When I sat down to write the first Starting Screen of 2020, I had absolutely no inkling of what we would all face in the year to come. None of us did. My mind was on the new generation of consoles; the impending release of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Cyberpunk 2077, and USgamer’s planned expansion into podcasts.
I won’t rehash everything that came afterward, only to say that the global suffering has been immense. We’ve had to adjust every facet of our lives—from how we communicate to how we play—and the games industry certainly hasn’t been immune. It’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic that this will be the last Starting Screen I write for USgamer, as Mathew, Eric, and I will be out of work in a little less than two weeks.
Instead of a year of a celebration for games, 2020 proved to be a year of reckoning. It was a year in which developers had to learn to work from home; marketing teams had to figure out how to promote their games without events, and Sony and Xbox had to find a way to sell their new consoles with minimal help from brick-and-mortar retailers. That’s on top of the immense personal cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged our healthcare system and killed more than 300,000 people in the United States alone.
The knock-on effects of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. Marketing budgets will be adjusted, meaning fewer events and less advertising for games media and influencers alike. Games may be further delayed or canceled altogether. With huge swaths of Americans out of work, paychecks will be devoted to putting food on the table rather than acquiring the latest video game. Life may not begin to return to some semblance of normalcy until summer at the earliest, so we’re apt to be stuck in some form of lockdown for another six months at least, with the worst still to come.
How the video game industry comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic will say a lot about what the medium will look like going forward. It’s fair to wonder, for example, whether the PS5 and Xbox Series X generation will find its feet later than usual, and whether Nintendo will opt to stick with the Switch longer than originally planned. It’s likewise fair to wonder what this will mean for big-budget game development—whether new work-from-home practices and other policies will improve or exacerbate present working conditions.
In the end, games should emerge from this crisis in relatively good shape—at least they should in comparison to movies, which have been absolutely ravaged by the pandemic. No matter the demographic, games have ingrained themselves into mainstream culture. When a major game like Cyberpunk 2077 ends up getting delisted from PSN, it’s major news in The New York Times and BBC. I wouldn’t exactly call the business “recession-proof,” as some have claimed in the past, but I do think it will just be fine.
That’s the note I would like to end Starting Screen on: as the pandemic ends and life resumes, I earnestly hope that video games can be a part of the healing. I hope they can bring joy to those who are struggling; I hope they can continue to create communities, and I hope they can use their unique interactive experiences to impart empathy. In the dark days to come, we will need all of those things more than ever.
Thank you very much for reading Starting Screen over the past few years. We still have quite a bit of end of the year content to post—and a Cyberpunk 2077 review too!—so we’re not done yet. Whether you are playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales or dusting off an old favorite—I hear Chrono Trigger is pretty good—I wish you all health and happiness. Good night and good luck.
Super Meat Boy Forever [Dec. 23 for Switch, PC]: Oh boy, folks. We are at the end of the year, and that means the new release lineup is pretty slim. The big one this week is Super Meat Boy Forever, a sequel to the meat-splatting classic Super Meat Boy. Avoid the buzzsaws and speed through levels in order to take down that despicable Dr. Fetus.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
Shigeru Miyamoto is having a grand ol’ time. The creator of Mario is now working on Super Nintendo World, the Nintendo theme park, and it seems to be going pretty well. He gave a wonderful interview to the New Yorker, and if you need something to brighten your day, this is it.
Just in time for the holidays, a new Stardew Valley patch is out. This update is pretty beefy: there are new people to meet, goals, events, the ability to play split-screen local co-op, and a new Beach Farm. Even the lengthy patch notes don’t spoil everything, but it looks like virtual farmers have a lot to look forward to playing over the holidays
Dragon Ball FighterZ gets a smidge more Goku. Specifically, Bandai Namco and Arc System Works announced two more fighters coming to FighterZ Pass 3: Super Baby 2, which is Vegeta possessed by the being Baby in his ultimate state, and Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta, the fusion of Goku and Vegeta in their Super Saiyan 4 states. I won’t deny that Gogeta is cool as heck, but there has to be a limit to the Goku and Vegeta this thing can hold.
Cyberpunk 2077 has been delisted from the PlayStation Store. In case you were living in a different dimension, Cyberpunk 2077 has made a bit of history by being delisted from Sony’s digital storefront in response to its current state on PlayStation 4. The publisher has promised to deliver updates through Feb. 2021 meant to tune up the current-gen version of Cyberpunk 2077, but in the meantime, you can request a refund if you’d like.
There were a lot of big stories this year. For several hundred days spent largely inside and isolated, a lot of things happened, including protests over police brutality, waves of allegations and departures at Ubisoft, and the never-ending saga of Cyberpunk 2077’s troubled development and launch. Check out our year in recap here.
Axe of the Blood God for Dec. 21, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here.
The end of 2020 draws near! Command? Nadia and Kat look back on a turbulent year and consider everything that’s happened: game delays caused by COVID-19, Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition, the Cyberpunk 2020 goat rodeo, and so very much more. They also reflect upon the biggest RPGs of the year, from Final Fantasy 7 Remake to Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Listen here!