the Year
  • Best Family Game
  • Minister of Economy Award
  • Award for Excellence
  • Game of the Year
  • Nintendo Game of the Year
  • Game Beyond Entertainment
  • Multiplayer

7) Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (665,815 units sold in the UK)

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During its first week of sales, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla sold more copies than any other Assassin’s Creed game. By November 17th 2020, Ubisoft confirmed that the game had over 1.8 million players.

Valhalla is an open-world action-adventure game where the player takes control of the character Eivor Varinsdottir, a Viking raider, and leads fellow Vikings across the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. Players are able to customise Eivor’s appearance, even down to his beard.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise centers around the main plotline of an ancient war between the templars and the Creed. During the story line, players come across ancient artifacts left by an alien race after a civil war wiped them out. The Templars learn of the artifacts and seek to use them to control the world while the assassins seek to have the artifacts kept away and hidden.

In the present, a Templar corporation, Abstergo, has found a way to tap into the DNA of people to view their ancestors’ memories and essentially play through their lives. This is how the modern-day Templars locate the artifacts as they hunt down the assassins and go full throttle towards world domination. 

Overall, Valhalla received great reviews that hailed it as one of the best Assassin’s Creed games to date, and the number of copies sold is testament to that praise.

8) The Last of Us Part II (539,247 units sold in the UK)

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The Last of Us Part II sold over 530,000 units in the UK and became the UK’s fastest-selling game in terms of physical copies. The first month became the third highest-grossing game behind Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War. 

The sequel to the hit game, The Last of Us, sees the continuation of the end of the first game and follows the main protagonist, Tommy, as his life unfolds after rescuing a stranger and seeing his brother murdered in front of him.

Overall, the game was hailed as a masterpiece and one of the best in terms of visuals and voiceovers. The company Naughty Dog won three awards for 3D Animation, Cinematography and Story. It has managed to collect more accolades than any other video game title in history, surpassing 2015’s The Witcher 3. The Last of Us Part II was nominated for 24 awards and won 8 of them.

9) NBA 2K20 (481,507 units sold in the UK)

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Operating across multiple platforms, 2K released another title in the NBA franchise. It won a titanium award for Best Sports/Racing Game of the Year soon after its release in 2019. NBA 2K20 is a sport simulation game where the player can customise real-life players in the NBA or create a uniquely created player. 

The game stars a wide array of real life players such as:

  • Anthony Davis (Cover Player)
  • LeBron James
  • Paul George
  • James Harden
  • Russell Westbrook

Teams from all over the NBA feature, but the LA Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers feature heavily in the top ten teams.

The voice acting has a surprising star in its line up. Coach Ernie Ames is voiced by Idris Elba – his voice brings a soothing tone to the production and sets the bar for a solid set of voice performances throughout the game.

Selling more than 14 million copies worldwide, the UK had just over 480,000 units shipped and downloaded. In its first year, the producers stated that NBA 2K20 had grossed over £730 million ($1 billion) in total earnings, putting it in close quarters with Call of Duty Black Ops 4.

10) Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (436,957 units sold in the UK)

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Rainbow Six Siege is a first-person shooter game in which players use different operators and have to communicate as a team effectively in order to win their team matches. It features 11 maps, and gameplay modes include:

  • Hostage
  • Bomb
  • Secure Area
  • Tactical Realism
  • Training Grounds
  • Situations
  • Outbreak
  • Arcade

The developers also include seasonal events from time to time to spice things up a little.

The game has a heavy influence on environmental destruction using a procedural destruction system for which some teams can use this feature as a tactical advantage.

Sales breakdown activities – Digital products vs Physical products

According to Gamebiz, more than 3 million gaming consoles were sold last year in the UK. This included 450,000 PS5s, 310,000 Xboxes and 1.5 million Nintendo Switch devices. PS5 made £191 million in revenue, while Xbox Series S/X drove £118 million. Switch generated £367.4 million.

67% of games were purchased via digital platforms as downloads. That’s an increase from the year before when 59% of the UK gaming market consisted of digital downloads.

Nintendo was the most successful publisher and accounted for 20.5% of all physical games sold in the UK. EA took the second spot with 12.4%.

Combining physical and digital downloads across all platforms and gaming consoles, Ubisoft was the best performing publisher, accounting for 14.3% of all games sold in the UK for 2020.