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'Stop F**king Firing My Friends’ - DICE Award Winners on the Industry’s Biggest Challenge Today

Earlier this month, the games industry gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada to celebrate the 27th annual D.I.C.E. Awards, honoring the best of video games in 2023. It was a great time, and
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But it’s also been a rough year for the games industry. We’ve
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, and it didn’t go
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, either. Even in a time of well-earned joy, a number of developers onstage were there having lost fellow team members who should be celebrating with them. Even those lucky enough to have avoided layoffs were accepting their awards in front of an audience of peers rocked by job loss, funding uncertainty, and apprehension.

Backstage, we had the opportunity to chat with almost every person who accepted an award that night. And while we asked them a number of celebratory questions and cheered with them on their victories and incredible games, we also asked them, candidly, what they felt the biggest challenge facing the games industry was in the year ahead. Overwhelmingly, the mass layoffs were the most common answer, but it also wasn’t the only thing we heard. Some developers brought up other struggles that they have been reckoning with at their own studios, or even smaller causes that ultimately have lead back to the larger industry struggles we’re seeing play out week after week.

So, from the developers of the best games of 2023, here are the biggest challenges the games industry faces in the year ahead:

Scott Hanau

Senior score producer for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, winner of Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition

“I would say all the layoffs probably, a lot of restructuring, reorganization, trying to keep all the teams together as best we can and go forward and make great games. It's pretty daunting sometimes.”

Rod Fergusson

General manager of all things Diablo including Diablo 4, winner of Online Game of the Year

“I think we hear a lot about the notion around how you continue [growing the industry]. We can have great games and we still have to have industry growth, and so finding ways that we can expand our reach. It's one of the things that people don't realize, that the majority of people are playing on mobile and we don't talk enough about that. And the idea of, how do you bring your IPs and your games to that mobile audience and reach people who maybe don't have those platforms to be able to play? There's three billion gamers out there, how do we reach them all? Getting to those three billion gamers I think is the biggest challenge.”

Ramone Russell

Product development communications and brand strategist for MLB The Show 23, winner of Sports Game of the Year

“I think the challenges always remain the same, it's just a different day. I think every video game development team just wants to make great games, but it is a business. At the end of the day this is a business, so one of the challenges that we continue to face is attrition and being able to get the yeses for the things that we need to do to be able to make those games great. But it could also be worse. It could be a lot worse. It could also maybe be a little bit better. We're just happy that we get to come to work and play in the sandbox and do what we love to do and dream about doing all the time, which is make video games.”

David Walgrave

Head of production at Larian Studios for Baldur’s Gate 3, winner of Outstanding Achievement in Story, Role-Playing Game of the Year, Outstanding Achievement in Game Design, and Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction

“Following up on ourselves. As a company, there's a lot of challenges that we are facing, because we've grown vastly over a few years. I think we, from the team that worked on Original Sin 2, we quadrupled, I think. So first of all, we need to make sure that all these people can still work on the next games. We should not overhire because then we will end up having to fire people. That is not what we want. So it's again about finding that balance of how can we still keep on making the same type of game as this one without actually growing or overgrowing or bloating.

A video game is a thing that you buy once and it's not a shell with all sorts of buttons that buy you more sh*t.

“Then for Larian, I don't think it is a challenge, because this has always been our priority, is to think about the player first and the fun first, instead of how much money is this going to make. To us, it's going to sound cliché, we want to make games that we want to play ourselves. We want to treat the player the way that we would like to be treated by publishers and game developers. So to us, a video game is like a thing that you buy once and it's not like a shell with all sorts of buttons that buy you more sh*t. That's not what games are. So I don't know if that is a challenge for our company, but it's a challenge for the industry, to treat people like they should be treated.”

Mike Fitzgerald

Director of Core Technology at Insomniac Games for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, winner of Outstanding Technical Achievement

“I think just finding ways to work together, support each other. Studios who have wins, try and share those with other studios in the industry and raise each other up to be better together. That's the Spider-Man tagline. Better together.”

