Anthony Benites ’22 explores how the pandemic propelled growth in the video game industry
Anthony Benites ’22 can’t remember a time in his life without video games.
In fact, the Finance major estimates he spends about 20 hours each week playing them. Depending on his mood, he might choose Xenoblade Chronicles, “if I want a dramatic story with both bombastic and emotional musical scores”; Team Fortress 2, “if I feel like testing my gaming skills competitively while still maintaining a level of silliness”; or his all-time favorite, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: “Even though I’ve logged close to 400 hours on it, I still discover something new on every play-through.”
Given such enthusiasm, it’s hardly surprising Benites chose video games as his topic of study as part of Bentley’s Undergraduate Researcher Program. Sponsored by the Valente Center, the program provides stipends for students to engage in independent arts and sciences-focused research projects. With Alain Chinca, senior lecturer in Finance — and fellow video game enthusiast — as his faculty adviser, Benites set out to examine COVID’s effect on gaming.
“The video game industry is arguably one of the greatest beneficiaries of the pandemic,” he says, noting that the physical and social limitations wrought by lockdowns drove more Americans than ever before to spend their newly idle hours playing on computers, gaming consoles and mobile phones. According to market research firm The NPD Group, COVID helped propel U.S. video game sales to a record $56.9 billion in 2020, a 27% increase over the previous year.
As an investor in the industry — his modest stock portfolio includes shares of Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and other gaming companies — Benites saw firsthand the economic impact of such explosive growth. He began wondering if there could be a way to predict which games or platforms were likely to bring better-than-average returns. Overall, he says, “video games are under-researched in the finance world,” relying more on quantitative rather than qualitative data. So he decided to develop his own model, with an equal emphasis on both.
While there are many reasons why people play video games, most do so to fulfill certain psychological needs, Benites says. According to Self-Determination Theory, a framework for understanding human motivation, a person's growth and development depends on three needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Video games meet these needs, Benites says, by allowing players to choose their own course of action (autonomy); achieve higher levels of game play (competence); and make connections with other gamers (relatedness).
Benites used these three concepts to develop the qualitative component for his research. Originally, he intended to use Python software to analyze Metacritic, a website that aggregates video game reviews. The software would tally the number of times certain keywords that indicate autonomy, competence and relatedness appeared in reviews for a specific game. Unfortunately, the Metacritic site wouldn’t support Python, so Benites had to review the data manually, a time-intensive process that limited the total number of keywords and game titles he could search for.
Despite this setback, Benites collected significant data for nine games, all of which were released after pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020. After comparing Metacritic data with sales figures for the same period, he found that games with higher totals of the keywords in their reviews sold more units than games with lower totals of the keywords. For Benites, this indicates that Americans turned to video games not simply out of boredom, but to cope with the anxiety, uncertainty and social isolation that characterized life under quarantine.
“I was very impressed by Anthony’s research,” Chinca says, “particularly his work gathering data relating to behavioral characteristics of gamers. When you consider that he had to manually scrape website reviews to collect word frequency, his dedication to this project is truly commendable.”
Currently a portfolio manager for the Bentley Investment Group, a student organization responsible for managing a portion of the university’s endowment, Benites aspires to a career “in the investments space, as a stock analyst, portfolio manager, or similar role.” Unlike his future job title, however, one thing is certain: Video games will always be a part of his personal investment portfolio.
“Year-over-year growth will likely slow as the world returns to normal, but the industry itself will continue to thrive long-term,” Benites predicts. “New and better technology and stories will keep people coming back for more.”