How Is Coronavirus Influencing the Gaming Industry?
There can be little doubt that the coronavirus crisis is going to be a big challenge for the healthcare systems of even the most advanced countries, like Canada. If you look at the responses of ordinary people as a result of the epidemic, then you can already see that many more people are opting to stay at home and have been ordering food and groceries rather than venturing out to collect them in person. In terms of gaming, habits are changing as well. Ruby Fortune’s recently investigated how Covid19 has impacted the gaming industry. Mobile games and virus games are rising in popularity as entertainment options as people are gearing up for the potential of prolonged spells indoors.
In fairness, much of the Canadian government's response has been commensurate with the scale of the issue. To date, there have been over three thousand deaths due to coronavirus-related illnesses in China alone. There have been none – as yet – in Mexico or Canada and only a dozen or so in the United States. That said, European health services are significantly gearing up for the cases they think are in their incubation period which may soon become apparent, significantly widening the scope of the crisis.
Italy has already announced drastic measures to halt people's movements. All schools and universities are closed until further notice, no sporting events are being held and people are being told to stay at home unless it is for essential travel only. Of course, the tech industries have made it much easier to work from home for many of us. However, if there are several weeks of self-imposed house arrest to endure across the Western world in the coming months, then most of us are going to need entertainment as well as work to keep us going.
What has the gaming industry – one of the most significant sub-sectors of the technology sector – been up to as the crisis has grown in stature? In this article, we'll cover everything from the dark rise of viral games and the changing face of mobile apps to the response of some of the tech giants out there like Nintendo.
Viral Games Going... Viral
To begin with, there has been something darkly humorous about some gamers' responses to the spread of Covid-19 – the official name for the coronavirus pathogen. Since coronavirus started to hit the headlines, more and more people have been downloading games that are entirely devoted to all things viral.
You have to develop your own deadly pathogen and then manipulate its spread across the planet. The novel game concept meant that it won the 'Overall Best Strategy Game' prize at the IGN Awards of 2012. However, the single-player, real-time strategy game was never exactly a best seller. That is until the Ebola outbreak of 2014 which led to more and more people downloading it.
In 2020, the same phenomenon has occurred. As the coronavirus crisis tightened around the world, so more people started playing the game once more. In fairness to its developers, there is no direct link between the game – which lets you unleash fungi, parasites, bacteria and bioweapons as well as viruses – and coronavirus. However, it appears that gamers like to explore some of their fears by taking control of a virtual outbreak.
Viral games are available to download on Windows, iOS and Android, also a physical version is available too. So, if you want something to entertain you without recourse to the internet, then the viral game may still afford you with some insights into the world of a global pandemic.
China, the Global Tech Hardware Hub
Since coronavirus originated in China, much of what the world's health authorities currently know about its spread has been gleaned from the Chinese experience. With around 80,000 confirmed cases so far, many experts believe the numbers of people with the virus are actually much higher but have yet to be diagnosed. Of course, as the world's leading centre for manufacturing – especially consumer technology products like game consoles and mobile phones – the whole world is affected by the steps the People's Republic has taken to try and contain the outbreak.
One thing that might surprise Westerners is the Chinese authorities response to viral games. In early March, all of the app stores the game was available to download from in the country removed it. Not only that, but it became illegal to play the game in any form in China. Obviously, the Chinese government does not see the funny side of the dark humour needed to play such a game during an ongoing crisis. Even before it was outlawed, the Chinese social credit system meant that people with the game on their devices would see a negative impact merely from playing it.
Elsewhere, China has taken big steps to keep people away from one another to arrest the spread of the contagion. Numerous manufacturing facilities in the country have been closed, production lines remain at a standstill and the current technology items in the supply chain may soon run out. Western tech operators in China have also taken similar precautions. The likes of Apple, Tesla and Microsoft have all temporarily shut their offices and stores. Google, which has regional offices in Taiwan, has also followed suit.
Apps – Winners and Losers
Of course, for every downturn in the economy, there is an opportunity for someone. The reduced movement of people in China, for example, has led to a decline in the amount of taxi-hailing apps being downloaded. Why install the likes of Didi, Dada and Hello on your phone to book a ride to another part of the city if you are going nowhere? The Chinese equivalents of Uber are likely to bounce back, of course, but not in the immediate future.
However, because people are staying at home more, especially in the biggest Asian cities, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of food ordering apps being downloaded. If and when coronavirus starts to reach Western cities in the same sort of pattern that China has seen, we can expect the same. Of course, among the app winners which will see a greater number of downloads in the coming months will be ones providing entertainment.
The gaming giant, Nintendo, has already hinted that in response to the crisis, it may have to move its production facility from China. The technology manufacturer has touted Vietnam as a possible alternative. However, it is not clear whether the proposed move is entirely caused by the current healthcare situation. Part of the decision may be down to the US government's tariff trade war which could spark into life again at any time.
That said, the move to a non-Chinese production facility would be a significant move for the company. Its popular Switch console has been delayed as a result of the various crises already. The relocation would inevitably mean an upturn in manufacturing costs while supply chains are reorganized. However, the alternative – of long-term factory closures – is even worse, so Nintendo may decide that it has no choice in the matter.
Early this year some leading game developers and technology companies pulled out of the annual Mobile World Congress conference due to worries about flying employees to Barcelona. Sony, LG and Ericsson all pulled out which left the trade fair's organizers no option but to abandon the event. This spring the Game Developer's Conference, due to be held in San Francisco, was also postponed to an unspecified date in the summer due to coronavirus.
It is likely that big companies like PlayStation, Oculus and Facebook Gaming will all find new ways around the postponement and cancellation of such events. Will the industry continue to cross-fertilize its ideas and human resources as much as it has historically done, as a result? If game developers remain in more tightly knitted teams will game development improve or decline? Only time will tell. What we do know about the gaming industry is that the demand for more home entertainment is only likely to rise in the foreseeable future as coronavirus takes its course.