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'I Stopped Believing in Myself': Game Developers Share the Human Impact of Over a Year of Mass Layoffs

Earlier this week, 900 individuals were laid off from Sony PlayStation. The affected studios included well-known developers Insomniac Games, Naughty Dog, and Guerrilla Games, with
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.


These layoffs come just weeks after the
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, which saw Insomniac and Guerrilla both win prestigious awards for their work on Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Horizon: Call of the Mountain. And they come just days after a gathering at PlayStation London that served as a farewell for outgoing PlayStation head Jim Ryan. As news of the layoffs hit, a photo circulated on social media showing a group of smiling employees clustered around Ryan:


Farewell Jim Ryan 👋 🫡
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— Izzy ❤️‍🔥 (@izzyfoley94)
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This week the layoffs were at Sony (and Die Gute Fabrik, and Supermassive, and
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), but it seems that every week in 2024 so far it’s been the same story, different developer. Thousands of games industry employees have lost their jobs in this year alone.

In an effort to get to grips with these events, I reached out to impacted developers to try and answer the heavy, complex question of why this was happening in the first place.
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But that isn’t all they gave me. Many of those who reached out also took the opportunity to share their stories of how the layoffs had impacted them, personally.

They told me stories of how it had impacted their physical and mental health and how the loss of income, insurance, and security was hurting their families and their plans for the future. Some had moved across the country or even across the world for their jobs. A few reported being laid off simultaneously with a partner who was also in the industry. Some told me they had been laid off twice in one year.

"Both times I felt incredibly gutted," one person said. "The first time, it felt like a reality of capitalism that I was expecting, but the second being so close to the first, it was like, 'We really are just cogs in the machine.'"

Layoffs happen for all kinds of reasons, be it because of a bad financial bet, a failed game, a deal fallen through, poor planning, or any number of other things. But when they do, it is human beings whose lives are upended in response.

No Money, More Problems


“I lost my job and my health insurance,” said one former employee of Drifter Entertainment I spoke to. “We got one month of severance, but I've been collecting unemployment and doing some consulting work to help supplement. It's been really stressful and my wife has had to get a job to support us while I'm looking for work. I am terrified that I will not have something lined up by the time my unemployment runs out, and have considered leaving the industry altogether. We've had to aggressively cut costs, live paycheck to paycheck, and I am choosing to forego some of my medications because they're too expensive to refill. It sucks.”

Many former developers find themselves in similar circumstances after being laid off. Unemployment benefits can be difficult to obtain, and some workers find themselves far from home after uprooting their lives to take a job that no longer exists.


“I, like many of my coworkers, was incentivized by the Bungie leadership to move to be local to the office, so I was alone when I first started working,” said a former Bungie employee. “This was my first professional career position and I invested everything in this opportunity. I started working right out of college and relied on health insurance provided to have medical checkups. As of now, I am solely relying on unemployment benefits to keep myself afloat. I was someone who went into the office daily to meet people and seek the opinions of developers with more experience and skill than I. It was a dream come true. Those people were laid off as well.

“It is not an understatement to say that I bet everything on Bungie and the house always wins. As I was picking up the pieces of my life last year, my outlook didn't change and my hope was that this hiccup could lead to something greater. I still hope for the best for Bungie and I know the creatives employed there will succeed, but I hope this kind of layoff never happens again.”

Others I spoke to purchased homes or moved into new rentals thanks to improved salaries. When they were laid off, that security suddenly vanished.

“I'd just moved into a new apartment a week or two prior and signed a new lease,” said a former employee of a support company that partnered closely with Microsoft. “I of course now have zero income except what I'm getting, for the moment, from unemployment. My pay had been bad enough I had no savings. Lost my health insurance and boy has that been a mess.”

My pay had been bad enough I had no savings.

