Pandemic — How the spread of COVID-19 has affected the Gaming Industry

Note: The impact of COVID-19 has continued to affect the globe since I began writing this, so a few news events may be outdated.

On the wake of the NBA (National Basketball Association) suspending its games, the Italian Medical Chief dying as a result of contracting coronavirus, and a string of multiple countries going on lockdown, coronavirus has affected nearly every corner of our earth. The pandemic has affected every industry, be it tech, food, even gaming.

As many countries are looking towards quarantining and installing curfews to maintain safety for its citizens, one might think that the gaming industry must be greatly profiting from scores of people staying at home. While that has certainly been true in some aspects, the gaming industry has been suffering as much as anyone.

Cancellation of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)

Picture of the E3 Logo
Picture of the E3 Logo

Yes, E3 has certainly lost its lustre over the past few years. Once the biggest gaming convention ever, the Electronic Entertainment Expo no longer carries the weight that it once held. However, it is still a big deal in the gaming industry, drawing lots of viewers since it opened to the public in 2017. Leading up to E3 2020 however, the ESA ( Entertainment Software Association) proposed plans to change the 2020 event into a “fan, media and influencer festival”, a great departure from the previous press-only showcase.

Around this time, a titan of the gaming industry, Geoff Keighley, announced that he was forgoing E3 for the first time in its history due to discomfort with the direction it was going. Other large producers like Sony have also pulled out or restated that they were not attending due to difference in goals. Regardless, E3 pressed on, and as the Coronavirus spread throughout China and threatened to infect other countries, the ESA reaffirmed that they would intend to hold E3 in person.

However, with the arrival of Coronavirus to the U.S. Shores, on March 11, the ESA announced that it was cancelling E3 2020. They would also devise an online alternative that would allow those who were holding conferences or exhibits to hold virtual presentations during the same time that E3 was supposed to be held.

Is it unfortunate that E3 was cancelled? Yes, of course. I’m sure that many people were working extremely hard to ensure that E3 2020 would be a great experience for fan and producer alike. But, it’s not wrong to state that E3 may be approaching a downfall in the next few years, or even the next year maybe. With the rise of internet and streaming services as it is, and the growth of producers trying to forge direct relationships with their fans, holding a physical conference just doesn’t seem that profitable anymore.

Record-breaking levels of Gaming

With many countries greatly restricting outdoor activities and advising their citizens to stay at home, it’s no surprise that many people have gravitated towards things to do indoors. As such, many gaming sites and noted an incredible growth in traffic and users. Telecom network Verizon stated that as of the 25th of March, gaming traffic has shot up 75% in the span of a week.

With the cancellation of many major sports associations, professional sports players have taken themselves online, playing video games and interacting with their fans.

Probably the strangest thing is seeing many news publications portraying video games in a surprisingly positive light. CNN just recently penned an article stating how the newest Animal Crossing is providing millions across the world something that has become abnormal - normalcy. Who would’ve thought?

Last Breath - Gamestop stays open, then closes

Gamestop was already dying before COVID-19. The once gaming retail giant was taking its last breath, overshadowed by the growth of digital and sales. Since 2016, Gamestop has suffered a sharp drop in sales and revenue, leading to 2019, where they reported a staggering $673 million net loss.

These losses may be the reasoning behind why Gamestop seemingly defied county law. On March 17th, despite orders from San Francisco Mayor London Breed calling for all non-essential businesses to be closed, Gamestop stayed open. They explained that due to their possession of computer peripherals and software, Gamestop was an “essential business”. Even though official company statements clarified that employees were given disinfectants and cleaning supplies, the fact that Gamestop believed that it was a necessity to keep its stores open is mind-boggling.

Fortunately, after extremely harsh criticism from multiple games journalists and the internet at large, Gamestop announced that they would close their stores. A few days later, Gamestop decided to close around 300 stores permanently. They explained that this was done to “de-densify” and was part of a long-term plan, and it was unrelated to any business trends.

While it is sad for the employees working at Gamestop to see their stores close, their failure to adapt is the reason behind its massive dip. The world is changing, Gamestop is being left behind and the COVID-19 scandal is yet another nail in the coffin.

Staying Safe and P.S.

Plenty has happened in the past few months, and plenty more is going to happen as COVID-19 sweeps the globe. While I did not necessarily want to bring more gloom to everybody, I feel it prudent to point out how this affects everybody.

The gaming world seems poised to be one of the few industries that can survive, or even thrive with a virus that threatens to keep the world indoors for weeks on end. However, like every other industry, the loss of personnel, production, innovation and creation can prove to be major obstacles as the best producers and publishers do their best to adapt to this weird new world.

P.S. I hope that everyone who reads this stays safe, stays healthy, and stays happy. In a time of chaos and confusion, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone. I may not have the answers to these problems, but know that you’re definitely not the only one out there.

I spend way too much of my days thinking about what games I’m going to play in the evening.