This is not a tale of two cities, although it does start in an oddly parallel way. The year of 2023 was one of feasts and one of famines. The year of 2023 is characterized by customers being spoiled for choice and developers having their choices stricken from them. The year of 2023 is defined by consumption, massive consumption, a year of records and wonder. The year of 2023 is defined by those consumed, an industry that thrives off of dreams cutting them short due to impossible financial benchmarks. The phrase “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is prescient in that way. The phrase “an embarrassment of riches” is also pertinent.

As with many things, the start of the pandemic signaled a dramatic shift in the industry. With people confined to their homes, this led to two natural consequences. 

  1. People were looking for something to do and turned to things like Netflix’s The Tiger King and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
  2. Work on multimedia had to be adjusted substantially to accommodate the new world order. This meant transition to work from home, this meant delay after delay after delay, this meant scope reduction.
Villagers in Animal Crossing celebrating a new spike pit. I mean staircase.

In 2020, we were surviving off the strength of prior years. In 2021, we were hoping for tiny vestiges and in 2022, there were signs of a new equilibrium. But all of them came to a head in 2023.

The year started out strong with Hi-Fi Rush alongside a remaster of Dead Space in January. February saw the PC release of the flagship PS5 launch title Returnal and Octopath II. March had the long awaited Resident Evil 4 remake, but the true tipping point was the May release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The long-awaited and anticipated sequel brought an entirely new sandbox to gamers as they explored the lands, the skies, and the underground all while managing to push the laws of physics and principles of engineering to their absolute limit. But Tears of the Kingdom was but one of the many Game of the Year contenders that would come out. 

July had Oxenfree II release on major consoles and PC (only to later get picked up by the inexplicably well-curated Mobile Gaming division of Netflix) followed closely by Pikmin 4, and then perhaps the biggest surprise was Larian Games capturing the entire internet’s connection with the mind numbingly comprehensive Baldur’s Gate III, which cemented Dungeons & Dragons in the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist, while also managing to be one of the most sprawling games ever designed. And there was still more.

Marvel: Midnight Suns, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenger Dredge, Street Fighter 6, Diablo IV, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Overwatch 2, Armored Core VI: Fires of the Rubicon, Remnant 2, Immortals of Aveum, Venba, Blasphemous 2, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (a spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio), Lies of P, and then October decides it’s not done and we get Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Suika Game, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and Alan Wake II

By all consumer metrics, this has been a banner year for video games. If you are even remotely engaging in gamer circles, you’d be hard pressed to find a genre not represented. From indie games to Triple AAA studios, developers have presented a veritable cavalcade of incredible offerings. I cannot remember the last time that I was this cognizant of all of the different games that have come out and at this point, you can probably anticipate the pivot.

For better and for worse, the Destiny franchise has been the focal point of my gaming attention, and I got to start the year with a new expansion. Lightfall did not quite live up to the hype of its immediate predecessor, but more Destiny was always welcome. The very specific mixture of space sci-fi fantasy has been a cornerstone of my schedule on all scales. Over the years, I have come to follow many employees of Bungie not only because of their occasional insight to the game but because they were generally passionate people who were entertaining to follow. Which is why it was exceedingly stressful when October 30 signaled 8% of the company being let go due to Bungie falling behind $45 million. Community managers, artists, narrative, customer support, freaking Michael Salvatori, Michael Sechrist, Lorraine McLees and that the end to multi-year Light and Dark Saga would be delayed.

I do not have a direct relationship with anyone who was impacted. I also do not need one in order to feel empathy for the people who lost their job because the industry was chasing impossible metrics because of extraordinary conditions. While I love this game, the memories I’ve created while playing, and the people met, it’s also feels awful that the people who were involved in creating this haven are not offered sanctuary.

And this isn’t unique to Bungie. This is an industry problem with a ballpark of about 7,000 laid off employees across companies (and that’s just the ones we actively know about). Unity, Epic Games, Nuverse, Amazon Gaming, EA, Microsoft, Bioware, Telltale Games. Seemingly no one was impervious which is actively terrible because these are people’s lives were talking about here. 

There is such prestige, idealism, and projected nobility about the game dev. About the person who loves making games to share that love with other people. And much like every other creative field, that love is a lure to get people involved and then suddenly left in open water without recourse. Games bring so much joy and I wanted that joy to be rewarded. And I can’t say it’s a good year for games when my enjoyment as a consumer is seemingly coming at the expense of the game development. It is an embarrassment of riches in the worst way. Some of the best games we could ask for somehow didn’t make enough money.

We have already felt the initial impact, but there will be more down the line. There will be consequences, there are always consequences, and I guess the only thing I can hope for is that everyone involved in game development eventually gets the protections they rightfully deserve.

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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