They told me that while they were fortunate enough to have support programs and networks to assist them, not everyone has been so lucky. They asked me to imagine a person who does their job well, but who manages serious mental illness through doctors and medication that is paid for by their company health insurance:

“Then, for absolutely no fault of his own, he is laid off, and living [in a place without Medicaid available]. There's no way he can afford continuing coverage under COBRA. Just boom, done. No more doctors or medication refills until he can get coverage, maybe through healtcare.gov. But that takes time. And the meds he's on very clearly do not recommend going off cold turkey…Suddenly losing your job is not just a massive hit to your pride and a threat to your ability to keep a roof over your head. It could very possibly lead to a very serious mental health crisis or, god forbid, worse.”

Unstable Ground


Losing a job can take a major toll on a person’s health.
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. One disabled developer I talked to spoke of the hardships faced after being laid off as they struggled to find a new job.

“It was super depressing and what made it worse is that it was really hard to find a new job,” said one disabled freelance developer who has struggled to find work since their last contract ended. “I had the added problem that I can only do a four-day week due to mental health reasons. This hadn't been an issue in the past, but with the sudden increase of desperate applicants and only a few open positions, it became abundantly clear that I couldn't afford my handicap. It feels like you are forced to underbid other applicants.”

Even for individuals without explicit health problems, layoffs take a hefty mental toll. One former CD Projekt developer told me that while they were relatively secure financially, their self-worth took a serious hit from being laid off.

“I stopped believing in myself as an artist,” they said. “I started to question my career choices and if I even wanted to continue on this path. It was really hard for me to start creating anything again, I felt pretty burned out.”

I stopped believing in myself as an artist...It was really hard for me to start creating anything again.

They weren’t alone. A former Zenimax employee described similar feelings after being laid off from what they described as a “dream” job. “It was my first triple-A studio position, the team was amazing, I loved the benefits, and I worked hard. I wondered if there was anything different I could have done. I was emotionally and mentally crushed. I just couldn't believe it. In one Wednesday, I had lost the entire reason I had moved to Maryland and started a new life in a new state.”

Another person who was laid off from Xbox last year told me that even though they had found a new job since then, the lingering impact of the layoffs were still sitting with them. They had been working in a role that was normally considered to be a stable one, they liked their job and wanted to stay there long-term, and were working on a popular and lucrative IP. Yet all that vanished in an instant. They said that as a result, they felt they would “never be able to have a stable career.”

“Now a year later I feel an incredible amount of anxiety even though my team just released a 90+ metacritic score game…I don’t feel safe. [Our CEO] even said in an all-hands that he wasn’t expecting any layoffs this year, but how am I supposed to believe that? There’s nothing in place to hold him to that.”

Survivor’s Guilt


Those who remain continue to feel the lingering impact of layoffs even if they escape the cuts themselves. Several workers in that situation described having “survivor’s guilt”, with many telling me they felt their work suffered from the anxiety that they might be laid off too.

“I was fortunate enough to avoid any layoffs, but there was a lingering atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for the rest of the time I remained at the company,” said one developer who survived layoffs only to eventually quit their job at an Embracer Group-operated studio. “…I felt guilty for still being around, and I felt somewhat apathetic to my work, knowing that it would help enrich the people responsible for this tragedy.

“For a lot of my industry colleagues, I know they're sharing more and more non-games roles as we collectively realize the pool of work is simply drying up, and will only get worse, despite the games industry still being massively profitable. It's become clear that the space is not tenable for stable employment, let alone career/professional development.”

One developer who was laid off from Creative Assembly pointed out that the length of time it takes to develop a game combined with constant layoffs means it can be very difficult for a developer to
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, which in turn can make it harder to further their careers.

“I can’t get over how wild it is that some devs work for upwards of a decade and still don’t have a title released with their name in the credits,” they said. “I know a lot of devs stay until a game is finished, which can take over five years, but the chances of that game even getting over the finish line seems fickle. A lot of people stayed working on Hyenas just to see it release, only to get laid off. Surely this isn’t a sustainable way of working.”


