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The games industry in lockdown

David Cullinane 23 April 2020
games industry lockdown

For the vast majority of the modern world’s population, you’d be hard pressed to think of a singular event that has had such a dramatic impact on the way we live our lives as much as COVID-19. Everything that we hold dear – our freedom, family, friendships, working lives, and even our actual lives – have been placed under threat by a pandemic that has become the most pressing and biggest challenge of our time. 

Everyone will have their own stories as to the toll it has taken on them and there is no shortage of rolling news coverage that continues to add to the anxiety. Like most industries, COVID-19 has cast an incredibly long shadow over 2020. It’s important that the games industry remains positive in its outlook. For some segments of the industry it’s business as usual, with many well funded developers, publishers, and suppliers able to work remotely from home. But it’s also caused huge upset for many, with marketing roadmaps thrown into disarray and pretty much all of the conferences cancelled. GDC’s cancellation was a particularly hard blow which has seen many companies unable to pitch their wares and secure much needed funding.


The state of play

Since its inception, the games industry has grown from a humble cottage industry to one that is estimated as being worth $160bn. It has grown up in an era of unprecedented globalisation and technological advances delivering increasingly complex games and experiences. To fuel its growth and ensure its success during this time, it has needed to become reliant on specialist partners, many of whom are often dotted around the world, far away from the main developer’s studio. Localisation, asset creation, programming, audio, motion-capture, and animation are just some of the individual production elements that can be worked on from the other side of the planet. 

Had the pandemic happened thirty-odd years ago when the industry was in its infancy, it could arguably have done a lot more damage. Although games then were far more simplistic, often created in more self-contained environments, they were still reliant on more ‘traditional’ infrastructure to get them into the hands of the players. Duplication factories, printers, packaging, and all before you figure out their physical distribution to shops – traditional infrastructure that has been poleaxed in the wake of the current outbreak. 


Where are we now?

Thankfully, the modern games industry has moved on. Compared to many other entertainment industries such as sport, theatre, or music, the games industry finds itself in a relatively comfortable position. This is thanks, in part, to the digital distribution networks that now exist, at a point when games are enjoying a level of mainstream success far beyond what the industry of thirty years ago could even dream of. 

Games now vie with films, TV, and books as the main sources of entertainment in a world of lockdown and isolation. With the right hardware, the latest blockbuster game is just a few clicks away and can offer as great an opportunity to explore seemingly unlimited worlds and stories. This can only be a positive for the industry – especially for the developers and publishers who have a hit game on their hands at a time when players have more time than usual. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been roadblocks for the industry.


A mountain to climb

Some developers are well-equipped to thrive, but the vast majority of developers needed to act fast in order to prevent COVID-19 from impacting on their own productions. The fact that the games industry is so well connected and reliant on a global supply chain has proven to have both benefits and drawbacks. 

With many suppliers based in China, some of the bigger western developers in mid-production were rightly concerned about the potential implications. However, they were also arguably made aware of the potential problems that might lie ahead sooner. Until a few short months ago, words like ‘pandemics’ and ‘lockdowns’ seemed to be the preserve of dystopian sci-fi movies; certainly not something that could ACTUALLY happen in the 21st century. 

But with partners and clients not returning to their studios following the traditional two-week Chinese New Year break, it became apparent quite quickly that we were entering a new reality. Receiving such information and hearing of experiences first-hand enabled the industry to take early measures in mitigating any risks. Many of the tools often taken for granted became a real life-line. 

Video conferencing and remote working software allow them to continue with their creative endeavours. According to an XDS report, 94% of suppliers to the games industry have made allowances for their teams to work from home (XDS Special Report). Indeed, REALTIME has also successfully transitioned to this way of working and is thriving in the face of adversity.


Standing strong

It remains to be seen what lies ahead. But it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that social distancing has led to an increase in the demand for video games, with leading online platforms and games enjoying a huge surge in popularity. While, obviously, no one in the industry wants to profit from the situation, it’s one that should help serve the future growth prospects of the industry well. Far from being tabloid fodder for corrupting a generation, this is an opportunity for games to be seen quite rightly as a positive force for good; an entertainment form that allows people to stay connected while practising social distancing.

These are very much uncharted times and it’s important that the games industry remains positive, despite the gravity of the situation for those who are really struggling right now… There will still be many challenges ahead, but perhaps now is a time to reflect on how far the games industry has come. And maybe, just maybe, the industry will be recognised for playing some small part in keeping people connected at a time when they REALLY need to be apart. 

This unprecedented situation has affected us all in some way or another, REALTIME included. But together we can come out of this stronger than before. If you need a reliable, adaptable partner to work with on your next project, get in touch with me at [email protected].