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The Game Developers Conference has released its annual developer survey and found growing support for unionization, the fight against toxicity, and the adoption of blockchain and the metaverse.
The 10th annual State of the Industry Survey comes ahead of the GDC 2022 event, which is still planned to be held in-person as well as virtually in San Francisco from March 21 to March 25.
The report also shows that developer support for Xbox and PlayStation is running neck in neck. And game studios are holding up well during the pandemic thanks to the historic boom.
GDC 2022 will be in person in SF
Katie Stern, general manager of the GDC, said in an interview that the event is still planned for the week of March 21 at the Moscone Convention Center. But she said the company is monitoring pandemic conditions and will abide by the local regulations of the city of San Francisco for gatherings.
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“As it stands right now, the sentiment we’re getting from our clients and audience is that they still really would like to be in person,” Stern said. “So we are going to continue to move forward with it. We also have the online version for those who are unable to attend or comfortable to attend. And so we’re adhering to all of the local San Francisco mandates. Everybody is required to be vaccinated and boosted.”
The deadline for getting boosted is March 14. She said GDC will require vaccinations for entry and attendees will have to wear masks.
“We feel cautiously optimistic about it. So as long as San Francisco allows us to hold the event, we’re moving forward,” Stern said.
Stern said she expected a smaller crowd than the 29,000 that attended GDC in 2019. In 2020, the event was canceled at the last minute in person, and then a small number of online talks were held. In 2021, the show shifted entirely online with 550 or so sessions. There will be about 200 exhibitors. And Stern expects maybe 15,000 to 17,000 attendees this year.
But this show will have a balance of both in-person and online talks, and it will have a smaller number of overall talks than in the past.
(Note: This survey was taken before the WSJ’s investigative piece on Bobby Kotick, before Riot’s settlement was announced and before Microsoft announced it will acquire Activision Blizzard. It also took place before there was a public backlash against Ubisoft and GSC Game World for their support of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs).
The survey’s results reflect the responses of more than 2,700 game industry professionals. It offers a look into the many issues that these professionals have on their minds and shows how the game industry is evolving and expanding.
The findings on toxicity
Almost 40% of respondents said their companies have reached out in an effort to combat toxicity in the workplace following outcries at Activision Blizzard and other companies.
The ongoing conversation about diversity and inclusion in the game industry came to a head this year when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, citing, “numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.”
Since then, reports of systemic sexism, harassment, and other misconduct have surfaced about Activision Blizzard and other game companies. This built on already disturbing reports coming out of a 2018 investigative report on Riot Games, which just recently agreed to pay $100 million to settle its class-action gender discrimination lawsuit.
This has started a trend of companies reaching out to address misconduct and toxicity within the game industry. At the time the survey was conducted, 38% of respondents said that their companies reached out to them to start a conversation about how misconduct and toxicity are handled in the industry; 62% said their companies did nothing.
“How the industry is reacting to toxicity in the workplace is a big highlight and very timely,” Stern said. “It’s really opening up that conversation a little bit more. Clearly, there is some way to go still, but the fact is that over a third of companies are at least starting that conversation about misconduct and toxicity and how it’s being handled.”
This survey shows a growing number of workplaces have taken at least some initiative to root out toxicity, while also pointing out the industry has a way to go. When asked about how their company responded, some respondents said their companies held group discussions on misconduct or reminded employees how to report improper behavior.
“With 62% saying they had they had done nothing is obviously quite a large number still. But I like that it’s an indication that we’re moving in the right direction,” Stern said.
Both interest in and skepticism of NFTs grows
Two of the hottest, and polarizing, topics being debated in the game industry are cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). While the majority of developers said that they and their studio are not interested in cryptocurrency (72%) as a payment tool or in NFTs (70%), for such a nascent space, 27% percent of developers are at least somewhat interested in cryptocurrency at their studio and 28% are at least somewhat interested in NFTs.
The current implementation of both technologies is still very limited, with just 1% of respondents saying that their studio already uses either.
“We are very early in the adoption of the technology,” Stern said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of conversation that still needs to happen around that. How do we do it right? How to do it ethically? What is the purpose? What is the benefit? So I think we’re in that phase of trying to grapple with what place does it have in the industry. The conversation around blockchains and NFTs and cryptocurrencies is such a large conversation and also polarizing.”
