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Video games sales are up, which might continue for a few years, IU gaming community says


Animal Crossing: New Horizons runs on a Nintendo Switch Lite. New Horizons released March 20. Photo illustration by Lauren Mclaughlin

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the best-selling video game in March after its release that month, according to the NPD Group, Inc., a market research company. Jess Tompkins, a user experience researcher for Electronic Arts and recent IU Ph.D. graduate, suggests the reason was quarantine.

“I’m sure there’s some people out there who maybe wouldn’t have gotten Animal Crossing if things were the same right now,” she said.

Unlike other industries, the gaming industry has fared well so far during the pandemic. With an increase in demand and steady hiring opportunities, gaming has stood out among other quarantine entertainment industries.

The NPD Group, Inc. published a report that said U.S. video games sales increased 35% in March 2020 compared to March 2019.

Quarantine has possibly brought new people looking for something to do into the gaming community, effectively adding to demand, Tompkins said. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a good example, she said.

“A lot of people who don’t necessarily identify as a hardcore gamer can still get into it and have fun,” Tompkins said. “I think it’s been a very successful example of the type of game that people are looking for right now.”

Mike Sellers, the director of IU’s game design program, said it is hard to say what the long-term effects of this increased demand will be. He said it might continue for two to three years. With that, there may be a demand for more designers.

“I think we’re going to see more demand for small and midsize teams, simply because big games take three to five years to make now,” Sellers said. “A small team or midsize team can turn around a game in a year or so.”

One of the biggest changes to the industry, and something that may affect the industry’s future, is the shift to remote work. Kaleb Eberhart, a designer at game development company Red G Studios and a 2019 IU graduate, said the transition has been easier for smaller companies. He said it has likely been tougher for bigger gaming companies because it is hard to transport and use large equipment such as company computers and motion capture equipment, but they have managed to continue some production.

One way that remote work has been difficult is less access to resources, Cole Swany, IU senior working with mPath, ltd., a design research company working on a mobile app with reading games, said. It's harder for game developers to use voice actors or use actors for motion capture, where one records human movement to animate it.

“Things like motion capture and getting actors for projects and things like that have almost ground to a complete halt,” he said.

Remote work has caused some companies to push back deadlines and release dates, Tompkins said. 

“I think a lot of companies are anticipating some change to scheduling,” she said. “I think long-term, it’s difficult to say right now for a lot of places.”

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