6100 and 25. These are the two numbers that encapsulate the game’s industry for 2023. These two record breaking numbers signify both the overwhelmingly positive, as well as the outright detestable side of an industry I’ve long loved. They are numbers that showcase not only the great pieces of art that have released this past year, the likes of which we haven’t witnessed in over two decades, but also the seedy underbelly of companies whose decisions have come at a tangible human cost. So let’s dive into both of these numbers. First, the positive.
The chart above, courtesy of Axios Visuals, illustrates the number of titles that have scored a 90 or above on aggregate review website, Metacritic, throughout the years. We have your usual suspects like 2007 and 2011, both years that had over twenty titles cross the “90” threshold with the help of critically acclaimed titles like Bioshock, Batman: Arkham City, and Super Galaxy to name a few. Yet, neither of them reached the mark that this year has. 2023, so far, has seen twenty-five titles pull in an average score of 90 or higher on at least one platform according to Metacritic; a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the PS2-era of video games. It’s not just the heavy hitters from the AAA space like Balder’s Gate 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, either, a slew of indie titles like Dave the Diver have also made it passed the elusive “90” mark as well.
Review scores aren’t everything, obviously, and there are plenty — and I mean plenty — of worthy titles with aggregate scores in the 80s and even 70s that are worth one’s time. Hi-Fi Rush and Sea of Stars being two examples of games that just missed the cut, yet are tremendous experiences that players shouldn’t miss. Still, seeing so many games reach such a prestigious level of acclaim from critics is exciting to see. The fact that we still have a couple months left in the year with a few more titles that could potentially add to an already impressive list of games makes this year that much more of an outlier; one that I’m sure will enter many gaming podcast conversations when hosts asks their guests, “what is the greatest year in games?”
Another number, accompanied by another chart. Unfortunately this one, courtesy this time of Farhan Noor of videogamelayoffs.com (a website that I am appalled even necessitates an existence), illustrates the number of studios that have issued layoffs each month over the course of 2023. Thus far, 6100 gaming jobs have been cut across all companies. Among these companies, Embracer Group are one of the more notable having issued multiple rounds of layoffs across their many subsidiaries including the likes of Crystal Dynamics. Other recognizable names like Epic Games followed suit, laying off 830 employees, and Microsoft actually kicked off the year with cuts to thousands of employees, which obviously included their Xbox division.
Unfortunately, layoffs in the game’s industry isn’t anything new, but the rate at which it’s been happening of late is quite concerning. The fact that a lot of these layoffs have come by the way of full-blown studio closures and not, as executives love calling it, “ridding of redundancies,” is even more curious. It makes one question the current marketplace and the economic viability of game production, not only from an independent studio perspective — though they are the ones that are consistently in a more precarious situation — but as a whole.
As encouraging as the first number is, detaching it from the second number would be nothing less than willful ignorance. The industry seems to be on somewhat of a precipice, and I can’t help but think about the workers when seeing these numbers. With everything that has been happening with the Hollywood strikes this past year, I wonder whether it may not be finally time for a similar action to be taken by the developers who make our games.
The game’s industry has historically been poor in providing protections for their workers. This includes voice-over talent as well, a group of artists that may lead the charge for change as far as unionization goes. Personally, I’m all for it, because frankly I’m tired of reading the news each week and seeing developers being either consistently exploited, or let go without warning. Such a change can only lead to more “90/100” games, and reach so with developers retaining at least some semblance of security and sanity.