Lockdown and the Video Game Industry

Catherine Pushnaya 11 February 2021
Image Credit: Unsplash

As a child, I dreamt that I could create something combining all known art forms: images, sounds, narrative, form and even touch. Well, the modern world offers the wonder of games.

Many titles have become a synonym of the lockdown culture: Among Us, Animal Crossing and others. All that while the movie industry is struggling to make ends meet, cinemas are closed and even very promising titles are failing to make profit. In 2020, games have topped the pocket money spending charts, defeating books and magazines, the previous winners according to RoosterMoney.

Since 2010, the revenue of the gaming industry has been growing almost exponentially, online trading platforms like Steam or Gog ridding it of the need to produce a lot of material packages. 2020 has, unsurprisingly, become a catalyst, for example, since January 2020 Activision Blizzard stocks rose from approximately 60$ to 90$. The creator of the biggest gaming sensation of 2020, CD Project Red with its Cyberpunk 2077, despite having suffered a significant decline of 30% in its stocks due to the game delay, is likely to have the best-selling game in history in its hands by the end of this year.

But it is not just fun and games for the developers, for the lockdown is also taking its toll on the production of new games. Many studios, such as Square Enix, rely on art forms such as motion capture, which are usually achieved in a team in-person. Not only that, but customers are less willing to buy games offline, so those companies that primarily bet on offline sales are bound to suffer the consequences. Notice how the most successful titles this year are simple, like Fall Guys or the ones already mentioned. It might be because the release of many other titles had been postponed. The question is, how will this influence the anticipated 9% rise in the industry in 2021?

There are several reasons for the success of the gaming industry. Firstly, it is the peculiar combination of art forms that I already mentioned, which allows us to literally experience magic. Secondly, video game making software is not hard to access, which allows for the democratisation of gaming art. There are free tools like Blender, Unity and Unreal Engine, along with some 2D software, that allow virtually anyone to implement their ideas. Undertale and Stardew Valley are two examples of games developed from scratch, and what they lack in detailed graphics they make up for in great story and mechanics. Such examples point out the optimism of the gaming industry, for if talents may enter the game (pun intended) so easily, the sphere of gaming will continue to bloom.

Many titles have become a synonym of the lockdown culture.

Due to flexibility of form and customization of controls, the accessibility of games grows. Game developers are starting to implement features that help disabled players join, such as one-handed controls or subtitles. In fact, such features make the games easier to play for everyone. Some non-native speakers prefer subtitles, for example, and many favored the eye-controlled accelerate function in Mario Kart.

Some people may argue that, well, it is all nice and good that some companies are capable of making profits on people’s desire to relax and experience beautiful new worlds, it is entirely unproductive and has no practical applications. But games lead to communication, and communication is everything; online platforms are becoming excessively political. A lot of BLM protests took place in Animal Crossing and World of Warcraft, not to mention the endless online rallies of old, when World of Warcraft players united to destroy one especially annoying player or the other or when they had an epidemic from Corrupted Blood (insert the coronavirus joke here).

The main problem of games, however, is that often the pleasure of art is spoiled by glitches. They are such an integral part of experience that many designers have adopted the style in their real-life sculptures: take the distorted storage unit by Ferrucio Laviani as an example. But why are the bugs there? The main reason is that it is the company shareholders and marketing analysts who set the release dates, and not the developers themselves; the dates are calibrated so as to make the game competitive in the market, and if it fails, the whole pipeline spirals down as it happened with Cyberpunk. Since customers are used to bugs, it is a very viable economical option to release a bugged game rather than delay it, even when the developers are well aware of the glitches. Thus, No Man’s Sky only earned the full customers’ favor after a series of big updates. Many game developers have little incentive to diverge from similar strategies, although some, like Nintendo, try to be true to their promises and only announce games shortly before release.

The technology developed for in-game purposes is adopted by other industries. Augmented reality, for example, has been adopted by interior designers or Facetime users, or web technologies that MMORPG game developers adopt are useful for general internet purposes. Just like children learn crucial motor and social skills through playing, we could learn technology and art from video games, both as their creators and customers.

It is sensible to predict that the industry will only grow, and its art will become more and more elaborate and beautiful, especially now when every game player can also be its creator.