Most of you reading this will have encountered some sort of social restrictions over the past month or so due to the COVID-19 pandemic the world is currently experiencing. While security measures designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus vary on a per-country basis, necessary social restrictions and distancing are having a severe effect on people from nearly every walk of life.
The Nintendo Life team is incredibly fortunate to be able to work remotely with little disruption to our regular working life. The cancellation of certain events might mean having to reschedule or rethink certain features (our 'hands-off' demo of Sabotage's Sea of Stars, for example, owing to the cancellation of GDC), but digital distribution and communication means the majority of our reviews, features, interviews and the like are able to continue with little or no disruption.
We've seen disruption to the games industry already, and repercussions will likely become more evident as the year progresses as companies large and small are forced to delay projects. However, we were keen to find out the realities of the situation from a developer perspective, so we spoke to a handful of Switch developers from around the world to find out how coronavirus has changed their day-to-day over the past month or so, and find out how those changes will affect their projects going forward.
We spoke to: Studio Director and Co-Founder of Playtonic Games Gavin Price (Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair); Founder of SMG Studio Ashley Ringrose (Death Squared, Moving Out); Dotemu CEO Cyrille Imbert (Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, Streets of Rage 4) and Image & Form producer Petter Magnusson (SteamWorld series).
Nintendo Life: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your working day?
Gavin Price, Studio Director and Co-Founder Playtonic Games: Massively so and probably very similar to how people all over the globe are being affected. Mechanically, getting everyone in to a position to Work From Home was the simple part for us, we do allow staff to work from home already when it helps them with their work/life balance. However the extra steps required to communicate successfully, and critically for a game developer the ability to collaborate, is massively slowed down. Work can provide some temporary relief and focus away from the pandemic and working remotely we’ve learned how to communicate and express our ideas in new ways which is a small positive amidst these challenging times.
Ashley Ringrose, Founder SMG Studio: For me and many of the team who are parents we’re now dealing with the combination of work and home schooling/entertaining kids. Luckily we don’t have any huge deadlines, so can be much more flexible. So it’s a normal work day broken up by lots of parenting time. Moving Out is done and we’ve been working on polish and social content and minor fixes here and there. As a manager of people it’s going to be tough to keep everyone motivated in the long run.
SMG is in a good position and we’re doing some great work right now but I do miss the face to face interactions. I miss going to lunch with the team.
Cyrille Imbert, Dotemu CEO: As soon as we were alerted that the virus was more dangerous than initially thought, we decided to all leave the office. This was before the official lockdown. Since then, everybody (around 30 people) is working from home.
We’ve had lots of people working from home with the general strikes in December 2019 where public transport was gone [Ed. note: Dotemu is based in Paris], so we can say that we were all ready for it.
So our work seems to be generally unaffected by the situation so far. It’s just a bit weird but our team adapted very quickly.
Petter Magnusson, Producer Image & Form: We have implemented an encouraged but voluntary work-from-home-policy that most of us follow. Days at the office have been incredibly calm and focused for those that are still present, though.
What has been the biggest obstacle to getting work done on projects since you've been working from home?
Gavin Price: I think we’re missing the inability to spin up natural conversations about the subjective components of game development like we used to, “How does this feel to you?”, “What enemy would work well in this scenario”, “What animation best sells this type of move” etc… We’re having to pre-agree many more feature goals and principles up-front to help guide our ideas. I’d be lying if I wasn’t concerned about us missing some opportunistic brainstorming which has historically paid dividends in the past.
Ashley Ringrose: For me personally the slow internet. I’m running everything through my 4G on my phone as [I'm] staying in a new place and didn’t think it was an issue. Now with so many people at home [the network] is struggling. For others it’s the same thing. Keeping the kids entertained while also working.
I’d be lying if I wasn’t concerned about us missing some opportunistic brainstorming which has historically paid dividends
Cyrille Imbert: We did not see any particular obstacle. For me the only thing that I really miss is seeing the people in real life and having more human contact. I can really feel the isolation but thanks to Slack we really keep permanent contact with the whole team and everyone is super reactive.
