DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT

Examining the games industry job crisis

USC has a unique relationship with the games industry, and is therefore disproportionately affected by the persistent layoffs.

By AUBRIE COLE
Axville / Unsplash

USC Games is kind of a big deal. Often touted as one of the best college game design and development programs in the country, USC Games has produced hundreds of fantastic, talented game developers. Award-winning games like “Sky: Children of the Light” and “Before Your Eyes” were developed by USC alumni. The founders of world-famous Riot Games met at USC as roommates.

I came to USC to become a game developer. This University was my beacon throughout high school — I thought attending such a well-respected university would set me up for a life of success in the video game industry. However, this past year has left not just me, but around 56% of those working in the games industry feeling uneasy about the future.

Just a month into 2024, more than 6,000 games industry workers have lost their jobs thanks to mass layoffs from companies such as Microsoft, Riot and Unity. Scrolling through LinkedIn recently has been gut-wrenching, wading through a wasteland of posts beginning, “Unfortunately, I too was affected by X company’s layoffs.” No individual’s job has been safe, as numerous workers who’d remained with their companies for 10+ years lost their positions.

The first question that comes to mind is: Why? In an ever-growing industry dominated by AAA studios with seemingly bottomless pockets, why would we see such a catastrophic cut to the games workforce? There’s no singular explanation.

Compared to 2021, consumer spending on games dropped drastically by 5% in 2022, and only barely recovered by 1.1% in 2023 — meaning that consumer spending is still down compared to two years ago. The industry has had below-average growth throughout the past few years, despite the narrative that the industry is on the rise.

Some publishers, specifically those in North America and Europe, have claimed that per-head costs have grown significantly since the pandemic, making a large workforce difficult to support. Additionally, inflation has forced employers to adjust salaries and other costs.

I won’t claim to be an economics whiz, nor someone who could speak in depth about the state of the industry and the nitty-gritty of why these factors have negatively impacted it. However, the fact remains that thousands of people are without jobs, and those planning on going into the games industry — like hundreds of USC students — have been forced into a liminal space of uncertainty.

I frequently speak with students of the USC Games program. Working on an Advanced Games Project, or AGP, I come in contact with games industry hopefuls almost daily. Simply put, spirits are grim. Most of my friends have had a rough time in their internship search thanks to the few and far-between opportunities, and those graduating soon are concerned about the uncertainty of their future.

It’s no secret that a multitude of industries have experienced massive layoffs throughout the past few months. Even outside of the games industry, the other industry I work closely with, journalism, also has weathered a wave of layoffs this past month.

What I find unfortunate is how I have seen little mainstream news coverage of these games layoffs. Sure, tech industry downsizing has been a hot topic, but the games industry is such a unique landscape that deserves to be examined and discussed on an individual scale. I implore anyone reading to be conscious of these unfortunate events and stay mindful of your peers made uneasy by recent events.

Layoffs, no matter what industry they affect, bleed into the lives of everyone around them. They’re a blight brought about by greedy corporations with fat bank accounts. To those recently affected by the layoffs within the games industry, I am truly sorry. To the USC Games students uncertain about their future or questioning their career path, please keep your heads up, but understand that your concern is valid.

We all know the real problems here are the insensitive corporate executives taking drastic steps in reaction to an industry in crisis. So, please remain sensitive to the anxieties of both professional and student game devs — because as much as I wish I could say their fear is an overreaction, that is certainly not the case.

Aubrie Cole is a sophomore writing about video games in her column, “Downloadable Content,” which runs every other Tuesday. She is also an arts & entertainment editor at the Daily Trojan.

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