The popularity of the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One, is growing. But most game developers are not developing for it yet
One of the metaverse’s most popular and lucrative components is user-generated content (UGC), which is why game professionals were asked if they were developing or planning to develop content or experiences for a UGC platform. The majority (83%) said that they are not involved at all, but 17% are already working on a project.
The breakdown of the UGC platforms for the 17% working on them were Roblox (5%), Minecraft (4%), Fortnite (3%), Dreams (3%), Core (2%), and “other” (6%). The provided platforms for the “other” responses included The Sandbox, VRChat, Unreal Engine, and “prefer not to answer due [to] confidentiality restrictions.”
When asked what companies/platforms are best placed to deliver on the promise of the metaverse, the most popular response was Epic/Fortnite at 17%, followed by Facebook (8%), Microsoft/Minecraft (8%), Roblox (6%), and Google (5%).
The survey was conducted before Facebook’s Meta was announced, which may have impacted responses on the topic. About one-third (33%) of the respondents reported that they believe that the metaverse concept will never deliver on its promise.
“We just bare missed the announcement of Meta, so I think there will be interesting movement when we look at it next year, Stern said.
Union hopes grow
The survey showed 55% of respondents said that workers in the game industry should unionize, which is the highest amount yet in the 10 years of the State of the Industry Survey. But only 18% believed that the industry will actually succeed in unionizing.
While only a minority may believe the industry will unionize, almost one-fourth of respondents (23%) said that conversations about unionizing have happened at their workplace.
The respondents also shared how those companies have responded to union talks with their workers. Thirty-six percent reported that their companies were supportive, compared to 8% that said their company opposed the unionization talks. More than one-fifth (21%) of respondents said their companies didn’t know that some of their employees were talking about unionizing.
Raven Software doesn’t have a union, but a number of people in the division of Activision Blizzard have been on strike.
PlayStation 5 vs Xbox Series X/S
When asked what all of the platforms are that they are currently developing games for, the results showed that 31% were working on a game for PlayStation 5, just edging out Xbox Series X/S (29%), showing that both platforms are roughly equally popular for developers.
On the mobile front, 30% of developers are working on a game for iOS and 30% for Android. And 20% of respondents are working on a game for the Nintendo Switch (a slight increase from 2021). But the PC is once again clearly the most popular platform for development with 63% of developers working on a PC game.
“This is a pretty darn big leap,” as previous surveys showed the number under 50%, Stern said.
Studios stave off closures amid the pandemic
The game industry has stayed resilient despite the ongoing pandemic. Half of respondents said their company expanded their number of staff during the past year. Thirteen percent of respondents said their company contracted during the past year, compared to 33% that stayed the same. Only 2% of respondents said that their studio closed entirely.
These figures are similar to the previous year, signifying that the pandemic and shift to remote work did not have a lasting impact on the workforce.
Devs sided with Epic Games in Apple lawsuit
In Epic Games v. Apple, more developers side with Epic.
When asked who they felt was “in the right” in the case of Epic Games v. Apple, over one-third of respondents (34%) sided with Epic Games, making it the most-popular response—while the least popular was Apple (8%). Nearly a quarter (23%) said neither side was right, 10% said both made good points, and one-fourth (25%) said they weren’t sure.
Asked if they felt the Steam Deck would be a viable game platform in the long run, developers were more positive than negative, but uncertain: 36% said yes, 17% said no, and 47% were unsure.
The GDC looked on its results over the years. The PC has gained, rising from 48% of developers working on a game for PC in 2013, to 63% in 2022.
Back in 2013, mobile was the hot trend in games with 55% of developers making games for phones and other mobile devices. In 2022, it’s down by almost half to 30%.
The platform war between PlayStation and Xbox has continued over the past 10 years, but the clear winner has been PlayStation. The second year of the survey, 2014 had more developers working on Xbox One than PlayStation 4. Every year after that, more developers reported working on a PlayStation game than are working on an Xbox game. Of course, it will be interesting to see what happens if Microsoft is successful with its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
“It is very interesting in the context of Microsoft’s acquisition that was announced,” Stern said.
Has VR hit its peak?
In 2015 only 7% of developers were working on a VR game; this increased to 24% by 2017. However, the trend reversed and in 2022, just 10% of developers reported working on a VR game.
Meanwhile, in 2013 the number of developers working on games for 3DS and WiiU was in the low single digits. The success of the Nintendo Switch has seen that number grow to 20%.
The full survey, which includes more insight into the game development community’s thoughts on these topics and a multitude of other facts and details, can be downloaded for free here.