1. Introduction

It is no secret that Covid-19 is a dangerous pandemic that requires strict measures to withstand and, for lack of a better word, stall until a proper vaccine has been discovered. Throughout the months, we have seen many industries struggle to cope with the immense pressure that this virus has put their employees under, alongside their families.

I grew up playing videogames, and I always had a small notebook with me, noting down every intricate detail I found interesting regarding their story. If you were to visit my childhood home and enter my bedroom, you would find a large stash of notebooks and papers, filled with doodles, thoughts, reviews, designs, and even entire short stories. I’ve always wanted to be a game/narrative designer, and I did my best to enter the University and receive my bachelor’s degree on it. I’ve been officially working in the industry for the past three years, and I grew up believing in its resilience to withstand any and all negative occurrences. Yet the impact this virus has had in our industry is something I could have never predicted.

2. The entertainment industry on alert

A common misconception is that the entertainment industry, no matter the medium, will suffer the least. However, if we were to conduct a quick research regarding the film industry, the results would be beyond shocking. High production movies, falling under Marvel’s umbrella, for instance, have been postponed until further notice, costing the company millions of dollars. Combine that we the fact that during the past few years, Netflix has tactically crept its way into the position of the “rising star” and you will conclude that the classic cinema experience we grew up loving, is slowly fading away. If Covid-19 continues to pummel the west relentlessly, it might as well be considered as the final blow to Hollywood’s most inspiring, profitable, and legendary industry.

Another dark and unfortunate example is the comic book industry, where shops all around the United States of America have permanently closed their doors to the public, due to production problems stemming from the appearance of this global pandemic. Shops that were established back in the 70s and had managed to make a name for themselves while amassing a loyal clientele of esteemed collectors and comic book fans have been decommissioned in a flash. Of course, it is known to all that other factors played a role in this event, but this is not the article to discuss them.

3. The negative impact of Covid-19 on the games industry

3.1 Cancelling conferences

Seeing all of the highly esteemed gaming conferences get canceled was jaw-dropping. Conferences like Gamescom, E3, and Blizzcon were among the ones I’ve always wanted to attend and experience. Although a primary reason, it is essential to understand that gaming conferences are not just for companies of varying size and prestige to meet future partners and funders. It is for fans to interact with their favorite developers and build on their bond. It is for communities to grow and become fascinated with new trailers and playable demos. Game conferences exist to provide the fans with plenty of material. With it, they can return home and write blog posts about, create entire Youtube videos revolving around their thoughts on a new game they saw/played, or simply open a discussion on a forum. They exist for game designers to fuel their passion and motivate them by introducing new ideas, application of themes and game systems. True, all of the aforementioned conferences, along with every other that focuses on revealing new titles or more in-depth versions of previously revealed ones, have transferred onto streaming services where companies can present their game/gameplay trailers to the public without fault. However, I can personally guarantee you that the interactivity factor is, at best, lacking. No physical game conference – No gaming booths – No company representatives to chat with face-to-face.

3.2 Working from home

Back in 2017, my manager, at the time who had fortunately also become my mentor, taught me a vital lesson. “Never work where you sleep,” he told me. Back then, it was because I worked long hours due to endless reserves of energy, backed up by vast amounts of caffeine (not that I have outgrown this habit). This led me to sleeping a few hours in the office, followed up by waking up and freshening up before grabbing breakfast from the cafeteria and heading back to work. Mind you; these were not times of some great “crunch.” It was just the same excitement for my job, but with less consideration towards the value of a good night sleep and a warm, homecooked meal. Of course, due to me being the stubborn individual I am, I politely brushed this advice off. This was followed by one of my favorite quotes he ever uttered, “ok, suffer.”

Now I understand the severity of his words. Now I understand the severity of the consequences that lie dormant behind this habit. That lie dormant behind the cavalier attitude towards health. Unfortunately, I have realized this during a time when no one can do anything about it, but simply abide by the much-needed governmental laws.

