Over the previous a number of months, it’s been well-documented how game builders shortly shifted to distant work amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

And whereas working from residence isn’t with out its personal share of challenges, it’s a minimum of helped be sure that game makers can proceed their craft in a secure method. Meanwhile, the industry has benefited from large spikes in game gross sales and exercise in ongoing multiplayer titles.

Tackling rising COVID-19 instances amongst youth

But what about the individuals who really play these video games? How have they been dealing with the pandemic?

That’s precisely what the #CrushCOVID marketing campaign goals to handle. Conceived by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) — the lobbying group for the nation’s gaming industry — and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), #CrushCOVID is designed to advertise COVID-19 well being and security amongst avid gamers aged 13 to 29.

That’s a essential demographic to focus on, notes the ESAC, since greater than 90 % of teenagers play video games, on prime of 65 % of individuals usually collaborating in the pastime. All the whereas, teenagers aged 13 to 19 and younger adults aged 20 to 29 years accounted for 38 % of reported instances of COVID-19 in Canada over the previous month or extra, in accordance with the PHAC.

Given the rising variety of instances amongst youth, the ESAC has been fascinated about methods to focus on these demographics particularly by way of one thing they love: video video games.

Jason Hilchie talking at the 2019 Montreal International Games Summit (Image credit score: MIGS)

“We realized after about a month-and-a-half that the industry was actually doing quite well — it really did find a place with so many people over the pandemic as a place to connect with friends, to enjoy some time with your kids or your family, and to just kind of zone out and forget about all the negative news that was out there,” Jayson Hilchie, president and CEO of the ESAC, tells MobileSyrup of what led to the preliminary conception of the marketing campaign.

“And so once we figured out that the industry was doing well, it was all about, ‘how do we take this and do something positive with it, that can make a difference?’ From a digital perspective, how do we use this position we’re in — which is really at the centre of this cultural zeitgeist — and use it for the betterment of the situation?”

Over the course of a number of weeks, the ESAC and lots of of its member studios — which incorporates the likes of Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, Activision, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts — will promote varied finest practices pertaining to COVID-19 throughout social media — each on their social channels and usually feeds by way of promoted posts. The marketing campaign’s first video, titled ‘Wear a Mask,’ exhibits a younger man placing on a masks whereas — to make use of some video game vernacular — likening this motion to “equipping [his] best armour in real life.” Future materials will deal with the significance of bodily distancing, hand washing and staying residence whereas sick.

To develop #CrushCOVID, Hilchie says the ESAC and PHAC gave its members early entry to the marketing campaign and invited them to take a seat in on brainstorming calls to assist with any iterations. “We really needed to make sure that this was going to be good for everybody — that it was going to be something that the industry could get behind,” he says.

Coming collectively to #CrushCOVID

And to this point, lots of the ESAC’s members have additionally been serving to to unfold the message, together with Victoria, B.C.-based Codename Entertainment (Idle Champions), Eidos Montreal (Marvel’s Avengers) and Xbox Canada.

Overall, these sign boosts have come from throughout Canada, particularly with French publishing large Ubisoft, which has leveraged its large multi-studio Canadian workforce — together with its Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg groups — to advertise #CrushCOVID on their respective Twitter channels.

“Ubisoft is proud to support the #CrushCOVID campaign led by its industry association, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada by promoting this important initiative through its Canadian studios social channels,” Francis Baillet, vice chairman of company affairs for Ubisoft, mentioned in a press release to MobileSyrup. “This campaign is a great opportunity to reach young Canadians with messages on public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Square Enix Montreal (the Go collection) has additionally promoted #CrushCOVID in each English and French (through which it’s referred to as ‘#ÉcrasonsLaCOVID’), with an organization spokesperson telling MobileSyrup that whereas it wasn’t particularly concerned in the improvement of the marketing campaign, it was “happy to amplify” the message on social media and “wholeheartedly salute[s]” the initiative.

Even largely American studios have used their Canadian presence to assist out, corresponding to Certain Affinity, the Austin, Texas-based developer of iconic Halo 2 maps that opened a Toronto workplace final yr.

Certain Affinity Toronto

Certain Affinity’s Toronto workplace (Image credit score: Toronto Global)

Speaking to MobileSyrup, Mojdeh Gharbi, co-owner of Certain Affinity, mentioned the firm was concerned at varied phases in the improvement of the marketing campaign to supply help and enter. According to Gharbi, the marketing campaign’s present rollout additionally comes at a very good time, provided that Sony and Microsoft’s respective next-gen consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, are launching in November.

