It’s Increasingly Hard To Be Excited About The Gaming Industry

2023 has been a massacre for the industry.

Hyenas
Hyenas

At a cursory glance, you’d think that 2023 had been a banner year for the gaming industry. In terms of games that have launched, that’s certainly true, as the quality of releases this year has possibly never been matched before. The blockbuster games that have dropped in this year alone would be enough to create an all-star Pile of Shame on its own, never mind all the brilliant games we’ve had over years prior.

However, while the output has been stellar, 2023 has been overshadowed by stories surrounding the human cost of game development, with layoffs at multiple major companies like Epic (which affected studios like MediaTonic), BioWare, Sega, Team17, Microsoft and more. Sega was perhaps the most surprising one, as they cancelled Hyenas, which was far into development and received lots of positive feedback from both press and the gaming public at large, while cutting dozens of staff from developer Creative Assembly in the process.

Meanwhile, game engine Unity nearly decided to screw over everyone from AAA game developers to small indie companies hoping to create something new and interesting by introducing fees per download if a game uses their engine. Of course, this would affect any games released on subscription services like PlayStation Plus or Xbox Game Pass, meaning developers receive less money because another greedy corporation wanted a piece of the pie. Unity might have backtracked since that announcement (mostly), but it’s more than likely that Unity opted for the ridiculous announcement first to make their current stance feel reasonable, but regardless, trust in one of the biggest game engines in the world has been utterly severed.

Fall Guys
Fall Guys

The rise of AI “creation” has also led to a number of challenging questions for the gaming industry, with no concrete answers going forward. 2023 has seen a few games launch using AI created assets. Whether it be AI art that was used as background pieces in the System Shock remake, or the threat of AI voice generation being used in place of actual voice acting, it feels like the execs of the industry are continually finding ways to cut corners, reduce costs and sack off everyone underneath them.

Physical media lovers are getting shafted too (as always), as games like Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name and Alan Wake 2 are deciding to skip physical copies altogether. On top of that, a Microsoft leak revealed that the next version of the Xbox Series X, codenamed Brooklin, won’t have a disc drive, with Microsoft allegedly referring to the console as “adorably all digital”. Not many would agree that Microsoft sending physical media out to pasture is “adorable” there, lads. It just seems gross.

Remedy, to their credit, did address their decision to offer only digital copies of Alan Wake 2, stating that the market suggests more people buy digital games these days, and removing physical copies allows them to keep the price down somewhat, but it’s still a disappointing decision. With licensing and rights issues becoming more prevalent in games these days, there’s no guarantee that Alan Wake 2 won’t get yeeted from digital storefronts somewhere down the line because Poets of the Fall fell out with Sam Lake or something, leading to the game being lost forever.

Alan Wake 2 Editions
Alan Wake 2 Editions

Perhaps the biggest example of this year being awful though has been the ongoing ridiculousness with the Embracer Group, who spent the past few years acquiring studio after studio after studio. Regretfully, we’d hoped that Embracer had taken on the mantle of nostalgia merchants, buying old properties for a steal in order to revive them, but instead they focused on expansion above all else, leading us to 2023 when studios like Volition, the creators of Saints Row, have been forced to close down. Given the tone and characters of the last Saints Row, some pricks out there probably consider this a “get woke, go broke” situation, but the reality is that some talented developers have been sacrificed at the altar of the money gods.

These issues aren’t new, obviously. Corporate greed, studio closures, lay-offs and more are just par for the course when it comes to the gaming industry, but something about 2023 has made the issue so much more glaring. Perhaps it’s the dissonance that comes with so many well-received games launching as thousands across the industry are being forced to look for new work, or maybe it’s just the post-pandemic bubble finally bursting. Gaming received a huge boost when the pandemic started, but that high wasn’t going to last forever.

Saints Row
Saints Row

It’s years like this that make it hard to really be excited about anything the gaming industry has to offer, which just leaves you feeling jaded and cynical as you see another live service game be announced only to shut down 4-6 months later like it’s an “Any% game shutdown” speedrun. It’d be nice to be able to focus on just the positives of 2023, but as bad decisions, greedy execs and other nefarious influences continue to affect the industry, that’s becoming much harder to do.

At the end of the day, it’s just normal humans who are being affected by these awful events and decisions, and if anything is going to give you some hope (even if it’s only fleeting) about the future of the industry, it’s seeing those humans come together during these difficult times. Whether it’s Terraria developers Re-Logic throwing their weight behind open source game engine tools like Godot and FNA, or just simply social media posts from industry peers trying to find work for those affected by lay-offs, the gaming industry shows its strength when it acts like a community, working together towards a common goal.

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