“In times of crisis we must invest in the future of games” – Tony Pearce, Reality Gaming Group

The coronavirus is with us and countries around the world, including the UK, are in various stages of lockdown.

Clearly, all business owners must continue to monitor the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their employees as decisions may need to be made quickly to take account of what is still a fast-changing situation.

As games publishers, we also have responsibilities towards our wider gamer community who, aside from having to come to terms with what appears to be our new reality for the foreseeable future, will also be turning to games as a form of comfort.

My hope is that games – and mobile games especially – can provide people with some kind of normality, and safe social entertainment, at a time when all notions of what constitutes ‘normal’ have been thrown out of the window.

But what of the wider industry? The top line numbers are extremely encouraging, with analysts at App Annie announcing with some fanfare that mobile game installs hit a record 1.2bn for the week commencing March 22nd. That’s an incredible number (up 30% on previous months) that will no doubt push higher as lockdown boredom compels people to browse their app stores to ever deeper levels.

This positive landscape should also be viewed as a huge fillip for the investment community, which will be crucial for the continued growth of games development and publishing, especially on the indie scene.

At Reality Gaming Group, we’ve just closed a funding round led by the forward-thinking Velocity Capital Partners, but we’re not the only ones. Recent weeks have seen Starberry raise €1.3m, Lightheart Entertainment €1.3m and Roto VR £1.5m. In addition, Hamburg Prototype Funding is offering €400k a year for games projects, while the South Australia Games Innovations Fund is putting up its second round.

Be in no doubt that some of these recent raises, including ours, were complicated by the coronavirus outbreak. But what these deals show is that even in the deepest of international crises, creativity, smart companies and an unerring ability to entertain the masses means the games industry offers a beacon of hope in the current darkness.

I haven’t even mentioned esports which, as things stand, is the only professional sport still operating. The potential for that sector to introduce competitive gaming to new audiences is huge.

In our own small way, we’ve made changes to our game (an AR combat title that uses location services) so that it works within the confines of a player’s home, while simultaneously sharing messages encouraging players not to venture outdoors to play the game while the lockdown is in effect.

It’s crucial that we continue to foster this kind of environment within the games community as we work through the coming weeks and months.

Going back to the stats, it’s interesting to look at the types of mobile games being downloaded too, with people seeking out multiplayer titles to
fill the social void that’s suddenly in their lives. Games for good, once again helping people through lockdown.

It’s not just mobile though, with PC games platform Steam announcing a COVID-19 powered record user peak in excess of 23 million in late-March. Again, multiplayer was to the fore, with CS:GO breaking the one million concurrent player mark for the second time in as many weeks.

And looking at the overall, Nielsen is reporting that 20% of gamers in the US are playing online with their friends more because of coronavirus.

Combine these user trends with industry initiatives that have seen publishers inject ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’ messaging into their titles and it’s clear that games are front and centre in the digital home entertainment fightback against coronavirus, alongside our peers at Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

But we need to ensure we’re ready to open our arms and minds to the new possibilities this situation will create.

We clearly have some major challenges ahead, both as a society and an industry, but the games industry is also in a great position to be a force for continuity and good at a time of great uncertainty, whether you’re a player, developer, publisher or investor.

Tony Pearce is co-founder of the Reality Gaming Group, creators of Reality Clash, an AR combat game. Pearce has over 30 years of industry experience, working across numerous console generations and mobile.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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