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Video game developers see increased sales and opportunities in coronavirus shutdown

13:57 14/04/2020

Coronavirus-related measures mostly have a negative impact when it comes to doing business. But there are exceptions. As people are asked to stay home, the video game industry is benefiting from their isolation and boredom.

Steam, the video game digital distribution service has recently set a new record of 24 million concurrent users. And even the World Health Organisation is advising the world to #PlayApartTogether while introducing gaming as a safe way of staying mentally healthy and keeping in touch with friends and family.

Here in Belgium, several game developers have noticed an increase in sales and online activity - and are even seeing opportunities to develop new projects.

"March was approximately twice as good as February for our game, Faeria," says Jean-Michel Vilain, chief executive of Abrakam Entertainment. The video game studio located in Liège is currently preparing its strategy card game to be released on consoles.

"Everyone at Abrakam has been working remotely since the lockdown began. We have never stopped doing our job and so far it's going really well," says Vilain. His company is used to relying on online tools, and regular video conferences help keep everyone on track. "The video game industry is not only resilient to the pandemic, it is obviously taking advantage of it."

Of course, the situation is not completely the same for every studio in Belgium. Fishing Cactus in Mons had decided to work remotely two days before the authorities made the call, but not every team member can work from home - especially, when the second part of Nanotale, the Belgian Game Awards 2020 winner, is planned for the end of April.

"Our QA tester works alone at the studio most of the time because of all the consoles and different computers he needs to test the game," says Sophie Schiaratura, the company’s PR manager, while remaining optimistic. "Reaching the deadline doesn't seem impossible. We postponed all the projects that were collaborations since it's difficult to interact correctly and meet our partners. But we kept all the in-house work." According to Schiaratura, Fishing Cactus games are now doing around 20% better in visibility and sales than before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Another video game company, Hasselt’s LuGus Studios, saw a similar increase. "Looking at our sales we see an increase of around 25% globally and 29% in Belgium these past two weeks compared to the month before," says Kevin Haelterman, co-founder and business developer of the studio known for its drone racing simulator Liftoff. "The increase in our global player activity is 17% which means 600-700 additional active players each day."

At the same time, Haelterman is wary of seeing the video game industry as one that can fully avoid the economic impact of coronavirus. "The future is still unsure," he says. "Just like any other business, we depend on the buying power of the consumer."

However, even difficult times bring new opportunities. "Some of our projects are put on hold but we have been working with new B2B clients on projects that are relevant today," says Haelterman. LuGus Studios switched to remote work a week before the rest of the country and is currently creating education games for home education, VR games to encourage indoor activities or simulator software to help fight the pandemic.

"I feel that in tough times it's industries like ours that are flexible and can more easily adapt than other industries," he says. "We hope the government takes note not only of the struggles but also of the positive stories. I strongly believe industries like ours should become the cornerstones of Belgium’s future economic development, to be better prepared for similar events."

Written by Tomáš Miklica