I’ve written what feels like a million articles starting with a note about the COVID-19 pandemic, and here’s another one of those. But this, instead of reporting some bad or weird news about the games industry readjusting itself, is more of a speculative piece. We’ve seen the coronavirus pandemic mostly impact things like events and working environments, as most (if not all) game companies transition to working from home and keeping up social distancing. But now we’re starting to see game releases impacted. And I’m worried we’re only seeing the start of what could be an unplanned gaming drought this summer.
For the most part, gaming releases in March and April have been unaffected, but there were some bumps in the road. Resident Evil 3’s launch seemed to go over okay, and while street dates had to be broken, we got Animal Crossing: New Horizons and DOOM Eternal out of the way without a ton of pain. GameStop preorders were a whole point of drama, but everyone who wanted them got their copies. Final Fantasy VII Remake, however, was the start of a pain point we’ll see more of going forward.
Final Fantasy VII Remake kept to its April 10, 2020 release date, but that doesn’t mean everyone got their copy on launch day. Square Enix had to release multiple statements on the road to day one, noting that while the launch wasn’t delayed, orders of physical copies will likely be late. Shipping for non-essential goods has been delayed across the board, impacting things like retailers and Amazon Prime orders. This meant while some folks were able to join Cloud and friends on April 10, some are just receiving their copies a week later.
And in addition to shipping issues, games are being delayed indefinitely, and I mean big games. Both Iron Man VR and more notably The Last of Us Part II no longer have release dates. Both of these games were more or less ready to roll, but due to the above logistical issues, Sony opted to temporarily halt release plans. The publishing side simply couldn’t justify launching these titles on time due to how compromised those launches would have to be. Other, smaller games are still trickling out, such as Trials of Mana from Square Enix. But what huge AAA game will be next?
To be fair, May 2020 doesn’t include many big games. Nintendo has its Xenoblade Chronicles remake coming, and Microsoft has Gears Tactics. So far there has been no word on either game shipping late as of this writing. But June is where Ghost of Tsushima is currently slated, another huge Sony first party title. If The Last of Us Part II is already on the shelf, what happens to this one? And depending on how things go, September has both Marvel’s Avengers and Cyberpunk 2077 lined up. Game release dates are not only beholden to logistical processes, but they often adjust around each other for marketing reasons. Naughty Dog’s biggest game yet could have a ripple effect that lasts for months.
Nobody really knows how long we’ll end up needing to be shut down in North America at this point. The United States has quickly become the new epicenter of COVID-19, as the federal government-slash-Trump administration struggles to get this thing under control. Everyone thought we’d be done by May, but that seems less and less likely as April 2020 comes to a close. Even the impact on gaming is more serious than expected, and I’m curious to see if we run into further Last of Us-style delays. Hopefully things smooth out as companies adjust, but for now we can’t count on anything.