Bryan Intihar

Senior creative director on Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, winner of Outstanding Technical Achievement

“I think we all understand it's a little bit of a volatile time for the industry, and we're all hoping that we can be there for each other. I think the most important thing is, how can we support each other in this, what can be a tough time for some people.”

Tim Garbos

Creative director at Triband on What the Car?, winner of Mobile Game of the Year

“That a lot of other people are also making games. There's just so many video games out there.

I play video games. I played all the demos in this Steam Next Festival. I got through seven [of them] and then I didn't have any more weekend. That's amazing. It's also a challenge but it's amazing.”

Hella Schmidt

Studio director and general manager at Guerilla Games on Horizon: Call of the Mountain, winner of Immersive Reality Technical Achievement

“When I was up there, I was thinking, am I going to make a statement or not? I think we're in challenging times where you really want to keep up our creative freedom, whilst being challenged with delivering games on budget and on time. And I think that gives an extra challenge to an industry that's already hard. It's hard to make great games. So, I do [hope] that when financial decisions are being made, that they realize that the power of making creative games is you need to keep the spirit alive, so that would be my answer.”

Matt Kramer

Studio creative director at Sanzaru Games on Asgard’s Wrath 2, winner of Immersive Reality Game of the Year

“I think it's people. Our studio is about people. It's about the game designers, the audio engineers, the producers, everybody that makes these games. There are so many players in it and it's really sad to see what's going on right now with all the layoffs and stuff. So hopefully we can turn that around and set it on the right trajectory because games are what sells hardware. And we need more games. We need more high caliber games, like Asgard's Wrath 2. So for everybody that's a designer, producer, engineer, anywhere, thank you so much for all your hard work on every game that was shown tonight. You guys are awesome."

Andy Beaudoin

Game director for Forza Motorsport, winner of Racing Game of the Year

“As games have gotten more complex, they've gotten bigger, we're adding more and more value to players. If you think about what you spend today for a game versus what you did…I'm kind of old, sorry to tell you, but back in the day, it was 50 bucks, 60 bucks for a game, and you maybe played it for eight hours. Now we're providing games that have hundreds of hours. And to do that, the size of the team has grown, the amount of talent we've brought to the team has grown, the complexity of the worlds, the complexity of all that. And we're still offering incredible value for the money.

We've got to figure out a way to make our games in a way that's sustainable.

“I think the challenge would be to continue to add value, to make bigger worlds, more immersive worlds that players can spend more and more time in and still provide it at a cost that's affordable for people. There's a challenge there. We see lots of studios laying off teams. It's horrible to see that happen. We've got to figure out a way to make our games in a way that's sustainable so we don't have to let go of teams, but we can still provide hundreds of hours of wonderful entertainment for our players.”

Sam Lake

Creative director at Remedy Entertainment on Alan Wake 2, winner of Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction

“It's been quite a year, like last year, here we are celebrating and obviously so many wonderful games, but obviously a lot of hardship and bad news for so many talented people working in games. So yeah, really, really from the bottom of my heart, hoping that as many people as possible find new homes and can keep making great games.”

Karen Read

Director of audio management on Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, winner of Outstanding Achievement in Audio Design

“Oh, there's a lot of challenges facing us, right? And I mean, we've all seen how the industry has had a lot of layoffs and a lot of financial cutbacks, so it's challenging. It's challenging keeping people together and creative and motivated when everybody feels like there's this dark storm coming. But it's in that creative space that we are really able to do things, right? When we focus on the games and we focus on the things that we love, I think when we come together as a community, that's really how we handle it.”

Jerry Berlongieri

Senior audio director on Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, winner of Outstanding Achievement in Audio Design

“Games are always a challenge. I've been doing this for 30 years and it's always a challenge. There's new technology, there's new genres to figure out, and that's part of what's thrilling, I think, is we reset, we figure out how to do it differently, how to do it with new technology. And it's, as a field, sort of embracing the change and figuring out how we can be creative with it, how do we work with it? That's always kind of been... Games are challenging in that way and I think that's also what's thrilling about it. So that's game dev, right?"

