In the midst of China’s biggest holiday season, many of the country’s residents are confining themselves to their homes thanks to an outbreak in Wuhan of a deadly new coronavirus. So to connect with friends and family, many people are turning to video games.

Too many, it turns out.

A sudden surge in players overwhelmed the servers of one of Tencent’s biggest games over the weekend. Some users struggled to log on to Game for Peace, China’s rebranded version of PUBG Mobile, while others had trouble joining matches. 

“Movies are canceled, plays are canceled, get-togethers are cancelled, hot springs are canceled. Now I just want to play a game, but it collapsed,” Weibo influencer Tiyuxiaoqiao wrote.

Tencent soon responded to gamers' complaints online. In a Weibo post, the company said that it had fixed the problem and was working to expand server capacity. 

“The enthusiasm of the special forces soldiers is a bit overwhelming, so a small problem occurred,” the Shenzhen-based company said. Tencent then offered players a number of in-game rewards, including “crazy rabbit pajamas,” to make up for the lapse in service.

Game for Peace is a battle royale game in which you’re tasked with eliminating all your enemies on an island until you’re the last man or the last team standing. (Picture: Tencent)

A spike in traffic is to be expected during the Lunar New Year holiday, say industry watchers. This is especially true this year given that many public events, attractions and cinemas have been shut down because of the coronavirus.

“The traffic spike in the online gaming population is going to be huge, but Tencent is probably capable of creating the necessary adjustments, even considering the extraordinary circumstances,” said Charlie Moseley, founder of Chengdu Gaming Federation.

“While the situation is tragic and dire, almost everyone in China is online now, which is a tremendous circumstance in itself,” Moseley added. “I would speculate their online population is at least [two to three times] what they had planned for, which considering the scale of China, is remarkable.”

But gamers don’t appear too disgruntled about Game for Peace’s temporary downtime, taking it in good humor. One Zhihu user joked about China’s many canceled events: “A game with a hundred players can be classified as a big party. It should be canceled.”

The downtime also became one of the most-searched topics on Weibo. The hashtag #GameForPeaceCollapsed was the 16th most-searched term on the platform at one point, and related posts amassed more than 150 million views

Game For Peace is now the fifth biggest mobile game worldwide by number of daily active users, according to App Annie, ahead of both Clash Royale and Pokémon Go. Its overseas version, PUBG Mobile, has the most daily active users in the world. Tencent developed both variants, but Game for Peace, as the name suggests, is a more sanitized version. In both games, 100 players land on an island, forced to scavenge for weapons to eliminate the other 99 -- but in Game for Peace, opponents don’t die when shot, instead waving farewell before vanishing.

Game for Peace isn’t the only game to see a spike in popularity in recent days. The 7-year-old British strategy game Plague Inc. has become one of the most-downloaded games in China because of its grim depiction of how a deadly virus can infect people across the globe at breakneck speed. 

But even as Tencent appears to be benefiting from people staying in during the coronavirus outbreak, the company said it’s donating 300 million yuan (US$43.2 million) to help with medical supplies. The virus already has thousands of confirmed cases and caused dozens of deaths.