Another common refrain is that the layoffs are disproportionately impacting members of marginalized groups, though a
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suggests this may not be the case across the board. The survey found that the layoffs were hitting most demographics roughly evenly, but with one exception: women. I also
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of at-risk UK game developers taken by Code Coven co-CEO Cinzia Musio in October of last year that suggests the impact to all marginalized groups may be more drastic. Both surveys are on the smaller side, and it may not be possible to get a more complete picture of the true impact for some time.

Several people I spoke to noted that their studios had increased diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI] efforts in prior years when funding was robust, resulting in improved hiring initiatives and greater diversity in junior roles at major studios. But when the time came for layoffs, the developers who benefited from those initiatives often lost their jobs. Former employees of Epic Games, 343 Industries, and Bungie all told me that their companies’ DEI groups had been hurt by layoffs, with key employee leaders losing their jobs and companies making little effort to fill the gaps. This has left marginalized developers trapped in an overcrowded job market with few opportunities to get back on their feet.

No Road Back


By far the most common refrain I heard from developers is that they were considering looking for jobs elsewhere and not returning to games. For many, such as one former Streamlabs employee impacted by the Logitech layoffs
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, there were simply too many out-of-work developers competing for the same jobs to justify sticking around.

“I was unable to make my way back into the gaming industry as a professional,” they said. “I hoped to join a games studio after the layoff, but the competition stakes were so high that I had to venture elsewhere. I'm grateful to be where I am now and I honestly think I'm better off from it, but I would've liked to work my way up the ladder at Streamlabs.”

Hefty competition for few jobs was a major factor for many, but the sheer number of out of work developers was discouraging to many I spoke to for other reasons. Some, such as one former Epic Games employee, told me they wanted to leave the game industry but didn’t see a path out:

“The severance was good enough that I didn't immediately stress about finding more work,” they said. “But I think partly I'm scared of resuming the job search because I'm not sure there are jobs available. And anywhere I work, it's going to be impossible for me to not constantly have the fear that I'm a day away from another layoff. I want to leave the game industry entirely, but I'm not qualified to do anything else. I have over a decade of expertise, and I'm so burnt out from working in games that I don't have the energy for any significant career pivot. It's been four months now and I'm still scared of finding work, angry at Epic, and angry at myself for having passion for an industry that treats its workers so callously. I'm luckier than most, but it still hurts, and I haven't really recovered from the shock.”

The floor just keeps falling out. That cycle continuing for as long as it has is the most damaging thing.

More than anything else, that sense of hopelessness was what pervaded most of my conversations. While many analysts and executives have pointed out that the games industry will inevitably bounce back as an economic engine, many developers are afraid either of being left behind, or that they already have been. One former Relic Entertainment employee summed up the situation:

“This was my first games job, and was going very well,” they said. “I felt like I’d nailed my dream job, and was seriously considering what it would mean to stick with Relic, warts and all, for the long haul as so much of the fit was ideal. I could really envision a decade there. But then you, and your closest coworkers, and your boss, and producer, and lunch pal all get laid off at the same time as a bunch of their friends are laid off in other studios and suddenly all the ways you could see landing on your feet before it happened have evaporated.

“Immediately after the layoff, Relic set up a local hiring fair with some other local companies that had just had layoffs, and things felt maybe like they’d be okay. A bunch of us talked to a lot of good leads. But then the recruiter you had a really good conversation with that day is laid off a month later. So the floor just keeps falling out. That cycle continuing for as long as it has is the most damaging thing.

"There’s only so many times anyone can see leads and connections disappear so shortly after being created. I know at least one of my colleagues has completely deleted LinkedIn and is probably not coming back to the industry. And they’re brilliant. But the industry has pushed them out, and is daring the rest of us to leave, too.”


Rebekah Valentine is a senior reporter for IGN. Got a story tip? Send it to [email protected].

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