Petter Magnusson: With many of us working from home there have been all kinds of practical issues with making sure everyone has headsets or equivalent equipment for voice com. Not everyone has a high end computer at home either and developing games tends to require some decent performance. All in all though I think that we have been managing quite well.
What tools/apps have you been using most to interact with the team?
Gavin Price: In the studio we have long used MS Teams to focus discussion and info-sharing on our games, disciplines, tasks and even ‘social chit-chat’ and that has continued as before.
Ashley Ringrose: We’re mainly on Slack, so this allows [Instant Messaging] between the team but also video calls and keeping the comms flowing.
Cyrille Imbert: Mainly Slack and Google Meet, along with the classic email.
Petter Magnusson: Our most trusted communications tool has been our usual Slack server. Both voice calls and screen sharing have been working well. We have had to complement Slack with some different tools though, such as Google Meet for meetings with more than 15 participants and Discord for more casual voice chats.
I have also been looking into Youtube streaming for higher quality private screen streaming. We would like to share footage of gameplay or video with the team but the regular screen sharing tools have a limited frame- and bitrate.
How long do you think the effects of the lockdown will impact your projects? Months? Years?
Gavin Price: It’s very hard to tell and predict; best case is ‘months’ and worst case is ‘years’ and we’ll be somewhere in-between, hopefully closer to the ‘best case’ end of the scale. It’s scary not knowing but when certain things are out of your control I always think it helps you focus on what is in your control.
Ashley Ringrose: We wont see much impact. We’re lucky to have all our projects under our own deadlines. RISK and No Way Home we can be flexible on deadlines (we’ve pushed a few internal ones back to relive pressure) and Moving Out is done. We just need to be careful we don’t set a large deadline for ourselves. As the internet can go down at someone’s house for a day and totally mess up a build process. So we need to stay fluid.
We’re also not pitching right now for funding / support and that might be affected in the future if it all has to be done remotely.
the internet can go down at someone’s house for a day and totally mess up a build process
Cyrille Imbert: There was no significant impact so far, so I hope it’ll stay that way.
Petter Magnusson: I feel confident that this affects us only for a few months. Hopefully our situation will be back to a more normal state in time for the summer. That said, the situation as it is right now will have consequences for our current projects also in the long term.
Given this pretty unique experience, do you think your team/company would be better prepared for similar lockdown situations in the future? If so, how?
Gavin Price: Absolutely we’ll be better prepared, just the experience and knowledge of knowing ‘we can do this’ like any life-lesson better prepares you mentally in future
Ashley Ringrose: We had quite a few work from home regularly once or twice a week (for family reasons) so we were able to move to home “easily”. So I feel we’re good for now while we’re rolling on existing projects. It might be more of a struggle if we start working on a new game though. And we’re still at week 5 - or is it 6? - working from home. The vibe is good but who knows what week 15, 30, 50 (!?) would feel like. I think coming to the office and seeing people’s faces will be a welcomed reprieve from being at home 24/7. [smiles]
There are good chances that this situation will happen again in the future, on a regular basis
Cyrille Imbert: I’m actually currently setting up a full HR operation, with internal and external resources, to gather feedback from each member of the team on their work experience during the lockdown. The goal is to draw conclusions from those experiences, and setup an action plan to make working during lockdown more efficient and pleasant for everyone. We should get the results in two weeks.
There are good chances that this situation will happen again in the future, on a regular basis. I really hope it won’t but we prefer to be prepared, anticipate and actually learn from our own experience to make it easier to live.
Petter Magnusson: We are constantly learning how to adapt our process to work well with a distributed team. All that experience is valuable both for situations such as this one but also to improve our normal process.
Is there anything that has particularly surprised you about the situation (from a work perspective) – positive or negative?
