On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the growing outbreak of covid-19 a pandemic. In the year since, over 120 million people have been infected by the virus worldwide, and 2.5 million people have died because of covid-19. Life has forever been changed. We wear masks. Avoid crowds. Businesses have shut down, and many won’t reopen. And while the vaccine has brought hope to a planet drowning in fear and anxiety, it can’t fix what’s already happened.
Through all of this, video games still came out, and we still played them. At times, working for a website dedicated to games felt like a blessing. My life would often consist of me playing a new game, writing about it, and then playing another game. It was a nice way to keep my brain distracted and escape from the pandemic. But it was also hard some days to give a shit about gaming. We watched developers struggle, watched readers suffer as they lost their jobs, or worse, family members. And through all of this, I was supposed to care about some new consoles or a Call of Duty update. It wasn’t easy. Nothing in 2020 was easy.
But Kotaku persevered. We wrote about the virus, how it affected us, how it changed the world of gaming, how it shut down conventions, and how it destroyed so many things. While I’m not naïve enough to believe that we made some big difference, I do think that we, in our own little way, helped. Maybe we made you laugh. Maybe we helped you find a game you could escape to. Or maybe we provided someone a way to share their story, to be heard. And while that won’t cure covid-19, it helped. Or at least I hope it did.
With that in mind, let’s take a brief tour of some of the stories and events that shaped this very strange year.
- In early February, as more cases of covid-19 were detected in the United States, Sony pulled out of PAX East.
- Later that month, on February 27, Sony, Facebook, Microsoft, and Epic dropped out of the annual Game Developers Conference. At the time, just over 80,000 cases of covid-19 had been reported, mostly in China. About 60 cases had been verified in the United States.
- Other events were canceled in February and early March, in the weeks leading up to the WHO’s official pandemic announcement. A Granblue Fantasy Versus tournament in Japan, Overwatch League matches in South Korea, the SNK World Championship also in Japan, Eve Online’s annual Fanfest, and Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle were all canceled.
- On February 28, after multiple companies pulled out, GDC was officially postponed. The event was pushed back to summer 2020.
- As the pandemic continued, on March 5, Microsoft, Bungie, and Nintendo would enact work from home policies. Many of these remain in place over a year later.
- On March 11, the ESA announced that E3 2020 was canceled because of Covid-19. This would lead to smaller, publisher-created digital events being held throughout the year to announce new games.
- On that same day, Overwatch League would cancel all March and April events.
- On March 12, a day after the WHO declared a pandemic, Niantic announced that it was making changes to how Pokémon GO worked. These changes, including increasing how many Pokémon players could catch in one spot, were designed to encourage players to not go out as much and to limit crowds.
- A few days later, TennoCon, an annual event dedicated to free-to-play shooter Warframe, canceled its live event. It would instead transition into an all-digital event.
- On March 15, over 20 million people played games on Steam at once, setting a new record. It made sense as more places around the world began to lock down and folks were bored, stuck inside, and needed something to do.
- To help encourage players to stay home, EA and Dice activated double XP in Star Wars Battlefront II on March 16. It would end on March 27.
- We talked to folks involved with smaller fighting game events and tournaments in March about the future of the community. Covid-19 has proved challenging for the fighting game community to deal with as smaller teams and events struggle to stay around.
- In the middle of March, GameStop got in trouble for allegedly forcing employees to work during the pandemic. Complaints also shared with Kotaku pointed toward a lack of proper safety protocols, endangering customers and workers. GameStop also canceled some midnight launch events for Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal.
- On March 18, The White House praised millennials’ ability to speedrun games during a covid-19 briefing. No, it doesn’t make sense, even a year later.
- GameStop tried to stay open during mandatory lockdowns. The retailer claimed its stores were “essential” and told managers to share a memo claiming this if the police arrived.
- On March 24, the developers behind the popular mobile game Plague Inc. announced a new mode to fight a pandemic. The game usually lets players control a global virus but would now let folks take on humanity’s role in trying to stop a deadly virus and find a cure.
- Also on March 24, Sony announced it would slow PSN download speeds. The move was made to help increase internet stability, as suddenly millions of people around the world were stuck at home and logging into the web all at once.
