How the Coronavirus is Effecting PAX, GDC and the Gaming Industry

About 10 days ago, February 13th, Sony announced that they had PAX plans. They will be at PAX East which is in Boston this year. It’s a little earlier this year than usual. They announced they would have the first public display on the Last of Us 2, some other games such as Final Fantasy 7 Remake, some highly anticipated games that some of the games the public has gotten their hands on, some haven’t at all until this point. It was a big deal for them to be there this year. Less than a week later, February 19th they pulled out. They announced that they’re no longer going to attend PAX for the sake of their workforce. These concerns are due to the coronavirus and Playstation does not intend to endanger their employees by bringing them to a crowded convention center in Boston.

If you don’t know about the coronavirus already, it is a flu-like virus that has originated in Wuhan City, China. At the moment china has estimated about 79,000 people infected and, although that is a lot less than the billion of people that are infected by the flu, it has a much higher mortality rate. 2% of people that have the coronavirus die. There are 35 actual reported cases of it inside the US, not including the 17 people who are on the recent cruise, of those cases, one of them included a student in Boston. This is probably why Sony is so worried about this sort of thing.

However, when they pulled out of PAX it cause a ripple effect of a bunch of different things. They are losing a ton of money by doing this. They already rented floor space within PAX and had everything set up for the event so they are taking a wash of estimated 1 million dollars by not attending and not getting that back in terms of marketing. By pulling out, not only is PAX having trouble compensating people who came specifically for this (PAX tickets are non-refundable and Sony had previously announced first-time public hands on experience for the most anticipated Sony games of the year) but now other companies are contemplating pulling out as well. The Final Fantasy 14 team was supposed to be at PAX, but are no longer attending. The game will be present but the team is no longer holding a panel.

Anyone doing international travel is saying “okay, we don’t need to do this right now.” This is not only causing issues with ReedPop, the owner of PAX but the Boston government as well. Mayor Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston, sent a statement to Sony and then held a press conference explaining that statement. He asked them to reconsider bringing Playstation to Boston. He said many things in that statement but he wanted to emphasize facts over feeling. To Walsh, the coronavirus is not all that dangerous, there is no risk of coming to Boston and getting the coronavirus and he also insisted that this move reinforces harmful stereotypes against Chinese.

That is a repeated thing happening with the coronavirus right now. People are being somewhat racist towards Chinese people. People are refusing to give Chinese people in distress CPR because they are worried about coronavirus and Walsh thinks by Sony making a big public statement on not attending Boston’s convention is doing more harm than good.

That said, other companies are pulling out, and these companies that are pulling out are from Asia. They are traveling through more international airport to get to Boston and it raises more of a concern for them. I also suspect that Sony has a travel ban. 1 case of coronavirus is in Boston. 10 of the cases are in California, and Sony also pulled out of GDC, as did Facebook and Oculus. Sony is very local to San Francisco. They could just make the drive technically. However I imagine at this point Sony is banning travel anywhere as long as this is a concern. They do a lot of business in China and Taiwan. This is them protecting their employees and the PR nightmare for being responsible for spreading a disease, which at the moment is mainly contained in China. Badly contained, but contained nonetheless.

Is any event – even one as high-profile as PAX East or GDC 2020 – more important than people’s health and safety? | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

Q: If Sony isn’t going to PAX East, what about Square Enix and Final Fantasy 7 Remake?

Keep in mind as well, with Sony pulling out of PAX East, Square Enix doesn’t have a marketing booth in order to present any of their games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake. That game is currently a timed exclusive under Sony and PlayStation so I imagine Sony handled everything required to get that game to PAX. I suppose it’s not going to be there anymore and I can’t really blame them for that. It’s a big burden to take momentarily. If Sony isn’t coming, Square Enix isn’t financially prepared to take on that burden right now.

Q: I understand the fear of going to a place with a big crowd during a sickness, but it is also effecting production too right? Have any games been delayed because of this? What is happening there?

There are some cases. The Outer Worlds is supposed to come out on Switch next month. However the company porting it, Virtuos, are an international company. The team within Virtuos porting this game are based in China, and they have not been able to get into their offices within the last month. So the game was delayed. They couldn’t do anything about it. Take-Two Interactive has said to make up for this they will release the game physically but that is still a delay they will not know the end result of at this point. That’s going to start effecting further Chinese stuff too. A reason I image Sony isn’t coming to GDC is they have a project called the China Hero Project which involves taking Chinese developers and allowing their games to be developed in other parts of the world. GDC openly stated that no one from China is allowed to come to that conference, so there are effects there too.

Q: What about long term?

A big long term thing is what if Foxconn get’s shut down? If that happens, then everything get’s delayed. Game production, console production, next gen console production. It has been speculated that the reason it is taking so long for Sony and Xbox to show off their next gen consoles is they don’t know for sure if they will be able to start manufacturing in the summer, which is usually when that will be done for a Holiday launch. The coronavirus can have an extensive rippling effect even if it doesn’t actually leave the shores of China. Can you imagine how crippling it would be if iPhone production suddenly went down. That would not only effect how many people apple can employ at a given moment in time but how many iPhones they can sell and it’s kind of their core business at this point. This is just a small pocket of the effects China based manufacturing companies shutting down will have on the world as a whole even if the coronavirus doesn’t leave Chinese boarders, and there are already cases outside of China.

Edit: After writing this initial post, EA has pulled out of GDC, along with Sony, Kojima Productions and Facebook according to Haydn Taylor at gamesindustry.biz. Square Enix also released a statement announcing their absense from PAX, citing the coronavirus. The publisher said it would scale back its panel appearances, signing sessions, and fan gatherings as its team coming from the Japan office would no longer be traveling. Capcom as well announced in a tweet that while it would be continuing its planned Monster Hunter: Festa event in Boston during PAX East, the developers from the Monster Hunter team would no longer be attending as originally planned.

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