According to the Game Developer Conference’s (GDC) State of Games Industry report, which annually surveys game makers on industry trends, the majority of game workers surveyed (54 percent) responded “yes” when asked whether game industry workers should unionize; 21 percent of respondents said maybe, 16 percent were against it and 9 percent were not sure. This is an uptick from last year, when 47 percent of respondents said they supported unionization.
However, the survey’s results also suggest uncertainty around the future of organizing efforts. Only 23 percent of respondents believed workers in the industry would unionize, compared to 22 percent who believed they wouldn’t; 43 percent said maybe, and 12 percent didn’t know. This is a minor change from last year, where 21 percent believed the industry will unionize. This shift in attitude may in part be due to growing discourse around the issue, and support from CWA (Communications Workers of America) launching a major campaign to unionize tech and video game workers this year.
The issue runs parallel to conversations happening around the presidential election. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has voiced strong support for organizing the games industry.
The GDC survey also investigated other major industry trends as well, including diversity, microtransactions, accessibility, next-gen development and virtual reality.
The report notes that the industry is still disproportionately male (75 percent); 21 percent of respondents identified as female, 2 percent said “other" and 2 percent declined to answer. It’s a slight difference from last year, where 77 percent identified as male and 19 percent as female, suggesting a shift in the make-up of the industry’s workforce. However, only a quarter of workers could answer affirmatively that the studio they work at is investing in inclusion efforts, the survey found. The largest share of respondents (28 percent) said their studio has not engaged in any diversity initiatives.
In the meantime, a small number of developers are already starting to work on the next generation, with 11 percent and 9 percent working on projects for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively. This isn’t surprising, as developers transition their tool kits to create for the more advanced consoles. For now, 34 percent of developers are targeting both current-gen (i.e. PlayStation 4) and the upcoming consoles.
Despite the excitement of new living room boxes on the way, most developers still prefer the dominant PC and mobile platforms. Of the current projects in the works, 56 percent are for PC, and 39 percent are for mobile. However interest in mobile games has slipped. Last year, 39 percent of respondents said they weren’t making any smartphone games. In 2019, that ticked up to 43 percent.
And in news that will delight consumer advocates, the infamous loot box mechanic is unpopular with developers. Loot box mechanics are a business model that charges players for a chance to win a random set of items. Outrage against the business tactic exploded once big-budget publishers like EA tried to shoehorn this into titles like Star Wars: Battlefront 2.
But just 8 percent of responding developers said they were working on projects with loot boxes, down from 9 percent in 2018. Despite the attention it gets from big games like Overwatch, loot boxes remain uncommon and unpopular in the industry.
There’s also notable long-term interest in Nintendo’s Switch. After PC and PlayStation 5, 37 percent of developers are most interested in creating for the Switch. This is consistent with 36 percent of respondents signaling interest in 2018. Despite the graphical powerhouses on the horizon, the Switch remains a favorite for developers thanks to its aging but far more familiar mobile tool kits to work with.
Augmented and virtual reality platforms have been slow to infiltrate the consumer market, but developers are surprisingly optimistic on the tech’s future. One in three respondents believe AR will dominate the industry in five years, while a quarter said VR headsets will rule. Almost half of those surveyed (48 percent) said projects involving AR/VR development are in the works.