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GDC's Covid-19 survey leaves room for optimism in the industry

The organisers of the Game Developers Conference have released a report on the results of their latest “state of the industry” survey. Their usual annual survey happened in March, but this extra one was solely about the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

The results are on the face of it rather grim, with some job losses and game delays and lots of struggling people. But they’re not half as bad as you might think, and some are even getting on relatively well as they adapt. Let’s have a look.

Almost 2500 games developers responded, and right away there’s an interesting split in company sizes. 20% of respondents work alone, and another 15% in a team of under 6. Meanwhile, 18% work at a company with over 500 people, and the rest are an even split between team sizes of 6-500. Unfortunately there’s no mention of where any of them are geographically, which rather muddies the water.

An extreme 97% report that they’re working from home, although 27% already were. Only 8% say they’ve been furloughed or fired due to the pandemic. Awful as it is to downplay the cutting back of almost a tenth of the workforce, it’s an uncomfortable reminder that many in this industry (including myself) are in a relatively privileged position.

The report is frustratingly translucent in parts. One section says the survey asked people “how they feel working from home during the pandemic has impacted their productivity”, without sharing the exact questions. 41% say their productivity has decreased to some degree, but 32% said the opposite. I find this troublesome, since its premise minimises that people aren’t just cheerfully working from home under otherwise normal circumstances. One quoted respondent hints at this, saying: “If there were fewer outside stressors, such as family healthcare, it would be significantly more productive”.

Quite a lot of the remaining figures are inconclusive, with a plurality saying things are about the same, and a fairly even split of the remainder saying they’re better or worse. The big surprise is that only 33% say they have had a game delayed (not including the 21% who are not currently working on one).

A particularly striking, near perfect bell curve. Both interesting and kinda not at once.

As for the future, it’s also a mixed response. 5% are willing to go back to the office when their government says it’s okay. 9% would similarly go back if their company said to, and 11% say they’d feel safe to today. At least some of these people will live in less cursed countries so it’s not as bad as it sounds, I repeat over and over while eyeing up the dust sheet on my doomsday cannon. 39% say they won’t feel safe until a proven vaccine is available.

There’s some consolation to be found. So many redundancies and delayed games is dramatic, but it’s less than I’d assumed, and an impressive 64% say the lockdown situation has led to adaptations that they intend to continue with when it’s all over. One dev reports creating “an online game that could be used for charitable purposes using Zoom”. Another is even more comforting: “I believe more of our work will be done remotely. The collaboration tools that proved useful will stay with us. Apart from that — we were a source of support for each other. This friendship will definitely stay.”

To read the full report, go here and provide a name, title, and email address. They then link you directly to the report though, not even checking the details, so have fun.

This year’s GDC was cancelled and replaced with GDC Summer, an online event running from the 4th to the 6th of August. You can sign up on the GDC site.

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Sin Vega

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Nocturnal remembrer of ancient oddities and curator of unlikely treasures. When not destroying roguelikes with her laser eyes Sin can be found muttering to basils and probably moving house again.

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