While the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way people work, shop and play in the short term, gaming and online shopping companies are counting on longer term changes in habits to propel more sustainable growth in these industries, according to speakers at the China Conference hosted by the South China Morning Post.

Games could become a new social space in a time when society is lacking in physical interaction, according to Yat Siu, chairman and co-founder of Hong Kong-based gaming developer Animoca Brands and founder and CEO of Outblaze.

In Hong Kong, a city known for its reluctance to embrace online shopping, only 4% of overall retail spending in 2019 was conducted online, compared to 24% on the mainland. (Picture: Nora Tam/SCMP)

Players are heavily invested with friends and communities in games like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing and Epic Games’ Fortnite, which makes it a hard habit to give up, Siu said during a panel discussion at the conference in Hong Kong on Friday.

Gaming companies have implemented more social features in their products that could even challenge the way platforms such as TikTok, Facebook and Instagram do social, according to Siu. “It’s really about building communities,” he added.

Such behavioral changes are hard to predict because there has been nothing comparable in the past to look at, Siu said. “One thing that is definitely different between this and other pandemics on a global scale, is the length this pandemic has been going on, which means that the ability to create these habits and patterns is much greater.”

The gaming industry has been one of the major beneficiaries of the stay-at-home orders issued globally during the Covid-19 pandemic, when millions of people have been forced to move many of their daily activities online.

Games revenue on all platforms in China was roughly 30% higher in the first quarter of 2020 than the same period last year, according to estimates released last month by Niko Partners.

The health crisis has sped up the shift to ecommerce services for both merchants and customers on Taobao and Tmall, the online shopping sites operated by China’s ecommerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, according to CK Chan, head of Hong Kong and Macau for Tmall World. Alibaba owns the Post.

In Hong Kong, a city known for its reluctance to embrace online shopping, only 4% of overall retail spending in 2019 was conducted online, compared to 24% on the mainland, which was the highest of any nation, the FIS Retail Global Payments Report showed.

“To make it sustainable, the emotional attachment is very important,” Chan said, adding that Hong Kong consumers are increasingly engaged in live-streaming and gamification features that are changing their shopping experience.

“Hong Kong is very convenient for offline [shopping]. If you see online [shopping] as just a change of logistics methods, it won’t be sustainable,” he said. “There must be the fundamental changes within it.”

While online education has boomed recently, it will coexist with face-to-face teaching after the pandemic is over, said Sean Lai, director of admissions for ITS Education Asia. “[Online classes] will help supplement education … but we still want the learning aspect to be done in person as we see [them] as not just a teacher but a friend or even a mentor.”

While most people will still crave offline interaction, meeting online could become an increasingly acceptable norm for the community in the post-pandemic era.

“Saying ‘I don't want to meet with you’ [in person] will become as acceptable as it was to say ‘I don't smoke’ 30 years ago, or ‘I don't drink’ today,” Siu said.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post.)