Short answer: no, layoffs have been in the industry for a very long time and will, unfortunately, remain. Long answer: it's complicated, much like the industry itself.
Games aren't easy to make. They not only take several years of time, planning, and effort, but they also take (depending on the type of game) upwards of a few million dollars to produce. More often than not, many of the initial gameplay concepts from pre-development get axed and by the time the title launches, its a completely different iteration from its birth. Sometimes whole story beats can change on the fly. The main character may need to be altered, which leads to even more time in pre-production. One area of the map may never even make it into the title. Gaming may be fun, but the reality behind the conception is blood-bubbling, back-breaking dedication (and necessitates absolute adoration for game creation, as a whole).
So, what's this all have to do with layoffs? Money, of course.
Blizzard's Cataclysmic Storm
Early this February, unironically following its press release of record earnings for the fourth quarter and in 2018 overall, Activision Blizzard trimmed around 8% of its staff — that's 800 employees without a job at the start of the new year. Most of these jobs were from esports, marketing, and public relations divisions, but the entire King Games studios in San Francisco and Seattle were both closed down. Some of the employees had been with the company for ten years and were laid off without warning, and some of which even found out through media sites like Kotaku and Yahoo Finance.
Instead of maintaining good relations with his consumers and the employees he let go, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick bragged about high earnings. However, the beauty in this madness was the outward support wrought by the community, which rallied en masse behind these jobless souls through social media and other platforms in order to ensure they found alternative employment options. It opened the floodgates to questions about unionization and its possibilities in the gaming industry.
In the wake of Bungie's independence, the downward slope of stock prices and the overinvestments into esports gaming, Blizzard sunk itself into a hole it couldn't claw out of. Despite those record earnings from 2018, Kotick and co. couldn't help the individuals who were let go, because capitalizing on the future weighed far more in their interests.
It has been 20 days since the last game industry layoffs.— Days Without Layoffs (@DaysWithoutLoss) September 9, 2019
The Fall of LucasArts
Among the most anticipated games to never get made, Star Wars 1313 was a testament to grueling game creation and the seedy practices lying beneath it. Headed by the legendary LucasArts, the bounty hunter-centered title was as much of an excitement as it was embroiled in an undercurrent of mismanagement, terrible working conditions, and the most horrendous atmosphere of them all: the feeling of being obliviously present on a slowly sinking ship.
It was already a pretty bad look when the presidents changed faces four different times in the decade between 2000-2010, not to mention the fact that the creative wizard behind all of the magic, George Lucas, had been in secret talks with a certain money-bag carrying mouse. It became a convoluted mess of a development that eventually ruined a potentially unforgettable game. After Disney acquired the Star Wars IP for $4.05 billion in 2012, it was relatively assumed by the 1313 team that the game would continue into iteration and be finalized for postproduction.
Unfortunately for them, even after many blistering years of mismanagement and uncalled-for game changes, Disney shut down LucasArts in early 2013. Not only did 150 employees lose their jobs, but an entire community of hungry gamers (most of whom were long-time LucasArts fans) lost the possibility of enjoyment in an Uncharted-style bounty hunting simulator. So, in the world of the video game industry, money is of utmost importance over fan service and even employee satisfaction. At the time, what with consoles in a limbo of sorts and the reality of mobile gaming growing ever-present to investors, no one knew next-gen consoles would soar to such heights, which is in a way reminiscent of the very atmosphere we find ourselves in today.
Work Stops at GameStop
It isn't just the game makers, either. Initially revealed on Twitter, a variety of different lead writers were let go from the historical Game Informer magazine. Like their developer counterparts, many of these employees weren't even aware of the layoffs until they were out the door. In addition, GameStop also fired many retail and corporate staff, specifically regional managers, loss prevention, human resources, and district leaders in the range of 100-150. Not only had its shares dropped, but its overall price evaluation had declined, as well.
Cost-cutting is, unfortunately, the nature of the business. However, when will it stop? We haven't even begun to discuss the layoffs at Starbreeze or even the notorious EA, which laid off 350 people thus far in 2019. It's clear that this has become a common trend, not only among our present era, but also in the short life of the gaming industry itself. It's unclear if the trend will stop soon, but one thing is for certain: the stress of keeping one's job in the gaming sphere is on high at all times, which shouldn't be the case.
I was laid off from Game Informer this morning which was surprising and heartbreaking. Writing for the magazine gave me some of the best experiences of my life. I absolutely adore everyone I worked with and consider them genuine friends.— Kyle Hilliard (@KyleMHilliard) August 20, 2019
An Uncertain Future
While it may hurt many people, both inside and outside the industry, it's also a common factor, especially in the build-up to a completely revitalized industry within the next year. The coming of next-gen consoles and the advent of cloud gaming and mobile streaming capabilities have paved the way for a whole new gaming world, one that will look extremely different from that of the Star Wars 1313 days.
As the head of gaming research at IHS Market, Piers Harding-Rolls, states in an article on Variety:
"These events are more likely to happen during periods of industry and market transition, and may involve dissolving specific product teams but also on occasion hiring in new skills in new or underdeveloped business processes."
The next wave of the future, whether it be Google's cloud streaming service Stadia, the next-gen consoles of Microsoft and Sony, or even Nintendo's delightful handheld Switch, will be the overriding factors to employment security. It's clear that layoffs are an untimely burden that, unfortunately, must happen, but it shouldn't be so commonplace.
Luckily, this community has thrived as being one massive gamer family and should always remain that way; indebted to the developers and forever grateful for the amount of time and love put into every single title on the market.