Working from home is no stranger to us game designers/developers. Frankly, it is no stranger for the rest of the world nowadays. It is true, the ones who usually work in our industry can be introverted individuals who enjoy their private space and headspace. Even within a company, designers and developers tend to keep to themselves, unless there is a meeting where they are all required to pitch in, discuss a new idea or productively argue about the further development of an active project. Interestingly, however, is the impact this new way of working has on employees. It is hard for many to balance the need for procrastination and the actual production of concrete work. Last month, someone told me, “you go to work, a million things in your house are there to distract you. You go to watch a movie/series or a play a game, and the stress of an unfinished document knocks on your door.” I agreed with him, as I, too, have been a victim of this vicious circle. However, I did manage to look at the positive side. In some form or fashion, this is a situation with which to discipline yourself and understand the importance of scheduling. Time can sometimes fly, and understandably, the fast-approaching deadline can scare anyone.

In order to counter this, find a way with which to isolate yourself from all distractions. Mine, for instance, was getting out of the house. I prepare my bag with the essentials and go to a café, where I can focus on my computer screen with a cup of coffee that I did not have to get up mid-sentence to brew and with an area that is not my job to tidy or clean. Once in a while, I will stare off into the distance and gaze upon the passersby. I listen to soundtracks from various movies or games as it gets my mojo running. As time passed, all of my distractions disappeared, and I was ahead of my deadlines by a few days.

4. The positive impact of Covid-19 on the games industry

4.1 Financial benefits

On a more positive note, individuals who work from home or simply stay home, will subsequently play far more games, for far longer. This has evidently caused a massive influx of income for most companies, whether through online services or simple, single-player, Buy-to-Play titles. It would be foolish of me not to admit that (I apologize in advance) companies have more or less financially benefited from this unfortunate global event. And this goes for all industries under the “entertainment” umbrella. However, I am incredibly proud of the number of reports that have been written, stating that companies do not hesitate to donate to the people in need and to the efforts the medical industry is putting behind the creation of a vaccine.

4.2 Idea Conceptualization

Another incredible revelation was the amount of fresh ideas that can come to mind, with the only requirement being perception. Our world and the life within it are a game. If one were to take the time to observe their surroundings, they’d realize that everything that constitutes our lifestyle has been designed with a purpose, a challenge, and a reward. From brewing our coffee and doing our laundry, to crossing a traffic light-filled street and attending a scheduled date. Ideas are all around us; we just don’t normally have the time to see them, let alone develop them into prospecting game concepts. A typical day at work would be to attend one meeting after the other, while filling the time between them by completing important documents that act as the blueprints to our designs. Even if a meeting required one to go to a different building, the possible stress of the topic they’re about to discuss with their colleagues or managers would have them looking down at the sidewalk, narrowing their perception of the world.

Covid-19 has proven to be a game-changer in this aspect. Sure, the stress of a meeting and the approaching deadlines are still there, but because we get the chance to switch our surroundings, it gives us the time during transit, or otherwise, to admire the world from a designer’s perspective. With the automatically developed skill of reverse engineering, we can come up with a thousand different ideas in a matter of a few days. The world is like a Lego store, with each pack having its purpose, functionality, building challenge, and rewarding experience. It is up to us to write blueprints that showcase intricate designs of our own making and perfectly explaining why these designs can be deemed revolutionary for the industry today. 

5. Conclusion: Success through adaptation

Understandably, the detriments of this global pandemic may seem far more in quantity and far more impactful than the showcased benefits. However, it is slowly becoming evident that our industry, alongside their employees, is gradually adapting to this new workflow, taking advantage of the designer’s/developer’s innate ability to work privately and produce groundbreaking results. We are starting to see an increase in opportunities, utilizing them in a way that allows us to become far more creative and conceptualize designs that otherwise would merely stay as afterthoughts, due to time restraints and excess stress. It is my humble opinion that anyone who joins the industry today and manages to surpass the inevitable procrastination barrier, can quickly become a recognizable star in the making.

It is a time of financial prosper, a time of opportunity, a time of innovation, a time to rise and become a memorable personality within the video games industry.

Alexandros Mitsis
Game Design Lecturer, Alexander College
Game & Narrative Designer, Research & Development at Wargaming