Fighting for better while facing the worst | This Week In Business

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This Week in Business is our weekly recap column, a collection of stats and quotes from recent stories presented with a dash of opinion (sometimes more than a dash) and intended to shed light on various trends. Check every Friday for a new entry.

Even reporting from the other side of the Atlantic, it’s easy to tell that the vibe at this year’s Game Developers Conference has been different.

The past two years, marking the event’s post-pandemic return, have been a return to form with hundreds of companies flocking to San Francisco to tout the Next Big Thing for video games (which, as always, have no guarantee of becoming A Thing, let alone a Big one that occurs Next). And with the amount of AI news that has emerged this past week, that holds true for GDC 2024 as well.

But there’s something else: a resistance among developers, a determination to speak up, a refusal to accept many of the hardships those who make games currently face.

This was perhaps best typified by the GDScream, a public demonstration in the Yerba Buena Gardens next to the Moscone Center that houses the conference. Organised by Fortnite festival designer Scott Jon Siegel and former Epic Games producer Caryl Shaw, this aimed to create a moment of catharsis for developers frustrated by the ongoing mass layoffs across the industry, as well as the recent hate and harassment campaign that began by targeting Sweet Baby Inc and other concerns that have made the games industry an increasingly miserable place for a number of people.

The idea of GDScream, which was held on Wednesday, March 20, was simple: gather together and scream.

QUOTE | “A moment of feeling good, a moment of comradery, and moment of just fully acknowledging how messed up everything us and acknowledging that we’re all here at this event pretending everything is fine…it can’t be a constant topic of conversation, but it feels like there needs to be just one moment of just letting it out.” co-organiser Siegel explaining to IGN what they hoped to achieve with GDScream.

As you can see from this video by Free Range Robots founder Jedd Goble, the turnout was decent with dozens of developers screaming in unison.

The scream was not just about recent issues. When IGN asked Siegel what they screamed for, the response referred to long-running problems with the way the games industry can treat its workforce.

QUOTE | “I entered the games industry in my early 20s because I loved games so much and I found that I had this passion for building them and building experiences that brought delight to other people. It’s an industry that really feeds on that passion and takes advantage of that passion, and that’s broken my heart over and over again…and I just wanted to scream about it.”

Passion, as we have said for years, is a term that can be woefully misused by management and – as Siegel reminds everyone – heavily exploited. Yet I think it can also be applied to the strength developers showed this week. Those screaming are doing so with a passion to see a better games industry, instead of just quitting and seeking work elsewhere. And that passion most definitely came across during the annual double bill of awards ceremonies on Wednesday.

You may well have seen headlines referring to Larian Studios’ CEO Swen Vincke and his outburst against greed in the industry. When collecting the Game Developers Choice Award for Best Narrative – one of four won by Baldur’s Game 3 – he took the opportunity to speak out.

QUOTE | “Greed has been fucking this whole thing up for so long, since I started. I’ve been fighting publishers my entire life and I keep on seeing the same, same, same mistakes over, and over and over… It’s always the quarterly profits. The only thing that matters are the numbers, and then you fire everybody and then next year you say ‘shit, I’m out of developers’ and then you start hiring people again, and then you do acquisitions, and then you put them in the same loop again, and it’s just broken…

“You don’t have to. You can make reserves. Just slow down a bit. Slow down on the greed. Be resilient, take care of the people, don’t lose the institutional knowledge that’s been built up in the people you lose every single time, so you have to go through the same cycle over and over and over. It really pisses me off.” – Vincke calling for an end to the cycle of layoffs made in pursuit of never-ending growth

Our sister site Eurogamer reported that Vincke’s speech wasn’t the only one that called for change. For example, Strange Scaffold founder Xalavier Nelson Jr. – who presented the Best Narrative award to Vincke – used his introduction for the category to express his views.

QUOTE | “Narrative is the glue that holds a project together, the context and framing, characters and worlds that transform a good game into something transcendant. This past year, unfortunately, the most common narrative brought to us by the games industry is that making fantastic games requires layoffs and the destruction of human lives. This story is not only cruel, but it is definitively and provably false.”

The tone was set from the beginning, with Independent Game Festival chairperson Shawn Pierre addressing the layoffs in his opening speech for the IGF Awards, which ran before the GDCAs. While he acknowledged the night was about celebrating the accomplishments of developers, he added that it has “been so difficult to see our peers not treated with the respect they deserve.

QUOTE | “We’ve already seen thousands of people losing work this year because they’re not being valued the way they should be. People are working overtime and on weekends only to be left behind when a game is completed. It’s unhealthy, it’s certainly not sustainable, and the end result of this is a weaker game industry for all of us.

“Between the countless announcements of layoffs, we’re also reading too many stories of how people are being systematically pushed out of the game industry rather than being empowered or recognised for their contributions. They’re being made to feel like they don’t belong, that the work they are doing is not significant, and instead harmful to games. This is beyond unacceptable, and change is well overdue.” – IGF chair Shawn Pierre

Similarly, Sony Santa Monica Studio’s Alanah Pearce was less than a minute into her opening speech for the GDC Awards before addressing the subject.

