Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

 

Video games: near of 6000 layoffs in one month

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There have been more than 6,000 layoffs in the video games industry in 2023. This year, there have been almost that many in one month.

  • Philippe de Montigny (View profile)Philippe de Montigny

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After a “very difficult” year for the video games industry, 2024 is shaping up to be even worse. In just one month, more than 6,000 layoffs have already been announced globally, almost surpassing the number of layoffs recorded last year.

James Russwurm, who lives in Edmonton, is among the thousands of employees who have lost their livelihood in the past year. He worked as a video game tester and quality control analyst at Keywords Studios.

When the announcement of the layoffs came last September, his small team was carrying out contracts for the Californian giant Electronic Arts. He and his colleagues had also worked for the Edmonton studio BioWare, well known for its successes Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

Imagine experiencing that. You arrive at work and your manager tells you in a meeting: today is your last day, goodbye, he remembers. All access to the dozen dismissed employees was revoked immediately after this meeting.

It’s not really an industry in which we can build our careers or fully invest ourselves.

A quote from laid-off Edmonton worker James Russwurm

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His employer had explained to him that he was unable to conclude a commercial agreement with Electronic Arts, without giving further details. James Russwurm suspects his team’s decision to unionize just a year earlier must have played a role in that decision.

This seems like an anti-union tactic to me. Maybe they say they can get rid of us to avoid dealing with unionized employees, he said.

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Last September, James Russwurm lost his job as a quality control analyst at Keywords Studios, an Irish company, which has an office in Edmonton.

This wave of layoffs in the video game industry is part of a real bleeding of jobs in the technology sector, which continues again this year.

Technology columnist Carl-Edwin Michel explains that, just like online commerce and social networks, video games have experienced a pandemic craze, which has pushed the boxes production staff to hire massively and invest in new technologies, such as virtual reality and the metaverse.

Unfortunately, it didn’t produce the expected results, he said. These are publicly traded companies. If the output is not there, we must readjust the shot quickly.

It’s heartbreaking, but we don’t really think about humans. We tend to think about the pockets of investors.

A quote from Carl-Edwin Michel, techno columnist

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The techno columnist Carl-Edwin Michel is also founder of e-sports company Northern Arena and executive producer of the Canadian Games Awards.

Last week, the giant Microsoft shared in an internal memo that it plans to cut 1,900 positions from its subsidiaries Activision-Blizzard, Xbox and ZeniMax, or 8% of its entire video game division. Most of the layoffs will affect Activision-Blizzard, which the company swallowed along with a few of the best casinos not connected to gamstop last October in a monster deal valued at US$69 billion.

We defined our priorities, identified duplication and ensured that we were all aligned on the projects with the greatest potential to generate growth, underlined the head of video games at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, in his message sent to employees , last Thursday.

The editor of League of Legends, Riot Games, announced it would cut 530 jobs, representing 11% of its workforce. CEO Dylan Jadeja pointed out that the company had more than doubled its workforce in a few years – to reach 4,500 employees – and that with too many projects underway, it needs to refocus its priorities.

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Riot Games, behind the game League of Legends, laid off 530 employees in January, after growth in its workforce deemed unsustainable, explains CEO Dylan Jadeja.

This is absolutely the last thing we wanted to do, he wrote. A decision like this has a huge impact on people’s lives and Riot’s culture. We’re not doing this to appease shareholders or pad our profits – we made this decision because it’s necessary.

Earlier this month Today, live streaming platform Twitch said it plans to let go of about a third of its workforce, or 500 employees. The company behind the Unity game engine, which has an office in Montreal, has announced 1,800 layoffs, or a quarter of its workforce.

In the coming years, artificial intelligence could also change the situation, according to experts, although this reason is not explicitly mentioned by companies. With artificial intelligence taking up a lot of space, it will have an impact in the world of video games, says Mr. Michel.

According to him, these powerful tools could replace the actors who lent their voices to the characters and the teams who developed these characters and their environments.

L’ AI is capable of producing much more, much faster, he emphasizes. Are we going to see more and more of this type of layoffs? It remains to be seen.

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Jayson Hilchie, president of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, represents major video game console manufacturers, publishers, independent developers, as well as national distributors.

The president of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, Jayson Hilchie, remains rather optimistic. These layoffs don’t tell the whole story, he said.

Even with these very unfortunate layoffs, we’re probably still at the level of ;highest employment we’ve seen since the pandemic, he claims.

Mr. Hilchie points out that the video games industry contributed $5.5 billion to the Canadian economy in 2021. In terms of jobs in this sector, Canada was ranked third in the world.

Working in the video games industry is stressful for Vlada Monakhova, an illustrator and conceptual artist in Montreal. The freelancer joined the Game Workers Alliance, which aims to promote the rights of workers in the video game industry and support their unionization efforts.

There is simply no security. There is no way to plan our future.

A quote from Vlada Monakhova, member of the Game Workers Alliance

At any end from the field, I can receive an email saying that I am no longer needed, she says.

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Vlada Monakhova, member of the Game Workers Alliance group in Montreal.

The union movement within the video game industry is still very embryonic in the country, but according to James Russwurm, the recent cuts demonstrate the importance of protecting workers workers.

In 2022, he was one of 16 Keywords Studios employees to join United Food and Sugar Workers Local 401 trade (UFCW). It was a first in Canada.

However, he believes that the rights of workers in the video game industry in the United States are still stronger than on this side of the border.

We want to implement several of these protections for our workers so that we avoid these waves of hiring and layoffs, explains James Russwurm.

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Carl-Edwin Michel, founder and executive producer of the Canadian Games Awards, understands that the cyclical nature of the producing new games makes life difficult for these artisans with very specialized skills.

He suspects that the release of a new Switch console, expected this year, and the design of new versions of the PlayStation and Xbox gaming systems should boost employment.

There, we are slowly starting to see companies that will focus on creating games for these new generations, so that will lead to new projects and possibly new hiring.

With information from CBC’s Shawn Benjamin and Alison Northcott

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