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Parsing through data and interpreting it to find its real-world applications is no easy task, but it is imperative to keeping businesses in check as their power over consumers expands.

Moe Revel

February 23, 2024

7 Min Read

With the new year comes a turbulent time of excitement and anticipation for what the coming months will bring. The annual State of the Industry report from the Game Developers Conference (GDC) is one of the main driving forces of that excitement and anticipation for video game industry employees and enthusiasts alike. While there is a plethora of data that I want to discuss regarding innovations in gaming, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the feeling of gloom lurking over the industry. In the wake of pandemic-related business expansions we are now seeing video game companies of all sizes backtracking on revenue projections as well as laying off staggering chunks of their workforces.

The first two months of 2024 have already seen dozens of articles reporting on the record-breaking amount of layoffs currently taking place in the video game industry. These are certainly worrisome times for those pursuing a career in this field, exemplified by various pieces of numerical data and direct quotes from the GDC report. 56% of those surveyed reported feeling worried about future layoffs, one respondent saying that, “the layoffs are concerning because they don’t seem to be following the ‘typical’ cyclical trend of layoffs after a project ships…it’s hard to predict these days where and when layoffs might happen.” The conversation around layoffs in the industry is most certainly worthy of the attention  it is receiving, however I want to focus on some of the other data that can be found in the GDC report. Specifically, I want to look at the topics of film/TV adaptations and accessibility measures in gaming.

Film and TV adaptations of video game IPs are not a new venture by any means. The original Super Mario Brothers movie, the Mortal Kombat movies, and the Resident Evil movies all released decades ago, most of them considered commercial and critical failures. Even the multiple Halo TV shows have never reached the same status as the games that they are based on.

So, what has changed to bring us to the point where 10% of those surveyed admitted that their company is actively adapting IPs to film and/or TV and 63% believe that these adaptations will be good for the industry? The new Mario Bros movie, released in 2023, was what I believe to be the catalyst of this mindset. It is no secret that video games are a much bigger investment than film and/or TV, both in terms of financial and time-related costs. Some of the larger, more anticipated AAA titles have reached production budgets in the hundreds of millions (Spider-Man 2 at $300 million, Baldur’s Gate 3 at $100 million, and Starfield at $400 million) and can take upwards of six years to develop in some cases. When filmmakers begin working on major motion pictures, they have to be cognizant of how long the project will take due to limitations including how much the actor(s) will age during the filming process, how the various film-related unions will affect the production, and what technology is available to help expedite production and decrease the post-production workload.

When it comes to video game companies attempting projects of a similar caliber in terms of access to financing and talent acquisition, they only have to ask themselves 1) do they have the money to finance the game and 2) is it an idea that is worth spending close to a decade working on? My hope is that this rise in film/TV adaptations will encourage video game companies to look at factors of production that they have otherwise not been affected by. Costs are rising, unions are forming, AI is encroaching upon the industry, and it is up to the AAA giants that can afford the exorbitant costs of making new video games that are responsible for determining the best course of action in order to keep the industry afloat as we enter the digital age. In a perfect world, video game companies will see the economic opportunity of these adaptations and then use them to finance further growth and development in gaming.

Accessibility in gaming is another topic discussed in the GDC report that I feel has been overlooked. To provide some context, Microsoft released the Xbox Adaptive Controller (pictured below) in September 2018 for Windows and Xbox One/S, and later the Xbox Series X/S.

This innovation in gaming allowed consumers with limited mobility to have access to gaming in a way that they did not have previously.

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The adaptive controller acts as a hub which allows the player to connect other mobility devices to their Xbox or Windows PC, opening countless possibilities for improved accessibility through control remapping.

We have also seen an increase in developers implementing other accessibility measures in their games including: colorblind mode, closed-captioning, content warnings, and light sensitivity options. The GDC report found that 48% of developers are currently working to implement accessibility measures in their games in some capacity.

At the same time, the definition of accessibility itself is changing as DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts become more prevalent in business decision making. It is not enough to placate the masses with promises of putting the community first, the direct actions of companies now must reflect those sentiments. Making an active effort to employ a diverse workforce, changing office calendars to reflect various cultural holidays normally passed over, and donating money to nonprofits or grassroots campaigns that are working to enact change at the local level are all examples of DEI efforts that are making their way into the industry.

Just because the efforts are there does not mean that they have been successful. The GDC report found that 11% of those surveyed in 2024 believe that DEI efforts within their company have been unsuccessful, a dramatic increase compared to the 4% reported in 2023. What we are seeing is that companies are trying so hard to appear to be leaders of DEI in the world of business that they are losing sight of the goal of incorporating DEI. In the GDC report, one respondent said of the matter, “Our company doesn’t attempt anything, we just do, and are owned by Black folks making games. Most companies ‘attempts’ are a failure.” This quote perfectly exemplifies how overcomplicating DEI quickly leads to diminishing returns. Uplifting the voices of marginalized communities in any industry should be a fundamental tenet of a company, not an onslaught of PR-riddled “band-aids” attempting to add DEI on top of an already overflowing mission statement.

Parsing through data and interpreting it to find its real-world applications is no easy task, but it is imperative to keeping businesses in check as their power over consumers expands. The annual GDC report provides us with key information regarding how the video game industry is currently operating as well as critical insights from those working in the industry regarding how operations could be improved upon. To GDC, thank you for working as hard as you do to provide this data. To the readers, thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that as we move through 2024 that we will see game developers push innovation even further, not just through graphical advancements, but through an increased dedication to their social responsibility as well. If they do, they will see how caring for the consumer will naturally boost their profits. Now, I’m off to play more Persona 3 Reload; game on friends!

References

Alexander, C. (2023, October 19). Josh Sawyer would make pillars of eternity 3 if given a baldur’s gate 3-sized budget. IGN. https://www.ign.com/articles/josh-sawyer-would-make-pillars-of-eternity-3-if-given-a-baldurs-gate-3-sized-budget#

Gamernyc78. (2023, August 30). Starfield budget started at $200M, final estimate at $400M and 500 DEVS. keep in mind halo infinite was AAAA with like a 500 mil budget. IconEra. https://icon-era.com/threads/starfield-budget-started-at-200m-final-estimate-at-400m-and-500-devs-keep-in-mind-halo-infinite-was-aaaa-with-like-a-500-mil-budget.5527/

GDC 2024 state of the Game Industry Report. Game Developers Conference. (2024, February 1). https://reg.gdconf.com/state-of-game-industry-2024

Microsoft. (2018, September 8). Xbox Adaptive Controller: Xbox. Xbox.com. https://www.xbox.com/en-US/accessories/controllers/xbox-adaptive-controller

Tassi, P. (2023, December 21). A $300 million “Spider-Man 2” budget, Sony’s future and AAA Unsustainability. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paultassi/2023/12/21/a-300-million-spider-man-2-budget-sonys-future-and-aaa-unsustainability/amp/

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