Inside GDC 2024: How Annual Video Game Conference Has Pivoted Programming Amid Industrywide Layoffs

When this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) kicks off Monday at the Moscone Center in San Fransisco, one topic is sure to be hanging over those in attendance at the five-day event: who has a job and who doesn’t — and who might still lose theirs soon.

Rather than sweep the uncomfortable subject of the thousands of layoffs that have hit the video game industry recently under the rug, GDC leadership has specifically tailored GDC 2024’s programming lineup to address the issue head on and offer assistance to the out-of-work attendees looking to make the most out of participating in the 38th annual conference while unemployed.

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“We’re doing quite a bit around around helping people find what they need to get their next job,” GDC event director Stephenie Hawkins tells Variety.

“We have a lot of sessions around career development — anything from the soft skills that you need as you’re looking for jobs to the more technical skills the you need when applying for jobs,” Hawkins said. “We have our Game Career seminar on Friday with more content than we’ve ever had. And we also have portfolio reviews for official art.”

Hawkins adds that equal effort has been put into resources for the hiring manager side, because there are actually video game publishers and developers looking for new talent.

“For exhibitors that are hiring, we have an option within our mobile app where they can add a tag that they are hiring, so attendees know where they can go once they get on site, and ‘I’m Hiring’ ribbons are available for GDC badges,” Hawkins said. “We have the Game Developer Job Board on our website, where you can post jobs, if you’re looking to hire, or if you’re looking for a job you can go there, and we will have a printed version of the job board on site. And it fills up so quickly; people are writing different notes on it, which is great to see, about who’s hiring or who to contact for interviews. Then we have speed networking, which is a great way to have organized meetings with other attendees for networking and expanding networks.”

Among those companies that will be talking about available positions in the GDC business meeting room are Amazon Web Services, Google, Meta, Nintendo, Roblox, Samsung, King and Playtika.

“This is a huge emphasis for us this year, really creating opportunities and pathways for people to come together and have those business meetings, collaborate with each other, find a potential business partner,” GDC conference manager and head of content Ashley Corrigan said. “We’ve created a few spaces on site where people can schedule meetings to really help facilitate bringing people together, trying to figure out their next move and just moving the industry forward through what’s going on right now.”

Much of the GDC 2024 lineup, which includes more than 700 speaking sessions, was dictated by the GDC advisory board of 100+ veteran game and VR-AR professionals, who took their queues from GDC’s 12th annual State of the Game Industry Survey.

Among the findings in the 2024 report, which is based on responses from more than 3,000 game developers, 35% of those surveyed were been impacted by layoffs throughout 2023, either having some take place within their company or being laid off themselves, and more than half of those surveyed expressed concern that their company would see layoffs through 2024.

The majority of respondents said they believed the recent wave of cuts were due to “post-pandemic course correction, studio conglomeration, and economic uncertainty.” Some surveyed supported unionization “to better protect workers.”

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“The past year has been really challenging for the industry,” GDC content marketing manager Beth Elderkin said. “And as we’ve seen, even since the survey was conducted and even was released, it’s continued to be challenging with layoffs, ethical concerns about generative AI.”

Other issues top of mind in the survey include a rise in switching game engines, divide on the increase of mandatory return-to-office policies and implementing more accessibility options into games, indicating the industry’s ability to focus on evolving, even as huge players including PlayStation, EA and Epic are cutting staff.

“We’re seeing a community that has been coming together,” Elderkin said. “We’re seeing a lot of positivity, whether it’s building job networks on social media, growing support for unionization in the industry. And we’re also seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for people attending GDC.”

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