The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant challenges to the world and its economy. Various aspects of our lives have been affected to say the least. While several industries struggle to stay afloat in these unprecedented times, the videogames industry has seen a surge in various aspects of its business thanks to much of the world’s population being under lockdown.
While this is a positive from the industry’s perspective, the situation does bring the bad and ugly along with the good. Let’s take a look at all things good bad and ugly that the industry endures during these trying times.
The current situation is weird. On one hand we are in the middle of a pandemic that has been disruptive. Equally, much of the world’s population has endured these times from the comfort of their homes, with digital solutions coming to their aid. Despite what can be considered a luxury under such a global event, staying indoors is quite the task as many including myself have come to learn. Enter services like Netflix, and hobbies like video games to save the day.
The videogames industry has seen an unprecedented engagement during these times and the current situation has enabled a great deal of success to many ranging from small indie developers to big studios and publishers. Adding to this success, the early days of lockdown around the globe saw a lot of companies doing their part for the gaming community with big discounts and giveaways. Industry giants such as Unity offered free access to their premium courses which was very encouraging for budding developers.
But with the good came the bad, in the form of major events like E3, GDC and TGS being replaced by digital events, the quality of which was all over the place. This put a dent on the plans already made by big companies on upcoming events.
We discuss the rise of digital events in detail in our latest podcast. Do check it out.
While these events do not measure up to the hype and anticipation generated by a show like E3 or Gamescom, the truth is that despite these shortcomings they pose a threat to big events in the future. E3, which was struggling to hold its ground and be relevant from the publishers’ perspective even before the COVID outbreak, now stands a chance of being gone for good, or at least not return to its former glory.
This also meant that the console race between Microsoft and Sony for the 9th generation of consoles took an unconventional route, completely forgoing the back and forth between both companies which we have come to enjoy during every new console cycle so far.
The pandemic also resulted in various studios having their games being built while the staff worked on it from home or in an alternative setup. While big companies found a way around it, and we’ll get back to them in a bit, plenty of smaller and mid-tier studios ended up delaying their console games from their originally planned dates. Game delays are not new, but this does add to the stress and not to mention budget inflation in the game production lifecycle. It may even affect the end product significantly.
While one side of the industry struggles with delays, there are some cases where the games in production have been hurried to meet the deadline and to make the most of the current situation. There may not be many reports suggesting this, but the results can be seen in games that are very close to release this year. Assassin’s creed Valhalla which is due to release in a few months, featured plenty of bugs and general lack of polish in many areas in the demo showcased by Ubisoft themselves. The recently unveiled Halo Infinite gameplay did not quite measure up to next gen standards from a visual standpoint. Both are issues that could be fixed with a bit more development time. But chances of both games being delayed for these reasons are little to none.
Even more worrying is the aggressive approach by Sony with the production of PlayStation 5. According to various outlets Sony has doubled up production to meet demands and get their new console in as many hands as possible. While this could be a move Sony has made following them foreseeing a higher demand than initially anticipated, it could also mean that the new consoles may suffer the consequences of a rushed production line. Historically, the first few batches of a new console may have issues in some shape or form. And a fast-tracked production process only poses more problems.
All this said, we are bound to have more of both good and bad to come from the current situation. But there is one eventuality foreseen in the form of an aftermath of sorts. As much as the industry enjoys the increased user base and engagement, it is expected the numbers will plummet as things fall back into place. The scale at which this could happen or whether this would happen at all is yet to be seen.
But it is what would happen after the fact that is worrying considering big studios’ and publishers’ tendency to lean towards layoffs and other distasteful practices at the sight of the slightest adversity. The industry together will be fine, no doubt. The demand for games has never been this high, and so is the level of creativity.
But it’s how we as players, creators and publishers stick the landing that will determine how much we have grown as a community and if we have learnt anything of value as humans in these tough times. Here’s hoping more good comes out of it than anything else.