Have ya noticed that gaming releases have been kind of… sparse recently? Sure, we had massive releases like Elden Ring and Horizon: Forbidden West but that was back in February and people are still playing them here in April. On one hand, that’s a testament to how good those games are. On the other hand, it’s a testament to how the “summer dry season” seemed to start in spring this year.
But then again, maybe it’s not really the dry season. Maybe we are looking at something else. Maybe we are finally seeing the major effects that COVID had on the gaming industry.
This might sound crazy. We have been living with this pandemic for two years now. Surely we have already seen COVID’s negative effects on video game development, yes?
Well, yes, but only to an extent. When we were all first quarantined back in 2020 we saw game project after game project get delayed because development teams could not come into the office. After a bit, teams learned how to work from home and development began again, though slower as they adjusted to their new circumstances. We have continued to see delays like this for the past few years, with everything coming out a little later than we originally expected.
However, COVID was wreaking more havoc on things behind the scenes. While video game sales went up, the awkward situation that dev teams were put in caused fewer projects to be greenlit, with major studios holding off on starting development on big projects until things got back to “normal.”
Well, things didn’t get back to normal and at this point, we aren’t sure when and if they will. So that bet is coming back to bite a lot of studios in the behind.
You see, most modern video games take three to five years to complete. That means we are starting to enter the release period for projects that were started just before COVID happened and, unfortunately, that were canceled when COVID changed the world. Thus, we are seeing major gaps in our release schedule where bigger projects would have normally been.
And as we get closer and closer to that three to five-year window, we are going to see more and more big gaps in our release schedule. Looking forward, May is going to have the same problems as April did, with a sparse release schedule causing us to rely heavily on the indie scene. June has a couple of big name releases, all coming from Nintendo, but even then we are talking Fire Emblem Warriors and Super Mario Strikers, not anything huge like Breath of the Wild 2. Arguably we won’t be seeing any super big titles from the big N until July and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and again that’s the ONLY high profile release that month.
Normally in the summer releases end up taking a dip and we all rely on E3 to inject life back into the gaming world, dropping a bunch of new game announcements on us out of nowhere. But wait, there’s no E3 this year, another causality of COVID. This means, again, the games that would have come out a few years after they were announced at this year’s E3 will just… not exist, and we will only feel this effect a couple of years down the line!
In general, however many years COVID impacts the gaming industry will be however many years it takes for the industry to get back to normal. This means everything is going to be delayed, just a bit longer. We are well into the second year of “next-generation” consoles like Playstation 5 snd Xbox Series X. However, the adoption of this new generation of technology has been ultra slow. Part of that has been computer part shortages, another casualty of COVID, but part of that has also been a general lack of next-generation exclusives. And with adoption being so slow, game developers are hesitant to make the exclusives that allow these platforms to grow, which is allowing the last generation to linger on and preventing the gaming world in general from moving forward. Again, we won’t start seeing major exclusives for these platforms crop up until several years after companies feel comfortable greenlighting them, and arguably they still aren’t comfortable doing that now.
I guess all of this is to say, temper your expectations for a few years. We are still going to see some blockbuster releases of course. Nothing can completely put a stop to the gaming industry. But for a while, those months when it felt like the gaming industry was siphoning off all your money with hit release after hit release, won’t be nearly as common. Then again, if you are a compulsive video game buyer like me, that might be a good thing.