A behind-the-scene look at the thriving successes of video game companies during the pandemic. Is it as perfect as it seemed?
During the pandemic, many of us around the world have turned to video games to stay connected with other people. While staying at home alone, casual and avid gamers and Twitch streamers alike have used video games to keep themselves and others entertained (and distracted) in an otherwise uncertain and isolating time.
The great demand for entertainment allowed for the video game industry, unlike many other physical-contact-requiring industries, to stay strong during the pandemic. A lot of studies have reported increased or at least stable revenues generated by the video game industry over the past year, along with enhanced employment opportunities. In 2020, global gaming sales had risen 20% to nearly US$180 billion in revenue.
With the huge profitability of the video game industry, we would assume that game developers had responded well to pandemic restrictions and the transitions from working at the office to working from home.
That assumption is unfortunately wrong.
Work-from-home model delays video game development
Many video game developing companies have reported difficulties adjusting to the challenges of working from home. Video game development is oftentimes a collaborative process, where collaborators exchange knowledge and creative ideas freely and easily. Sometimes this process works better when everyone is in the same physical space, where staff can solve ad-hoc problems and respond to each other’s questions and needs in a timely and direct manner.
According to a Game Developers Conference survey, 44% of video game companies experienced delays. A rocky transition to working from home leading to a drop in communication between company staff was a major reason. Video game developers that moved to a remote work model during the pandemic reported 4.4 times more delays than they did pre-pandemic. For example, Halo Infinite’s release was delayed by more than a year from November 2020 to December 2021. In contrast, video game companies that didn’t shift to remote working and had kept a primarily office-work model reported roughly half the delays when compared to pre-pandemic.
Daniel Sussman, Project Director of Harmonix, explains that the remote work model directly contradicts the “iterative process” of building games. Companies have “social build reviews where the team reacts to prototypes, new features, new art”, but the move to remote work has made that aspect of their process more difficult.
Respawn Entertainment’s Game Director, Chad Grenier, has similar complaints. To him, remote work poses a “creative hurdle” to the development process, as “you lose the hallway conversations, you lose the people sitting on a couch and discussing something for an hour or two, you miss the lunch conversations, all of that goes away and becomes scheduled instead of happening naturally.”
Companies can do a lot more to mitigate risks and delays. For companies that rely heavily on collaboration and connection, clear workplace strategies can be devised, such as organizing virtual happy hours to maximize natural interactions between employees.
It is the company’s responsibility to ensure that the structure of collaboration is as effective as possible even under unusual circumstances. By guiding how people work and adapting strategies, companies can hopefully avoid the problems of working remotely while still taking advantage of all its benefits.
Header image courtesy of Unsplash