Online gaming and gaming services have seen a surge in users of over 75% as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Live events such as industry conferences and competitions have been canceled entirely for the foreseeable future, and this has had effects beyond publisher and development studio’s bottom lines. Esports leagues, organizations supporting a scene which has seen an explosion in popularity over the last ten years, rely heavily on live events.
Many studios have been forced to stop development on their upcoming titles, putting the titles and jobs of the developers working on them at risk. While sales are at an all-time high, indie studios without publisher deals or already released titles to sustain them are at particular risk, and many have been forced to close. This comes at a time when crunch culture and working conditions of game developers were beginning to attract mainstream attention. Concern over 100 hour weeks and mismanagement leading to hundreds of layoffs overnight are rife throughout the development sector. Workers’ comp insurance and unemployment insurance are vital for protecting a workforce, yet they are rarely offered by studios, and most developers are employed on a contractual rather than full-time basis, putting their job security at risk. Furthermore, because many of the world’s largest development studios are located in expensive cities like San Diego, loss of work can quickly lead to homelessness. With this in mind, we may see efforts by developers to organize for improvements in working conditions when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Video game releases
Online games such as the new Call of Duty Warzone have seen an explosion in popularity as a result of quarantine measures. The game has broken records, becoming the quickest growing title of all time as it saw 30 million new users in 10 days over March. However, for titles still in development, the prospects are not so bright. High profile releases such as The Last Of Us 2 and the Nintendo Switch port of Bethesda game Outer Worlds have been delayed indefinitely. Furthermore, brick-and-mortars are on the brink of collapse. Already suffering under the expansion of online game stores and services such as Steam, the outlook was not a good pre-coronavirus pandemic, and quarantine orders have hastened their closure across the western world, marking the end of an era for many older gamers.
The future of the gaming industry is looking rocky. Large studios and publishers with popular titles already released may have benefited from the increased sales, but many have not been so lucky. Dozens of small development studios have been forced to close, ending the development of many highly anticipated titles and causing significant unemployment.