Game developers are more skeptical of metaverse and blockchain projects, according to a new survey by the Game Developers Conference.
In some ways, that wasn’t a surprising result. The metaverse and blockchain hype soared a couple of years ago, but skepticism went up a lot during the past year as economic doldrums set in and early projects failed to result in sustainable hits.
“So much happened during 2022 for ups and downs, and I know crypto had a lot of issues mid year as well,” said Alissa McAloon, publisher of Gamedeveloper.com, in an interview with GamesBeat.
She noted it’s not surprising to see the hype die down. In that respect, the skeptical view of the metaverse and blockchain is not so different from the view of virtual reality, after skepticism set in after a few years of hype.
“A lot of developing technologies have ebbs and flows and then we see where things settle after the fact. VR is a good indicator of that,” McAloon said.
McAloon helped figure out the questions for this year’s survey to make sure that the report zeroed in on key questions. She said some of the questions were open-ended so that developers could offer more nuanced answers. She said that blockchain technology appeared to be highlighted as having some use, but exactly what that is isn’t clear.
The GDC’s 2023 State of the Game Industry Survey drew responses from 2,300 game development professionals who also showed shifting attitudes toward working in an office as well as stead support for unionization. And more than 90% of developers viewed harassment and toxicity toward developers from fans as an issue for the industry. The survey took place in October.
The 11th annual survey was released ahead of GDC 2023, which will be held in-person at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center from March 20 to March 24. That event is expected to draw about 24,000 attendees — more than 12,000 last year but short of a record crowd.
Two-thirds of those surveyed have worked in game development for three to 20 years. The results of the survey have a margin of error at +/-3% at a 99% confidence level, and offer a snapshot of the growing (and fading) trends in game development leading up to GDC 2023.
Developers pointed to Fortnite as likely metaverse winner, though many remain skeptical that there will be a metaverse at all.
When asked which company is best positioned to deliver on the promise of the metaverse, Epic Games/Fortnite earned 14% of the vote, the highest of any individual company. Next was Meta/Horizon Worlds and Microsoft/Minecraft (at 7% each), Roblox (5%) and Google and Apple (3% each), with VRChat and Nvidia also receiving some mentions.
However, developers remain wary. Nearly half (45%) of respondents didn’t select any companies/ platforms, instead stating that the metaverse concept will never deliver on its promise. This number is up from 33% in 2022, with many of the responses from this year specifically citing the unclear definition of the concept, the lack of substantial interactivity and the high cost of hardware (VR headsets in particular) as barriers towards sustainable metaverse experiences.
Studio interest in blockchain technology did not grow in the past year. This year, 23% of developers said that their studios have expressed some level of interest in using blockchain technology — including cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Web3 — to support their games. This number represents a slight decrease from the 27% of respondents from 2022 who expressed interest in cryptocurrency and the 28% who expressed interest in NFTs.
Only about 2% of this year’s respondents said their studios are already using blockchain technology in their projects.
Looking into the future, about 17% of developers said they are in favor of using blockchain technology in games, while 61% said they were opposed. About 25% of respondents said they were unsure or had no opinion. Developers’ sentiment towards the technology appear to be fairly consistent on the topic, as two-thirds of survey takers on both sides of the issue said that they had not changed their minds on blockchain over the past year.
Most respondents are indies
This year, the survey sought to determine how many responding developers work for indie or triple-A studios, or if they are independent contractors or freelancers. The results of the survey indicate that 39% of respondents work for an indie studio while 23% work for a triple-A studio. One-fifth of respondents had write-in responses for their own company descriptions, with descriptions that included e-commerce, charity work, university programs and double-A studios.
The survey found hybrid work schedules are on the rise, while remote work appears to be here to stay.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses continue to examine how the past few years have impacted employees and their needs in the workplace. In many parts of the world, remote work is no longer considered an essential health measure, and many workplaces are shifting to a return to the office while others are still working from home.
“We did want to kind of dig into how like what a game development studio looks like nowadays because there are a lot of differences,” McAloon said. “It’s not as straightforward if you work for an indie studio or you work for a triple-A studio anymore.”
