We enter April with the world seemingly stuck in a standstill as the novel Coronavirus spreads through continents, paralyzing our daily activities, and bringing the economy to its knees. As with everything else regarding COVID-19, the gaming industry has not been immune to the damage.
Cancellation of events, delays of highly anticipated titles, and the prospect of a delay in the release dates for the next generation consoles (Xbox X Series, and the Playstation 5) could make the remaining three quarters of 2020 a rough time period for the industry and its consumers.
Before the WHO (World’s Health Organization) deemed the novel Coronavirus as a global pandemic, 2020 promised to be a year filled with releases of highly anticipated titles like the Final Fantasy VII Remake (first teased back in 2006 as a PlayStation 3 tech demo) and the Last of Us: Part II. Perhaps even of higher importance to gamers around the world:2020 will be the year to kickstart the 9th generation of video gaming consoles.
While both Sony and Microsoft still have plans for a 2020 winter release of their new machines, industry insiders like the DFC Intelligence have reported their doubts on the consoles meeting their scheduled launch dates, as reported by Forbes.com. The virus might slow down the manufacturing processes. Considering the situation in Europe and the United States; distribution and retail will also likely be affected by the aftermath of COVID-19’s spread.
Even if the consoles meet their respective (still to be determined) 2020 launch dates, supply is not likely to meet demand, and many customers will have to wait until 2021 to get their hands on one of the new systems. To be fair, console shortages at launch are a common occurrence but the current pandemic will probably amplify the situation.
One would think that game releases would not be as affected by the situation thanks to widely available digital distribution channels, but the current “Delayed indefinitely” status on the Last of Us 2 proves otherwise. According to a statement by Sony, the Global crisis wouldn’t allow for a proper launch of the title, so the May 29th release date has been scrapped.
Even with Naughty Dog admitting that the game, for all intents and purposes, is done or nearly done, as it was made abundantly clear by their statement on Twitter:
“However, even with us finishing the game, we were faced with the reality that due to logistics beyond our control, we couldn’t launch The Last of Us Part II to our satisfaction. We want to make sure everyone gets to play The Last of Us Part II around the same time, ensuring that we’re doing everything possible to preserve the best experience for everyone. This meant delaying the game until such a time where we can solve these logistic issues.” – Naughty Dog
The conditions at the retail space, and economics (most people are more worried about securing food, house payments etc.) are not at their ideal best for such a massive triple A launch.
In a stark contrast to Naughty Dog’s and Sony’s decision, other game companies have taken a different approach. Squaresoft will finally release their much anticipated (and much delayed) Remake to their PS1 mega hit; Final Fantasy VII. The first episode of the FFVII Remake is set to release on April 10th. The Pre-Load is already available on PlayStation Store, but costumers won’t be able to play it until the 10th. The game is expected to sell extremely well as a digital download, but many will have to wait much longer to get their hands on a physical copy as SquareEnix hasn’t been very confident about their ability to get the game in shelves by that date.
Understandably, SE doesn’t control how distribution will vary country by country, and whether shops are closed down in some areas and not in others. However, if you have $59.99 to spend on the PS Store chances are you will get your download of game, just as you would any other game before the Pandemic struck, so kudos to SE for making it possible.
While it might seem like a gamble for SquareEnix, the Japanese giant (and FFVIIR) might actually benefit from the lock down in most countries as digital sales have spiked in some cases to a 180% (France) increase over sales before locking down. It makes sense; it is the perfect time to play games as most gamers are staying at home, with no work, and nothing else to do for the foreseeable future. Downloading and streaming gaming content has rapidly grown in the industry over the last decade, so this isn’t a surprise.
Dedicated Video Game retailers, however, might not survive the virus. GameStop most notably has been forced to close down all its US stores physical storefronts presumably until the threat of contagion is eradicated as it is a “non-essential service.” For a company that was already scheduled to close down 300 stores this year (as it struggles to survive in the growing digital sales market) the virus could be the one of the last nails on what seems to be an inevitable coffin.
It remains to be seen whether other triple games like Cyberpunk 2077 will face delays, or on the flip-side release on schedule. For now, gamers have a few Triple A titles to look forward to over the next few months, but delays and cancellations (E3 2020) should be expected as the world tries to fight the spread of the Coronavirus. The silver lining for us gamers is that it isn’t the 90’s or the early 00’s, even if you can’t leave your home, you have a wide, if almost unlimited range of games to select, and purchase from the comfort and safety of your couch.