A viral outbreak may be a fertile grounds for a video game, but in real life, it’s horrifying. And now it is happening in real life as the games industry — as well plenty of others — are currently dealing with the effects of the coronavirus and the rational and irrational fears surrounding it. It’s always important to remember those affected by it either directly through infection or indirectly through racism or quarantine. But it’s also impossible to not look at some of the ways how, aside from the possibility of catching the coronavirus, it’ll affect the games industry and the many people in it from the developers to the press to you.
Aside from the fact that developers are people that are susceptible to viruses, the timing of this outbreak has harmed their ability to network. GDC runs from March 16 to March 20 and is where game developers from around the world crowd San Francisco’s streets to mingle, trade game development secrets, and show their games.
2019 was the show’s biggest event ever, as it celebrated 28,000 attendees. But this year won’t be as huge, given how companies like Sony, Facebook, Oculus, Activision, Blizzard, Amazon, Microsoft, Epic Games, Unity, EA, Kojima Productions, and a ton of other developers pulled out, forcing the event to be postponed.
Those are all huge studios with employees that will be unable to learn from the many talks at GDC or be able to give their talks to other developers. Some of the seminars may seem like advanced alien speak to most people, but they can be pretty helpful for those in the know. Game development is like a puzzle everyone is trying to solve together and these talks are a collaborative way to provide a few vital pieces. Some of those pieces are undoubtedly going to be missing this year.
But it’s also a place for smaller developers to not only learn from those talks, but also to network and get their name out there. Knowing people makes it easier to advance or move within many industries and the game’s industry is no exception, especially given all the parties that happen around the event. Smaller developers have more to lose by these events dying or getting cut down as travelling is expensive and is a cost they’ll unfortunately have to front. And in some cases, it may be even more concrete than that as one publicist told Vice that it had $20,000 in suites booked to coincide with a Kickstarter announcement. GDC’s postponement would surely smother that announcement as well as others like it.
PAX is similar in that regard. Sony had the biggest high profile withdrawal from PAX East, meaning many won’t be able to go hands-on with The Last of Us 2 until it releases on May 29. Granted, that title will probably sell well anyway, but Sony pulling out also means that games alongside Naughty Dog’s juggernaut won’t get as many eyes on them like Predator: Hunting Grounds, Iron Man VR, and the many others from its booth that could use the boost. The same goes for Square Enix, Capcom, and CD Projekt Red who canceled some or all of their plans to come to Boston.
E3 is only three months away, too. Hopefully, this will all be under control by then, but given the recklessness of some government administrations and their horrendously poor approaches to the matter, it’s not guaranteed. Delaying E3, in its hobbled state, would be like delaying PAX and GDC, but exponentially more drastic given how many more developers depend on the Los Angeles convention.
While it sucks to not be able to show your game if you’re a developer, it’s also unfortunate for players planning to play unreleased games, read about them, or compete in ones that are already out. Long lines be damned, attendees often go to events to go hands-on with big titles like Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us 2, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake before they come out. Anyone going to PAX East with hopes to test those titles out will have to wander to other games instead. While there are always quality, smaller games at these events, they are often buoyed by the big guns.
It’ll also be harder for audiences to hear about these games and watch or read previews about them. Developers pulling out means fewer press demos and that means fewer written and video previews as well as podcasts discussions. I have already had most of my hands-on GDC demos postponed or outright canceled, meaning our podcast and website won’t have as many previews as we would have liked. And honestly, given my increasingly barren schedule, my will to attend GDC fell with every passing day until that decision was made for me.
And we’re not alone as other members of the press were also planning on staying home from GDC. Game Informer and The Verge announced it was no longer attending the show along with Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. Other press members were still planning to go GDC, but more dropouts made it hard to justify going because more dropouts kept pushing more to drop out. It was snowballing and that snowball reached its peak size on Friday night when the event got postponed. Most of this just pertains to GDC for now, but if this outbreak goes on long enough, it’ll likely mean fewer press events in general as publishers become more wary about getting people from different places in one room.
This is also hurting games that are already out, given how some events and tournaments have also been axed due to coronavirus fears. The EVE Fanfest in Iceland, which is already a rare place to hold an event, has been canned. The Overwatch League has moved all February and March matches from China to South Korea. A Pokemon championship in Hong Kong has been canceled. The League of Legends Pacific Championship Series opening has been indefinitely postponed alongside the WESG Asia-Pacific Finals for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Esports is huge and will survive this, but this a jab to rib cage to the growing industry as well as those involved, especially given the big role Asia plays in esports. Losing entertainment is disappointing to viewers and fans, but it’s also impacting those who compete to make a living as well as the staff that has to work at the physical events.
The games and the hardware
Some developers also won’t be able to go to their job either. Aside from the game developers we haven’t heard about, developer Virtuous hasn’t been able to go to its office, which led to The Outer Worlds‘ Switch port being delayed to an unknown date. Ubisoft has also temporarily closed its two China-based studios, which could have slight rippling effects to whatever games they are working on. Given that they’re Ubisoft companies, both are probably helping with a whole suite of upcoming titles. That time has to be made up somewhere and hopefully crunch doesn’t have to offset any lost time as deadlines will probably be missed.
The hardware manufacturing side has both short-term effects as well as the possibility of some more long-term problems, too. Oculus Quest units, which are already in high demand, will fall further behind. Nintendo Switch production will also hit an “unavoidable” slowdown as its production chains are in Vietnam and China, two countries being hit hard by the virus.
But the PS5 and Xbox Series X are the two big elephants in the room. They haven’t entered production yet, but we don’t know how long this outbreak will last and failing to contain it over the next few months could spell danger for Sony and Microsoft, given how each console will be made in Asia.
Foxconn, the company that manufactured the PS4 and Xbox One, experiencing those roadblocks could have huge ramifications and could even delay the next generation of hardware. It’s uncommon for a big console to launch outside of the fall season and it’s something Sony and Microsoft probably don’t want to do because of the capitalistic power of Black Friday and holiday shopping.
It’s also not outrageous to suggest that the coronavirus has even delayed information about the PS5. Sony was widely expected to have a PS5 reveal event in February like the PS4 reveal event. And seeing as though February is over and there have been no concrete rumblings of a reveal event in the near future, things might stay that way for quite some time.
Getting people together all in one big room might not be something Sony wants to do right now and that’s independent of the possible hardware slowdowns that could also be making the company hesitant to move forward. Sony might be looking to make the PS5 reveal through a State of Play instead. A lot of GDC is moving to the digital space so it is not unheard of that other events will do the same in order to stay safe.
Again, we can’t lose sight of the people affected by the coronavirus along with their friends and families. It’s an awful ailment that no one should experience and zooming out to see the bigger picture is something we shouldn’t forget to do considering how grim the situation looks. But it’s also worth it to zoom in and take a look at least some of the ways it has impacted the gaming industry, especially since it looks like we aren’t out of the woods yet.