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When Pandemic Isn't Just a Game

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is officially a pandemic. The implications for what a pandemic means for the tabletop gaming industry are both far-reaching and subtle. Here's how it might impact gamers everywhere. Please note: This isn't health advice; follow your local government regulations and laws and don't game with others if you feel sick!

pandemic.jpg

What is COVID-19?

According to the WHO:
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.
COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world at a rate fast enough to merit the WHO classifying it as a pandemic. Gamers are familiar with this term; it's the name of a very popular board game dealing with a similar subject.

Governments around the world are taking steps to slow down the spread of the virus by cancelling major events that involve large groups of people. That includes gaming conventions. To be clear, it doesn't necessarily require an outbreak of the virus to encourage an event to cancel. As we understand more about the virus, the goal is to minimize a fast outbreak so that medical and emergency services are not overwhelmed by a surge in cases.

When Conventions Close

Gaming conventions are not alone in closing; the outbreak has created a spiral that causes guests and attendees to cancel attendance, which in turn makes it not feasible to host a convention. Nord Games is just one example:
As many of you know, Nord Games has been planning our usual March madness of attending both GAMA Expo in Reno, NV and GaryCon in Lake Geneva, WI. Unfortunately, as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the States and more companies and conventions continue to take pause amidst the news, Nord Games has made the very difficult decision to cancel our attendance to these conventions. Although we have been looking forward to these events since their close in March last year, we would much rather be safe than sorry.
Rob Salkowitz explained how visitors changing their behavior led to the postponement of Emerald City Comic Con:
As soon as cases of the novel coronavirus started appearing in the Seattle region, ECCC didn’t have a chance. Publishers, guests and exhibitors started pulling out and it felt like the show was in a death spiral. Though there was not yet a consensus about the actual dangers of COVID-19, the cancellations themselves doomed the show. Why would attendees risk showing up if their favorite artists and celebrities were MIA, the biggest booths absent from the floor, and dozens of programs cancelled?
ECC is not alone in reacting to the outbreak. Coachella was postponed and South by Southwest was cancelled. Given those major venues are closing, it raises a legitimate question: What will happen at Gen Con?

The Uncertain Future of Game Conventions

The biggest trade show in video games is skipping this year. E3 2020 has been cancelled:
After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry – our fans, our employees, our exhibitors, and our longtime E3 partners – we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020, scheduled for June 9-11 in Los Angeles. Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation. We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today.
E3 is not alone in changing its plans. Like so many other large events, discussions of whether a convention should go forward is financial and regional decision balanced by the potential for significant losses of revenue. Indianapolis, for now, is holding fast:
In Indianapolis, events and conferences are occurring as planned. The National Truck Equipment Work Truck Show went on last week at the Indiana Convention Center. That event was forecast to attract 14,000 people ... An estimated 40,000 people are expected to visit downtown Indianapolis for Indiana Comic Con in April while the FDIC International, a convention of firefighters, is forecast to have 30,000 visitors. Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, staff at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium were already tasked with cleaning and disinfecting surfaces every year as a means of flu prevention. With additional people on staff, the disinfecting of surfaces is occurring more frequently, said Lisa Vielee, a spokeswoman for the convention center. Hand sanitizer stations also are available. Signs are posted throughout the venues to remind visitors to cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing and to frequently wash their hands with soap and water.
For now, Gen Con is still on. But that's not the only potential impact the outbreak is having on the gaming industry.

Printing

Tabletop game publishers are heavily reliant on the book trade, which often is printed and shipped from China. Several industry members have confirmed that some books printed in China have been delayed. But printing is only part of the problem, as shipping is impacted too:
Ray Ambriano of Meadows Wye & Co., an international logistics company specializing in the publishing industry, said shipping loads since early February have been light, suggesting that factories are having difficulty getting back up to full speed. He—and others—expect a surge in demand for ships when production returns to normal, which could cause problems. Publishers are worried, Ambriano said, about whether ships will be in the right positions to carry full loads.
As an example of what this might look like for tabletop game publishers on Kickstarter, the puzzle board game Project L experienced delays:
The factory was closed until early March as a precautionary measure taken to minimizes the chance of spreading the infection among the workers, whose health is being closely monitored through regular health checks. The factory will now gradually get to 100% of its working capacity, and we have received an estimate that shows the assembly will be finished during the week starting with 6 April. We were strongly discouraged from flying over to China to do the quality control check in person, but we are communicating with Panda GM in order to devise an extended quality control check of the games before they are shipped to you.
What this means is that a publisher who relies on a printer China might experience delays even after the outbreak passes due to a backlog of orders. All that said, at least gamers have each other.

What it Means for Gamers

Gamers who are quarantined together will find they have a lot of time on their hands and nowhere to go. In the past there were two phases in an adult's life that this happened: younger school-aged children and college-aged students. Both were perfect opportunities for tabletop campaigns to flourish with friends (usually for a span of four years in either high school in the U.S. or a four-year degree at college). There's an additional group, military personnel on a base, who also fit this category.