Michael Douse

Director of publishing, Larian Studios for Baldur’s Gate 3, winner of Game of the Year

“Stop f**king firing my friends. Jesus Christ…I mean, everyone is talking about how the rules are changing. We're in flux. Nobody really knows anymore what to make, how to get it funded, if it's going to work, if they're going to meet their projections, what those projections should be... Without that predictability, you can't plan. And this is an industry that typically requires a certain amount of planning. And I know everyone has plans, but that's very different to planning for what the future is. We don't know what the future is. So the biggest challenge is figuring out what the fuck everyone is going to do. And that's going to take a combined effort. And really it'll be hindsight 2020. If it's good, it'll work. If it isn't, it won't."

The most important thing is to figure out how to make it all sustainable. Because our mistakes will create victims.

“But I think for me, the most important thing is to figure out how to make it all sustainable. Because our mistakes will create victims. And trying to reduce that as much as possible, I think, will ultimately be what makes this industry continue to be successful. We need people to be able to be employed to make the games that people like. And that's going to be tough. It's tough now. It always was tough and it's going to get tougher. So that's the biggest challenge. How do we keep everyone f**king employed? Which I think is a challenge for everyone right now, but that's our industry.”

Awards from Award Winners​

As a bonus question, we also asked everyone we spoke to backstage: if you could give an award to any other game for any reason, what award would they give to what game? This is what they came up with:

  • Scott Hanau - Dave the Diver - Most Fulfilling Fishing Fantasy
  • Rod Fergusson - The NHL franchise “for continuing to disappoint me by not allowing me to play the playoffs in co-op.”
  • James Ham, associate animation director at Insomniac - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Most Heartfelt Game
  • Erwin Kho, art director for Cocoon - Most Amazing But Forgotten Game - Fragile Allegiance
  • Jakob Schmid, audio director and programmer, Cocoon - Best HR Giger Adaptation - R-Type
  • Tim Garbos - WarioWare - Most Inspirational Game for Being Okay Being Wacky
  • Ben McCaw, studio narrative director at Guerilla Games - Mass Effect Trilogy - Award for Pinnacle of Storytelling and Cinematics
  • David Walgrave - The Coolest Mathematics Award - Turrican
    • “I'm very much in love with the way that people worked with systems and computers 10, 20, 30 years ago. If you're wondering very often, why did Larian do it like that or how did they do it? We still use a lot of the systems and systemics that they used in the eighties and the nineties to make stuff run.”
  • Mike Fitzgerald - Tetris - Best Multiplayer Game
    • “I have very fond memories of being in the backseat of a car next to my brother with our Game Boy Pockets plugged into each other, playing Tetris against each other, clearing lines.”
  • Jeannette Lee, project director for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and Bryan Intihar both wanted to award games for “Best Sound Effect that Embeds in Your Brain and You Can’t Get Rid Of”. Lee gives the award to the Sonic the Hedgehog ring collection sound, and Intihar gives it to the Zelda “secret found!” sound.
  • Ramone Russell - The Last of Us - Best Storytelling
    • “The Last of Us really showed the entire world and the entertainment industry that video games are not just a play thing. It's not just a participatory medium, it's a medium that can tell stories. And one of the things we did this year is really built off of the back of that is that it's not just interactive. You can tell really impactful emotional stories in this medium, and you can also educate in this medium too.”
  • Andy Beaudoin - Alan Wake 2 - Greatest Passion Project Ever
    • “I worked with those guys back in the days on Quantum Break, and just that team has been so passionate about storytelling and so consistent for so long.”
  • Mike Grodin, director of engineering, Motorsport gameplay at Turn 10 Studios - Hi-Fi Rush - Most Creative Idea
    • “We were sitting next to them and I was just in amazement that they created that game and how unique that game was.”
  • Michael Douse - BAFTA - The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
    • “Because it's fucking brilliant and nobody's acknowledging that fact. Do we have a spare BAFTA?”

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

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