A quarter of game developers surveyed said they primarily work remotely with the option to go into the office, which marks a slight decrease from the 29% in 2022. Hybrid work schedules, in which workers split their time between remote and in-office, saw the biggest increase (17% this year, up from 11% in 2022).
Union support is strong
Amidst the recent news of Microsoft’s ZeniMax Studios QA team successfully forming a union, this year’s survey reflects a continued support for efforts to unionize. At 53% support in this year’s survey (close to the 55% in 2022), a majority of developers surveyed expressed support for unionization.
Beyond that, more than one-fifth (22%) of developers have said they or their colleagues have actively discussed unionization at work.
“I think it’s not super surprising as it lines up with what we’ve been seeing throughout social media,” said McAloon.
She noted that those who have been in the industry for under 15 years were more likely to be in favor of unionization, versus those who had been in the industry for a longer time.
Developers cite salary, company culture, and remote work as top factors for considering job switch This year’s responses seem to align with the growing chatter around the “Great Resignation,” a phenomenon marked by large swaths of employees switching companies in hopes for better pay and benefits, the report said.
This trend appears to bear out among the game developers surveyed, with more than half of them expressing that, over the past year, they’ve either changed the companies they work for (16%) or have thought about doing so (36%). Among those who said they’ve changed companies or thought about it, the leading motivations include salary, company culture, ability to work on a specific project/franchise, work/life balance, and having remote work policies.
Toxicity and harassment by players
About 91% of game developers said that player harassment and toxicity is an issue in the industry. For years, developers have spoken at the GDC about the cost of not responding to toxic behavior from select players, including harassment and threats. Developers appear to be taking heed of the warning signs of this negative behavior, and many studios are taking steps to address harassment.
“This is a huge problem in the industry and we wanted to know what companies doing to support their teams,” McAloon said.
The vast majority of respondents believe that player toxicity and harassment are a major issue. Men surveyed were less likely to say they experienced or witnessed harassment than women or non-binary people, and respondents were more likely to say they experienced or witnessed harassment if they identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
In many cases, the problem of harassment has become pervasive enough in the past year to warrant official company responses, with studios of all sizes condemning harassment against their employees by players. To dig further into this topic, the survey asked respondents who had experienced or witnessed harassment whether their companies had addressed the issue.
About two-thirds (68%) said their companies have addressed the harassment they experienced or witnessed — either internally (30%), externally (4%) or both (34%). One-fifth said no, while 11% were unsure.
Accessibility efforts in games maintain steady growing support
With the recent announcement of PlayStation’s Project Leonardo accessibility controller at the CES 2023 show in Las Vegas, the industry as a whole appears to be making efforts to address accessibility, and the participants of this year’s survey (who were polled ahead of Sony’s announcement — which followed the launch of the Xbox Adaptive Controller in 2018) echoed that sentiment in their responses.
Continuing an upward trend seen over past surveys, the prioritization of accessibility features in game development is now more common than not. When asked if their current games implement accessibility measures for those with sensory, motor or other impairments, 38% of respondents said yes, which kept pace with previous years.
However, the number of those who said no (32%), continued to decline, down from 36% in 2022. This marks the second year in a row where affirmative responses outweighed the negative ones, suggesting that accessibility efforts are becoming more of a core design value among studios and developers.
PC still leads game development
Every year, the survey asks game developers which platforms they’ve been developing games for, and which platforms they’ll be developing for in the near future. PC once again leads for current (65%) and next (57%) games in development, with PlayStation 5 next up with 33%, compared to 28% for Xbox Series X/S.
About 25% are opting for Android, compared to 24% for iOS. About 19% are making their next game for the Nintendo Switch, 16% for the Mac, 12% for VR, and 11% for the web. About 7% are making games for the Xbox cloud, while 5% are making AR games and 1% are making user-generated content games. That last one seems really low, given the popularity of Roblox, but it may mean that GDC’s survey doesn’t reach those types of developers, who are more like home-grown creators. Sadly, less than 1% said they were developing games for Google Stadia, which has been shut down.
“My heart goes out to them,” McAloon said.
The full survey, which includes more insight into the game development community’s thoughts on these
topics and a multitude of other facts and details, can be downloaded for free here.