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Paige Cook's top stories of 2023: Games industry layoffs, Microsoft's Activision acquisition, and Sega's big Rovio deal

PocketGamer.biz deputy editor Paige Cook picks her favourite stories from throughout 2023
Paige Cook's top stories of 2023: Games industry layoffs, Microsoft's Activision acquisition, and Sega's big Rovio deal
  • It seems that for every brave new move and bold intention we report on up front there's always that little extra backstory and perspective that the team just can't help but share…
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Regular readers of our weekly Week In Views round-ups will be familiar with the team's candid takes on the weeks events. It seems that for every brave new move and bold intention we report on up front there's always that little extra backstory and perspective that the team just can't help but share…

We asked the PG.biz team to each pick their favourite stories of the year and shed a little light on what's really going on. Here's PG.biz deputy editor Paige Cook's take on the year's events.

Paige Cook

Paige Cook

Deputy Editor

Mass games industry job losses in 2023, but is the end in sight?

It’s impossible to look back on 2023 without thinking about the series of layoffs suffered throughout. In a year where gaming has seen incredible successes and featured games with some of the highest ratings of the last two decades, it’s incredibly sad that it’s also one of the years where developers have suffered the most.

This list was created in late September, but as of December, the total number of layoffs in the gaming industry is well over 9,000. It’s not just the games industry suffering from layoffs, as most prominent tech companies have suffered the same fate. This year, I’ve read countless announcements of ‘strategic restructures’ that have resulted in job losses.

It’s disheartening to see our industry hit so massively by the losses, but one thing the games industry is excellent at is building a sense of community. I’ve seen people helping one another find new opportunities, sharing resources and connecting at events, which, hopefully for many, has resulted in finding new roles.

While there is no way of knowing if this is the last of the big layoffs, I certainly hope the worst is behind us, and 2024 proves to be a better year.

Done deal: Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal approved by UK regulators

This is another story that is tough to skip when looking at 2023. After all, it marks the biggest acquisition we’ve ever seen in the games industry. After months of battling back and forth about regulations with government bodies, lawsuits and investigations, it felt like the deal could fall through. But on October 13th, 2023, Microsoft finally got what it wanted and Activision Blizzard is officially under the Microsoft banner.

The big debate was if this acquisition would mean Microsoft owned too large a piece of the industry pie. PlayStation had exclusivity concerns regarding Call of Duty and there were cloud gaming worries from UK regulators. The deal wouldn’t have gone through if it hadn't been for Microsoft doing some very astute negotiating. They promised Call of Duty would still have a home on PlayStation for the next 10 years, and in a bold move, they even sold cloud streaming rights to Ubisoft, which helped to turn the tide with UK regulators.

Funnily enough, one of the more overlooked aspects of the giant acquisition was the incredible mobile opportunity it gave Microsoft with the acquisition of King, Home to one of the biggest mobile games ever created. While we have yet to see any major implications of the acquisition, 2024 will be a big year for the new dynamic, with Microsoft already working on a mobile storefront in a bid to compete with Apple and Google.

Unity to charge for installs with new Unity Runtime Fee

Ah Unity. The quote ‘you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain’ comes to mind when considering the announcement of the runtime fee in September. The news broke while I was attending Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki, and tensions for many felt high. In particular, many indie developers were devastated by the news, and in a year that has already seen developers suffer, it raised yet another sense of uncertainty.

Now, all stories have two sides, and from a business standpoint, I completely understand that despite its incredible growth and popularity, behind the scenes Unity has always struggled with profitability. So, it's only natural that they want to implement measures that counter this. At the end of the day, they are running a business.

However, blindsiding your audience in a bid to fix the problem probably isn’t the best way of going about it. Unity was built on the premise of being a friendly platform where developers, big and small, could create and thrive, so when they came out of nowhere with an announcement that left more questions than answers, it’s understandable that developers had a distaste for the whole thing.

Unity has since revised the runtime fee and had a significant shake-up with the exit of then-CEO John Riccitiello in favour of new CEO Jim Whitehurst. Yet, for many, it seems the damage is done, and trust in the platform has been broken. Hopefully, in 2024, the Unity team can focus on regaining trust and perhaps become the hero once again.

Ubisoft clarify the use of AI-script writing Ghostwriter

This story may not be one of the year's biggest, but it speaks to one of the most prominent topics of the year - artificial Intelligence. With 2023 featuring a massive uptake in the use of AI and the creation of new tools, the rise of AI is well and truly underway.

This story in late March hit with a bang when Ubisoft stated it would be using an AI to generate script content, but upon further clarifying its intentions, Ubisoft was swift to explain it was the writers themselves requesting the creation of a ‘ghostwriter’ who would simply be used to generate first draft versions of NPC barks.

So many people I’ve spoken with in the industry this year have discussed AI with me, be it good, bad or a bit of both. I can see that AI is a double-edged sword, but I think a crucial part of getting this right is understanding how to use these new tools ethically. There’s no doubt that the technology is impressive and can be used to achieve great things, and while there’s still this lingering fear of AI taking people's jobs, many are already showing how they are working with AI rather than against it.

In the 90s, many people still thought the internet was a terrible idea that would one day disappear, and now most people use it daily. While it may not be on the level of the internet, there’s no doubt in my mind that AI is here to stay and will only become more prominent in the games industry as we head into 2024. As an industry, we need to ensure that it is used correctly and that our creatives benefit from it rather than being hindered by it.

Sega buys Rovio for €706 million

Microsoft may hold the crown for the biggest acquisition of the year, but we saw another huge one when Sega confirmed in April that it had acquired Rovio. While the pricing came in a little lower than the initial $1 billion that was rumoured, the deal ended up being bigger than Playtika’s offer.

For many, the Rovio acquisition wasn’t a surprise, but the fact that Sega was buying them was the broader talking point. For me, at least, the pairing makes sense. Rovio can lend its expertise in the mobile market, and Sega can support Rovio’s platform expansion.

This brings us to another big talking point of the year: transmedia and the power of IP. Undoubtedly, one of the year’s biggest mobile games is Monopoly GO! Which has shown how to utilise an IP to achieve greatness.

We have also seen vast amounts of transmedia with video game movie adaptations, series, comics and more! Something both Sega and Rovio possess are popular IPs with Angry Birds and the likes of the world's most famous hedgehog, Sonic. It's no surprise that a transmedia strategy is already being implemented, and I am very intrigued to see what becomes of the ‘Segaverse’.