Gavin Price: How we communicate has become 1000% more thoughtful. I just made that number up obviously but it’s really improved our communication skills and ability to analyse and focus on key information rather than doing so noisily as before. There’s also a sense of “we’re in this together” with the rest of the world, inside and outside of our industry. So many positive stories and acts of kindness have emerged and can provide much-needed inspiration to take a deep breath and know that no matter what you’re capable of, even if it is just staying home, you can contribute to helping beat this pandemic and save lives… literally save lives…
So many positive stories and acts of kindness have emerged and can provide much-needed inspiration
Ashley Ringrose: We had one staff member take his first Uber to the office to pick up equipment and I was like it’s 2020!! How have you NOT taken an uber before? I also wanted that referral credit too! We also got a really nice green wall and plants in the office! And without the AC on all the time the hot weather the plants are doing really well!! [laughs]
Cyrille Imbert: I really appreciate that we did not see any significant impact on our work. I’m surprised that this is working so well naturally, without any particular direction on how to handle this. There is always room for improvement so we’ll work on that, but I’m super proud of the team's ability to adapt.
Petter Magnusson: I am surprised at how well everyone has adapted, almost overnight, to working remotely. Although far from perfect, our projects also run surprisingly well.
Looking over those responses, it seems that the effect of lockdown really depends on team size and where in the project cycle a team happens to be. Small to mid-size teams are naturally more agile and may already have work-from-home schemes in place. Communication between a couple of dozen people who usually work under one roof will naturally be easier to coordinate, even if work progress is slowed by the added inconvenience.
It's arguably larger companies like Ubisoft, with development teams spread around the globe and unwieldy internal procedures and security systems in place, that will encounter the most difficulties. The idea that game devs will be largely unaffected feels fanciful and overly optimistic when the process of bringing a game to market involves so many factors and processes. The digital world enables developers to keep up-and-running to a certain extent, but not everything can be done sitting at home on a laptop with decent Wi-Fi, especially if the next step in the process relies on outside companies.
Throw in the added pressures of confinement, childcare and home schooling, and concern over the situation (whether at personal or global levels), and it's heartening that the people we spoke to our coping as well as they are. We hope this continues, and that developers in less fortunate positions are able to weather the weeks and months ahead.
If nothing else, there's perhaps one takeaway above all others from our interviewees: Thank goodness for Slack.
Our thanks to Gavin, Ashley, Cyrille and Petter for their time. How do you think other developers and gaming companies will cope with the continuing global situation? Are there games you are looking forward which you expect to be affected? Let us know your thoughts below and, above all, stay safe everyone.
I am imagining everyone in game development just walking around touching each other's faces rather than handshakes when this is all over. And that image is amusing.
Well hopefully they develop for Sony as well as they have set aside I think it was $10m (or $100m) for indies suffering during this situation.
Would be nice if Nintendo did similar but I doubt they would knowing them...
Edit - also Sony are giving uncharted collection and journey to all players in case you weren’t aware. Can download both free at the moment...
Slack’s really useful for sure. I had a few group assignments where GitLab and Messenger were more than enough but for larger projects, Slack’s a great choice. It kinda made me realise that while things like Scrum meetings are probably better in person, it’s relatively achievable from home too.
@Scollurio Oh dear oh dear, how’s life under that tinfoil hat?
@Scollurio This is one of the most ignorant comments on this site. Please, please do your research.
@Scollurio It already has.
@Scollurio The "Subject" is that people's personal and professional lives are being negatively impacted, not to make you worried/convinced of anything.
Frankly, I find it amusing that you haven't had enough of the "Subject" to bother commenting. Although, I'm quite sure that you meant that you've had enough when it comes to listening to the experiences of other people.
Lastly, if you are not worried by now then I doubt that any future update will "wake you up".
Please delete your comment.
@TheDanslator - I find your avatar and the context of your response amusing. Just an observation.
@TheDanslator actually it hasn’t. The WHO estimate between 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year from flu...