- Two days later, Fallout 76's huge “Wastelanders” update was delayed by a week. Bethesda explained the delay was caused by the company moving to a work-from-home setup.
- On March 31, the final day of a month that felt impossibly long, inXile Entertainment announced a months-long delay for its then-upcoming game Wasteland 3. Originally scheduled to be released in May, it was delayed until August 29.
- On April 2, Sony donated $10 million to a covid-19 response fund. The donation went to the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Response Fund and was part of a more than $100 million relief effort by the company.
- Also in early April, as concerts and tours were canceled, musicians began moving to Twitch to host performances for fans. One musician began a full “Quarantine Tour.”
- Microsoft’s streaming platform Mixer donated $100 to all partnered streamers to help during the pandemic. Yes, Mixer was still a thing in April 2020.
- A sign of the times, a custom PC maker began making emergency ventilators. These devices are extremely important to keep those suffering from extreme cases of covid breathing and alive.
- Covid-19 would also delay a major Final Fantasy XIV update. The developers cited issues with building an MMO during a pandemic.
- On April 13, Rick May, the voice actor behind video game characters like Peppy Hare and Team Fortress 2's Soldier, died due to covid-19. He was 79. (In May, Valve would add statues of the Soldier to TF2 maps as memorials to the voice actor.)
- A few days later, a World of Warcraft fan server unleashed a plague to help teach people how to deal with a pandemic. The event involved players using in-game soap to wash their hands and making sure to maintain social distancing.
- On April 16, Gamescom was canceled. The show, held every year in Germany, moved to an all-digital event.
- After being forced to close stores in March, GameStop began reopening stores in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
- PSA: A Halloween costume based on a video game is not going to protect you or your family from covid-19.
- On April 24, a retro gaming group in Japan began sending families with kids Super Famicoms for free (minus a postage fee). The group hoped it would help keep kids indoors during the pandemic and while schools remained closed.
- As the coronavirus continued to ravage New York City, a doctor wrote a piece for us chronicling his time with the virus and how he used The Division as an escape.
- While some video game companies and publishers were doing some things to help, Ian Walker reminded us that they could be doing more. Big companies can always do more.
- On May 1, due to covid-19-related issues, it was announced that the upcoming Guild Wars 2 expansion would release with no voice acting. The developers explained it was a difficult decision, but they didn’t want to risk anyone’s health and planned to add voice acting once it was safe to record.
- Dr Disrespect got into hot water after spreading false covid-19 conspiracy theories. This would continue to be a problem, with Twitch doing little to stop other streamers from spreading false info.
- An armed Pikachu arrived at an anti-lockdown protest in the United States. For some reason, people can’t stay home and not spread a deadly virus.
- On May 15, Guilty Gear Strive was delayed. It was supposed to release in 2020 but was pushed back to 2021 due to covid-19.
- Five days later, Gen Con was canceled. The event is the largest tabletop / board game convention in the United States.
- On June 5, Summer Games Done Quick canceled its in-person event and moved to an all-digital show via streaming. It would still go on to raise over $2 million for Doctors Without Borders.
- That same day, Final Fantasy XIV’s Fan Fest was canceled. The annual event held by Square Enix was canceled over safety concerns involving covid-19.
- In Korea, baseball teams played games in stadiums filled with plush Pokémon dolls. See, 2020 wasn’t all bad. Just mostly bad.
- In the middle of June, EVE Online players began working together to collectively help fight covid-19. Using a mini-game, players could solve puzzles and problems that would help scientists and researchers in the real world fight the deadly virus.
- Following in the footsteps of other events, it was announced on June 16 that PAX West would cancel its in-person live show. It would instead be held online as an all-digital event.
- GameStop said it would force customers to wear masks. But employees quickly shared with Kotaku that they have no way to enforce this rule, thus placing employees and other customers in danger.
- On July 20, EA announced that NHL 21 would see a small delay due to continued work-from-home policies. These conditions made it hard to get the game out on time.
- Through all of this, we had the slow news drip of next-gen consoles. In late August, Sony wanted to remind everyone that the PS5 was still coming in 2020, despite a global pandemic.
- We offered a different plan: Delay next-gen machines.
- In early September, covid-19 found its way into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. The remake of the first two classic games in the series contained a level set in a school. But the school was closed because of covid-19.
