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GDC's 2021 State of the Game Industry Report Points to Slow but Certain Evolutions

Statistics for platform preferences, COVID-19 reflections, diversity, and more.

GDC has released its 2021 “State of the Games Industry” report, a collection of statistics resulting from over 3,000 game developers which represents the current industry. The report goes over topics such as how the COVID-19 pandemic affected productivity, hardware preferences (there’s a strong interest in the PlayStation 5, for example), unionization, and much more. While it’s worth reading the whole report, we wanted to present some of the most interesting finds in a more easily digestible article.

  • While PlayStation 5 is the leading console in terms of developer interest, PC remains the overall leader. Google Stadia and PlayStation Now are at the bottom.
  • 53% of developers plan to develop their next projects on PC, while 31% plan to do so for Android and iOS. For consoles, the PlayStation 5 leads with 30%, with the Xbox Series X|S trailing closely behind at 25%. These trends show the increased level of accessibility that PC and mobile platforms offer developers.
  • Only 38% have been involved in VR or AR game development — a 46% decrease from last year.
  • Most developers felt a good promotion on a digital storefront was the most effective tool in gaining discoverability. Word of mouth follows closely behind. Social media, email marketing, and paid advertising are all effective investments, as well.
  • With the game subscription model only becoming more popular, largely because of the incredible benefits of Xbox Game Pass, developers have had to contend with the possibility of game prices being devalued. Overall, more developers aren’t concerned with this, though. 30% indicated they have no concerns, compared to 26% last year.
  • Only 3% feel the standard 30% revenue cut, which Steam is still holding onto, is justified. One has to wonder how much longer Steam will stay committed to it.
  • A revenue cut of 10% is seen as the most popular among those surveyed.
  • 56% of developers said they work 40 hours per week or less on average, a one percent increase from last year.
  • The report states that, when looking at the data in larger swaths by combining responses, “61 hours-plus work weeks gathered a notable 30% of total responses.”
  • Self-pressure is the largest factor in developers working overtime, at 73%. With management pressure sitting at 14%, it’s clear that a multitude of factors contribute to the industry’s pervasive crunch problem. The report shares various quotes from developers reflecting on the amount of work they did in the last year.

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  • 51% believe the games industry should unionize, compared to 14% who don’t. Only 20% have faith the industry will actually unionize.
  • 44% said their game suffered a delay due to the pandemic, compared to 33% last year. The pandemic’s effects are ongoing and hard to precisely measure, so know that more delay announcements are surely on the way.
  • 49% said their game did not experience a delay.
  • 66% of respondents said their productivity and creativity stayed the same or increased to varying degrees. This statistic is proof that, as COVID-19 mandates are slowly eased, it’s vital for companies to consider permanent work-from-home solutions for their employees. Square Enix is one of the companies that has led on this so far.
  • Diversity and inclusion is becoming increasingly important to the games industry. 60% of developers said their studio focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives ranging from “a moderate amount” to “a great deal,” compared to 56% in the last year.
  • 25% said their studios hadn’t focused on them at all, which is a lower statistic compared to the previous year.
  • 31% of studios implemented inclusion initiatives in response to Black Lives Matter — disappointingly, less than the 38% who indicated no. For PC Gamer, journalist Malindy Hetfeld investigated whether the industry has truly lived up to its Black Lives Matter promises.
  • Over half of the industry is made up of developers who have 10 years or less of game development experience. This reaffirms the observation that the game industry struggles to retain talent long-term and needs to figure out solutions to keep its veterans from burning out.
  • Although gender diversity is increasing, men still dominate the workforce at 73%. Women make up 21% and non-binary people make up 3%.
  • GDC did not ask about race or ethnicity.

Overall, the report points to various evolutions that may take some time to result in concrete action, but are nonetheless hopefully on the way. Many developers are supportive of and working to help bring about unionization, more effective initiatives for diversity and inclusion, and increased financial equity. Statistics like this help everyone in the industry to better identify problems and create solutions for issues like crunch, as well as to decide how to better develop and market games in the future of an ever-rapidly developing industry. The changes are happening more slowly than many of us would like, but it’s hopefully only a matter of time.

About the Author

Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.