The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic had a substantial impact on the video game industry. The video game industry was impacted by the outbreak in various ways, most often due to concerns over travel to and from China or elsewhere or related to slowdowns in the manufacturing processes within China.
In contrast to many other economic sectors that are drastically affected by the pandemic, the video game industry was generally more resilient to the pandemic. Most video game developers, publishers and operators were able to maintain operations with employees working from home to sustain game development and digital releases. Further, with many people globally at home and unable to work, online gaming saw the record numbers of players during the pandemic as a popular activity to counter social distancing, a practice recommended by the World Health Organization which helped to boost revenues for many companies.
There were still negative impacts on the industry, notably with major trade events like the E3 2020 cancelled or postponed which may impact relationships between the smaller developers and publishers. Further, many esport leagues had to alter plans for their games, transitioning from live events to remote play or cancellation altogether. The origin of the pandemic in China is also expected to impact the supply chains for electronics for the year which may limit hardware availability once the pandemic relaxed. This may impact plans for Microsoft and Sony to release their next-generation consoles, the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 in the part of the year.
Events affected by pandemic
ESL Pro League Season 11, a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament was originally going to be an offline event with the finals taking place at Denver, Colorado, United States. However, due to the global coronavirus pandemic, ESL announced that the both the regular season and the finals will be split into two regions: Europe and North America and that regular season and the finals will be played entirely online.
The Overwatch League, having planned to bring Homestand events in its 2020 season, cancelled those occurring in China and moved them to later in the season to South Korea. Some of the China-based teams relocated their training groups to Korea or elsewhere as well. Later, Blizzard cancelled and rescheduled those South Korean matches due to the spread of the coronavirus to that country. On March 31, the Overwatch League announced that they were abandoning the Homestand model entirely in favor of moving matches for the remainder of the season online.
Similarly, several companies pulled out from the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March 2020, forcing the organizers to postpone the show until later in 2020. However, the event organizers devised a scheme to run the GDC as a virtual conference following a similar schedule across the same set of days by using the streaming services with a subset of the planned events that are presented through the streaming media and was made available online a week later. This included the Game Developers Choice Awards and Independent Games Festival presentations.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) said as of early March 2020 that it was still planning to hold E3 2020 despite states of emergencies declared in both California and Los Angeles Counties. However, on March 11, 2020, the ESA affirmed that they cancelled the physical E3 show amid thew fears of the outbreak as they are looking to arrange for virtual presentations from its exhibitors. However, by April 2020, the ESA determined that the logistics of arranging a virtual event was too difficult due to disruptions from the pandemic, fully cancelling the show in 2020, but with plans in place to return in 2021. The ESA offered the E3 website to help partners to support product announcements in lieu of the E3 show.
AFL Evolution 2 will be released on April 16, 2020, a week prior to its original release date. To reduce physical contact, physical copies of the game will initially be sold through online retailers only.
Final Fantasy VII Remake was shipped early to Europe and Australia so the players that are living in the "countries that are currently facing the biggest disruption" would be able to play the game on its launch day.
Ring Fit Adventure which involves physical activity by using special accessories saw high demand in China as a result of the quarantine as the residents sought something for physical activity, leading to shortages and price gouging in the Asia and nearby regions. Similar shortages for the game expanded as quarantines and stay-at-home orders came to many Western locations during the month of March 2020.
Because much of the world were asked to stay home to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, video game playing and other Internet use grew greatly from March 2020. Steam, the main digital storefront for personal computer video games saw over 23 million concurrent players during March 2020, surpassing all previous records while the streaming service, Twitch saw over 3 billion hours of content watched over the first quarter of 2020, a 20% increase from the previous year's.GeForce Now capacity was temporarily exhausted in Europe before additional server capacity was added.
The additional bandwidth from video games and other Internet services created concerns that critical bandwidth would not be available for medical and other key infrastructure elements necessary to mitigate the coronavirus. To help reduce demand during peak hours, the Akamai content delivery network for many video games and major digital storefronts such as Xbox Live,PlayStation Network and Steam capped download speeds and encouraged the users to download at off-peak hours.
Nintendo Switch production in Vietnam had been scaled back due to reduced supply of components out of China due to production slowdown from the quarantines. As a result, supplies of the Switch were significantly reduced in Japan and with retailers fearing similar shortages in Europe and North America.
Valve announced that its production on the Valve Index virtual reality headset was reduced due to the impact of the coronavirus and would have fewer shipments expected than planned by the release of Half-Life: Alyx.
Atari delayed the Atari VCS that was initially supposed to release in March 2020 due to the coronavirus.
2012 game Plague Inc. by Ndemic Creations saw a large boost in sales as a result of the coronavirus. The game temporarily became the top-paid app on several regional app stores beating out the perennial Minecraft. Some analysts believed[who?] that those worried about the coronavirus used the game to see that it could spread as a means to placate their fears. While the game was based on scientific models of the spread of contagious diseases, Ndemic had to remind the players that the game was not meant to be taken as an accurate model for transmission and spread and referred those interested to the Centers for Disease Control and other national and international health organization websites. Later, Ndemic added a new gameplay mode to Plague Inc, with the goal to try to stop an ongoing pandemic through various possible options by using the work that it developed in coordination with WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. Further, Ndemic donated US$250,000 to the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund to help fight the pandemic and encouraged the players of the game to do the same.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons outperformed industry expectations, selling more in its opening week in the United Kingdom than all of the previous launches in the franchise combined for the same region.
The North American video game chain, GameStop and its Canadian subsidiary, EB Games came under criticism for its overall response to the coronavirus pandemic. Notably, it received widespread criticism when, after numerous states and provinces issued "stay at home" or "shelter in place" orders requiring non-essential businesses to close up starting in March 2020, that it considered its stores an essential business, stating that they provided a "significant need for technology solutions". The chain later revised this decision, closing most locations and leaving only select stores open to provide drive-up delivery of online or by-phone orders to the customers.
CeX closed all its corporate stores in the United Kingdom on March 23 and asked the franchises to do the same.
Game X Change, a regional game retailer based in Arkansas, attracted criticism for keeping the retail locations open in areas with stay at home orders.
Industry trade bodies
The Japanese game ratings body Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) was forced to close operations from early April through at least May 7, which is expected to delay some releases in Japan as they await a rating for retail release.
Industry support of mitigation and relief efforts
Nintendo of America donated 9,500 N95-rated face masks for the first responders in the Washington state region in March after their facility was shuttered during Washington's stay-at-home program was in place.
Several game publishers worked with WHO to support its "#PlayApartTogether" campaign, encouraging the players to continue social engagement in video games via online games instead of through physical means. Eighteen companies initially joined the effort when announced in March 2020, and at least forty more had joined by early April.
Games Done Quick, a charity-driven speedrunning event, had to move its planned June 2020 event due to the pandemic, but instead announced that it will run a fully online "Corona Relief Done Quick" event from April 17 to April 19, 2020 with money raised going to Direct Relief.