The 10,800 game layoffs in 2024 already exceeded all cuts in 2023 — here’s why | The DeanBeat

With the layoffs of 150 people at Sumo Group and 100 more at Timbre Games this week, the total estimated layoffs in 2024 have exceeded 10,800, according to the Game Industry Layoff Tracker.

In just 5.5 months, the game industry layoff toll for 2024 exceeds the 10,500 laid off in all of 2023 and 8,500 laid off in all of 2022. Matthew Ball, angel investor and CEO of Epyllion (and author of The Metaverse), took a crack at explaining the challenges in games in 30 tweets. He’s a big thinker and views the turmoil through both an analytical and empathic lens.

The layoffs this year are terrible news for the industry. But there is some solace in the amount of detail that we are getting about the state of layoffs — and job opportunities in the game industry. One of the best sources of information is Amir Satvat, the LinkedIn job resource aggregator. One of his friends noted this layoff data has created FOFO — fear of finding out — about the poor odds of finding jobs. But many people may think that knowing this information can be educational and even inspirational.

Knowing the market can help you find a job. It so happens that Satvat, who has a day job doing business development for Tencent, has come up with more new data about the state of gaming in 2024. Everyone looking for work in games should be looking at Satvat’s resources for finding jobs. After all, he has helped more than 2,000 people find jobs in the last couple of years or so.

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Satvat’s recognition has grown. More than 150,000 people engage with his platform daily, and he has enabled 37,000 community coaching conversations and he has 2,200 mentors for game job seekers. Many of his community members are helping him give help to game job seekers.

XP Gaming panel in Toronto

I moderated a session on finding community during tumultuous times with Satvat on Thursday at the XP Gaming Summit in Toronto, Canada. The panel also included Kim Gibson of Interactive Digital Media for Ontario Creates and Christine Kev of Women in Games France.

I noted how GamesBeat ran into tough times, faced layoffs, and saw big risks in the conference business. I asked for help from our community, and we received it in the form of sponsorships and attendees. That community reaction saved us. And that bolstered our empathy for the game community, which has been hit hard, and we hope our event helped lift our community’s spirits as well.

“I want to anchor to is this idea of not just being about cold hard numbers, and leading with empathy,” said Satvat on our panel. “I think that one of the most important things about helping — [Kim] was talking about toxic positivity — is that you have to be very realistic with people in a time like this in the industry, in addition to offering as much support is possible.”

After analyzing over 1.6 million data points, Satvat recently said the probability of any game industry applicant landing a job in the games industry is about 4% over a period of 12 months. In saying this, Satvat has given voice to all the frustrations of those seeking to find jobs in the game industry, which is still viewed as a dream job by so many people.

The chance of someone previously employed in the games sector finding another games industry job within 12 months is slightly up, approximately 27%. Both of these numbers have been reported before.

But Satvat recently added a new data point at the community’s request: the odds of finding a role in games as a new applicant if you are out of school or have three or fewer years of work experience. He estimated the odds for this pool are slightly above 1% over 12 months.

Hopefully, these odds will get better as the game industry recovers. Satvat hopes the number of people hired will exceed the number of people hired by September or so.

Amir Satvat is director of business development at Tencent.
Amir Satvat is director of business development at Tencent. Here he is at GamesBeat Summit 2024.

And this week he said that he came up with estimates across all 3,625 games employers he tracks, a blend of both bigger ones and smaller ones, and all applicants, some of whom may apply to many, many jobs, and some of whom apply to a much fewer number.

With 11,073 jobs turning over annually, this is the percentage of net new jobs that aren’t just jobs given to people already employed internally. He said he knows that not all the nearly 13,799 roles listed actually turn over or end up getting filled because he tracks each one with a unique identifier.

He also knows there are 205,981 unique job seekers. That means there are 508 applications per job and 54 applications per applicant. The overall competition ratio is 5.4%. That might sound depressing. But it can also be motivating. It might mean you won’t stop at 30 applications. You might move to 60 to just improve your chances of landing a role.

