How The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Shaped The Future Of Gaming

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As we continue to wait out COVID-19, Holon Studios has been watching for signs of where the gaming industry will go next based on the needs of the currently isolated public. We’re also considering what pandemic history might tell us about the future of video games: how the demand for new gaming might be reshaped by the new realities involved in long-term self-isolation. A 2007 report on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic¹ suggests that one of the greatly damaging factors of that previous pandemic was the death of so many family breadwinners back before women entered the workforce. As of this writing, it’s mid-May, and in the United States, some regions have begun the process of rolling back their isolation orders. Meanwhile, Germany has already encountered and paid the price for not taking the proper precautions to prevent the free spread of COVID-19; Chancellor Merkel believes that up to 70% of their population could contract the disease². 

It remains to be seen if the U.S. will be forced to deal with seclusion past the beginning of the new school year. As Las Vegas planned to reopen casinos, the unions of Nevada fought to keep employees from being forced to return to work without adequate safeguards and measures in place consistent with the Center for Disease Control’s standards of avoiding contagion³. 

In pandemic, we are isolated, sometimes to our nuclear families, and sometimes completely alone. We have less contact with human beings, less daily interaction. Our sense of play could have taken a terrible beating… but people all over the world are finding ways to incorporate play using technology and social media.

Viral videos and Tik-Tok have become a great source of memetic play. Filmmakers and stunt professionals such as the TikTok viral video of a stuntman fight that passes home-to-home and DEATHPROOF star and professional stuntwoman Zoe Bell have made elaborate fight scenes with others across the miles. YouTubers are putting singers together to create brilliant campfire songs. Whereas election-year tensions served to push us farther away in pre-lockdown America, it’s the need for play that is bringing us back together.

The big gaming star of COVID-19 has been Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The game is extraordinarily popular, and with good reason: it’s G-rated, wholesome content and fun creative concept allow players to get much-needed escapism. We cannot play Animal Crossing together en masse, sadly. animal_crossing_new_horizonsWe can pair off, but for interactions with three or more players at once, we have to look to other game sources. So whole families can play in competition, but not in the same instance, and not cooperatively. So, instead of limiting themselves to the game itself, Animal Crossing players have learned to craft the game’s engine to let them play competitive games together, such as Pitfall Sumo— the kind of player-driven fun that lets players add competitive combat to their game.

Imagine though, if people were keeping this game all to themselves: how popular would it be? Animal Crossing is popular in how we interact with each other about it, talk about it, and obsess over it in a way that is similar to ‘water-cooler pop culture’ that we used to enjoy, back when we could gather together around water-coolers.

Competitive, first-person-shooter games like Rust have been a large part of staving off lockdown blues for teen and adult male gamers. These action games are popular now because they allow large groups to play at once, but the content is rather violent and not well-themed for families, and lacks the simplicity of control that families need to play together.

It’s very likely that, given that we are overwhelming locked in with our own immediate families, there will at some point be a shift to cooperative play games, or competitive family games with a sense of fun and travel to them. Big world engines with room to explore and play will be very much in demand, allowing families to have a sense of leaving their own home without doing so.

As the Vegas casinos have had to shut down, it seems likely that casino gaming will explode into mobile app gaming. Casino games are competitive without driving towards exclusion, as with Monopoly and other family board games. Games that can condense the Vegas experience into a virtual simulation could really capitalize on the American love of gambling and Vegas culture whilst also sharing a virtual experience of something currently out of our reach during the pandemic. This is our current direction at Holon Studios: finding a way to bring the wholesome gaming experience of Las Vegas home to families, safely and in a way that tells a worthwhile story.

As we look at what the future holds for gaming, we’re looking to find our niche in that future. The quest for the perfect game for its time is a driving force at Holon Studios; our name is about the serendipity of the elements coming together in the right time and the right place, for the right audience. If you’re interested in our future and would like more information about the development of our social casino slots, and would like to be invited to beta test some of our newest games in development, please sign up for news and other updates by sending your request to marketing@holonstudios.com.

¹ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51835856

² https://www.stlouisfed.org/~/media/files/pdfs/community-development/research-reports/pandemic_flu_report.pdf

³ https://www.yahoo.com/news/workers-want-virus-protections-casinos-171703606.html

Animal Crossing: New Horizons image provided by Sara Sinclair.