Would you believe we missed last week’s Tabletop Tuesday because of the coronavirus?
No, not because any of us caught it, but because yours truly works in an industry related to personal protective equipment. With increased workloads as the “Pandemic Panic” increases, there’s little time to play games, let alone write about them.
My gamer brain continues during this chaos, however, and is still focused on the gaming industry and community. While COVID-19 is affecting the entire globe, from health to economy, it’s having some interesting effects on tabletop gaming.
This Tabletop Tuesday, while many are sequestered and practicing social distancing, let’s take a look at how the virus can make things tough yet provide a few positive consequences.
Delays in Manufacturing
If you had to wager where the majority of tabletop game components are manufactured, where would you guess?
If you said, “China,” congratulations; the cheap cost of labor and materials makes that country ideal for everything from start-up designers to significant corporations. Unfortunately, that means what affects China also affects the production of games and can lead to delays and lack of product.
The first rumblings of the coronavirus effects were felt in Kickstarter, where many projects posted delays due to the shut-down of workforces and restrictions on cargo ships. Many anticipated games remain in limbo, while current products may not see a restock for weeks (or months).
Of course, as the virus spreads, that also means that more countries will be affected. By this point, even further sources of manufacturing (or RPG publishing) beyond China are at risk.
It’s hard to enjoy new games when there are none on the shelf!
Lack of Playing Areas
Where do you play your tabletop games? If you answered school clubs, libraries, community centers, or eateries, do I have some bad news for you.
With more and more states effectively shutting down any public gathering place, gaming with others becomes more difficult. Even friendly local gaming stores (FLGS) are either choosing to close their play areas or are doing their best to maintain a healthy, hygienic playing area despite losing traffic.
Most people are restricted to playing with their family, or brave friends, but that option isn’t always open to everyone. Maybe you’re stuck with your spouse (worse if they’re not a gamer), your house is in no shape to host others, or your neighbors are self-quarantining.
Either way, if you have no place to play, it’s hard to game.
Even if you have games and a place to play, does anyone really want to gather in a group?
The CDC and all authorities are calling for social distancing, choosing to keep person-to-person contact to a minimum. I know my tabletop group, which isn’t scheduled to meet for another two weeks, is seriously questioning if we should.
Like the teleworkers out there, many gamers are relying on vid chats or other technology to get their game on. Skype, Zoom, Roll20, Tabletop Simulator, etc. are all receiving more attention, sometimes to the point of crashing their servers.
Of course, virtual or video gaming is dependent on both the game and the people involved.
First, if your game isn’t supported by a simulator (like many tabletop or wargames), you’re out-of-luck. RPGs do best, as do those board games that have been digitized, but if you’re looking for some Dune or X-Wing, things aren’t as easy.
Second, if your players don’t have the proper computer setups, then you’ll find it challenging to play online. Older machines, lack of cameras or headphones, distracting environments, or a personal problem with gaming through online formats are significant obstacles.
One of the greatest strengths of tabletop gaming is its social aspect, and this virus is causing us to distance ourselves from that factor.
Cancellations of Conventions
We already mentioned that public gatherings are being restricted or canceled, not only because people want to distance themselves but also because the government is requiring closures.
The most significant changes are the cancellations of conferences of all types. In the case of the tabletop industry, conventions are often the place for companies to draw interest and show off their latest product.
Like movies losing money as theaters close, tabletop companies are seeing a loss in revenue and exposure. For some, they’ll be able to weather the storm through online sales and other avenues, but for the most vulnerable publishers or designers, this could be disastrous.
After a massive investment of time and money, a lack of conventions could result in the death of some companies.
Increases in Sales and Gaming
Not everything is doom or gloom, however, as we’ve seen an increase in gaming. Nothing makes people want to entertain themselves the “old fashioned” way than being stuck in a house.
Talking with my FLGS, they said that many games were selling quite well, as people prepared to be stuck in their homes for weeks. While primarily benefiting established publishers with products on the shelf, it can bring good business to stores and gaming companies alike.
These sales are not just experienced gamers but novices interested in finding something new to do during this pandemic. Families, friends, and neighbors, who might otherwise not blink at tabletop gaming, are willing to give anything a chance and may find a new hobby they love.
This curiosity isn’t just for board or card games, but also RPGs and even video LARPs. What better time to get your spouse or kids into some fun role-playing?
The coronavirus is affecting everyone, and that includes the gaming industry and community. We’re seeing delays in production, lack of places to play (or people to play with), and publishers hindered by the lack of conventions.
Yet interest in gaming increases as people realize they’ll be distanced socially from others, and with that comes an increase in curiosity and sales.
“If there is one thing the history of gaming has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Gamers break free, they expand to new territories and crash through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.”
“I’m simply saying that gamers, uh, find a way.”
Stay safe and healthy out there during this pandemic, and, as my FLGS says, “Keep calm and game on.”