How Covid-19 Has Affected The Games Industry

April 1, 2020 by ludicryan

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After several years of massive growth how might the tabletop games industry be affected by the global pandemic of Covid-19?

How Covid-19 Has Affected The Games Industry

The world’s entry into this new decade has been, to say the least, a little disconcerting. Whilst fears of an American war with Iran were provoked in January, the seemingly unending months of February and March have introduced to the world a global pandemic the likes of which are unheard of in living memory. 

Different countries are experiencing the spread and treatment in varying ways but the global message of health officials is of self-isolation and to work from home where possible. The staff at OnTableTop have put this into effect for the last two weeks and we are continually adapting to the situation. We’ve opened our Discord to all members of the community to help with the social isolation that folks might be experiencing. 

The threat to businesses and public infrastructure is very real indeed. In this time of global panic it’s more important than ever to reach out and connect with others. In the gaming industry this is a core pillar of its raison d’être. We reached out to developers and distributors to see how Covid-19 has affected their work and thus our play. 

Development

The day to day game development responsibilities are something you might expect a studio to struggle working on from distance. According to Ron Gilbert from Mantic Games the transition has been managed well: 

The internal studio is fully capable of working remotely. Everyone has all the equipment, files and connectivity back to the office and elsewhere that they need. Team meetings will be held regularly online and everyone knows what they are doing. All our sculpting, concepting and other artwork plus some writing is all done externally anyway so this is already ‘remote’ and all the freelancers we work with are all able to work from home and are doing so.” 

The ease of this transition is something that might not have been possible 30 or even 20 years ago. Video conferencing apps like Zoom have exploded in popularity and share prices, being used for meetings, school lessons and even sports training. Similarly with playtesting the folks at Mantic are looking for technological replacements like Vassal, Tabletop Simulator and Universal Battle. These are measures even Warren and Gerry have had to reconcile with recently. 

Some difficulties are inescapable, however, but the team at mantic prep for these as best they can: 

Physical things like some moulding and getting models prepped and sent out for painting. But we’ve got stuff prepared for people to work on at home in terms of mould making and everything we can send out for painting is already done or about to be.” 

Whilst internal responsibilities at Mantic can be looked after by the staff there are development issues that can arise which are out of their control. When it comes to fulfilling their Kickstarter for League of Infamy it becomes a little more complicated: 

At the moment, tooling is progressing in China again after their delay for Chinese New Year and their lockdown. The studio team here are working on laying out all the cards, books, game components etc. Not having started production is perhaps an advantage at this point because it means we can begin when we know it is safe to do so. However, it has had more of an effect on TerrainCrate 2. This was due to be completed immediately after Chinese New Year. However the virus meant all production was stopped for about 6 weeks. This pushed the completion date and therefore the date we could dispatch to KS backers.

League of Infamy Kickstarter is well placed to be fulfilled

Factoring in Chinese New Year is a lesson seasoned developers have learned but, of course no-one can account for the closure of Chinese factories due to Covid-19. With the factories opening again the folks at Mantic can begin manufacturing and fulfilling their Kickstarters from what now seems an idyllic and peaceful 2019. 

Exhibition

Unsurprisingly one of the most important things to consider during the pandemic is how large events and conventions could possibly operate in these times. Event organisers have been placed between a rock and a hard place. Keeping up to date with recent developments on the spread of the virus and government orders on large gatherings. In America particularly, where the government was slow to respond, the organisers of Adepticon had to cancel their convention a mere two weeks before it was scheduled to kick off. 

The same has happened to Salute which was scheduled for April and UKGE which was to kick off at the end of May and is now postponed until August. For such large events it is difficult to imagine the work involved in organising them. But there’s also a fallout for the vendors and companies that were planning their year around these conventions. We’ve compiled a list of vendors that you can still support from Adepticon and Salute

UKGE 2020 postponed until August

But how important are these events to development studios? Michael Fox from Hub Games says that they are vital: 

It's all about getting your game in front of folks who are so interested in looking for something to play, they'll travel long distances and spend their hard earned cash just for the opportunity to do so. They're the players who, when they find something they love, will evangelise the heck out of it, and they're incredibly valuable to gaming in general.” 