“Let’s say we double your odds of finding a job. Well okay now instead of 5%, your odds are 10%,” Satvat said. “That still means 90% of the people in the industry are going to have to figure out something else. They are still going to have to feel loved and are going to still have to have support. This is a very complex situation without easy answers, but we can start by trying to provide support.”

For applicants per job, on average, each job opening receives 508 applications. Satvat said that for many applicants, they may have applied to 30 jobs or 100 or more jobs, but there’s an average based upon polling, investigation of news articles and studies, and conversations he has had with candidates and those in talent.

Project Flagpole looks at game industry jobs.
Project Flagpole looks at game industry jobs.

The number of unique job seekers includes his backend calculation of new entrants to the market, which encompasses graduates of games programs, an estimation of graduates from college and graduate programs who want to go into games, those in art programs, and more.

Gibson, who works in Toronto, said she has seen at a granular level the kind of things that Satvat was talking about in large numbers.

“It’s not an easy time. I’ve watched the companies that I deal with on a daily basis. They are creating jobs for those individuals who struggle. The money hasn’t been flowing through the sector and through the space. And it’s very difficult when you don’t have funding coming into your company to create those jobs. The reality is this affects us at so many different levels,” Gibson said. “It affects employees, it affects businesses, it also even affects people like Dean and myself, who are kind of at a higher level where we’re not necessarily running a company, but we’re supporting the sector.”

She noted that at least her region of Ontario has great government resources that can support the game industry when commercial interests will not do so. And she noted the resources and knowledge are often shared because everybody wants to help each other. They don’t consider themselves to be competitive when the end goal is to create a lot of jobs across all the companies in the region, Gibson said.

She held a workshop recently about “toxic positivity,” where being too much of a booster by only talking about the positives is too far removed from reality to be helpful.

“What is going to fix the situation is sharing information and propping up your colleagues and working together to find solutions to really difficult challenges,” Gibson said. “These are really difficult challenges in the industry. While you want to be positive, it is also OK to say this really sucks.”

Kev from France also said that layoffs have hit country as well and many workers are struggling. She noted that those struggling include women and marginalized people, as they often have fewer opportunities in the industry.

What can people do to help their own careers in the face of adversity? Satvat said that many people reach out for support and talk about their challenges in social networks. They put themselves out there, asking for help. They can also keep honing their skills in things like game jams. They should go to events and talk to people, Gibson and Satvat said. And maybe realize there are factors at play that you can’t control, and that you should adapt as a result.

Amir Satvat and his gaming community have helped 2,000 people find gaming jobs.
Amir Satvat and his gaming community have helped 2,000 people find gaming jobs.

Resilience and adaptation was the theme of our most recent GamesBeat Summit 2024 conference. And in my 27 years of covering games on a daily basis, I have seen adaptation over and over, in transitions from premium games to free to play, in the growth of mobile games and virtual reality, in the hot trends for cloud gaming, blockchain games, metaverse and now artificial intelligence. The game industry is in a constant state of change, and now is no different.

We highlighted one of the bright spots of making games on user-generated content platforms like Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft. I said in a panel at our event that this UGC focus felt like the new ground floor for entrants to the game industry. If you can’t find a job in games yourself, you can still learn how to do it on these platforms and create your own job.

While skeptical about some areas of growth, it’s usually a safe bet that someone will take a technology like AI, integrate it into a game and knock it out of the park, Satvat said. That will make or break this trend. Remember the MOBA trend? Just one game, League of Legends, made they hype real. But a note of caution. Almost all of the other MOBA games failed. This was mostly a single-game hype trend.

The cause of the layoffs?

U.S. consumer spending on games has dropped since 2021.

In his 30 tweets, Ball covered the causes behind the layoffs. I’ve summarized his remarks here and occasionally added my own interpretation.

“These layoffs span games that were canceled and scaled back, as well as studios that have been shutdown or shrunk, and start-ups forced to close after an evaporation of private funding for gaming studios (down 28% from pre-pandemic times though overall VC is up 15%),” Ball wrote. “Gaming’s current struggles are hard to reconcile with its creative, financial, and cultural ascendence – and in particular, 2023.”

