Coronavirus takes its toll on the gaming industry—delays, cancellations, and a sales spike for Plague Inc.

Since late 2019, novel coronavirus (officially known as COVID-19), believed to have originated from a seafood market in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 75,000 and caused over 2000 deaths. As measures are taken to address the outbreak, experts note an economic downturn, especially where industries are involved in Asia.

The outbreak hits the game industry at an already uncertain time—a limbo when companies are planning for the once-every-several-years release of the next generation of gaming equipment. Delays can spell disaster for developers and publishers trying to sync up releases. And with the gaming industry churning out double the revenue of the film and music industries put together, there's a lot at stake.

Console Delays

Gamers wait for details on the new gaming consoles—Sony's PS5 and Microsoft's Xbox Series X—which had, at first, been expected to release in "Holiday 2020". But these consoles are being assembled in China (where some factory workers are being told to stay at home), which makes a 2020 release seem like a long shot.

One such PS5, courtesy of @PS5Console on Twitter.

As Sony and Microsoft grapple with production issues, Nintendo has already confirmed that the virus is delaying Nintendo Switch production in their home market of Japan.

PC gaming gets hit, too. Facebook's VR hit Oculus Quest is back-ordered. And fun fact, 13 of the top 20 games on PC-gaming platform Steam last month were developed in Asia, illustrating the interdependence of the gaming industry with Asia-based developers.

Canceled Events

Big gatherings have game companies worried about the coronavirus. Sony decided they weren't going to premier U.S. gaming convention Pax East in Boston. Blizzard, a titan of game development and esports, moved its Overwatch League games scheduled in China to South Korea instead. And an upcoming tournament for battle-royal superhit PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has been postponed.

Pax East, courtesy of @Kotaku on Twitter.

Plague Inc. Sales Spike

A curious side-effect of the COVID-19 scare is Plague Inc.'s resurgence. It's a real-time strategy game that has players craft and spread a pathogen with the goal of wiping out all humanity—and it was the top app in China last month.

plague inc
A screenshot of spreading disease in Plague Inc., courtesy of

 Plague Inc. creator James Vaughn had this to say:

"The Coronavirus outbreak in China is deeply concerning and we've received a lot of questions from players and the media. Plague Inc. has been out for eight years now and whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks."

"We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalising serious real-world issues. This has been recognised by the CDC and other leading medical organisations around the world. However, please remember that Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model and that the Coronavirus is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people. We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities."

On the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, one user said of Plague Inc.: "The best way to eliminate fear is to look fear straight in the face."

Gaming as an Escape

Even as the games industry reels, gaming as a hobby does what it does best. In China, where residents are encouraged to stay home and off the streets, gaming use has exploded. Chinese players are breaking records for daily average users and gaming streams are seeing double the engagement. Tencent, the world's largest gaming company, is offering free trials on 50+ games in an attempt to wrangle in the home-bound audience. Even adult game companies are capitalizing with free games.

As CNN reports, Chinese gamers have found solace in gaming:

  • "The evenings are empty, and I have free time. So at night, I'll play 'Peacekeeper Elite' with friends. We'll set a time to log on and play together." – Zhanchao Yang, 24, from Dongguan, Guangdong, China
  • "I thought I would only be home for seven days, so I only brought a cellphone. On my phone, I played 'Peacekeeper Elite . . . Every day I'm at home, I'm so bored. I don't want to use my brain so I'll play some light and joyful games." – Jiahui Wang, 25, Beijing
  • "I think video games can be a good distraction and help maintain one's mental health . . . It does give me more peace of mind and keeps me from looking too much at coronavirus news, whether real or fake." – Clement Wen, 32, Foshan, Guangdong
  • "Since we're home every day, the conversation topics are pretty limited. Very quickly, we'll run out of things to say. But if we're playing a game together, it feels like there's more to talk about. It's a better way of staying in touch." – Jiahui Wang, 25, Beijing

Stay safe out there, wash your hands, and take some time to be happy—maybe with a game. Be kind and share a moment with the people you play with.

What games do you play to escape a little and have some fun? Comment below!