QUOTE | “People in this room have lost their jobs. People who normally attend GDC every year have had to cancel because coming here is sort of an extravagant luxury when you don’t know when your next paycheque is coming. We’ve lost people with years of experience who have worked hard to make some of the games nominated tonight, but more importantly, we’ve watched our friends get laid off, we’ve seen how that impacts their families, their children.” – GDCA host Alanah Pearce

While these words can lower the mood on a night originally designed to showcase success, it’s at least a stark contrast from other awards ceremonies where the host doesn’t even mention or acknowledge tens of thousands of people losing their job within a year.

And developers were keen to speak up (or scream) about more than just layoffs and corporate greed. When indie icon Rami Ismail took to the stage with fellow Habibi and Brass Lion Entertainment’s lead gameplay designer Osama Dorias to present Ubisoft’s Fawzi Mesmaer (the third Habibi) with the Ambassador Award, he called attention to a wider real-world crisis.

QUOTE | “Through my own career, I’ve come to believe one of the greatest acts of resistance [against] stereotypes of Arabs and Middle-Eastern people being ‘the bad people,’ being primarily represented as cannon fodder and bombing targets.. that one of the greatest acts of resistance we have against these wars that are playing out in real life, day after day, in our lands and our regions to our people in Gaza… one of the greatest acts of resistance we have as minorities against this dehumanisation is simply to exist. Loudly. One of the greatest acts of resistance as a minority in any space is to thrive.” – Rami Ismail on the GDC Awards stage

Ismail, who wore a pin badge of the Palestinian flag, was not the only one to raise Gaza during the week. deputy editor Marie Dealessandri tells me that speakers consistently called for a ceasefire before starting their talks in most of the sessions she attended, including the returning 1 Reason To Be Panel.

Again, it’s a stark and welcome contrast after a previous awards ceremony saw a presenter drop out because she was told not to make political statements in her speech.

As GDC wraps up later today, there will be plenty of developers whose big takeaway from the week is the potential of AI in video games, or the promise of that meeting they held with a publisher/investor/etc, or perhaps some much-needed insight/analysis they gleaned from a talk. But the true message of GDC 2024 was far more important: developers have had enough.

Developers have had enough of being treated as expendable based on what the C-suite reads on its budget sheets. Of being silenced, drowned out or just plain ignored during one of the most difficult periods in the industry’s history. Of the games industry pressing on as if, as Siegel said, everything is fine.

Everything is not fine, so hats off to everyone above who spoke out or did something about it. Hats off to anyone that did so but wasn’t specifically named above. Hats off to anyone who even wanted to speak out but didn’t have the opportunity or platform. The more voices we have speaking up against what’s happening in the industry, the harder the call for change becomes to ignore.

Developers are screaming, and the industry needs to listen.

The rest of GDC in review

QUOTE | “That’s a big deal for us because it really signifies that you can make a polished, AAA game on the scale of Battle Royale on this platform. It’s a final proof point for ourselves, of really dog-fooding our own tools and processes to the point where we’re taking the most prized possession inside Epic and saying it will be built on this new platform.” – Epic Games’ Saxs Persson on why the company is now making each new season of Fortnite content solely using Unreal Engine for Fortnite

QUOTE | “If you don’t intentionally include, you will unintentionally exclude. That is how we are as human beings. There is no shame in that. If you want to include, you have to be intentional about that.” – Xbox’s Katy Jo Wright calling for developers to think more about how they make their games more inclusive as the platform holder makes its Gaming For Everyone Product Inclusion Framework available to all game makers.

QUOTE | “When you see that people with much fewer resources than you are still there, and still making games, still helping their communities, then I think that it will help you see that you are not alone in this” – Pincer Games’ Laia Bee speaking to us ahead of the returning 1 Reason To Be panel, which she hosted

QUOTE | “It could be the start of a fantastic paradigm shift. For the first time, the game world actually listens to and dynamically responds to the players. Social interactions and skills become part of the gameplay. Smarter NPCs like our NEO NPCs have the potential to become a breakthrough addition to the traditional NPCs we see in games today. They provide the ability to create even more immersive worlds and emergent stories.” – Ubisoft’s Xavier Manzanares tells us more about the publisher’s new AI-powered non-player characters.

STAT | 3 – The number of accolades Venba won across both the GDC Awards and IGF Awards on Wednesday. You can find a full list of the winners here.

STAT | 1943 – Year in which Skydance New Media and Amy Henning’s new Captain America and Black Panther game is set. 1943: Rise of Hydra was the headline announcement at this year’s State of Unreal presentation.