He noted that last year had an all-time content slate, saw several of biggest games in history grow even larger (e.g. Roblox, Fortnite), launched new and diverse hits such as Honkai Star Rail, Baldur’s Gate, Lethal Company, Hogwarts Legacy, Monopoly Go!, soared in TV and film adaptation (The Last of Us, Super Mario Bros. Movie) and adapting (Spider-Man 2, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor). And Ball said 2024 seemed to burst out of the gates with incredible and innovative new hits Palworld, Helldivers, Manor Lords and more.

Part of the reason for the layoffs are rising costs and surging interest rates, a decline in demand after people went outdoors again in the wake of the pandemic, and more. But Ball said there are no easy answers. Blaming capitalism itself may feel good, but it might not fully explain the reality.

“The answer is diverse and structural, including changing business models, evolving user behaviors and preferences, labor economics and microeconomics, disappointing forecasts (and only-recently abandoned rationales for the related shortfalls), competitive and budgetary escalation, console saturation, and an end to the growth-drivers of the last five and ten years. It is the convergence of these many trends that is behind the current state of gaming (as Ball wrote in detail in January).

Over a few years now, Ball saw a decline in consumer spending on games. After inflation, the numbers show the U.S. is down 14% since 2021, while international sales are down 13% since 2020. Gaming is still a $185 billion industry, Ball said.

Among the details to realize: inflation has hit four-decade highs. In 2022, games saw a drop in gross sales of 4% at a time when inflation was 8%. That means sales are really down 12%. That’s really tough because game companies could not pass rising costs — up 10% to 20% — on to consumers in the form of price increases.

Ball noted that despite the COVID bump, real industry revenues have grown only 5% since 2019 (or 0.7% compound annual growth). In comparison, real GDP globally is up 19% (or 4.6% annually). Put another way, the gaming industry grew at less than a sixth the rate of the global economy.

The problem was that no one among the executives at the top game companies budgeted for this scenario. They expected growth to just keep on going up, and as a result they bulked up on staff, M&A, new studios, VC investments and more.

ball 2
Gaming hours played per week has fallen.

With our anti-capitalist hat on (my words, not Ball’s), we can criticize this forecasting debacle as “an executive failure.” The truth was nobody saw this coming. But the consequences were felt by non-executives — the individuals who invested their lives and families into these ambitions, Ball said.

“Worse, and this gets to the core explanation for the recent uptick in layoffs: it is increasingly hard to envision a broad turnaround in the near future. Circana, for example, is estimating another 2% drop in the U.S. for 2024, and as much as 10%,” Ball said.

He noted there are fewer active gamers there were than a few years ago. Retained players are playing less, and they’re also spending less money. Ball said that gaming is down while other industries are up because core growth drivers like mobile have been exhausted.

Mobile slows down

Mobile added $83 billion of real industry growth from 2008 to 2023, but there aren’t as many new players to be found. Cross-platform games drove growth as people wanted to play with their friends. And free-to play drove material increase in engagement and spending.

Meanwhile, Ball said supposed new drivers, such as VR/AR/metaverse, cloud gaming, and Web3/NFTs, have not yet delivered at meaningful scale. Instead, headwinds like Apple’s focus on user privacy over targeted ads have appeared.

“These changes made it more costly for games to acquire customers and then harder to generate ad revenue from these customers, creating a vicious cycle that harmed game discovery, game playtime, game monetization, reinvestment in game content and player acquisition, etc.,” Ball said.

Since the changes, U.S. US mobile gaming downloads have plummeted over 20%. Consumer spending is down a comparatively modest 6%, but it’s closer to an 18% drop after inflation – and after accounting for ad revenues, monetization is down more like 23%, Ball said.

Meanwhile, publishers realized that some gamers are stuck in “black hole” games, such as Roblox, Fortnite, Call of Duty, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto. It’s hard to pull players out of their “gravitational pull” of these games to get them to spend money on new games.

