Indications are that video game usage is on the rise. The medium is uniquely built for our current stay-at-home lifestyle aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, providing not just narratives to explore from our couches but ways to socialize while doing so.
Shortly after orders to shelter in place began to go into effect in mid-March, tech firm Verizon reported a near-immediate uptick in game playing, while computing platform Steam is setting new concurrent user records practically daily. And Nintendo’s home console the Switch is in high-demand and short-supply, as the company’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” has been a social media darling since its March 20 release.
In turn, it may not be a bad time to premiere a general-interest game-focused news show.
Quibi, the new mobile streaming platform launching today with bold ideas on how we watch, where we watch and for how long, is no doubt hoping time is on its side with “Speedrun by Polygon.” Five- to seven-minute episodes, hosted by gaming personality Jimmy Mondal, will drop daily on the platform.
The “Speedrun” premiere is expected to focus on games that can simulate the experience of being outside and in nature, a topic chosen once it became clear that many of us would be at home until further notice because of the coronavirus outbreak. The subject will inform other episodes this week, including one focused on how the pandemic is affecting the games industry. Last week Sony announced that the “The Last of Us Part 2,” arguably the most anticipated game of 2020, would be delayed indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns.
While Mondal is known best among the esports community, having hosted multiple programs and events in the space, “Speedrun” will aim to cast a wide net. Vox Media site Polygon rose to prominence by inter-mixing deep video game coverage — the site has, for instance, published dozens of stories over the last month related to “Animal Crossing” — with thoughtful explorations at the culture surrounding play. Polygon has recently looked at subjects as diverse Indigenous representation in games to the evolution of Disneyland, long a real-life gaming platform.
“Speedrun,” likewise, will aim to be welcoming to the uninitiated — those who may turned off by the insider-like quality of genre news sites or YouTube personalities that currently dominate the online gaming arena. The challenge is to speak simultaneously to an audience that’s likely usually online and plugged into recent developments.
Like Quibi itself “Speedrun” is something of an experiment. Quibi will put video games alongside daily news programs from the likes of CBS, NBC, ESPN and TMZ, an indication that games are no niche player. The question is whether the sporadic coverage of video games in the mainstream media an indication that the medium is underserved or that its core audience is happy with the content it has.
“Speedrun” is a bet on the former.
“We’re not SportsCenter for esports,” says Chad Mumm, Vox Media Studios’ senior vice president and head of entertainment. Munn likens “Speedrun” to “The Daily,” the popular news podcast from the New York Times, saying the goal is to create approachable journalism whether someone’s game of choice is goofy mobile title “What the Golf?” or “Call of Duty,” and to illustrate the connection between games and culture at large.
“Our high culture is comic books these days,” says Mumm, referring to the recent HBO success “Watchmen.” “There’s a lot of overlap with the gaming world and that audience, and that’s a vast audience.”