Oct 12, 2023 - Technology

2023 has been a brutal year for game developers

Illustration of a hand cursor pushing out a female employee carrying a box. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A yearlong wave of layoffs is rattling video game developers, some of whom are struggling to reconcile the industry's success with the abundance of cuts, they tell Axios.

Driving the news: More than 6,000 games industry jobs have been eliminated since the start of the year across more than 100 studios, according to VideoGameLayoffs.com, a site managed by game developer Farhan Noor.

What they're saying: "2023 is just too unstable," narrative designer Andrea Saravia Pérez, who was laid off from strategy game maker Firaxis in the spring, tells Axios.

  • Saravia Pérez has applied to hundreds of jobs since and received relatively few replies.
  • "2022 was probably the best year to break into games," she says. "However, 2023, many agree, is worse than 2009," when much of the world was in a recession.

State of play: Developers are turning to Discord groups, shared tip sheets and experts on LinkedIn to find a new job while realizing that their laid-off friends are now all on the same search for work.

  • "I'm literally competing with some of my best friends," says veteran producer Dianna Lora, who was laid off from a major studio last month.
  • Veteran workers with more connections are in better spots to find new work, developers tell Axios, but the industry's penchant for secrecy can be a significant detriment. Saravia Pérez can't show interviewers her most recent game development work because the project she worked on was never announced. "My best work," she says, "is entirely under NDA."
  • Lora has seen a lot of women lose work in the industry, as game industry cuts go beyond development roles and hit DNI and HR jobs. That is consistent with wider reporting about recent tech layoffs disproportionately affecting women.

Between the lines: The video game industry is expected to grow this year but not at the rate it did during pandemic lockdowns, which could help explain the sweep of layoffs, Dom Tait, games research director at OMDIA, tells Axios.

  • OMDIA projects spending on gaming to reach $167 billion this year and $174 billion in 2024, but Tait says that in 2020 and 2021 revenues had surged a combined $50 billion, possibly giving employers unrealistic expectations for growth.
  • "What we could be seeing is a notable reduction in headcount caused in part by companies belatedly adjusting to the new, less positive market reality," he said. Other factors, he noted, could include the impact of global conflicts, the struggles around buzzy tech investments such as NFTs and the metaverse.
  • Workers like Lora also wonder if employers are trying to reassert control after the COVID transition to work-from-home gave workers more independence and power. Unions, which are forming in fits and starts around the industry, could help counter that, she says.

Be smart: While the sense that 2023 has been brutal on game workers and worse than recent years is widespread in the industry. But data-driven comparisons to other years are hard to make.

  • The International Game Developers Association, which offers support to workers, doesn't comprehensively track layoff data, a rep told Axios.
  • Noor, who started the layoff tracker in his spare time, tells Axios he's informally gathered some data since 2010 or so, when big publishers such as THQ and Midway were collapsing, but he isn't ready to map out any trend lines.

What's next: Veteran developers expect some of the cuts to be cyclical and hope a recovery can come soon, lest the layoffs of 2023 burn out too many of the remaining developers in the workforce.

  • "Companies are running lean and mean," Lora says. "So you're talking about overworked devs who are already doing, in some cases, the work of two or three people.
  • "So they're going to have to hire people to make up for the fallout."

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