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The games industry survival guide for 2024: Cockroaches, pivoting and bracing for the new normal

Industry experts discuss the state of the industry, how to stay in business during tough times, and the importance of compassion to those impacted by layoffs
The games industry survival guide for 2024: Cockroaches, pivoting and bracing for the new normal

‘Survive to 2025’ has become an increasingly common term in the industry following a turbulent couple of years, with thousands of people in the sector losing their jobs and studios closing down.

At Develop: Brighton, GamesIndustry.biz editor-in-chief James Batchelor hosted a session entitled ‘The Games Industry Survival Guide’, which featured a string of industry founders and executives opening up about the industry challenges and some advice on how to fortify a games business during tough times. 

“Cockroach”

First up to the stage was CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, who described the Eve Online developer as like a “cockroach of the games industry”.

The studio was first founded 27 years ago in 1997, actually starting out as a metaverse company before it became a bigger trend in recent years.

Formed during dot-com boom, the team managed to raise $1.6 million in April 2000 - just as the bubble burst. Unfortunately, CCP needed $3m to build Eve Online.

The studio survived and raised funds by selling publishing rights to a US company - which was mainly a book publisher. That was enough to get Eve Online out the door, and CCP hasn’t looked back since.

The hard decisions

Next up to the stage was Interior/Night CEO and creative director Caroline Marchal. “It took me a while to see what was happening last year,” she admitted, before eventually realising how bad things were getting in the industry at large.

The studio’s last title, As Dusk Falls, was released in 2022. To survive since then, the team did creative work, while also investing in tech and R&D to build the foundations for its future.

Marchal's biggest takeaway for other studio founders was to have a board of directors - or at least advisors - who can offer objective advice on how the studio is doing and how to survive and live another day. In Interior/Night’s case, the company has directors with different skills to Marchal's, largely in business and finance.

“They push me to make hard decisions,” she said. The studio had to reduce the team size, and descoped its next project to increase the chances of finding a partner for it, decisions that have helped take its runway past 2024.

Her final advice was that “you can’t do it on your own”, so have a board (or advisors), and listen to them, especially when times are hard. “Don’t do it alone," she said.

"Pivot"

Fundamentally Games COO Ella Romanos said the current environment makes the risky and difficult creative job of making games even tougher. So what do you do during challenging times? Pivot.

Romanos said this is the moment to take the time and question if you’re doing the right thing at your studio. If your studio is on the right track and it’s just the industry environment that’s the issue, “by all means knuckle down, extend your runway, ride it out”, she explained.

If there’s an issue with your strategy, however, this is the time to optimise your studio and pivot.

Bithell Games COO Alexander Sliwinski lightly joked that at his studio, he and founder Mike Bithell effectively think every game is going to be a flop - and plan accordingly. They can then be “pleasantly surprised” that a game is successful. This approach means they can gradually turn up the risks overtime, whether increasing benefits or investments.

His key advice was “never underestimate a consistent narrative” with investors. If you’re doing something good, keep doing it.

Avalanche Studios Group CEO Stefanía Guðrún Halldórsdóttir had four pieces of advice for studios.

  1. Adapt and be flexible. As the industry landscape constantly changes, studios need to be adaptable and resilient - pivoting if required, and adapting to new market conditions.
  2. The primary goal is to deliver meaningful experiences to players.
  1. Difficult times require resilient and resourceful leadership, which means listening to players, paying attention to the market, and having a backup plan.
  2. Stay compassionate. Morale can take a hit in challenging times, said Halldórsdóttir, and offering help to those impacted by layoffs can go a long way in the industry.

"The new normal"

Revolution Software CEO Charles Cecil concluded the session by stating that developers should prepare “for the new normal”.

He said the market feels similar to 2008, when there was the global financial crisis and also the double whammy of digital distribution shaking up the industry. “It felt really grim,” he said. Cecil later noted that THQ, one of the biggest publishers in the world, was bankrupt just a few years after the financial crisis.

“It’s tempting to say just survive to 2025, but we need to do more than that,” he stated. 

Cecil said teams should stay lean, look after their people and keep their vision focused. He added that developers should seek out constructive criticism and get feedback from trusted people and users, as criticism is what allows you to improve.

“When things get better, it will be different,” he concluded.