Console-ing Through a Pandemic

By Jeremy Yudin
Sam Hutchings has cerebral palsy that affects the right side of his body. While it doesn’t prevent him from gaming, Hutchings says it affects his performance and has gone through many types of controllers to help accommodate him.

Humber College graduate Sam Hutchings spends his days doing what most of us do, working a 9 to 5. But his nights are spent in the virtual world, a pattern he has existed in since high school.

“I would decide what game I wanted to play and I would just turn on music, and I would just shut out the entire world,” Hutchings says. In high school it was to escape the bullying he endured for having Cerebral Palsy, and now it is his connection to his girlfriend, considering he lives alone in Yorkton, Sask. Whatever the reason, gaming is an outlet for him, a feeling many Canadians share, especially during the pandemic.

A study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada says 23 million, just over 60 per cent of the population, play video games, and lockdown is making them play more, to the tune of 58 per cent of adult gamers and 80 per cent of teens. Not only are people playing more, it appears to be having a positive impact on their lives, with 65 per cent of adults citing it supporting their mental health and 78 per cent of teens.

Jayson Hiliche, president and CEO of the ESAC says it was heartening to be able to use this data to paint a clearer picture not only of how many people are playing video games, but how it is impacting their lives. “All of those types of positive elements; we were able to actually statistically quantify. (We’re) really happy with that this year,” Hiliche says.

Not only were more people playing during the pandemic, but they were also spending. According to the NDP Group overall spending on video games, including hardware, consoles and digital content, was up 29 per cent in 2020 from 2019 in Canada and reached its highest level in the last decade. As an overall industry, gaming appears to be thriving, a fact which Kristian Roberts, a researcher and economic insider for the Interactive Digital Media Industry, doesn’t see changing anytime soon.

“This is the best time to invest in video game companies and the best time to make games because people are playing more of them than ever before,” Roberts says. NDP’s research also supports this, saying they expect to see similarly high numbers in the first quarter of 2021.

Part of the reason gaming adapted so quickly to the new normal was the capability for much of the industry to work from home. Designing games obviously takes place almost entirely online, meaning there wasn’t the same learning curve for large Canadian gaming companies like Bioware and Ubisoft as there were for many companies around the country.

That is not to say there haven’t been challenges, especially for these giant’s smaller competition. In the early days of the pandemic, a Nordicity study showed an average 40 percent loss in revenue for Canadian micro and small Interactive Design Media businesses, which includes industries like video games, virtual reality, and eLearning. 33 per cent of these businesses lost the entirety of their monthly revenue.

Some also feel the loss of some of gaming’s biggest spectacle events, like E3 and PAX. Roberts says the gravity of losing these expos goes beyond the simple dollars and cents. “There’s nuance to that. Their’s personal relationships being developed there, you build and meet with the same people five times over the course of that cycle. You can’t replace that,” she says.

So gaming, much like many industries, has experienced the ups and downs the pandemic has forced on the world. The industry will continue to face the challenge of balancing a bevy of concerns as the world moves into year two in lockdown.