The games industry has been hit pretty hard from the Covid-19 pandemic. Most events this side of the year have been cancelled or postponed, and now hundreds of workers being urged to work from home (including all of us here at RPS). The impact of this style of working will be different for everyone, so I spoke with some UK studios to see how they’re getting on.
“What we fear might be affected is creativity, as a lot of what defines Bossa stems from impromptu chats, quick discussions, serendipity between team members. We’ll have to offset these with more organised structure around online meetings, which invariably will change things a bit,” said Henrique Olifiers, co-founder of Bossa, creators of Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread.
On the other side of the coin, Failbetter Games, the makers of Sunless Skies, aren’t too concerned about remote working as most of them usually only work one day in the office a week anyway. But the situation has got them thinking about what they can do with their games to keep folks busy while they’re stuck in isolation.
“As of last week we’re all working from home indefinitely. Some of us had to take some equipment home, including dev kits, but it hasn’t been as hard on us as a lot of teams, and nothing compared with other industries,” says Hannah Flynn, Failbetter’s communications director.
“Fallen London, our browser-based free-to-play RPG, is kind of the ideal self-isolation game. We’re currently thinking of little ways to give our Fallen London players a boost in these difficult times.”
Bossa don’t currently have plans to implement any special themes or events for their games right now, as they’re currently all hands on deck developing Surgeon Simulator 2 – which is either genius timing, or awful timing depending on how you look at it.
“Surgeon Simulator’s universe lends itself to the theme quite well, there’s no denying that – and we all could do with a bit more of dark humour for certain,” said Olifiers. “We’re so focused on Surgeon Simulator 2’s production at the moment that we’re unlikely to do anything else other than getting it ready for prime time.”
Developers like Sports Interactive and Creative Assembly are still full speed ahead in development too, with their parent company Sega Europe putting a statement out on Twitter to reassure fans, and thank everyone for the nice messages they’ve been sent over the last couple of weeks.
“Don’t worry about us, it’s ‘business as usual’ as much as it possibly can be in the Sega Europe family and we’ll continue to service our communities as best we possibly can.”
Burnout developers Criterion are in a similar situation – they’re owned by EA, who are putting a pretty cool measure in place to make sure vendors and contractors that usually work on-site at their studios will still get paid, even if they can’t do their jobs remotely.
So, while it seems like production is going smoothly and employees are being taken care of, for Bossa and Failbetter the main downside to all this is losing out on attending big industry-wide events like the Game Developers Conference and EGX. Flynn was set to give her very first talk at GDC before it got cancelled.
“It’s gutting to lose these moments of connection with our peers,” she said. “We’re making plans to widen our #LoveIndies campaign in the summer. This is a digital celebration of indie games and their developers that’s now in its third year. We’re hopeful that many more devs will want to get involved with it as a way to offset their loss of community and opportunity now that so many physical conferences are cancelled.”
Sharing the sentiment, Bossa’s Olifiers told me: “Traditionally we fill up on positive energy from GDC talks and get a lot of business done over at San Francisco. We had announcement events scheduled for E3, content creators to meet at TwitchCon, and we will miss rubbing shoulders with our peers at EGX. There’s no denying that skipping these gatherings will have an impact on the team.
“On the games’ front, the way forward is to offset these events with new online ideas, novel ways of talking about our upcoming titles and raising gamers’ awareness around them. It’s yet another challenge, but what’s a game developer’s life if not tackling challenge after challenge? Onwards we go!”
But if neither of those are catching your eye, Alice Bee wrote up a nice list of games to play while you’re self isolating and social distancing, to keep you busy in these strange and difficult times.