When COVID-19 exploded earlier this year, the game industry seemed uniquely positioned to benefit from the situation. Stuck at home, people worldwide have been playing games a lot more, watching more streams, and consuming record amounts of gaming-related media. In the most basic sense, video game makers have gained a lot from this new captive market of home-bound gamers.
But the effects of the pandemic are much more complicated and far-reaching, and stand to last long after the quarantines are lifted. Here are some of the biggest and most likely permanent changes COVID-19 is bringing to the video game industry.
Video game conventions are migrating online
Every year, thousands flock to the E3, PAX and other conventions to get their fix of big gaming developments, while millions tune in to the live streams for the next best thing. Well, that next best thing will soon be the only thing, as public safety concerns over COVID-19 have forced major game industry events to transition to online formats. For many conventions, the switch will be permanent.
Players simply don’t have much of a reason to attend physical events anymore, as game trailers are posted online in advance, and beta access makes trying early game builds at conventions pointless. E3 was arguably already failing as a physical event, with participants dropping out before the COVID-19 pandemic even began. The event’s reimagined 2021 return will likely be a part of an industry-wide switch to live-streamed conventions.
Esports events have a problem to solve
Esports tournaments worldwide have also been forced to transition away from physical events. This is another gaming industry change that comes as a circumstance to COVID-19, but may stick around. For years now, esports competitors have faced difficulties related to travel. From severe time constraints, to being forced to forfeit due to border problems, there are a lot of hurdles that esports athletes might be eager to leave behind.
However, unlike gaming conventions, esports tournaments stand to lose a lot by going online. Latency may be irritating in a video stream, but it’s absolutely unacceptable when professional competition and its prizes are on the line. This is one of the reasons Valorant’s promise of super-quick servers worldwide has been so appealing to esports organizations.
It’s worth noting that latency is an even more pronounced issue at the moment, as servers strain under the added load of players stuck at home thanks to the quarantine.
Social features take center stage
While people are barred from socializing in real life, they find ways to connect through games. And some games are just better at letting players stay in touch. Part of what makes Animal Crossing: New Horizons so great is that it lets players live out the things they have been denied by COVID-19. Visiting each-other’s islands is keeping a lot of people in a better place mentally during this crisis.
Learning from Animal Crossing’s success, game developers would want to make the most of the social features they put in their games. Offering players more ways to connect beyond just shooting each-other will likely become a bigger priority going forward.