For most adults, it's difficulty to schedule a game with peers without significant planning, but a quarantine (like a snow day) creates a unique opportunity. Unless of course someone in the group gets sick; WHO guidelines specifically encourage social distancing, which is antithetical to the basic premise of in-person tabletop play.

Online play is an alternative option. But online play will be under significant strain as increasing numbers of adults and students are asked to work or learn from home. The Internet will certainly be able to handle it, but it may not be very fast:
Core Internet infrastructure providers should be able to easily absorb the increase in traffic and demand, especially if the growth is gradual over a period of days, weeks, or months. Cloud infrastructure providers should also have sufficient additional compute, storage, and bandwidth capacity to enable their customers, including the e-learning, messaging, and videoconferencing tool providers, to scale their systems as necessary. In order to keep traffic local, content delivery infrastructure from companies including Akamai, Cloudflare, Google, Netflix, and Apple is deployed in many last-mile networks.
Of more relevant concern are specific platforms that use multimedia streaming, like first-person shooters or video chat. PUBG, a very popular first-person shooter in China, has already suffered an outage due to the volume of players logging on at once. But perhaps the biggest problem is our own homes. Families all attempting to use Netflix, watch videos on YouTube, run a Skype video conference, and play Fortnite are going to definitely experience lag.

So what's a gamer to do? Text-based or audio-only online games provide less of a bandwidth strain; play-by-postgames are always an option. There's plenty of ways tabletop games can keep on track, through a combination of email, web, and text messaging apps. But if you are quarantined, the most important thing is to wash your hands and don't panic. Stay safe everyone!
 
Last edited:
Michael Tresca

Comments

lyle.spade

Explorer
...saw a meme that said something along the lines of "no sports...social contact discouraged...all interactions moved online...sounds like a geek's safe space."

Who's with me on the gallows humor?

And that aside, I am a member of a FB Eberron community in which a number of members are trying to arrange online games with a member from Italy who is stuck in his house. I suggested a contagion as a adventure/campaign, set within the massive city of Sharn.

If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade; if it gives you poop, you make poop juice. But you do something.

Screen Shot 2020-03-13 at 8.40.58 AM.png
 

atanakar

Hero
Our next game will be online. RPGs are easily played on line. For wargames and board games it is problematic, unless there is already a digital version.

This event will probably have a profound effect on the next phase of game development.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Steam is having a sale right now (they are having different sales every weekend, for all of March I think). In case you didn't already know. Some of the games in my wishlist are ridiculously cheap.

There are also some really good HumbleBundles out there for gamers: the Just Drive bundle, Borderlands bundle, Square Enix Publisher bundle (kupo!), Female Protagonist bundle...

And DriveThruRPG and DM's Guild both have some bargains also; they are running their "GM's Day Sale" through March 16th.

So if you need to hole up for a couple of weeks, you might as well get your game on.
 

lyle.spade

Explorer
Steam is having a sale right now (they are having different sales every weekend, for all of March I think). In case you didn't already know. Some of the games in my wishlist are ridiculously cheap.

There are also some really good HumbleBundles out there for gamers: the Just Drive bundle, Borderlands bundle, Square Enix Publisher bundle (kupo!), Female Protagonist bundle...

And DriveThruRPG and DM's Guild both have some bargains also; they are running their "GM's Day Sale" through March 16th.

So if you need to hole up for a couple of weeks, you might as well get your game on.
Thanks for sharing!
 

Online play is an alternative option. But online play will be under significant strain as increasing numbers of adults and students are asked to work or learn from home. The Internet will certainly be able to handle it, but it may not be very fast:
Is it just me or do you seem to contradict yourself here?

Our next game will be online. RPGs are easily played on line. For wargames and board games it is problematic, unless there is already a digital version.
See Vassal Engine for war/board games. I've played around with it over the years, but never acutally used it for a live game. But seems to have everything needed to thrive in this space.

For those looking for chat based games, I recommend Rondak's Portal. Use to play there years ago and was a great place for play by post. Much better than any forums I've come across as each game has more than just a threaded discussion area.
 

talien

Community Supporter
Is it just me or do you seem to contradict yourself here?
I didn't think so, as online play can now encompass everything from synchronous video streaming to asynchronous chat-type games. I think the video streaming-type games will most likely be impacted, but there's a huge variability as to where you access the Internet, your provider, your home network/usage, and time of day you play online.
 

Zhaleskra

Adventurer
I work retail. Some customers are not maintaining appropriate social distance. I understand this is some cultures' "normal". Problem is, we're in a pandemic: stay away from people unless you absolutely need to be near them.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
I'm just waiting for someone to be offended that Pandemic exists as they assume the coronavirus was the inspiration.

'Cause you know things don't exist until you're aware they exist.
 



Furmyr

Villager
Our group turned our weekly game to roll20 yesterday and it worked great. And we only had two days notice from when we decided to use it. This weekend, since we now know the program and has a bit more experience with it we can hopefully use it more effective.
 

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