Game developers are working shorter hours. Shifting economic headwinds haven’t slowed development. Studios are starting more mobile-only games.
These are some of the non-intuitive results from Unity Technologies’ 2023 gaming report, an annual look at the state of gaming and game development released ahead of next week’s Game Developers Conference.
Gathering feedback from more than 230,000 Unity creators and ads data spanning almost twice that number, the report contains insights into the trends that experts on the ground believe will shape the year ahead.
Marc Whitten, senior vice president of Unity Create, discussed the results with GamesBeat. He said that while 2022 was marked by shifting economic headwinds, creativity and innovation in the gaming
industry remained strong.
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“We always see gaming as a pretty enduring thing and it continues to grow. And while there’s obviously been some headwinds over the last year, developers, especially small developers, are making games in less than a year,” Whitten said. “They’re shipping more games. Those games are actually lasting longer. They’re using more ways to keep them fresh with customers. I thought it was just a really good look at how resilient they are.”
The data is pulled from the Unity real-time development platform and Unity Gaming Services, through
solutions that span mobile, PC, and console gaming, providing a unique view of the many parts of the
Whitten said game devs showed resilience and strength. Developers focused on efficiencies, optimization and post launch efforts.
I was surprised to see some devs target fewer platforms. This is happening even though Unity specializes in taking games to more platforms. There can be drawbacks to multiple platforms, like complicated updates and live operations, Whitten said.
Most smaller studios shipped games in under twelve months and they did it while working fewer hours. Different sized studios were also strategic about platform investment.
Large studios drove year over year growth in multiplatform and cross-platform development, while the majority of smaller studios (90%) opted to develop for a single platform. What was consistent for studios of all sizes though, was prioritizing post-launch support, as developers doubled down on extending the lifespan of their games by 33% to retain their existing player base for longer.
Looking ahead, the Unity Gaming Report 2023 predicts that generative AI will be more involved in the development process to amplify productivity for creators and to reduce the time and resources required to make a game.
“It’s inspiring to witness the passion, ingenuity and persistence from our developer community as they
continue to make incredible games in a tough macroeconomic environment,” said Whitten. “At Unity, we are committed to delivering a deep and best-in-class platform that helps them at every stage of their journey – from creating their game, to scaling with their players, to growing their business.”
Whitten said that there has been a trend toward developers working fewer hours over multiple years. He was surprised to see that, but he didn’t have another way of cross-checking the results. Developers are always interested in tools that save them time, and they may be getting smarter about experimentation, he said.
More mobile games?
I was surprised to see the notion that devs are starting more mobile-only games. That seemed like swimming upstream, as Apple’s emphasis on privacy over targeted ads has made user acquisition much more difficult.
“There’s some nuance there for sure. But mobile continues to be extremely strong. In the last year, there was an increase in players. So overall, playing on mobile actually went up, which to your point, I think was different than maybe people might have expected coming out of pandemic,” Whitten said. “But at the same time, the number of payers was a little bit more challenged. I don’t know if that’s necessarily IDFA (Apple’s move to bury the Identifier for Advertisers), it might also be that people are not stuck at home.”
Whitten said he believes there are more games shipping, and there is an increase in multiplayer games.
“People are definitely starting more mobile games. They’re getting games done faster,” he said. “I think people are experimenting more.”
Studios are also using pre-made assets to test ideas quickly. We know that ChatGPT, the generative AI platform from OpenAI, is inspiring the use of AI to make assets. But Whitten said the survey was done before ChatGPT took off.
He said that, outside of the report results, we are seeing in the last few weeks an extraordinary explosion in creativity through AI generative tools and that is only going to increase.
“And I think it’s one of the things we’re quite excited about that. I would say that’s less this trend and more like an obvious what I think you’re going to be reading about in next year’s report,” he said.
As for the report results, he said it is more like smaller devs going into the Unity Asset Store to fetch assets quickly to generate a game loop in a playable state. Developers are using tools like SpeedTree to automatically create lots of trees.
“They can try it out, they can test it with some people, and then can know if this idea acutally has legs,” he said. “There is an increase in people using those packages.”
In interviewing hundreds of people, Unity worked to make sure that it got a representative set of both studios size and location, geography, platform, and other important factors.
Some key findings from the Unity Gaming Report 2023 include:
- Efficiency is key with smaller studios shipping games quickly and working fewer hours – 62% of indies shipped games in less than a year, and smaller studios in general worked 1.2% fewer hours on average (equates to 5 years of total work hours).
- To optimize investment, different size studios are being strategic about the number of platforms to develop for – Nearly 90% of small studios are releasing on a single platform, while large studios have increased the number of multiplatform games produced in 2022 by 16% compared to 2021. 88% of large studios also invest in crossplatform.
- Developers are doubling down on extending the lifespan of existing games and retaining players – The lifespan of mobile games increased 33% over the last year. Approximately 84% of studios with more than 50 people update their games for more than six months.
The report didn’t really dwell on trends like the metaverse and the blockchain. But Whitten said that blockchain is seeing lots of experimentation.
Unity will be hosting a creators roundtable with developers featured in the Gaming Report 2023 at the GDC where industry leaders will discuss industry trends on the current and future state of end-to-end game development, monetization, and live operations.
“It’s always interesting to see what’s changing year over year in particular,” he said.
“DevOps, as an area of tooling is becoming more important for people using things like the ability to build in the cloud or to collaborate across teams,” Whitten said.
Sometimes small developers will focus on just one platform so they can ship the game faster. While larger studios are going multiplatform to leverage their investments.
Whitten said Unity also extracts more insights by discussing the survey data with developers as they emerged from the first full year of a “post-pandemic” time.
Whitten said he expects the combo of user-generated content and generative AI to be a big trend in the future, as AI can generate more ideas to put into the funnel before you toss out the uncreative ideas.
“We believer the world is better with more creators in it,” he said.