Plague Inc., a strategy game once popular in 2012, rebounded to number one in the paid apps section of the Apple App Store in China in January 2020. There is neither a new DLC nor any update — rather it’s the outbreak of COVID-19, the coronavirus, that put Plague Inc. in the spotlight.

Plague Inc.: a limbo between game and reality

Plague Inc. is a game putting players on the opposite side of all human beings. What you need to do is to control a pathogen to infect and kill all human beings before they find a cure.

Players soon found similarities between the real world and the game. For example, there are guesses that the origin of the coronavirus is related to wild animals, while “Extreme Zoonosis” is one of the strongest transmission strategies in Plague Inc.; Several countries, including the United States, have suspended the flights to China and restricted the visitors who have been to China in the past 14 days, while countries might shut down airports and seaports to prevent the spread of pathogen in Plague Inc.

In late January, the developer Ndemic Creations made a statement on the current coronavirus outbreak: “Please remember that Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people.”

“I always choose ‘casual mode’ when I play the game, but I hope it to be ‘brutal mode’ in reality.” Steam user ‘marinels’ commented under Plague Inc.

Mobile and mini-games: popular ways to kill time

People in China have been ordered to stay at home by the local governments to help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the Spring Festival, generally a 7–day holiday but extended to 14 days this year. Social media, short videos, and games are top trends of entertainment in this abnormal time.

According to QuestMobile, the two most popular mobile games in China, Honor of Kings and Game for Peace (PUBG Mobile), enjoyed a 30% increase in their user scales during the 2020 Chinese Spring Festival, compared with the Spring Festival in 2019. The average daily time spent on Honor of Kings has increased by 75% over the same period.

Besides mobile game apps, the mini-games built on WeChat platforms also bloomed during the 2020 Spring Festival. The number of daily active users (DAU) of traditional poker card game “Happy Landlord (欢乐斗地主)” and puzzle game “I’m Not An Idiot (我不是猪头)” have reached 13.7 million and 12.3 million relatively. These mini-games do not require downloads and allow users to share and play games together with friends easily via social media platforms.

Gaming hardware companies: struggling in ‘brutal mode’

At the same time, the gaming hardware companies are playing in ‘brutal mode’ right now.

Nintendo is one of the companies that are suffering most in the coronavirus outbreak. On Feb 5, Nintendo posted a statement that the production and shipping of Animal Crossing–themed Switch and the fitness game with accessories, Ring Fit Adventure, would be delayed due to the coronavirus. Although Nintendo has moved part of its product line to Vietnam due to the U.S.–China trade war, the Japanese version of Switch and all versions of Ring Fit Adventure are still manufactured by suppliers in China.

Ring Fit Adventure is currently out of stock on Amazon. The lowest price from third-party sellers is $143.99, which is 85% higher than its suggested retail price of $79.99. Its price even doubled in Japan, where Ring Fit Adventure was so popular and had already been suffering from shortages before the outbreak of the virus.

There is a Ring Fit Adventure joke that originated in Chinese social media group chats that goes like: “If you purchased a Ring Fit Adventure in October, sell it now and it would be the most profitable investment you’ve made in 2019.”

Ring Fit Adventure priced doubled on Amazon due to shortage
Ring Fit Adventure priced doubled on Amazon due to shortage

Two other game console giants, Sony and Microsoft, also have their console and accessories manufacturers in China. Both companies planned to release the next-gen consoles in the holiday season this year, however, they are now under serious doubt whether the consoles can come out in 2020. Gamers have been expecting for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X for years, and it seems like they might have to be a bit more patient at this point.

Game events: canceled or postponed due to concerns

Esports events and games shows are also impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Concerning the safety and health of players and fans, Blizzard has canceled its February and March Overwatch League matches in China and South Korea. The League of Legends Pro League also decided to postpone its Week 2 competitions. SNK also announced that the SNK World Championship Japan Tour Final and the SNK World Championship Grand Final will be postponed until further notice.

The game exhibition, PAX East, is kicking off from Feb 27 to Mar 1 in Boston, MA. However, Sony has pulled their attendance from this event, where they planned to give a hands-on demo of the highly anticipated game The Last of Us II. Square Enix also announced the cancellation of its Final Fantasy 14–related booths and events at PAX East.

Furthermore, multiple game companies are withdrawing from the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco in March 2020, citing the concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The companies include Sony, Facebook Games, Oculus, Kojima Productions, Electronic Arts, and Unity.

The China-based exhibitors and attendees may not be able to show up at GDC 2020 due to the U.S. travel and safety restrictions. The exhibitors may have to push their participation to 2021 or send their North American personnel to staff their booths. According to GDC 2020 officials, there are around 10 out of 550 companies hosted at GDC around 2% of the total GDC attendees from China.

As of today, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 82,000 people and causing over 2,800 deaths around the world.