@datamonkey To my knowledge, it hasn't been a full year yet...
@Paraka No panic. Just facts. I feel like Ford Prefect would be OK with my disposition.
@the4seer yes that’s right. I was pointing out the total which was claimed to have already surpassed the flu’s.
@datamonkey The CDC estimated between 30-60k in the U.S this past flu season. That season is over. COVID 19 deaths stand around 40k today, and this is just the beginning - come find me in another six months after the actual death surge has occurred.
Not to mention, it's a disingenuous comparison. We understand the flu and how it spreads, and can prevent and treat it to degrees that we absolutely cannot with the novel Coronavirus. It's apples to oranges, and dismissing this as a non issue will get even more people killed than already have been.
@TheDanslator - I just think it was well timed.
"Don't panic, but we surpassed flu deaths."
@datamonkey Understood, and I appreciate the actual numbers.
Not to split hairs with you, but I don't think that anyone was claiming that COVID-19 had already surpassed the Flu death toll for this year.
The original comment was to "wake him up" when the death toll comes "somewhat close...". Obviously, I took issue with that statement. I found it to be very thoughtless and attention seeking.
That being said, I think that the number of reported cases and deaths is already significant enough to be taken seriously.
@TheDanslator yes I don’t debate any of that, was just pointing out flu numbers...
@the4seer agreed. Stay safe!
@Scollurio Tell that to the thousands who have died or lost family members. Glad you're so comfortable in your bored little life that you're "tired of it". I'm a nurse and have to deal with this every day despite also being a huge gamer. How incredibly selfish can you be? Talk about privileged. Do you work? Or are you a teen who is stuck at home and has nothing going on in their life? 26 million people are unemployed from this as well and you're "bored of it".
A nice game of Streets of a Rage 4 is just what I need after extended AC play. That’s one way to keep me flattening the curve.
@Scollurio The flu usually kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people each year. The fact that, by April, there are 170,000 coronavirus deaths worldwide after we've shut down the entire planet to stop it should be enough to make you concerned.
Why is everyone feeding the troll? LOL
@datamonkey Too many people are debating it unfortunately, so apologies if I sounded a little hostile.
@ivory_soul @Aaron09 @the4seer @TheDanslator @LetsGoSwitch @nessisonett You people need to manage your hatred and manners and step away from personal insults. I AM worried about Corona, probably more so than most of you, I just can't hear the narrative anymore. And yes, I've DONE my research, plenty of it - have you?. I won't go into a detailled discussion of opinion or politics on a gaming website. I want my gaming free of politics and the real life worries - otherwise what's the point. But just for clarification, I'm selfemployed since 10+ years, running a small business (thus being affected). Killing the economy also kills people and probably more than the Virus itself. Where I live (and that's the situation I can judge because I know how it's like) we have like 420 deaths, 90% of them over the age of 80 and/or with severe pre-existing conditions. Tested with PCR method, which has a range of anywhere between 50 and 80 % of false positives (read it up). Not wanting to sound ignorant at all, but vulnerable people have been dying for years of any kind of infection and the world didn't care. The flu killed 650.000 people in 2017. No lockdowns. No one cared. On a normal day about 230 people die in MY country. Normal mortality, all combined. So after 3 MONTHS (90 days) of Corona we have 420 deaths (with a variance of 50-80%). That's at max two days worth of normal mortality. But we also have +52% (!!!) unemployment rate within the first WEEK and hundreds of businesses shutting down. Also all non Covid related operations and treatments have been postponed in all hospitals to make room for the flood of Covid patients - that never came. The number of people having died because of the disruption in normal proceedings is estimated (no official numbers available yet) to be 5 times the number of alleged corona deaths. So yes I've done my research and I acknowledge that things are different in each and every country. Chances are that YOU personally, and even your relatives will survive Corona just fine, but will you have a Job to feed your family? That said, I hope that you have the ability to return to politeness, even if you read a provocative comment you don't agree with. EDIT: If it's still not clear, I'm not ignorant of the problem, quite the contrary. Also, if you look it up, the FLU numbers for this season are extraordinarily low. Off the top of my head I can say for Germany it was like 25.000 deaths last year, this year 400-something. Such a massive discrepancy makes you wonder, if they just shifted from the Influenza statistic to the Corona statistics. Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and Sweden seem to handle it all a lot better, even economically.