He said, “’Black holes’ are particularly hard on new, aspirant live services. To thrive over the long run, these titles need to attract not just individual players, but much of their friend groups, too. This requires an outstanding mix of creative, gameplay, monetization, and internal processes for games-as-a-service. This is doable (Helldivers fricking rocks!, Ball said) but, mathematically speaking, nearly all new live services titles cannot gain a critical mass of friend networks.”

ball 3
Game revenues have contracted.

Market researcher Newzoo reported that 60% of console/PC playtime in 2023 was spent on games that were 6-plus years old since launch; AppAnnie/Data.AI shows 40% of mobile revenues by genre are held by the top 3 titles (in shooters, it’s 70%) and games over 2 years old have 70% share (95% for shooters!).

“In other words, man is it hard to break in, Ball said.

Stalling in 2023

The industry didn’t forecast correctly either for the stall in 2023. The result is that scores of games have fallen short of even the “low” forecasts of their publishers’ medium-term forecasts.

Ball pointed to Apex Legends Mobile (lasted 8 months), Anthem (2 years), Hyper Scape (~ 2 months), New World (lost 96% of players in 3 months, halving again two years later), The Avengers (2.5 years, but largely defunded much earlier), Splitgate (effectively shut down a year after it drove a $1.5B valuation), MultiVersus (taken offline for a year), Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad, Redfall, Far Cry, and on and on.

“In parallel to declining toplines, game development costs have also surged in recent years and across several drivers,” he said.

He noted that 2023’s Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 reportedly cost three times that of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man. And he noted The Last of Us had 90 minutes of mocap cinematics, while the sequel had nine hours. That translates to more costs.

Matthew Ball is the author of The Metaverse: And how it will revolutionize everything.
Matthew Ball is the author of The Metaverse: And how it will revolutionize everything.

The return on these investments could be negative — and that is definitely hard to forecast.

“Many triple-A publishers also assumed, not unreasonably, that market growth would offset at least some of their growing budgets,” Ball said. “The theory suggested that ongoing improvements in console fidelity, plus generational succession, and maybe cloud gaming and/or mobile, would significantly enlarge the triple-A player base. This hasn’t really happened.”

In past generations of consoles, inflation was low. Costs went up, but at a rate below inflation. But as budgets ballooned in the latest generation of consoles, inflation was also high, but consumers wouldn’t pay higher prices for games.

“This returns us to 2024. For years, publishers have been investing to grow their pipelines: more incubations, more greenlights, bigger live services expansions,” Ball said. “And after years of revenue stagnation/decline, cost increases, and flops, they are now re-evaluating their forecasts. Often coming to the conclusion their original business cases were too optimistic and/or their titles unlikely to succeed. So we see countless cancellations, such as Odyssey (X years development) at Blizzard or Mandalorian at EA, sometimes studios lost altogether, and cuts at the titles still moving forward.”

Then along comes generative AI, promising to make companies more efficient. But the unsaid thing is that AI could make many employees obsolete. And so it could both help and hurt when it comes to stimulating demand and cutting workers.

“There are new and massive hits – but the lessons for the big publishers don’t encourage hiring. Palworld had under 40 employees (mostly using asset stores and outsourced, low-cost labor), Helldivers came from a team of 100 (and took 7 years), Manor Lords only a few, Lethal Company but a single creator,” Ball said.

He added, “This is complex, fraught, and often sad circumstance. It’s best served by long-form, than tweet, so I’ll share the original essay here, as it captures a lot more of the nuance, as well as the areas of hope. If you’re a player or casual observer, the video game industry seems to have it all. Yet growth is now illusory, layoffs abundant, and game/studio shutdowns common. Why? How might things change?”

Amir’s calculations

amir satvat 1
Amir Satvat’s web page offers services for game job seekers.

Here’s how the 5.4% acceptance rate is calculated:

1. Annualized Job Turnover: 11,073 represents the net new jobs available annually, excluding positions filled internally.

2. Applicants per Job: Each of the 11,073 job openings receives 508 applications, leading to a total of 5,627,064 applications.

3. Applications per Applicant: Each applicant applies to an average of 54 jobs, leading to 205,981 unique job seekers.

4. Competition Ratio: The acceptance rate is calculated by dividing the annualized job turnover by the number of unique job seekers, resulting in 5.4%.

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