Video games in the year of the pandemic

Video games in the year of the pandemic
How has the pandemic affected the video game industry in this troubled 2020? To understand this, let's turn to a classic of Italian literature. Boccaccio tells in the Decameron of ten young people from good families who take refuge in a villa in the countryside to escape the plague. We are in 1384 and to pass the time they turn to what is the most widespread form of entertainment of their times, at least in the private sector: telling stories. Every day for ten days each of them tells a different story to the others, for a total of one hundred short stories.

Returning to 2020 we find ourselves in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic where confinement no longer concerns only young people from rich or well-to-do families (even if in fact they are the only ones who can really afford it) and where the private sphere has admitted very different forms of entertainment and people no longer spend their time telling each other stories, at least not as they did in the late Middle Ages, but they consume other forms of entertainment, such as video games, which allow an even more radical escape from reality, and they take on a consoling value as strong as they are able to project the player elsewhere, becoming the placebo of his fears.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Could this be why one of the most successful games of recent months in the company of the epidemic was Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch? Has it become a true symbol of this unfortunate year? Imagine a humanity shaken and prey to ancestral anxieties and terrors, which the gods grant the opportunity to curl up on the sofa to furnish their own island spring from the waters of another world, albeit virtual, where evil and disease do not exist. The island is a kind of kingdom where you live together with anthropomorphic animals guided by the CPU, but without any risk of zoonosis. You are not alone, because other human beings have obtained the gift of the gods and are eager to visit the islands of others and show their own. In a small way it's like the formation of a new company in an unknown but reassuring territory, a kind of mass emigration from reality without the risk of being rejected, with Nintendo managing the entrances.

Only in Japan Animal Crossing: New Horizons has placed more than six million copies, becoming one of the best-selling games ever in the territory. At the end of October there was talk of 22.4 million copies sold globally, about double compared to what has been done by Animal Crossing: Wild World and Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but with Christmas approaching the number of copies sold will certainly be grown up. Nintendo itself was blown away by the success of New Horizons, belonging to a franchise that it considered strong, but not strong enough to beat Mario and the Pokémon. He hadn't considered the new coronavirus ...

The industry and the pandemic

But it is not only Nintendo that has enjoyed the effects of the pandemic, which have actually produced a growth in the whole world of home entertainment (but let's just talk about video games). The financial reports of all major hardware manufacturers and large publishers have seen unnatural growth. In Italy alone, a 21.6% increase in spending on video games is expected for 2020 (Pwc data), for 2.5 billion euros, against an average increase in annual spending between now and 2024 of 11%. It is normal that this is the case: like everyone else, even gamers have been forced (and still are) to stay at home for longer periods and more frequently than before, plus in a condition of profound discomfort. Comscore reported a 19% growth in traffic and visits to video game sites in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in the week from 6 to 12 April 2020. The truth is that there is no sector. the gaming industry that has not grown: hardware, software and services. In particular segments such as free-to-play have seen enormous growth, as evidenced by the budgets of Activision driven by Call of Duty: Warzone and successes like that of Among Us, which became the most played game in the world overnight. or even that of Fall Guys, which was a gift of a month with the PS Plus.

A medium that adapts

After all, there is no medium more versatile than the videogame one. As noted by Matthew Ball in his "The Effects of Coronavirus on Video Games", video games have intrinsic characteristics that make them perfect for wandering around during periods of closure. In particular, there is no longer a need for dedicated platforms to play: a smartphone is enough to access dozens of high quality products that can be played in cross-play, such as Fortnite, Roblox or the aforementioned Among Us.

Furthermore, the digital market has made it unnecessary to go out to buy physical copies, allowing you to manage everything remotely. Interfunctionality and comfort, therefore. But that's not all: video games allow you to carry out a large number of different activities within them, as told by Matteo Lupetti in Artribune, often adapting to the needs and expectations of individual users, to the point of being used in very different ways from how they have been thought (at least conceptually). You can do everything and every type of player can find his home or, better still, his island. In some cases, we go well beyond the concept of play, to arrive at that of identity, with the act of gamer becoming a way to reposition and redefine oneself outside a complex and dangerous reality like ours.

The dangers of prolonging the situation

Unfortunately, what appears to be an ideal situation for the entertainment industry, in reality it is not at all. In the long run, the growth due to periods of confinement could prove ephemeral, if not deleterious, for all operators in the sector. The first critical point that emerges from the current situation concerns the very possibility of consuming: you do it as long as you have money available. With the lengthening of the closing periods, growth is destined to an inevitable slowdown, which will lead to a decrease in the resources available to consumers to spend on unnecessary goods such as video games.

Another critical point is the sustainability of development itself. One of the keywords to understand the video game industry's 2020 is in fact "postponement". Over the past few months, the projects postponed to 2021 or to a later date have been countless, but many more are the games slowed down by having to move the entire production home. There isn't a single development studio that hasn't been hit by the pandemic, with many publishers slashing their investment due to the uncertainty of development times. This is not to say that no more games will be released, but only to point out that the risk is that of shorter releases than expected in 2021 and, if the situation does not improve, also in 2022. Many development studies will then suffer, with the real risk of closure at the first sign of problems. The situation is therefore more complex than it might seem at a superficial glance. The only certainty is that the virus needs to be eradicated to return to some normalcy.

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