GDC’s 2024 industry survey: Game devs weigh in on AI, layoffs, unionization, RTO, and more


Every year, GDC conducts an industry-wide survey of game developers and compiles the results in its State of the Game Industry, the 2024 edition of which arrived yesterday. Right up front, the GDC minders address the elephants in the room: layoffs and concerns over generative AI have dominated developer worries over the course of the last 12 months.

Let’s start with AI. Generative AI tools are already being used across multiple disciplines at the companies of nearly half of the respondents (chiefly finances, marketing, and production; narrative, art, and audio are toward the bottom of the pile, for now), in spite of the fact that 84% of devs are “worried about the ethical use of AI.” Additional, “over half (51%) of developers said their companies have instituted some sort of policy regarding the use of Generative AI in the workplace, with many of them saying their companies have made use optional,” the researchers say. “Only 2% said Generative AI tools are mandated in their workplace, while 12% said they’re not allowed to use any of them.” Interestingly, AAA companies are twice as likely to have banned AI tools than indie companies.

Quoth one dev, “In a rush to develop new tech, we are ignoring many of the red flags and potential pitfalls of this exciting and potentially dangerous new frontier. Many of the developers behind AI seem blinded by the promise that AIs in Asimov, Greenburg, and even Roddenberry’s worlds offer, whilst blindly ignoring the warnings and issues those same creators shared in their works.”

As for the wave of layoffs last year, a solid third of devs said they were impacted by layoffs in some way, “either by seeing some take place within their team or company or by being laid off themselves.” If you ever wondered why games are a mess, it’s because QA is always the first to be hit; 22% of QA respondents said they’d been laid off last year, three times the rate of all devs. More than half of devs are worried about layoffs in 2024. Of devs quoted about layoffs, multiple claimed studios had overhired during the early years of the pandemic, but none mentioned the root problem (corporate overborrowing during a period of low interest rates, a gamble that didn’t pay off).

Here are some of the other key highlights from this survey, derived from over 3000 respondents in the industry.

  • 77% of devs flat-out said their studios are wholly uninterested in blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFTs, and Web3 shenanigans, with another 4% saying their companies previously used it and stopped. It’s dead, fam.
  • Men still dominate the older demographics of the industry – i.e., “the decision-makers who have been part of the game industry for decades.” But the overall proportion of older developers is still relatively small, with more than half the respondents having been in the industry 10 years or fewer.
  • More than half of respondents said they work in studios under 50 people.
  • Two-thirds of developers said their current project is on PC, followed by PS5 and Xbox X/S (more than a third each). Nearly a third said they’d like to develop for Nintendo’s next Switch device, too. But mobile share is dwindling: “[O]ne-fifth of respondents noted having Android or iOS in mind (16% less than 2023)” for their next game.
  • The Unity debacle last year prompted a huge slice of devs (35%) to switch or consider switching their game engines. Unity and Unreal are tied with 33% of current game share.
  • Developers are “frustrated” with the state of social media; while Twitter is still the platform of choice, Twitter’s upheavals over the past year caused “97% of the [devs] who mentioned Twitter/X expressed negative views about the platform.”
  • “One-fourth of AAA developers have games being adapted into films or TV shows” – which is wild – while nearly two-thirds thought the rise of such media interpretations are good for the overall industry.
  • Accessibility efforts are on the rise; nearly half of respondents said accessibility measures (like subtitles and colorblind settings) are implemented in their current projects.
  • “About 90% of respondents reported their company’s DEI efforts were at least slightly successful, down from 96% in 2023.” One quoted dev pointed out DEI efforts are solid throughout his or her company – except at the executive level.
  • More than half (57%) of devs think workers should unionize, with another 22% on the fence. It’s significantly more popular with younger workers, but even in the 65+ age bracket, a quarter of workers support it.

Finally, a quarter of devs said their studios have mandated some type of return-to-office policy, but 58% say their studio has done no such thing and work-from-home continues. GDC’s partner analysts found that “developers with the option to work from home reported the most satisfaction with their arrangement, while those with mandatory RTO schedules (especially hybrid schedules) reported the most dissatisfaction.” Quoted devs also discuss the hit to morale and retention RTO provoked.

Source: GDC
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