“With new consoles and games coming out this fall and winter, the amount of social interaction and online searching for games and general gaming topics will only increase, and to have this campaign out there should help to educate and remind the gaming community and their networks about how to stay safe,” mentioned Gharbi. “By providing an easy-to-understand example of how to #CrushCOVID, it’ll hopefully make it fun and shareable, as gamers won’t be sharing a random PSA, but one that’s more engaging with subjects they care about.”

As it stands, the marketing campaign solely consists of promotional materials to be shared throughout social media, however Hilchie goals to ultimately have it prolong to in-game initiatives as nicely. Recently, the CBC labored with a pupil to develop an in-game world in Minecraft that performed host to a livestream whereby tweens may have their COVID-19 associated questions answered by a health care provider. And earlier in the yr, American developer Epic Games ran an occasion in Fortnite to show gamers about systemic racism. Ultimately, Hilchie is hoping to do one thing related with #CrushCOVID.

“I think we’re challenged with the geotagging with the larger games that are all over the world. Obviously, this message is a very Canadian-centric message, and so it’s challenging for some companies to simply put it [in-game] for their Canadian players to see it,” he famous. “We’re working with a few companies that have expressed interest in putting some form of this in their games. We just aren’t there yet […] but we’re optimistic.”

While Certain Affinity doesn’t at present promote #CrushCOVID in any of the video games it’s engaged on (like 343 Industries’ Halo Infinite), Gharbi famous that builders can nonetheless present help in different methods, citing Certain Affinity’s personal initiatives like buying reward playing cards from native companies in Toronto and supporting worker donations to ​Feed the Frontlines​. She additionally pointed to what Activision has completed with the advertising of Canadian co-developed Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time — which featured someone wearing a Crash outfit sporting a face masks — as “a great recent example” of utilizing a preferred gaming character to assist talk the significance of facial coverings.

St. John’s-based Other Ocean not too long ago did one thing related with its Project Winter survival game, the place it tweeted about the #CrushCOVID marketing campaign however made it extra distinctive by displaying characters from its game sporting masks.

Looking forward in unsure instances

While it stays to be seen how #CrushCOVID is likely to be expanded into video video games themselves, it’s clear that Canadian builders received’t have any hassle protecting busy. In truth, many are at present exhausting at work on a wide range of upcoming high-profile titles, together with Watch Dogs: Legion and Far Cry 6 from Ubisoft Toronto (releasing on October twenty ninth, 2020 and February 18th, 2021, respectively), Assassin’s Creed Valhalla from Ubisoft Montreal (launching on November tenth), Ubisoft Quebec’s Immortals: Fenyx Rising (dropping December third) and Gotham Knights from Warner Bros. Montreal (TBA 2021).

The ESAC, in the meantime, will proceed to work with its companions to seek out new methods to make use of video games to advertise COVID-19 well being and security, notes Hilchie. At the identical time, he calls on the authorities to help Canada’s gaming industry — the third-largest producer of video games in the world, and a contributor of $4.5 billion to the nation’s GDP — to allow them to proceed their work on video games, #CrushCOVID and extra.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is considered one of the largest Canadian-made video games that’s been in improvement throughout the pandemic (Image credit score: Ubisoft)

“Our concern with the ongoing remote work is what does that actually mean for people that are hired? Can they work on a team that a Canadian game is making, but be somewhere else?” posed Hilchie. “I think for our industry, where we receive tax incentives for job creation, unlike some other tech industries, our companies don’t actually get those tax incentives without those people physically residing in Canada. I am a little bit leery about what that means —  the risk of hollowing out our knowledge economy.”

While he notes that this can finally “still need to be figured out,” he says he hopes that usually, the authorities continues to contemplate the significance of the Canadian gaming industry.

“If I can make one recommendation with respect to what government needs to do, it’s really to focus on those industries that, if they’re not ‘COVID-proof,’ they’re COVID-resistant, [and] are digital-first and they connect people,” mentioned Hilchie.

“When the government looks at building back, I really do hope that they look at the video game industry as an industry to focus on, because the Canadian video game industry is a world leader. There are only so many industries in Canada that we lead the world in, and video games are one of them. So I’d like the government really to take the video game industry seriously, as it looks back at its ‘Build Back Better’ initiatives and policies.”