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One Year Later: How the Pandemic Has Affected the Video Game Industry

Jemm

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Jan 11, 2017
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Interesting article (by Imran Khan) about how COVID-19 has affected the gaming industry.

Over the past few months, Fanbyte spoke to multiple developers, studios, and publishers on the subject of developing video games in a quarantine world where the idea of coming to the office every day to work collaboratively with your deskmate suddenly became unfathomable. Some found very little interruption in their work, some found pretty major disruptions, and many expect that the ripple effect of COVID-19 will be felt on the gaming industry for years to come.
The logistics of equipping a team to work on games at home became a small nightmare for developers trying to hit the shifting ground running. Not every studio had an army of laptops ready to go home with the employees. Not every employee was ready to just unplug massive desktops with expensive components and carry them across town while walking home or taking the train.
One of the biggest roadblocks was how things developers took totally for granted, like the benefits of having many fans in one location, had no simple or easy alternative during a pandemic. It is one thing to have all your employees work from home, it’s another to lose all your playtesting thanks to the cancellation of every gaming event worldwide.

Events like PAX, E3, Day of the Devs, and other similar trade shows to get your game in actual hands were fairly key for a lot of developers. They allowed the people making the games to see how players reacted to specific design decisions and give off-the-cuff feedback in person to the tune of hundreds if not thousands of players. After PAX East, which bordered the beginning of the pandemic in the west in February 2020, that source of useful information and feedback was cut off.
Several studios we spoke to had projects in the works meant for new consoles launching in 2020, roughly nine months after the pandemic began. As everyone got sent home, the issue of limited numbers of development kits suddenly became a major concern for developers who needed the kits to work on games for then-unreleased hardware. These boxes are usually IP-locked so that the platform holders can be sure they are only being used in the workplaces of the developers that own them. This is for a number of reasons, including security, but it presented a potential headache for the diaspora of developers that needed their teams to have the same level of access.
While 2020 still saw a number of big video game releases, some of the developers who shipped those projects caution that these were games likely to come out that year regardless. The pandemic made the final sprint more arduous, but for the most part, a lot of the work had already been completed. In the coming year, there is far less confidence in being able to trip forward onto the finish line.
One developer we spoke with described an utterly manic setup where they had to remote takeover into a superior’s desktop to do the work they were tasked with, which could only be done during certain hours of the day, every day. They were told it was a security concern, specifically citing what happened with Capcom and CD Projekt Red’s ransomware hacks as their company’s biggest fear. This new structure delayed their game out of 2021 and they expressed apprehension about giving any year beyond that publicly.
Several developers specifically mentioned CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 as an example of COVID affecting a game’s polishing phase and one developer revealed that they were almost in the same situation until the publisher granted them extra time specifically because of how maligned the CDPR title was. Some developers had their entire 2020 launch plans delayed to 2021 to release alongside PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions, which were originally planned to be released a year after the last generation ones.
In short: assume things will come out at least a year later than you once expected them. The traditional wisdom about how long video games take to make, which was already kind of magical and not well understood by the gaming community, has been thrown out the window for at least a little while longer. Developers are hoping that players will understand.
 
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martino

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Apr 25, 2013
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Delays. Delays everywhere.
 
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