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Layoffs are sucking the joy out of video games | This week's gaming news

The week's headlines, now in video form!

Engadget

The production pipeline for mainstream video games has always been hectic. The AAA factory is powered by rigid marketing plans and periods of soul-sucking crunch, and while this process has resulted in incredible games over the years, it's also been detrimental to developers' mental health and long-term job stability. Layoffs have long been baked into the video game industry, but in recent months, this trend has been running in overdrive, and it's happening at studios of all sizes.

This week's stories

Kojima Films

Hideo Kojima is partnering with Sony to build a new game that’s actually more like a movie. Of course, you could say this about any of Kojima’s games since Snatcher, but this time around, he’s doing the Hollywood thing on purpose. The new project is codenamed PHYSINT., and it’s a return to Kojima’s action-espionage roots, but it’s definitely not Metal Gear. Apparently it’s going to blur the boundaries between film and games, and it’ll take advantage of Sony’s connections in movies and music. Kojima Productions will start working on the new IP after finishing Death Stranding 2, which is set to come out in 2025. Kojima is also building OD, an Xbox movie — sorry, game — made in collaboration with horror director Jordan Peele.

Xbox on other platforms

It looks like Xbox is preparing to release some of its exclusive titles on PlayStation and Nintendo platforms. A handful of reports rolled out this week suggesting Starfield, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, Sea of Thieves and Gears of War are all slated to hit PS5 or Switch in the near future. Xbox head Phil Spencer neither confirmed nor denied the reports, and instead teased an event next week that should clarify the studio’s multiplatform plans.

Layoffs in 2024

Both Sony and Microsoft have delivered their first showcases of 2024, highlighting all of the big, shiny games coming out soon, like Hellblade 2, Avowed, the Silent Hill 2 remake and Stellar Blade. The trailers for these titles are as vibrant as ever and the marketing beats are just as breathless — but, man, it’s really hard to get excited about video games right now. Rampant layoffs have cast a shadow over the industry, and even if 2024 turns out to be a banner year for video game debuts, it still feels shitty.

In the first month of 2024, an estimated 6,000 people in the video game industry lost their jobs. This figure is steadily climbing and it’s building on a rash of layoffs in 2023, when an estimated 10,500 video game jobs were cut. I don’t want to just drop these numbers without context — 2022 saw about 8,500 layoffs and this was considered terrible. 2023 eclipsed this total and, just six weeks in, 2024 is on track to do the same.

Here are some stats from January alone: Riot Games laid off 530 people, or about 11 percent of its workforce, and closed down its experimental publishing label. Devolver Digital laid off 28 people at Artificer, a team it purchased in 2021. Dead by Daylight studio Behaviour Interactive lost 45 people. Sega of America fired 61 workers. Microsoft laid off nearly 2,000 employees across Activision Blizzard, ZeniMax, and Xbox the same week that it became a $3 trillion company. Unity plans to drop 1,800 employees by March, and this is on top of the 1,000 jobs that the studio eliminated in 2023. Embracer Group gutted the team behind Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands and laid off 97 people at Eidos Montreal, canceling a new Deus Ex game in the process. The holding company already terminated about 1,000 jobs in 2023 and its restructuring efforts are expected to last until March.

Recent layoffs have affected studios of all sizes, and they’re happening even as the industry’s leading companies grow financially. If it sounds like I’m repeating myself, that’s because I am — I reported on the layoffs crisis at the end of last year, and things have only become more concerning in the first weeks of 2024. The video game industry received an influx of attention and cash during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and today’s layoffs are a response to a period of unchecked growth and corporate consolidation.

All of this instability provides an unsettling backdrop for the hype coming out of the video game industry this year. It’s tough to get excited about Xbox’s Avowed when we know people lost their jobs during production, and it’s hard to enjoy Devolver’s next edgy showcase when it just downsized a studio it didn’t need to buy in the first place.

At the same time, we’re seeing how unionization can help protect the people who make video games. Though dozens of people lost their jobs at Sega of America this year, the studio’s AEGIS-CWA union negotiated to save some roles and offer severance to temp workers. Unionization efforts have been on the rise since 2021, and the appeal of collective bargaining is only clarifying as the firing squads take aim.

Bonus Content

  • The futuristic action-RPG Stellar Blade is coming out on April 26, exclusive to PS5.

  • Dave the Diver, the pixelated non-indie game that somehow got nominated for Indie Game of the Year, is coming to PS4 and PS5 in April, and it’ll get Godzilla DLC in May.

  • Johanna Faries has replaced Mike Ybarra as the president of Blizzard. Ybarra quit during Microsoft’s downsizing in January, and Faries was previously the head of Call of Duty under Activision.

Now Playing

Now that I can actually talk about it, I want to say that Persona 3 Reload is absolutely delicious. The Morning After host Mat Smith wrote our review, go give it a read if you’re a freak like us.