Thank goodness for Slack indeed! We used it at work even before all this, and it's our main communication channel right now. We do use Zoom for actual meetings, so we at least get to "see" everyone. Our environment is pretty casual for the most part. How some have appeared for Freaky Fridays gets pretty interesting sometimes. XD
...I may or may not have worn a Jack Skellington lounge outfit one Friday....
@Scollurio Question for you and your amazing insightful knowlege about the flood patients who never came:
What is the number of acceptable losses? How many do we allow to sicken and how many do we allow to die?
And if the numbers are wrong (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/)
1. What are the real numbers and what is your source?
2. What do people have to gain from faking this and destroying the economy?
3. Who is doing this and if they have so much power to do this already, what is their goal?
@Scollurio You still manage to round up your statistics to bolster your point of view. If you're going to throw numbers around, put down the actual data and ranges. Your number is the high range as they can't guarantee that number.
"A 2017 study indicated a substantially higher mortality burden, at 290,000–650,000 influenza-associated deaths from respiratory causes alone."
Right now, we're at 169,986 deaths from COVID-19. At this pace, if we continue this course, we'll be at least 500,000 guarantee deaths by the end of the year. The difference between the flu and COVID-19. COVID-19 is MORE CONTIGUOUS than the flu. How dare look at this as a lesser of both evils. These people that have pre-existing conditions or people that might not be so lucky with this virus DESERVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE. We can rebuild and fix the economy. We cannot fix lives.
If there is one thing I'm seeing with this virus, it's exposing all the ignorant and selfish people in the world that don't care about others than themselves.
@Scollurio Truthfully, My Friend...
The article is about people making sacrifices to continue to do their Jobs. You were the first person to even mention the Flu.
We can simply Agree to Disagree, on the Politics of quarantine... Ok?
Also, I don't think that you're at all qualified to preach to anyone here about manners. Your original comment was completely unprovoked and very insensitive.
Well. There possibly goes more BOTW 2 and other big game news this E3 since these are probably too small for a normal Nintendo Direct without any demonstrations.
That actually got me thinking, if Nintendo does go with their own studio-type E3 presentation at their office, (again, this is probably not going to happen sadly) how will they be demonstrating upcoming games?
Gavin price sounds like a true stoic! I'm loving his work, I just cant get enough of Yooka Laylee. Best of luck to all the developers out there during these tough times.
@HeavyArms55 @acosmo Again I stated my opinion on the matter and my original statement was never meant to disregard human life in any way or form. I just don’t want to read headlines anymore about stars, companies, etc. - especially if they are „non essential“ just so they get some publicity out of it. This is my personal opinion and you are free to disagree. As for the numbers - as I said - all the numbers are not reliable because the test method is not reliable. Simple. In a year from now we will see how this measures up to years in the past. Also the assumption that sacrificing millions of jobs would save lives is just plain wrong. Jobs are needed to keep people alive. I’m not weighing the lives of people against economy in the sense of „let granny die so I can have my Audi and two vacations a year“ - but in a sense of „who will be able to feed their family“. If you think this can be repaired easily, you have no clue about economics. Read up Great Depression of 1929. This will be worse. Also, those lecturing me about ignorance, do you even think about countries less well off? 14.000 children die from hunger each day and did so for years. Who cares? Not many. Now imagine what the collapse of the economy will not only do to your own country but to developing ones, those who rely on external help and aid. If you’re fine with measuring your estimated 500.000 dead sick and old people of western countries up to MILLIONS of people facing unemployment, depression, suicide or even starvation in developing countries, well then you should re-evaluate ignorance. Just my opinion. If you see it differently, fine. This is not about being right or wrong. Only about free opinion and being a decent human being. The world doesn’t end at the border of your country or for some at the edge of your plate.