For Hub Games it’s an incredibly important way of advertising not just the games but establishing a rapport with players where they continue to visit their stands at conventions to see what’s new. 

But not only are conventions important from a marketing perspective but an economic one too. This is especially the case for Michael Lovejoy at Oathsworn Miniatures. As a small business they can take in a significant amount at the likes of UKGE and Salute: 

we usually take around a quarter of our year's sales from those two. While smaller shows don't provide the same kind of sales boost, we always have improved webstore sales in the week or two following a show, as people who bought stuff at the show come back for more, or just show their purchases off at their local club or on social media.”

It’s a short term economic loss for Oathsworn but also a long term loss in terms of growth and getting the word out there. Given the physicality of the medium tabletop games might be slower to adapt to digital formats but in these extraordinary times it is now becoming a necessity. 

At Hub Games they are exploring how this loss in face to face contact with convention goers can be translated to other formats: 

We've talked about streaming and sharing games with folks online. We're putting our new titles on Tabletop Simulator, and will be making ourselves available to play with anyone who has interest in doing so. Our social media Twitter and Instagram is normally pretty busy, so we'll keep plugging away on that as usual.” 

Hub Games are well suited to transfer their focus on to digital formats but their expansion into public play sessions on Tabletop Simulator is a great step forward in terms of community. They are partnering with friendly local games stores on a virtual world tour as a form of cross promotion and marketing. 

Hub Games and their virtual world tour

Digital solutions have been crucial to keep companies and players together during this crisis. Sharing documents and files over Dropbox and Google Docs is now imperative for developers and social media and digital platforms are not more important than ever to keep in contact with players. But distribution is where the solutions are harder to come by.

Distribution

Though manufacturing in China is opening up again, problems in the pipeline are arising as the crisis deepens around the world. Commercial air travel has been hardest hit with Easyjet in the UK grounding its entire fleet of planes and British Airways suspending all flights from Gatwick Airport. Logistics companies are now prioritising the transport of essential medical supplies and some might struggle to stay afloat

Within the games industry giants like Games Workshop have shut their factory and shop doors until 14th April at least. Battlefront Miniatures have also been affected and are halting new releases by a month. 

Time to stay indoors with your Team Yankee haul

The difficulties faced by games companies are altered by their size. As seen earlier, Oathsworn Miniatures might suffer in the short term by not being able to attend conventions but being a small operation run by two individuals means that they are able to continue business from home: 

Everything else is pretty normal; there's only me and Jo, so it's not like there's a huge workforce to isolate! Once we're at the workshop, the only person we meet is the postman, so social distancing is basically our daily lives anyway!” It’s a stark difference to Games Workshop given that their size has necessitated their closure. 

You might have received emails from online retailers ensuring you of their distribution practices and the folks at Raging Heroes are no different:

we have re-arranged work schedules so team members don't work the same day/hours, to limit any contact. Shipping continues on all work days, and the post office services collect our packages daily.” 

What has now become standard practice for many distributors is the cleaning of all work surfaces and ensuring staff are following social distancing where possible. 

Not quite the healthcare we're looking for...

Similar measures have been taken at Battlefront Miniatures. Chris Townley tells us that: “We are following best practice on this at the moment and our workstations have moved apart, and we are taking all the necessary steps to reduce contact. Taking all of those things into account, we are still business as usual where possible.”

Echoing the difficulty that logistics companies have had over the last month, Michael and Jo at Oathsworn have seen problems arising in getting deliveries to certain territories: 

"UK post is still working really well, but other places are struggling. Deliveries in France and Italy have basically stopped altogether in many places, and Canada Post is very slow at the moment. But it's an evolving situation.” 

__________

It’s a frightening time for all. No matter the industry, companies and livelihoods are at risk in all corners of the globe. What is heartening is that despite the chaos, games companies are working their hardest to maintain a sense of normality and using digital platforms to unite those that feel distant. 

If you’re feeling the toll of isolation then consider joining our Discord for a dose of community and good craic. We have articles on the best heavy metal music for your hobby time and even what best to watch during the quarantine. 

Most important of all friends, stay safe out there, wash your hands and find a bit of time to enjoy your hobby whatever that might be!

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