In the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, many people continue to be encouraged to remain in quarantine while the world scrambles to impede the virus' spread. Many schools and businesses extended their closures until further notice, with no projections of when they may resume their normal hours of operation. Areas which were once thriving with activity are now ghost towns. The magnitude of the virus has even upended major corporations like Universal and Disney by making them temporarily halt their parks operations until further notice. It seems that life is beginning to shift into a new way of living, and we may not ready for what the future can hold.
But, what does this mean for the video games industry and for those who play games? As the nation has become more accustomed to staying at home over the past month, online gaming platforms surged with activity. Gaming digital distributor Steam surpassed its record for most concurrent online players as of March 30th of 2020, whereas Xbox Live has experienced temporary downtimes earlier this month with the large abundance of users logging in at once. Even popular streaming services for games like Twitch and Mixer have seen an influx of traffic amidst the lockdown.
It was only a matter of time that the Electronic Entertainment Expo(Better known as E3 in the gaming sphere), the video game industries largest trade show would follow suit and cancel its annual show for the first time in its 25 years of production. Over the years, E3 has been a platform for developers and publishers in the video game industry to show off the newest upcoming products for the foreseeable and distant future. The main floor of the event mainly consisted of several booths reserved for developers to showcase the newest games and tech. The event also featured a show mainly reserved for big name brands to demonstrate their future products and services on a massive stage in front of a live audience, which was also broadcasted for millions of viewers at home. Since its beginning E3 has been the bastion for the hottest video game industry gossip and news. Now simple word of mouth can easily be distributed and put into an online article, whereas the cinematic trailers and gameplay footage is best suited for a trip to YouTube. Both practices are no stranger to the biggest media outlets in gaming, but this may hinder progress from E3 fading from obscurity.
Even the video game industries most notorious physical game distributor GameStop has been upended by the closure of non-essential retail amid the Coronavirus. In an effort to prevent lost profits GameStop released Doom: Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons early in March, two of the most anticipated games of 2020, before the temporary closure was put in place. The gaming retail giant even tried keeping its stores opened during the pandemic, as it deemed itself "essential retail", but quickly reverted to abiding by social distance standards in a response to the outcry from lawmakers and their employees.
In the past few years both E3 and GameStop have been dwindling in terms of success as people find alternative methods to obtaining their games and their news coverage. Since 2018, E3 has seen a decline in attendance, even after it opened its doors to the public. Gamestop is set to close 300 of its stores later this year, in addition to the 320 stores it already discontinued in 2019 due to the ever-growing financial burden the company faces. Both E3 and Gamestop have been panned into a corner in order to keep from permanent collapse.
One may assume that GameStops store closures over the past month in a half may have pushed it closer to a possible demise. However it's quite the contrary according to GameStops CEO George Sherman, who said that the company saw a rise in business during the closure, as more gamers utilized its curbside pickup method. While the rise in sales doesn't yield bad results, GameStop obviously cannot ignore the fact that as the public remains in quarantine, gamers will grow more comfortable with downloading their games, rather than looking towards retail for the physical sale, which has been a driving force of the companies revenue model since the beginning. The rise of game downloads is nothing new though. In a survey of over 4,500 participants LimeLight Networks concluded that as of 2019 two-thirds of gamers(65 percent) prefer to go the online route and download their games, as opposed to acquiring them through physical sales or trade-ins.
Over the years GameStop has been a store cluttered every inch with nerdy merchandise and memorabilia in conjunction to an assortment of rows and displays of new and used games. In a leaked video confirmed by IGN last September, stores aim to manifest into areas more used to chill and vibe. The redesign imagines a place better suited for LAN parties and lounging, whereas there's less of an emphasis on the original sales model, as merchandise would be regulated to smaller portions of the store.
E3 also set its sites on revamping its strategy to widen its appeal. This year was suppose to be different in terms of its already existing format. Yet, the organizer responsible for E3 has been quiet about what new was would be invigorated in trying to win back its former audience, but did emphasize that change was coming.
The continuation of gaming companies using E3 as their way to compete for the presses attention is beginning to fade. The industry is no stranger to finding alternative methods in broadcasting its content or distributing their products. For years Nintendo has hosted its pre-recorded show, better known as Nintendo Direct within its YouTube and Twitch channels, whereas Sony has dropped out of last years E3, and decided to go their own route with preparing to unveil the PlayStation 5.
There is no better time to capitalize on the surge in online activity than now, with the millions of people forced to stay at home. This will be an easy transition for video game companies and publishers, as some of the biggest names in the industry like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft can simply broadcast their press conferences instead of organizing a trade show worth millions of dollars. The ability to simply stream to hundreds of thousands of users from home will help suppress the budget E3 once demanded. This will help eliminate the costs devoted to renting a space meant for a massive audience, along with other budget needs like hotel, lodging and food which companies needed to organize in order to attend E3. The main concept of the show can easily be replicated with services readily available online
The transition to going fully digital won't happen over night. But, each day the Nation remains in quarantine is one day it grows more comfortable with being online. Will E3 have another shot at redemption without having a previous years worth of success to return from? Is each day non-essential businesses closed one more day impeding GameStop from rolling out its new plans for revitalization? As the Country begins to gear up for a slow re-opening, the foreseeable and distant future may be bleak for some businesses while the public takes its time to revert back to a normal way of living.