Hi, I’m Joan, and I’m covering everything surrounding labor and working conditions in the games industry for this month’s GYGO! From game companies using generative AI instead of hiring more people to the battles for unionization, we’ll get into all of it.
Seriously, There Are So Many Layoffs
If you’ve even casually followed gaming news over the last year, news about industry layoffs is seemingly inescapable. It’s infuriating to see new stories about people losing their jobs despite record-breaking sales and billion-dollar buyouts at least once a week. Since October 3rd, 25 contract workers have been laid off at Naughty Dog, 180 people have been laid off from Amazon Games, and 98 people have been laid off from Ubisoft Montreal… and those are just the stories that don’t have more than layoffs to talk about. Even non-gaming-related companies are caught in the crossfire, with the big news that 50% of music streaming platform Bandcamp’s staff would lose their jobs (including everyone on the union negotiating team) after Bandcamp was sold from parent company Epic Games to Songtradr.
Recently unionized SEGA employees are being similarly threatened with layoffs, and Embracer Group continues to cut costs by laying off the staff of multiple game studios. Even after letting go of 500 people over the last year and making over $500 million in revenue in its most recent quarter, Unity seems poised to fire more workers in the coming months. Destiny 2 developer Bungie cites loss of players as the reasoning for letting go of 50 employees, despite disgruntled fans’ claims to lack of attention from Bungie in the first place. I’m having a hard time imagining a less bleak time for AAA game development: stacked game releases are making more money than ever for developers and publishers, but job security for the people who make those games is seemingly impossible.
We hoped that Sega management would bargain in good faith, but instead they've shown disregard to status quo and are threatening to outsource the jobs of a majority of the workforce in our QA and Localization departments, which is up to 40% of our unit. (2/3)
— AEGIS-CWA 💙 #UnionizeSEGA (@takesAEGIS) November 16, 2023
It’s this climate that makes the news of Persona 5 developer ATLUS raising salaries even more surprising and refreshing. Annual salaries are going up by 15% and ATLUS will pay out performance bonuses, all in efforts to “create a comfortable working environment for each and every employee” as mentioned in the original press release. What a relief.
Microsoft Wants to Make Games with Generative AI
And because we can’t have anything nice for long, bringing us back down is Microsoft’s unveiled partnership with InWorld AI to create tools for AI-generated dialogue and narrative. With potential uses on their website’s announcement including “new narratives with dynamically-generated stories, quests, and dialogue,” it certainly sounds like the people who would be responsible for writing those stories, quests, and dialogue are being threatened with less work in the name of efficiency.
Okay but literally who in their right mind asked for this, asking as a game developer https://t.co/6jot2atsrW
— JC Lau (@drjclau) November 7, 2023
Microsoft is not the only company trying to experiment with generative AI either, as AI-generated art is cropping up on official Ubisoft social media, to everyone’s dislike. Maybe the most egregious example of late comes from Embark Studios opting for AI-generated voiceovers for their upcoming FPS The Finals, as confirmed in a recent podcast with audio designers Carl Strandberg and Andreas Almström. This news comes on the heels of video game actors authorizing a potential strike for, among other concerns, lack of protections against generative AI.
In other news…
Gaming press has had its own share of losses over the past month, with the news that gaming criticism site Uppercut will be shuttering at the end of this year. EIC Ty Galiz-Rowe cites deep burnout as the reason for closing operations, and encourages readers to support other small sites.
An update on Uppercut's future: pic.twitter.com/HaFSDxVNzw
— Uppercut 🥊 (@UppercutCrit) November 10, 2023
G/O Media has laid off 23 workers across its company, including Kotaku. Jezebel, G/O media’s now-former women’s culture vertical, was hit hardest, with the publication shuttered and its staff laid off after G/O Media failed to find a buyer for it.
In an interview with Inverse, Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser was asked about a lack of unions at Nintendo, and responded suggesting that unions aren’t in place due to “a high degree of job satisfaction and engagement overall.”
And in tabletop labor news, the New York board game cafe Hex&Co has won the right to unionize, with Hex Workers Unite joining the rapidly growing wave of unionization efforts across the tabletop gaming industry over the past few years.
Joan Zahra Dark is a writer, organizer, and interdisciplinary artist. They love talking about queer comics, stories that can only be told through interactive mediums, worker cooperatives and gay robots. They’re based in Queens, NYC.