Why a golden era of gaming might be coming to an end


OPINION: Greedy publishers can’t continue cuts and expect studios to produce great games. Thousands of redunancies ensure a brilliant era of gaming is wholly unsustainable.

As gamers, we’ve never had it better. The quality and variety of gamers is greater than ever. Cloud gaming allows us to take AAA titles everywhere, portable PCs like the Steam Deck have liberated PC gamers from their command centres, and even smartphones are now capable of running games like Assassin’s Creed and Resident Evil.

Subscriptions services place hundreds of titles at your fingertips, and even the old PlayStation vs Xbox barricades are beginning to erode. If you wish, you can even game in a different reality.

But this week’s events may spell the beginning of the end for this halcyon era.

These incredible gaming experiences are only possible because of the creative minds and phenomenal engineers who are put to work on them in high enough numbers. And, if you’re one of those people, it’s been a pretty rough couple of weeks.

While gaming is as lucrative as ever according to various companies’ balance sheets, the burgeoning revenue and profit is not enough for publishers to do good by the people who make the games.

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The cartel cuts back

This week Sony laid off 900 workers at PlayStation’s first-party studios. Developers at Naughty Dog (who brought gamers The Last of Us and Uncharted series), Insomniac Games (Marvel’s Spider-Man) and Guerrilla (Horizon Forbidden West). Sony’s London-based studio Firesprite, which in recent times has focused on VR, is closing completely.

Think about that for a second. In recent years, these studios take the lion’s share of the credit for PlayStation’s success. Arguably, Xbox has the better platform, while Sony has the better games.

900 of these people have now been deemed surplus to requirements, despite Sony posting record revenue for its gaming division in the three months that included Christmas. It was up 32% year on year. Profits for the division were up 16%.

Today we’re learning EA is cutting 670 people globally. That scuppers a planned Star Wars game from Respawn Entertainment, rumoured to be centred around The Mandalorian TV show. In December, EA also dumped a load of Codemasters staff, probably some of those behind perennially popular franchises like F1 and Dirt.

EA also reported stronger earnings in December that beat expectations thanks to what the CEO called the company’s “incredible teams”. Many of those incredible people are now looking for new jobs.

Microsoft is getting rid of 1,900 staff from its gaming division. Some of them are Activision Blizzard staff, who probably saw this coming as soon as the acquisition got over the line.

This consolidation of ownership wasn’t going to negatively affect the industry, Microsoft told us. Anyone with half a brain could see through that B.S. trotted out by corporations and swallowed by out-of-touch governments since time immemorial.

What do Sony, EA and Microsoft have in common? Just the fact that they’re global, publicly traded companies who answer primarily to shareholders.

Next time an independent studio you love comes under the ownership of what is essentially becoming a cartel, it’s probably safe to assume this trio will be hacking away at what made them great at the earliest opportunity.

The only company in gaming that continues to do right by its people is Nintendo, which raises wages and doubles down on its commitment to staff when profits fall and times get tough. That probably makes the Switch 2 a safe bet moving forward.

Recession proof, not greed proof

For a long time gaming was considered recession proof. Tough times would come and go, but the games would continue to flow and gamers would lap them up. Even during the financial crisis of 2008, as people lost their homes, video games boomed while other retail sectors slumped.

Escapism perhaps? Cheaper per-hour entertainment? Either way, video games have been there for many of us in the toughest of times. And so were the developers who created them. Despite gaming being in incredible shape overall, many of those developers will be looking for a new job right now.

What does this mean for gamers? Well the chances of another blockbuster The Last of Us game in the medium-term future just dropped somewhat. That Wolverine game from Insomniac won’t be completed any sooner that’s for sure.

EA’s best franchises EA Sports FC and Madden are desperately in need of freshening up. Call of Duty has been tried for years. Can we expect that when already overworked teams are likely to be stretched further? And these layoffs might just be the tip of the iceberg. This situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

It might be a chance for smaller studios to reinvest in talent. Many of these layoffs may spawn new ventures from developers with burning ideas. Perhaps the redundant Activision staffer who has faced resistance about how to reinvent Call of Duty and give it new life, might get the chance to apply that vision now?

Historically, gaming has a way of replenishing itself in that way. But in the short to medium term, this is a damaging blow that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Spare a thought for your friendly neighbourhood gaming developer right now.



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