What did 2021 mean for the games industry?

A cold financial calculation games would characterize this year as a massive success, but it was much more than just numbers.

People had nowhere else to go, so they headed into virtual worlds and stayed there. When Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out in March, just as the pandemic lockdowns began in the United States, the game didn’t just feel like a luxury.  It met a need. Nintendo sold more than 13.4 million copies in the first six weeks after New Horizons’ release.

People who may not have owned a console in the past began to purchase them. Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser told Polygon in a recent interview that “more women gamers [came] into Nintendo Switch platforms, women that had not owned a Nintendo Switch platform in the past” during 2020. When large swaths of the world faced an unprecedented virus spreading, they were forced to spend more time at home.

The human impact of video games was also clear this year. These virtual worlds became essential spaces for people to connect or express themselves in ways they might not have otherwise. The industry’s growth was unprecedented during this time a cold financial calculation would characterize this as a massive success. But the people making video games have been facing the same global crisis as the rest of us. It wasn’t always easy game for them.

Video game studios operated under very different working conditions, with companies around the world transitioning to work-from-home. The impact of 2020’s events on the industry also meant delays of high-profile projects, like CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 or Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 2, both of which were also reportedly made under crunch conditions. Meanwhile, other studios reportedly rejected this style of development, such as the team on Supergiant Games’ Hades.