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Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

March 21, 2024

4 Min Read
Baldur's Gate 3 team accepting the game of the year award at the Game Developers Choice Awards.
Image via Game Developers Conference.

At a Glance

  • Winners and presenters at the 2024 IGF and GDCA awards slammed executives who laid off thousands of workers this year.
  • They also pleaded for a ceasefire in Gaza, where over 30,000 people have been killed in the wake of Israel's invasion.
  • This was the most vocal developers have ever been at the annual award ceremony.

The 2024 Game Developers Choice Awards and Independent Games Festival Awards have concluded, with an abundance of fantastic games being honored for pushing the boundaries of what's possible in our interactive medium.

But the power of play was not the only force on display last night. Presenters and winners used their time on stage to not just thank their friends, family, and colleagues, but to forcefully protest two ongoing crises: the torrent of layoffs of 2023 and 2024, and retaliatory Israel's invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas' attack on October 7 last year.

Though the two crises vastly differ in scale, the messages from developers onstage were equally sincere. They expressed anguish for their colleagues punished for pouring their lives into their work, tremendous sorrow for the tens of thousands dead halfway across the world (and many more sick, dying, and being forced into famine), and anger at the small groups of powerful people punishing ordinary people for personal gain.

It was like nothing I've seen in eight years attending the awards.

Protests from winners have never been so concentrated

If you wanted to dive through GDCA history to find an award show with such consistent outspokenness from developers, you would have to dive back nine years to the 2015 ceremony, where host Tim Schaefer mixed roasting comedy of the harassment movement Gamergate alongside honoring the winners.

Schaefer used comedy to deftly mock what had become a growing harassment movement that found some support among the game development community. One might argue his roasting of the campaign's sexist and hateful goals made it difficult to praise it with any straight face.

Last night's GDCA host Alanah Pearce caught the baton thrown forward in time by Schaefer, again using humor to mock executives who traded the well-being of developers for profits and stockholder value. "Line must go up," she quipped, to cheers from the crowd.

IGF Chairperson Shawn Pierre and presenters like Xalavier Nelson Jr. made equally strong remarks. Video Game History Foundation founder Frank Cifaldi called out how video game history is being lost as we speak—and many developers have been terminated without even being credited in the games they worked on.

Award winners like the team at Larian Studios also made their own remarks, slamming the game industry for being so callous with its people.

Lost jobs however, compare nothing to lost lives. And it was here that all on stage made heartfelt pleas for peace.

"We call for a ceasefire."

Pearce made sure to grant time in her remarks to the horrific tragedy unfolding in Gaza, with a sharp jab at game studios who spoke out in support of abortion access but have been silent about the grinding tragedy.

But the credit goes to IGF award winners like Venba developer Visai Games, Anthology of a Killer developer, Thecatamites, and Rhythm Doctor developer 7th Beat Games for first making loud and pronounced calls for peace and a free Palestine.

The calls grew more muted as the night moved from one ceremony into the next, but the energy didn't dissipate. When introducing Ambassador Award winner Fawzi Mesmar, presenters Osama Dorias and Rami Ismail sported pins calling attention to the crisis facing the Palestinian people (Dorias' watermelon pin and matching outfit were a more subtle, but poetic reference). They directly addressed the dehumanization that Middle-Eastern people have faced in video game development—and celebrated Mesmar's drive to counter it by bringing more developers from the region into our community.

Mesmar wove a reference to the invasion into his accepting remarks in a plea for peace and dignity for everyone.

The ceremony captured the pain of game developers

The power of the remarks didn't just come from the stage. The crowd, an assembled group of VIPs and general Game Developers Conference attendees, roared back in response. A loud cry of "free Palestine" rang out somewhere behind my seat.

I'd never felt anything like it. Since Schaefer's speech, many developers have taken to the stage with forceful statements of protest, ranging from anger about former President Trump's plans for a southern border wall to critical comments about the price and accessibility of attending Game Developers Commence.

But such comments would stand out for being individual moments within the greater show. Last night's drumbeat of protests and pleas were unprecedented, even among the slate of high-profile award shows this season.

The humanity of the game development community was on full display. Both after suffering at the hands of layoffs, seeing their peers' lives tossed into peril, and watching in distant horror as an invading army grinds through the civilian population of an isolated peninsula.

The Game Awards made no mention of these events. Winners and hosts at the DICE Awards addressed the brutal layoffs. But nothing compared to the mood in the Moscone Center's West Hall last night. If you wanted a true embodiment of what game developers across the world are feeling—it was all there laid out on stage.

Disclaimer: The author of this piece participated in the 2024 Game Developers Choice Awards, introducing the In Memoriam segment.

Game Developer and Game Developers Conference are sibling organizations under Informa Tech.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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