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Geoff Mentions Layoffs, In The Most Geoff Way Possible

Is this what we wanted?

One of the big questions leading up to Summer Game Fest has been if host Geoff Keighley would acknowledge the layoffs rocking the video game industry. After failing to respond to his own Future Class’ demands that he mention Palestine in 2023, and after his awkward pseudo-mention of the Activision Blizzard accusations at The Game Awards in 2021, things didn’t look good. But tonight, he did it! Sort of.

After horrifying us all at the top of the show by letting us know it would be two hours long, Keighley said, 

But let’s also face it, this has been a tumultuous and difficult year, with company layoffs and studio closures which have disappointed all of us. 

But there’s also something else happening: our industry is evolving and changing, and thanks to digital distribution, smaller teams and new creators are finding incredible success. Take a look at this list from GameDiscover of the top 10 best-selling new games on Steam so far this year. Two of them are considered, you know, big company games, but the other eight come from indie, mid-sized teams or solo developers. 

I look at this list and I get inspired that new ideas, new teams and smaller creators can and will break through. It’s a reminder to big companies that they have to treat their developers right, because today there are many paths to sustainability and success, and that’s what makes this industry so, so great. 

First, the bad: Because he’s him, he said this mostly while smiling stiffly, his affect failing to quite match the severity of over 10,000 layoffs so far this year. “Disappointed” isn’t the wrong emotion, but it doesn’t quite feel like the main one to me. (I might suggest: Rage? Horror? Sadness? Is “late stage capitalism” an emotion?) 

Also, I’m not quite convinced by his conclusion that these numbers are why big companies should “treat their developers right, because today there are many paths to sustainability and success.” Is he saying companies shouldn’t lay people off because they might just go indie instead? I’m not sure that’s a threat in the face of game studio layoffs, the outcome of which is getting rid of developers. You might imagine studios cutting hundreds of employees would want them to go indie–no severance!  

Now, the good: Maybe he’s saying these indie successes aren’t threats, but models for other ways studios could operate. He also said, “I look at this list and I get inspired that new ideas, new teams and smaller creators can and will break through.” And he’s right–as we’ve talked about here at Aftermath, 2024 has been awash in excellent indie and smaller-studio games, presenting an alternative to AAA’s thin release calendar and obsession with live service. As Luke wrote,

The industry might be struggling, but the medium is going strong. The last month has felt like a glimpse of what a possible (I'm sorry) aftermath to a second great video game crisis might look like. Most of the games I've mentioned above are small in comparison to their bloated AAA counterparts. They're mostly available on PC, mostly insulated from the whims of large publishers and platform holders.

While I personally cringed at the line “thanks to digital distribution,” it felt nice to see him acknowledge what’s going on in games outside of the big names that he loves to tout, and whose announcements, as we learned this week, keep his empire afloat. Combined with information this week that he gives at least some free space in his shows to indies, alongside seeing Among Us developer Innersloth’s announcement of an indie fund, I wouldn’t say indie games are the stars of Geoff’s empire, but I can admire the in-roads they’re making between Samsung ads and whatever the hell that Supercell thing was.

And hey: He did it! And straightaway at the top of the show, too–before, as Kotaku’s Ethan Gach points out, pivoting into a trailer for “Lego Horizon Adventures, co-developed by Guerrilla Games, one of the Sony studios that suffered several layoffs earlier this year.” I can sympathize, to a very small extent, for the bind in which he finds himself, trying not to alienate the giant audiences that make his shows worth advertising in or the companies who advertise in them. He responded to audience demands and acknowledged the most pressing thing happening in the industry I do believe he earnestly loves, and about which I’m sure, behind closed doors, his emotions are bigger than just being disappointed. So, all things considered, I’ll give him this one. You did it, man. It wasn’t quite what many of us wanted, but it was still a pleasant surprise.

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