Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Smash Bros., devoted his latest Weekly Famitsu column to how coronavirus covid-19 is impacting the game industry in Japan.
About three paragraphs in, Sakurai lists an array of stats and factoids, including the number of global deaths, how Hokkaido Prefecture declared a state of emergency, that masks and toilet paper are selling out in Japan as well as how concerts and other events are being canceled. This is print, so the figures aren’t up to the minute, but in his honest and clear-eyed column, Sakurai once again proves that he’s writing the best (and most honest) stuff each week in Famitsu.
Sakurai mentioned that covid-19 was impacting events outside Japan as well as within the country. But for game developers in Japan, working at home isn’t so easy. “This is a highly confidential job, and because it’s not like people can take it home and bring development materials with them, honestly, work cannot progress.”
The fear is that secrets about upcoming games, content or characters could become vulnerable to leaking out. But that’s not the only way the virus is impacting game development in Japan.
“Things like business trips are being restricted,” Sakurai continued. “In particular, business trips for further away places have been nixed. For example, Nintendo [headquarters] is in Kyoto.” Sakurai is based in Tokyo, and while Kyoto is around two hours away by bullet train, it sounds like this kind of domestic travel has been put on hold for the time being.
“Likewise, visiting other companies has become difficult. For me personally, I was scheduled to go give a presentation at a publisher regarding a new fighter, but it wasn’t possible to get the necessary people together to meet, so that’s been indefinitely postponed.”
Then, there is the concern about what would happen if a staff member had the new coronavirus.
“Moreover, if someone in the office is found infected with the virus, then I’d assume the entire building would need to be locked down and [game] development would cease.”
All of this has a knock-on effect, impacting the entire game industry and the development process. “Even if we announced a new fighter, there’s a high probability that development would not be able to progress as planned.” Things cannot move as they usually do in the Japanese game industry.
“The novel coronavirus has cast a large shadow over game development,” Sakurai wrote, adding that delays and cancelations were unavoidable and that it feels like companies are putting on the brakes. No doubt the effects could be felt for weeks and months to come.