At the end of the day, people don't care about your opinion.They only care if you challenge their’s!
The best example lockdown is needed is the USA.They have only 4.25% of the world population y set Iver 25% of coronavirus related deaths, im sure after all the protest they will be much worse off now as well.
You mention how countries are doing better like Japan, but they are also in lockdown and without protest I might add. Ok Swedens a exception to the rule, but their citizens are also respectful and many are self isolation (referencing image&form in this article). You could also look at New Zealand, Day 2 lockdown.zero death and now zero cases!
Either way to have your conversation you need to be on a conspiracy site. They will happily discuss the connections of 5G and coronavirus with you as well.
@Mince Unfortunately I can't seem to make myself clear. I'm not saying lockdowns are not needed. I'm saying that the whole way this situation has been evaluated, tested for and dealth with is chaotic at best. I also said that countries are different. You can't throw (like our media does) northern Italy, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Ecuador and the USA into one pot and only focus on the worst examples, when these countries are vastly different not only in culture, but also in the quality of their health-care system. Also I mentioned countries like South Korea and Vietnam because they HAD lockdowns, quick, hard and short. With whatever Europe is doing we're just moving the goalpost to reach herd immunity.
You'r referring me toa conspiracy site because I'm quoting the official numbers of my country and stating facts about the PCR test? Wow, that went down south quickly. God forbid one take a thought or two for themselves.
But yes, I give up. As long as you can have your games, everything seems to be fine, the crisis will blow over and that's that. Maybe I can't communicate my thoughts as well, because my native language is not english. Anyways, take care.
Lol @ that slack screenshot containing an office space reference
@SortingHat Can I borrow your tin foil hat?
@Heavyarms55 Well I wouldn't be so quick borrowing tin foil hats. In my country it states on the official gov website that everyone who was tested positive for Corona within 4 weeks of their death, will be counted towards Corona deaths, even if they did die from something completely different. That's not a conspiracy. But it will balloon the numbers. Also stated on the manufacturers website of the PCR test kits used in my country it clearly says that the test should not be used a sole measure to make a diagnosis, mass testing people with no symptoms will produce false positives and it cannot not for sure discern between all the different strands (I think there is 7 main ones) of sars-cov/sars-cov2 and influenza. Makes you wonder.
That said it might be worthwile to investigate those circumstances on the official pages of your own country and make up your mind.
@Scollurio I have spent a lot of time reading about it. And that's why I made the tin foil hat comment. No patience left for the crazy conspiracy theories.
@Heavyarms55 if you indeed DID make up your opinion on your own then it’s all one can ask for!
@SortingHat I've read about it. Where I come from we have our own crapcake to eat, but this takes the crown. It was even reported in mainstream media over here.
@SortingHat This is an old conversation, so I might miss something. Just about the whole situation globally, just look at the different states in the US, many of them doing completely away with mask mandates or never had them and they don't have worse numbers than their locked down neighbour states. Look at Sweden in Europe. Look at Africa. In the coming weeks and months more and more reports will hit mainstream that the harsh measures didn't do any good, that the psychological effect on the elderly and especially kids was devastating, that we will have a deep recession and inflation will come to haunt us all.
When you compare absolute death numbers beteween countries and previous years it's really easy to figure out that the impact of the virus itself was largely overblown for political reasons.
THAT said my heart goes out to everyone who suffered directly from illness and their relatives, as well as everyone that still will be affected harshly by this mess in the coming years.
Just in this year over 5 Million people died from hunger, mostly children. And no one cares. Just saying.
But this political discussion doesn't belong here, really. Also I stopped trying to talk sense with people. To each their own. Challenging opinions these days will upset all the wrong people for the right reasons.
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