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A majority of game developers support unionization, but many remain skeptical of metaverse ambitions

Attendees at the Game Developers Conference Expo in 2022 (Courtesy of Official GDC)
Attendees at the Game Developers Conference Expo in 2022 (Courtesy of Official GDC)

Game developers support forming unions. A majority of them work for indie studios rather than blockbuster companies. They’re skeptical of attempts to build the metaverse — a concept that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg staked his company on — and most of them oppose efforts to integrate blockchain technology like NFTs into their games.

All these findings come from a new survey of 2,300 professionals released this week by the Game Developers Conference, a longstanding organization that runs some of the industry’s best-regarded events and awards.

This most recent “State of the Game Industry” survey comes on the heels of a victory for the sector’s nascent labor movement. Roughly 300 quality assurance testers at a Microsoft-owned studio voted to unionize on Jan. 3. Other QA workers at Activision Blizzard took the same step last December, one year after a small indie studio became the first U.S. game company to unionize in 2021,though it folded in 2022.

Still, 53% of the survey’s respondents agreed that workers in their industry should unionize, while only 13% said they shouldn’t. One-fifth said they’d actively discussed forming a union at work.

But even as workers largely supported unions, more of them were skeptical of the so-called metaverse. While slim percentages of respondents thought existing games — from Epic’s “Fortnite” (14%) to Meta’s “Horizon Worlds” (7%) — were best positioned to deliver on its promise, nearly half didn’t select any companies or platforms at all.

Meanwhile, the wider tech industry continues to wobble. Google just joined Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta in announcing thousands of layoffs of their own. Less dramatic, but still ominous, budget cuts have slashed jobs at more gaming-focused firms as well. So while 2023 might be a promising year for people who enjoy games, it may prove to be a tough one for the people who make them.

James Perkins Mastromarino Twitter Producer, Here & Now
James Perkins is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.

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