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It’s all very sad, isn’t it - where does the games industry go from here?

It's hard to love an industry that is seemingly always in chaos.

Chai from HiFi Rush sits in front of a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, looking shocked
Image credit: VG247

I love video games. It's fair to say that I am obsessed with them. From an early age I was drawn to what they offered, their ability to push forward technology, to wow, to entertain, to make me excited like nothing else. As a child I used to read maybe 10 video game magazines a month (maybe more if I wasn't shooed out of my local WHSmiths that I was using like a library). I took joy in telling my friends about video games, and I knew I wanted to turn that into my career. And I did. There have been ups and downs, for sure, but I'm still here, 20 years later, still obsessed.

Yet, things feel different. It, the mood hanging in the air, feels, for want of a better word… bad.

It's the severe whiplash of it all that's so hard to parse.

Layoffs and closures. I don't know if anyone has an accurate number of the job losses suffered since the start of 2023 – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and yes, there were also plenty before then), but it's in the region of 20,000. Some of those come from restructures to save costs and others from complete studio closures, like the recent shutdown of Bethesda's talent Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin.

Yet, and here's the whiplash, the last 16 months or so have been perhaps the best we've ever seen in terms of game quality. On the triple-A front we've had The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur's Gate 3, Cyberpunk: Phantom Liberty, Alan Wake 2, Spider-Man 2, Mario Wonder, Diablo 4, Final Fantasy 16, FF7 Rebirth, Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth, Tekken 8, Street Fighter 6, Lies of P, Starfield, Octopath Traveler 2, Dragon's Dogma 2, Resident Evil 4 Remake, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, and more.

The indie games scene is also absolutely flying, with the likes of Balatro, Animal Well, Sea of Stars, Hades 2, Ultros, Crow Country, Dredge, A Highland Song, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, Viewfinder, Cocoon, and El Paso, Elsewhere the ones I can recall without having to use Google. It's a lot isn't it.

Text reads 'Game Over' and Chai from Hi-Fi Rush lies in the middle of a spotlight, surrounded by black.
The loss of Tango Gameworks stings the most. | Image credit: Tango Gameworks

I'm not ignorant to how big business operates, and I'm able to see reasons for some decisions even if I don't agree with them, but it's so hard to balance the video game industries relentless drive for growth with my own wish to just play great games when a lot of the people that made them are out of work and some of the studios no longer exist. I've built things and had them taken away, so I have a level of empathy through shared experience, yet the scale here is on a level that's difficult to comprehend.

Emotions are mixed and troubling. I personally have a strong connection to Xbox. A review I wrote for the original Halo started my journey into games media, Xbox Live dominated my early 20s, and the brand and its hardware/games played a major part in my career running a games media business throughout the first three Xbox generations. Microsoft making unpleasant business decisions rubs completely against my ingrained fondness of the platform.

Pariah me if you must, but I desperately want Xbox to succeed (alongside PlayStation and Nintendo, to be clear), but part of me also wants them to answer for a string of decisions that are at best hard to swallow. Glee from some quarters at a possible Xbox exit from hardware is, for me, short-sighted and radically lacking in knowledge of what Xbox has actually done for the industry, but it shows just what a terrible situation the division has gotten itself into.

There's an alarming amount of chatter online about this being the end for Xbox, at least on the hardware side - and when you see reports that PS5 (itself in a slight slump) outselling Xbox Series consoles 5:1 in a single quarter, well, it's hard not to wonder if it's not actually all tin foil hat nonsense.

A PS5, with a green Xbox logo, sits over a blurred image of the King, Activision, and Blizzard logos.
Is an Xbox Game Pass on PlayStation future likely? | Image credit: VG247

And all this is at a time when Xbox should be riding high: Fallout has never been bigger thanks to the Amazon TV show, Game Pass is a service I scarcely could believe had I been told as a child that it would exist in the future, and Microsoft owns an absolute tonne of the biggest games in the world. But somehow Xbox is in dire straits, seemingly struggling to find a clear direction to success.

Others have made a complete pig's ear of things, too, of course. Embracer is the most high-profile disaster, laying off well over 1000 employees after previously hoovering up studio after studio. Take Two recently closed Roll7 and Intercept Games, each having been responsible for some of the most cherished games of recent years.

Sony isn't free from all this, either. It's had its own batch of significant layoffs, and PS5 sales seem to be slowing down (although you'd have to be properly entrenched in business to see it as struggling), and it's made some unpopular decisions around its PC releases such as the mega hit Helldivers 2.

A helldiver wearing a Polar Patriots armour set in Helldivers 2.
Unpopular decisions aside, Helldivers has still sold 12 million copies. | Image credit: VG247/Arrowhead

I often wonder about Nintendo's decision to forgo cutting-edge technology in favour of making hardware for the masses. Given the difficulties the entire games industry has faced as we've marched ahead towards a seemingly unreachable graphical zenith, there can be no argument against Nintendo's choice being one of the smartest ever made.

Yes, perhaps Nintendo was best positioned to do this, but ever since the GameCube the firm has managed to deliver some of the best games of each generation at a fraction of the budgets needed for graphical powerhouse triple-A behemoths. At some point it, too, will face these issues, as it creeps towards offering hardware with more processing power, but it has positioned itself to offer a strong mix of triple-A, double-A, and, erm, single-A titles and do well from them all.

I want to be hopeful, I really do. In June we'll see loads of new games from PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and third-parties, and I'm sure loads will look amazing. PS5 Pro is still supposedly releasing before the end of the year, Switch 2 is coming early-ish next year (fingers crossed), and Nvidia is bound to wow with some incredible(y expensive) GPUs that do things consoles can barely dream of. Every week we also seem to be getting at least one indie game that begs to be played.

What do people want from video games? Based on recent earnings reports, it doesn't look like astronomically budgeted mega games like FF7 Rebirth and FF 16 are it, despite both being big weapons used in the increasingly tiresome console wars. I have many worries about the upcoming, graphically incredible Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, and no one predicted Sony would have a proper breakout hit with Helldivers 2. Anecdotally, my son and his friends only play Fortnite and the Fortnite-connected games these days, so is that generation simply opting out of traditional games, resulting in another multi-billion dollar trend chase that will end in disaster?

Time will tell, but I fully expect the games industry to look very different in five years. Better or worse, I don't know. I'll still be obsessed with video games, though. No doubt.

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