- In 2020, the video game industry enjoyed explosive profits with more people than ever stuck indoors.
- In 2021, the game release calendar is slimmer than ever and several major games are being delayed.
- For many of these games, the difficulty of development during a pandemic is the cause of the delay.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of Americans to shelter in place starting in early March 2020, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was just days away from launch.
The combination of the game’s charming atmosphere, its busywork, and a sudden infusion of free time for millions of people turned “Animal Crossing” into one of Nintendo’s biggest hits in years.
It was one of several games that had especially strong sales in 2020 – the benefit of accidentally lining up launch with a totally unexpected global pandemic. But with 2020 rapidly fading into the past, the other impact of the pandemic on the video game industry is starting to emerge: Several of this year’s biggest games have already been delayed to 2022 due to development struggles related to the pandemic.
The developers of a marquee PlayStation 5 game, “Gran Turismo 7,” directly cited the impact of the pandemic for their delay.
Making the game was, “impacted by COVID-related production challenges,” Sony told GQ in late February. The game’s launch was moved from 2021 into 2022.
“With the ongoing pandemic, it’s a dynamic and changing situation and some critical aspects of game production have been slowed over the past several months,” the statement said.
For a game series like “Gran Turismo,” which intends to simulate real-life racing, pandemic-related development challenges abound: There is no way to capture the sound of an engine, or to model a real-life car, or to track a race, without being there in person.
But even without the added complications of creating a racing video game, several other major video games have been pushed out of the 2021 launch window into next year.
A long-in-development game based on the “Harry Potter” book franchise was scheduled to launch in 2021: “Hogwarts Legacy” will have players creating their own wizard and progressing through a unique story set long before the events of the books.
Though the game has been cooking for at least the last three years, WB Games announced a delay to 2022 back in early January.
“Creating the best possible experience for all of the Wizarding World and gaming fans is paramount to us so we are giving the game the time it needs,” a statement published on Twitter said.
It’s one of two major games from Warner Bros. that have been pushed back into next year.
“Gotham Knights,” a Batman spinoff game, was also just recently delayed into next year.
Instead of playing as the Dark Knight, players control Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and Red Hood in a Gotham City that has no Batman. Players will have to wait until at least 2022 to give it a shot.
“We are giving the game more time to deliver the best possible experience for players,” the statement said.
Notably, it’s still March – there’s a lot of 2021 left, which means these games likely have a long way to go before they’re ready for publishing. That’s especially notable right now, in early 2021, when new owners of new consoles from Xbox and PlayStation are desperately in need of new games to play.
This isn’t a surprise problem: Xbox leader Phil Spencer even warned about the impacts of the pandemic on 2021’s game lineup in an interview with Insider back in May 2020, as did Nintendo leadership in a May 2020 investor call. Though all three major console makers have a handful of major games on the horizon, 2021’s game release calendar for each is looking slim.
When Nintendo laid out its plans for the first half of the year in a recent video presentation, fans largely balked: Aside from a new “Mario Golf” game, there are next-to-no heavy hitters scheduled for launch on the Switch in the first six months of 2021.
As coronavirus vaccines are distributed worldwide, and work on video games returns to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy, the cadence of game launches will assuredly return.
For now, though, 2021 is looking light on major games – and the pandemic is largely to blame.
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