QUOTE | “Many types of Wonder effects are needed to fill a game with the secrets and mysteries. We [did] brainstorming sessions where the whole team showed their ideas for Wonder effects. It was up to everyone on the team to come up with ideas regardless of job title or seniority. Nintendo believes that everyone on the team is a game designer.” – Super Mario Bros Wonder director Shiro Mouri on why Nintendo gets every member of the development team involved in its games

QUOTE | “To get that spark of joy, to just see someone that looks like me out there, it’s a completely different feeling and I want that feeling for everyone else” – Capcom’s Andy Wong speaking during a panel on fostering inclusivity and diversity in game communities

QUOTE | “Everyone is looking at ways to build something faster, learn quicker, and iterate on core ideas as fast as possible, while managing the costs that go with that. Anything that helps productivity – whether that’s services and dev ops tools, things like AI that might help with productivity in coding or content – everyone is taking that and working out how they can put it into effect” – Unity’s Marc Whitten unpacks the key trends from the engine firm’s 2024 Gaming Report, including how studios are dealing with rising costs

STAT | 4 – The number of co-founders behind new VR studio VRAL Games. Members of the team have working on Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, Gran Turismo, and F1.

STAT | 25ish – Number of photos we posted from our Games Industry Social: San Francisco 2024 Edition, co-hosted with Games Industry Gathering. Check out the gallery here.

The rest of the week in review

QUOTE | “The reality is that with some high-profile and much-lamented exceptions, the PS5, after a COVID-extended period of developers supporting PS5 and PS4 alongside each other, doesn’t really have that many games that are pushing the limits of the system right now; the advantages of a Pro console will be harder to see as a consequence.” – With no equivalent of a 4K upgrade to justify its existence, contributing editor Rob Fahey ponders how Sony will convince consumers to buy a PS5 Pro

QUOTE | “If Warner Bros cannot succeed with Harry Potter as a GAAS, then quite frankly I see little future in releasing new a GAAS title because these new games will either be DOA or have a short lifespan” – SJN Insights’ Sam Naji posits that Warner Bros planned Harry Potter live service game will be the ultimate litmus test for the business model

STAT | 16.74 million – Number of video games sold across Europe during February, 0.1% down on the same five-week period last year

STAT | 2% – Year-on-year uptick in US games spending in February, with revenues at $4.7 billion

STAT | €6.1 billion – Games spending in France reached an all-time high, thanks to console growth and a strong retail scene

STAT | 4 – Number of layoff stories we’ve run this week, including Velan Studios, Something Wicked, Media Molecule, and three union members of IGN

QUOTE | “Because ad (a) did not make clear that the webstore included loot boxes, and ad (b) did not make clear that the game included in-game purchases or loot boxes, we concluded that the ads misleadingly omitted material information.” – The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority upheld three complaints against ads by Electronic Arts, Miniclip and Jagex for not disclosing the presence of loot boxes and in-game purchases. We broke down the details of each case, but the TLDR is: always disclose the presence of loot boxes and in-game purchase.

STAT | $118m – Value of Turtle Beach’s acquisition of rival accessories firm PDP

STAT | $100m – Amount of money Nazara Technologies has earmarked for M&A

QUOTE | “Apple’s new restrictions are plainly designed to render alternatives to Apple’s IAP impractical for developers, and inaccessible and unappealing to consumers, thus circumventing both the spirit and underlying goals of the injunction.” – Microsoft, Meta, X and Match back Epic in its latest legal action against Apple

STAT | 2m – Reportedly the number of PSVR 2 units produced so far as sources suggest Sony is halting production of its virtual reality headset

STAT | 24 – Number of years between the release of the originals The Sims and the announcement of a movie based on the series, produced by Margot Robbie’s production company LuckyChap

STAT | 90% – Revenue share in favour of developers on HTC’s Viveport store

STAT | $1m – Money made available to indie developers by Screen Australia via two funds

QUOTE | “As we unite Sensor Tower and, we are eager to incorporate new team members. This merger also necessitates optimising our team structure. We are committed to providing assistance and resources to our departing colleagues during this transition.” – Sensor Tower CEO Oliver Yeh on his firm’s acquisition of (Apparently that eagerness doesn’t extend to the 200 staff that have reportedly been laid off in the wake of the deal.)

STAT | 22.2% – Year-on-year drop in revenue for Remedy Entertainmnet, attributed to “increased investments” in projects including Control 2 and Max Payne remakes

STAT | 2 – Years added to Thunderful’s distribution agreement with Nintendo, which has been running since 1981.

QUOTE | “I firmly believe that the decision to ‘invert’ Kotaku’s editorial strategy to deprioritize news in favor of guides is fundamentally misguided given the current infrastructure of the site” – Outgoing Kotaku editor-in-chief Jen Glennon, who left the role yesterday

STAT | 57% / 53% – Amount of female and male US gamers, respectively, who says publishers need to do more to stamp out harassment in games, according to a new Deloitte study

STAT | 22% – Increase in number of UK games startups last year, attributed largely to the number of layoffs in the industry

STAT | 39m15 – Length of this week’s Microcast, because James and Jeffrey weren’t paying attention to the time when recording

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