The video game industry is experiencing unprecedented success. It’s been estimated that gaming will be worth over $91 billion dollars by 2020. This leads to the question: Are game developers in demand? All signs point to yes — but it shocked us to learn that jobs for game developers and game designers have shown a strong decline since 2014 with a 65% drop in the number of postings.
However, searches for gaming jobs have remained relatively constant since 2014. Searches for “game developer” have even grown by 50%, which shows there is interest from job seekers. Our team examined the job market outlook related to the overall gaming industry and found some interesting patterns to signal strong growth for jobs in gaming.
Want to know more? Check out our 2018 update on gaming industry trends.
How did video games become such big business?
Video games have been around since the 1950s when the earliest computer scientists began creating simple games as part of their research. Video games remained a hobby of scientists until the 1970s when the first video game arcades opened. But video games didn’t go mainstream until the 1980s when technology was developed to move arcade games into the home. This ushered in a new era of home console gaming led by companies like Nintendo, Sega and Atari.
Over the next 30 years the traditional computer and home console gaming market grew as new technology allowed for richer video game experiences. Over the past five years, the gaming market has exploded thanks to growth of smartphones, the internet and other tech. What was once a hobby relegated to the basements of the world, has developed into a ubiquitous form of entertainment enjoyed by 1.8 billion gamers worldwide.
Why are there not more video game jobs?
Overall, the game developer job outlook and game designer job outlook have shown a strong decline since 2014, with a 65% drop in the percentage of postings. However, game developer job searches have grown over 50%. There is obviously job seeker demand for careers in gaming, but the way video games are created is changing as new technology like smartphones and virtual reality is advancing. This is leading to drastic changes in the gaming labor market.
Video games were traditionally created by teams of developers at studios (Blizzard Entertainment, Bungie and Zynga are a few of the largest) that are financially backed by publishers: Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Activision, etc. These are the organizations with the most job openings.
The publisher funds the game and its release, while the studio designs and develops the game. During the 2000s, publishers began funding studios that created games of all sizes and quality. This fostered an industry that produced video games at a volume too large for consumer demand and with little focus on quality. Eventually demand for these low-quality games faded and publishers stopped funding these studios, eliminating a large portion of the gaming labor market.
Today, games are developed by only a few major studios around the world or by the publishers themselves. The most popular video games are created by these studios include: Call of Duty, Angry Birds and Pokémon GO. These studios tend to be staffed by veteran game developers with many years experience. Developers traditionally entered the workforce at one of the less prestigious game studios and then worked their way up to the large studios. Entry level jobs for game designers began to taper off as studios closed their doors after losing funding from publishers.
What do you do if you are a job seeker with a background in video game development and you can’t get a job with one of the large studios? Or you don’t want to work for a large studio? Many developers are choosing to work on independent video games or small mobile games.
The games are created by small teams of developers or a single developer in many cases. These can appear on smartphones, home consoles or many other gaming devices. However, they rarely reach the success of big-budget games. Much like the transition from the arcade to the home expanded video game development, the growth of new technology is expanding the possibilities of the gaming job market, offering new opportunity to job seekers.
What is the future of the video game industry?
The gaming industry saw a number of exciting developments in 2016 touching on different aspects of the sector. Gaming technology is developing in very exciting ways. The long promised revolution of virtual and augmented reality moved closer to realization. The mania around Pokémon GO with its mass market appeal and utilization of mobile phones introduced untold millions to the potential of augmented reality. With its launch in India and South Asia it has become the poster child for the potential of mobile games given its advanced technology and the massive international smartphone penetration.
Since 2014, both AR/VR (augmented-reality, virtual-reality) gaming jobs and searches for positions with that expertise have seen dramatic growth. AR/VR jobs have experienced over 400% growth, while searches for AR/VR gaming jobs experience over 1,500% growth. Many of these jobs are based at traditional video game publishers, but many tech companies are looking to experiment with AR/VR after Facebook acquired Occulus Rift. The current top cities to find a job in gaming are also major tech hubs.
eSports have also reached a cultural tipping point with major networks like ESPN and TBS broadcasting competitions and fans filling stadiums to watch them live. Job growth for eSports positions has steadily increased since 2015 with over 40% growth overall. By some accounts the industry is projected to break $1B in the next two years.
So to answer the question: "Are game developers in demand?" Well, no and yes. The gaming labor market is evolving like many industries impacted by the growth of technology. Jobs for game developer may be declining, but jobs in other gaming-related fields are growing. This is reflective of the changing nature of video games and the gaming industry. The definition of video game and video game creator is completely different. And the labor market reflects this.