- Later in the month, No More Heroes 3 was delayed due to covid-19. It was planned to release in 2020 but slipped into 2021 following “unforeseen delays in development.”
- Hatsune Miku pitched in to help stop the spread of covid-19 in Japan.
- With most big Hollywood films delayed, movies that would never normally lead the box office did just that. A Demon Slayer feature in Japan led the global box office for the week of October 20.
- As the pandemic and travel bans continued in Japan, the country’s arcades were hit hard. Many were forced to close down for good.
- Kenyu Horiuchi, the voice actor for Raiden in the Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid, tested positive for covid-19 on November 11. He was asymptomatic and has since recovered.
- Also on November 11, the new mode for the mobile game Plague Inc. was finally released. This mode was made in conjunction with the WHO and offered players the chance to cure a deadly pandemic.
- Katuscon, a large cosplay convention and event, announced that it was canceling its 2021 show. This was one of many signs that covid-19 wasn’t going to be just a 2020 problem.
- In late November, Kotaku’s own Ari Notis caught covid-19. At the start of December, he blogged about having the disease and how he handled it. He played a lot of video games. But it still sucked, and he was lucky enough to overcome the virus without any long-lasting side effects or issues.
- On December 2, Ubisoft and Massive announced a planned Division 2 in-game event was canceled due to covid-19. Ubisoft called it a “casualty of a tough year.”
- In mid-December, the U.S. Surgeon General compared developing a covid-19 vaccine to playing games on Xbox. Again, like the White House talking about speedrunning. It’s weird, and I’m still not sure what to think.
- A few days later, on December 14, GameStop put its workers at risk after receiving a new shipment of next-gen consoles. Folks lined up, during a pandemic, for the still sought-after machines. Making matters worse, GameStop stores were understaffed, and employees were only given 15 mins of prep time.
- Early this year, Razer announced and showed off a new, fancy mask. Yes, it has RGB lights on it. Welcome to the world of covid-19 nearly a year on.
- On January 14, Universal Studio Japan delayed the opening of Super Nintendo World again. This was because of a new state of emergency declared in Osaka. Currently, the park is scheduled to open on March 18.
- The CEO of Ubisoft explained the company was thinking about changing the name of the upcoming spin-off shooter, Rainbow Six: Quarantine. During the investor call where this information was shared, Ubisoft confirmed it still plans to release the game in 2021.
- Shortly before Valentine’s Day, Square Enix in Japan asked fans not to send them candy. This referred to a long-running tradition, in which some folks send candy to their favorite characters from games like Final Fantasy. However, due to covid-19, Square Enix requested fans skip this year’s candy gifts.
- On February 9, after skipping in-person tournaments throughout 2020, The Pokémon Company confirmed all 2021 in-person tournaments were canceled, too. Instead, the company plans to focus on digital and online competitions.
- A Genshin Impact/KFC crossover event was canceled in China due to covid-19 concerns. While the country has all but ended the spread of covid within its borders, it appears the crossover event, which involved large crowds of people, violated some still-active pandemic mandates.
- According to reports out of Japan, Capcom forced workers to go to the office during a state of emergency earlier this year. It seemed that due to last year’s cyberattack, Capcom wasn’t comfortable allowing employees to work from home. Capcom claims it made efforts to minimize risk and did allow some employees to stay home.
- On February 25, Bungie announced that the next big Destiny 2 expansion was delayed until 2022. Bungie cited the size of the expansion and the continued issues from working at home as two main reasons for the delay.
- To kick off this month, Comic-Con 2021 was canceled. Officially, the show has only been “postponed” until 2022. Which is another way of saying, the 2021 show has been canceled.
- During a digital live stream event announcing new updates for its games, Paradox Interactive also announced a new...digital live event. This event, PDXCON Remixed, is an online-only version of the annual fan event the publisher hosts every year. It is being held online only out of safety concerns.
And there we go. 12 months of news. It was mostly bad news. Sadly, though we have hit a big milestone, covid-19 isn’t going away. While countries are rolling out the vaccine quickly, people are still dying all around the world.
But hopefully, as the vaccine is administered to more people, we will see life start to return to some semblance of normality. I really hope I don’t have to put together another round-up of yet another year of covid-19 coverage in 2021.