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State of the Industry: Enough with the skeletons
State of the Industry: Enough with the skeletons
February 8, 2016 | By Brandon Sheffield

February 8, 2016 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: VR, Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Business/Marketing, GDC

As part of our continued coverage of the Game Developers Conference State of the Industry report (download it for free here!) we bring you the final piece of the puzzle – the great infodump. Here, our over 2,000 surveyed anonymous developers answer the vague question: “Is there anything else you'd like to say about the game industry?”

As you can imagine, it gets quite heated.

The Good Stuff

Let's start with the good stuff. And there must be a few good things, because as one developer says, “Games are awesome.”

One of our commenters is particularly enthusiastic about how the industry is expanding. “As an experienced animator/VFX artist & director, I'm most excited about the growth of experimental media on mainstream consoles,” they said. “Games, and game-like experiences will be redefined and reinvented over the next decade, and I hope to stay involved in that process.”

Another felt pleased about the increasing diversity within the medium. “I am happy to see more women protagonists, as well as some indie titles that deal with some heavier issues such as 'That Dragon Cancer,'” they said.

One positive dev praised the flexibility of the playerbase. “Perhaps the most fantastic thing about the game industry is the general openness of players towards experimentation and willingness to try new things,” they said. “This started the game industry on a path that allows independent developers to act much more in the foreground than in any other media industry, resulting in an impressive amount of new types of games and even new genres over the last few years. After all, indies develop games for the games, not for money.”

While this commenter rehashes some old points, it's good to remind ourselves of the democratization brought by new toolsets, at times. “It's an exciting time to be part of game development these days with tool availability at an all time high (unity / free unreal / gamemaker etc.),” they noted. “The creation of games has been democratized to some extent, so there's a much wider array of people who can share their vision with the world. This raises the bar for existing developers and makes it harder to get noticed in a sea of new games, but there's never been a better time to try weird new ideas in your games.”

The Bad Stuff

Well, what's a survey for, if not to complain? There were no shortage of negative comments, because everyone seems to love a good grouse. Let's get into a few of the juicier ones.

First, here's a sound expert who's not being heard. “As an audio person, finding just pay is tough,” they said. “Even well-established companies at the AAA level have asked me for free work. I think that's crazy, when so much of the experience of a game is conveyed aurally. If you want good work, be willing to pay for it.”

Others are disturbed by the homogeneity of the workforce, saying the industry is “still lacking in diversity.” As another dev mentioned, “I went to a meetup last night with a 30:1 M:F ratio, and a guy in line in front of me asked another guy next to him if he'd be 'interested in playing a game with racist and sexist themes.'  We've done lots of good work over the past few years but holy shit, room for improvement.”

Others found themselves stigmatized or typecast, as did this respondent. “It is still upsetting in how hard it is to break into the industry or shift what section one is in,” they said. “I am currently in mobile development and have prior experience in another art/design field, but recently I was informed by a AAA company that I have "no games experience." Even though I have been working and building in game engines for 10 years on one project or another. Because of this I am told that I will have to take nearly a 15k dollar cut in pay, from a company has consistently been a top seller. While I want to work on this company's projects I may literally not be able to afford to. I also still very much resent the hire and fire mentality that is prevalent. Employees are asked to work long hours and sacrifice a great deal but many are just laid off at the end of a project or were on a rolling contract. To my eye this leads to a lot of burnout and loss of talent that might other wise stay and if it [were] more stable.”

Lastly, there's the indie crowd, with their significant worries. Lack of investment, increase of number of titles, and lack of consumer interest has given indies a run for their money (quite literally). As this commenter says, “Indiepocalypse! The Sky is falling! Seriously. This shit is not going well for most of us out here. The company where I work has managed to stay in business only by extensive networking, business development, and barely ever developing fully self-funded, self-produced products. We get by on a wealth of contract work, where we make interactive experiences for someone else who is looking to make an interactive experience.”

The Middle Ground

There's a lot of nuance to this industry. It's growing rapidly, and experiencing the pains of that growth. As one developer says, “We've seen the crest of a long, profitable success wave in general,” adding, “We are coping with the reality that expansion is not limitless. As other industries have seen over history, now is the time we will likely see consolidation and contraction, coupled with spurts of innovation and occasional births of new technology-driven models of business. Unfortunately for most, the new business climate will not be as sustainable.”

People also spoke of inclusion, saying “The industry is looking to expand past its core demographic of young male customers, and working on being more inclusive in game designs and choices. This is causing some backlash from some of that core demographic, which is used to being catered to exclusively, but the industry as a whole seems to be making progress toward being a more mature industry.”

Yet another developer felt there was a culture of entitlement that can come with creative work, saying the industry “suffers from a large egotistical culture driven environment. The more the developers learn to operate out of love rather than fear, the better the future ... will get. In the workplace, too little do we hear our developers ask questions. While instead, everyone plays the card of "I have the answers, and your idea isn't going to work" without any prototype tests to thoroughly measure "assumed" results. The fear is largely driven by the common excuse "lack of money." Very little does the industry reward failure and risk taking.”

Another commenter agreed, saying, “I feel that a lot of mainstream studios/publishers have gone too deep into what I'll call profit-driven design.” They elaborated; “There are plenty of indie developers that still create gameplay to be fun first and only monetizeable second, and even the occasional AAA game like this, but it feels to me like an ever-larger majority of mainstream releases are all about finding the most efficient ways to suck money out of players' wallets. Obviously this is something that affects all types of "big media", not just the video game industry (especially as businesses get better and better at data science and understanding precisely how to milk money out of players), but at least in, say, novel writing there is still a large percentage of authors who are in it for the love of the medium first and only to get rich second.”

Lastly, one developer was concerned about the viability of the current platforms. “Times are worrisome,” they said. “The big oceans of mobile and Steam have become/are quickly becoming saturated/overly congested. The lakes (PS4/Xbox One) are stabilizing at historically low install bases. There is only one major new console on the horizon (Nintendo NX), while low-selling consoles have failed/are failing (Nvidia Shield, Ouya, PS Vita, Wii U, and others) and will soon be discontinued. The mobile explosion has brought on a vast number of developers, many of which will go out of business.  As of today, only two consoles are doing quite all right: PS4 and 3DS, and the latter is rumored to be replaced by the NX.”

Intriguing Odds and Ends

Finally, we come to some interesting or curious points. Let's start with a couple of serious ones, such as this developer who is concerned about the viability of VR. “It is amusing that everyone assumes VR is the futurem” they said, “when we've yet to see any financial success or traction besides investments from companies that have money to burn. I'll believe that VR is a big deal when these devices are actually delivered and consumers embrace them. I predict a fantastic failure that the industry should have seen coming the entire time. Get your money while you can.”

This commenter wants the industry to look forward, not backward. “I wish the industry was not focused on nostalgia,” said the developer. “Rather I would like to see more risks taken, because it seems that everyone in the AAA industry want to play it safe.”

Now let's get with some slightly more amusing ones, as this developer challenges the standards of game industry math: “90% of time is spent on development, and 90% is spent on marketing, that's too much.”

This commenter is pulling no punches with consumers, saying, “We have the worst audience of any medium.”

Yet another wants to see more innovation – but in a very specific arena. “Enough with the fucking spiders, skeletons, and zombies! As a developer you should be deeply ashamed of yourself for using these enemy designs in 2015. Put in a little bit of effort at least!”

Lastly, to round out the typical game developer stereotype, we have this timeless classic: “Meh. It is a living.”

(For more hard data on how developers feel about the state of the game industry, download your own copy of the GDC 2016 State of the Industry report for free!)

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