The last few years have brought with them a huge boom in the video game industry, both in revenue and employment. In the UK’s video game industry alone, full-time employment grew 54%, from 47,730 to 73,370 between 2016 and 2019, according to the BFI's Screen Business Report. Furthermore, Hitmarker reported a 5% increase in job vacancies between 2020 and 2021, with an increase in demand for Senior candidates rising by 2.9% in the same period.
While these stats and figures show some interesting insight into the industry’s growth, they only show one element of how the ever-changing landscape is evolving. That’s why we at Aardvark Swift have curated some of the biggest pivots within the industry at the moment, and what they mean for you as a candidate looking for your next role within it!
Arguably one of the biggest and most revolutionary shifts in the industry is an increased awareness of and an increased drive for better working conditions, especially for marginalised groups. “Crunch” has always been up for debate regarding its ethicality, but with several unjust working practices including harassment, bullying, layoffs, and toxic cultures, the conversation has opened up to a wider pool of previously silenced voices.
With this discourse in public consciousness both inside and outside the industry now louder than ever, the potential for tangible and positive change is deafening. According to the GDC State of the Industry 2022 report, “Fifty-five percent of respondents said that workers in the game industry should unionise… with almost one-fourth of respondents (23%) said that conversations about unionising have happened at their workplace”. The former is the highest percentage in the history of the publication's survey. The report also notes that “38% of respondents said that their companies reached out to them to start a conversation about how misconduct and toxicity are handled in the industry”. While these figures could be higher, they depict a growing demand for fairer and safer working environments for all workers within the industry.
Accessibility and Inclusivity
Society as a whole has continued to make strides in inclusivity in every sense of the word through recent years, and the same can be said for the videogames industry. More and more studios are beginning to implement in-game features that open up their worlds to people with disabilities, with some noteworthy titles including The Last of Us 2, which gained critical acclaim for its immediate option for players to activate its wide array of innovative accessibility features such as magnified pan and scan, guiding audio cues woven into dialogue, and a high contrast overlay.
Similarly, Marvel’s Spiderman games offer auto-complete options on fine-motor skills and quick time tasks. According to the same GDC report, 38% of respondents said that their studio was implementing accessibility features into their newest title. At first glance, you might think 38% isn’t a figure to write home about, but if you take into consideration that 25% of respondents said “n/a / don’t know”, that number equates to more respondents answering yes to no. And that's not all, in the previous two years’ surveys, only 28% responded yes in 2020, and 31% in 2021). This goes to show that not only are accessibility issues being addressed, but they’re being addressed at a pace that’s gathering momentum annually.
Let’s talk about inclusivity in the workplace, then. According to the Ukie Games Industry Census Report 2022, 67% of people said they were male, 30% female, and 3% non-binary or other. Though women are underrepresented in the industry compared to the national workforce (38%), there are some positives to take. Firstly, women’s representation has increased from 28% in 2020, showing a progression in the right direction, as well as the fact that individuals that identify as non-binary/other, accounting for 0.4% of the working population, but are 3% of the employee base in the videogame industry. While there is work to be done, particularly in how these employees are treated within some workplaces, these figures alone show a certain level of progressivity compared to other industries.
Demand for remote working options has skyrocketed amongst developers since it was brought in worldwide in a baptism of fire when the pandemic began. Now, developers have realised not only is their role achievable from home, but for the majority, is more productive too with the added benefits that come with flexible working models. Because of this shift, many studios have since moved to either fully remote or hybrid working options to accommodate demand, as, according to a survey conducted by Owl Labs, 74% of respondents said the ability to work remotely would make them less likely to leave their employer, and 71% said remote options would make them prefer one role over another in their next role. This comes as part of the parcel with the aforementioned shift to improve working conditions for employees in the industry; a big move in improving work-life balance and reducing commuting costs during the current cost of living crisis.
Some things will never change, and the debate about whether new developers should specialise in Unity or Unreal still wages on. Put simply, Unreal has a steeper learning curve but has the edge in VFX and animation quality, as well as quicker rendering speeds. Unity on the other hand lends itself more to smaller projects, particularly with its ease of use, and has a far larger market share, with 48% to Unreal’s 13% - meaning that if you aren’t working in AAA development (where Unreal is preferred), you’re more than likely going to come across developers and studios that specialise in Unity.
With studios transitioning into Unreal Engine 5 however, it is important to note some of the key innovations this will bring to developers of all departments. Artists and Animators alike can expect to see game-changing features such as Nanite, a virtualised geometry system designed for minimising tedious tasks when creating massive amounts of detail, and importing the highest quality artwork, or Lumin, their new, dynamic lighting feature. Sound Designers will be given free roam in Meta Sounds, providing workflow improvements and meticulous control over all aspects of sound design, and Level Designers are able to explore new concepts previously unheard of, with a world partition system that utilises a grid to map sublevels of an entire universe - what an exciting time to be in game development!
Emerging Game Trends
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to many that Free to Play / Games as a Service titles have since become the more profitable model, and because of this, many studios are shifting their development plans toward this structure; AAA giants such as Assassins Creed, Halo, and Call of Duty included. While the obvious benefit for studios is a continual revenue source, the F2P model brings with it new roles for developers; the extended longevity of a game brings with it the necessity of regular and ongoing support and updates for users, and Game Devs to provide them with such.
Other recent trends include the inclusion of NFTs, blockchain software, and cryptocurrencies as core mechanics within game development. Whether you love them or hate them, the fact remains that since their emergence in 2017 with early titles like Crypto Kitties, games that utilise blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFT features as an integral element of their game design have exploded onto the scene. Axie Infinity, Star Atlas, and The Sandbox, to name a few of the bigger titles to come from the phenomenon, have adopted the technology, typically in the form of user-generated economies, with land, levels, skins, and items all being monetized.
Many are enthused by the prospect; with true item ownership, augmented immersion, metaverses, and scope for user-developed content to be monetised now a reality, developers are gaining an element of innovation with this new technology and are at the forefront of pioneering and pushing the applications of it. Blockchain-based studios are emerging rapidly all over the world; so, if this is an avenue that interests you as a developer, then the opportunity to break into the industry through this route is a very feasible option!
That’s not to say the technology has been left unscathed by controversy or scepticism, however. According to the GDC’s annual State of the Industry report, “the majority of developers said that they and their studio are not interested in cryptocurrency (72%) as a payment tool or in NFTs (70%), for such a nascent space, 27% percent of developers are at least somewhat interested in cryptocurrency at their studio and 28% are at least somewhat interested in NFTs”.
The issues arise from both the volatility of the cryptocurrency and the environmental implications, with The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimating that Bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity than the entirety of some countries per year, namely the Netherlands and Pakistan. That’s not all, a single bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of power as the average US house for 78 days - so it’s easy to see why some may be hesitant about the prospect.
These are just a few of the key takeaways and points of contention in the present state of the industry. In such a malleable space that’s constantly evolving alongside new technologies and phenomenon, there’s always new developments within the industry that you should be aware of.