It’s No Wonder Why Devs Are Worried For The Gaming Industry’s Future

2023 was the worst year for the gaming industry ... yet.

Story Highlights

  • The GDC’s survey showcases all the concerns game developers have with the industry.
  • The survey covers everything from AI, layoffs, and unionization to even studio acquisitions.
  • Many hope for a better industry in 2024 through concerted efforts from members and

The Game Devs Conference (GDC) recently unveiled its annual State of the Game Industry survey, offering a comprehensive look into the concerns and sentiments of over 3,000 game devs. And, you might have already guessed it, many devs don’t like the way the industry is moving.

Addressing topics such as the proper use of AI, concerns about the ongoing trend of layoffs plaguing studios big and small, calls for unionization, and concerns about major acquisitions, the report paints a pretty grim picture of the gaming industry. A single read for yourself, and you’ll see why that is too.

The Ethical Dilemma Of Generative AI

Generative AI emerged prominently in 2023, with nearly half of the survey respondents reporting its use in their game development processes. Almost half of devs (49%) use or are interested in AI tools in their jobs. Business and finance professionals lead in the adoption of generative AI, with 44% utilizing these tools.  

However, roles such as art (6%), narrative/writing (13%), and audio (14%) show lower adoption rates. Despite the potential benefits though, a staggering 84% express concerns. Worries range from potential job losses to heightened risks of copyright infringement. AI toolmakers using data without creators’ consent is also a concern.

I think completely replacing someone’s job is a genuine concern. It should be used to enhance capabilities, not reduce the workforce.” – Anonymous Respondent

The Engine Choice Dilemma

A significant revelation from the survey revolves around devs’ game engine choices, shedding light on the industry’s reliance on Unity and Unreal Engine. 33% percent of respondents use either of these engines, but recent events, particularly Unity’s runtime fee policy, have triggered a wave of discontent.

One-third of devs have considered or already made the switch to alternative engines like Godot, driven by concerns over business practices and shareholder whims. One respondent even contemplated making their own game engine to escape the shadows of questionable practices.

Many Devs Are Making The Switch Over To GODOT
Many Devs Are Making The Switch Over To GODOT

Layoffs And The Post-Pandemic Landscape

With an estimated 10,000+ jobs lost just last year, the specter of layoffs still looms large over the industry. Over one-third of survey respondents report being personally impacted or witnessing layoffs at their companies. The survey was conducted in September 2023, coinciding with Epic Games’ announcement of over 800 layoffs.

This was then followed by similar events at Unity, Embracer Group studios, and Bungie. The trend isn’t stopping anytime soon either, with many studios still facing layoffs. The prevailing sentiment among devs is that layoffs are a consequence of the industry’s “post-pandemic course correction.”

The industry finds itself at a crossroads, adjusting to pre-pandemic spending levels amid economic challenges. Despite the turbulence, Dom Tait, research director at Omdia, GDC’s research partner, anticipates steady growth until 2027, providing a more stable outlook for future employment levels.

Concerns Over Potential Future Layoffs Among Industry Members
Concerns Over Potential Future Layoffs Among Industry Members

A Growing Call For Unionization

The call for unionization within the video game industry grows louder, with 57% of respondents expressing support. It’s an increase from the 53% of the previous year. Narrative designers emerge as strong advocates for unions, while those in business and finance exhibit the least enthusiasm.

There’s been a slight increase in the percentage of devs working an average of 40 hours a week or less. While this might suggest a positive trend toward work-life balance, the industry still grapples with the notorious practice of “crunch”. It’s basically when devs are forced into days or even months of forced overtime to meet deadlines.

Age also played a major factor. Younger workers, particularly those aged 18-24, displayed higher support for unionization with 72% in favor. Still, opposing voices express concerns about forced participation into union activities and its potential impact on employer-employee relationships.

The Percentage Of People Supporting Unionization In Each Age Group
The Percentage Of People Supporting Unionization In Each Age Group

The Eroding Optimism In Acquisitions

In 2023, the first-year devs were asked about their thoughts on industry consolidation, and 17% expressed optimism, believing that major acquisitions could have a positive impact on the gaming industry. Fast forward to 2024, and that optimism has dwindled significantly, with only 5% sharing a positive outlook.

The shift is understandable, given all the layoffs the industry experienced last year. This has left devs questioning the long-term benefits of industry consolidation, as evidenced by respondents claiming how large-scale acquisitions inevitably create redundancies and stifle innovation in more “exploratory” studios.

Moreover, the erosion of optimism is coupled with a growing skepticism toward the executives driving these acquisitions. Devs are pointing to the pitfalls of consolidation, with some respondents highlighting the need for antitrust laws to prevent the concentration of wealth and power.

Microsoft's Acquisition Of Activision Blizzard King
Microsoft’s Acquisition Of Activision Blizzard King

The Diverse Spectrum Of Perspectives

A substantial 43% of respondents believe that major acquisitions will have a negative impact, and this sentiment has held steady from 2023 to 2024. On the other hand, 42% take a more middle-ground approach. They acknowledge a “mixed impact” on the business. Like most things, acquisitions are a double-edged sword.

Some devs recognize the overall positive impact from a business perspective but express reservations about the effects on individual devs or smaller studios without massive audiences. One dev even used Disney as an example of the negative aspect of centralizing media under large umbrellas.

They argue that such centralization stifles innovation and leaves less room for unconventional and innovative projects. Another dev highlighted the negative impact on competition while also acknowledging the allure of smaller companies to make themselves desirable for acquisition.

Is Disney A Good Example For Acquisitions Done Wrong
Is Disney A Good Example For Acquisitions Done Wrong?

Acquisitions Aren’t Necessarily A Bad Thing

While the creative impact of consolidation is a focal point for many devs, not all view it negatively. Some believe that AAA and corporate gaming could mix to give rise to a new wave of “triple-I” indie titles. This could lead to a potential “design renaissance,” injecting fresh creativity into the gaming industry. It’s not the first time it’s happened either.

On the flip side, employees of smaller studios being acquired by larger entities argue that it provides them with a broader audience and prevents beloved franchises from disappearing into obscurity. If it means more money and support for smaller teams, then I don’t really see a problem with it.

If Acquisitions Mean More Support For Indie Studios, Then Are They A Bad Thing?
If Acquisitions Mean More Support For Indie Studios, Then Are They A Bad Thing?

Charting A Course For The Future

As the gaming industry navigates these challenges, it stands at a crossroads, balancing innovation with ethical considerations, embracing inclusivity, and responding to the call for collective action. The journey ahead requires a concerted effort from industry stakeholders, including devs, studios, and policymakers.

In facing these challenges head-on, the video game industry has the opportunity to not only weather the storm but emerge stronger, more resilient, and better equipped for the evolving landscape of interactive entertainment. Here’s to hoping we get to see a healed and better gaming industry in 2024.

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