GDC sees devs shifting away from consoles

Survey finds 58% of attendees' next games coming to smartphones or tablets; consoles top out at 14%

It appears the big trend in game development is being small. Organizers of the Game Developers Conference today released the results of a GDC State of the Industry survey of more than 2,500 attendees registered for last year's show or this year's, and the results leaned heavily toward smaller teams and smaller systems.

According to the survey, 46 percent of all attendees reported working in companies of 10 people or less, with 53 percent of respondents self-identifying as indie developers. The indie pool shows significant signs of growth (or at least churn) as well; of those self-styled indies, 51 percent have been independent for less than two years. As for what they work on, tablets and smartphones drew the lion's share, with 58 percent of GDC attendees planning to release their next games on tablets and smartphones.

As for the traditional console industry, the numbers for the Big Three were much smaller. The Xbox 360 was the most popular console platform for devs' next games, with 13.9 percent of respondents targeting their next title for the system. After that came the PlayStation 3 (12.4 percent), Microsoft's next-gen system (11.3 percent), the PlayStation 4 (10.8 percent), and the Wii U (almost 6.5 percent). Dedicated handhelds proved even less popular, with barely five percent of developers making their next title for the PlayStation Vita, and less than three percent working on Nintendo's 3DS.

Interest levels in the platforms are similarly skewed toward more open systems. When asked which new markets were the most interesting for them, 58.2 percent reported tablets, with 56.4 percent saying smartphones. Steamboxes and Android-based consoles were the next most intriguing, garnering interest from 45.4 percent and 37.1 percent of respondents, respectively. As for the next-gen from the console manufacturers, Microsoft's next box was interesting to 29.5 percent, followed by the PS4 at 27.3 percent. The Wii U lagged significantly with interest from 12.6 percent of surveyed developers.

Even the funding for games is leaning small. Only 10 percent of the GDC attendees reported that their work was primarily funded by publishers. Companies were more typically relying on their own assets (37 percent), or an individual's personal savings (35 percent). Outfits like Kickstarter are also moving the needle. Only four percent of developers' current projects were crowdfunded, but 44 percent said they planned to work on crowdfunded games in the future.

The 2013 Games Developers Conference takes place in San Francisco from March 25-29 and GamesIndustry International will be there with a full team to bring you extensive coverage.

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Latest comments (22)

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 7 years ago
Saw this coming. The apparently multi-million dollar costs for making a console game have started to make them non-viable for any studio that actually wants to stay in business. The sad thing is that the costs are greatly inflated by publishers. EA is already saying that it's going to make micro transactions mandatory in all it's future games while still charging you an apparent 10-15 percent cost increase for the games it sells you. based on this you'll be paying 70 dollars (after tax) for a game that is likely to be demanding even more money from you to actually progress in it.

So what do developers do. The only real answer is to move away from the EA and Activision model of increasingly squeezing the consumer for more and more money for less and less product and create games for tablets and mobiles. The consumer, in this space isn't paying AAA prices but, equally the overheads to create good products are nowhere near the nonsense they have become for home consoles.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 7 years ago
It is hardly surprising to find that the people in the industry are working on creating what the customers want.

What still amazes me is that there are some who are still in denial!
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 7 years ago
Or is it possible that they recognise there is a smaller but still viable audience out there? Can the two co-exist? Heaven forbid! ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 28th February 2013 2:12pm

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Show all comments (22)
Caleb Hale Journalist 7 years ago
It's going to be harder and harder for developers to make money with this trend. Smaller games may be cheaper to develop on smartphones and tablets, but the communities built around these devices aren't necessarily focused on gaming the way communities around consoles are. And the fact that publishers aren't behind a lot of these projects probably means the marketing strategy is much weaker.

Word of mouth may pick up the slack, but we, who follow gaming, often take for granted the fact there is a large number of consumers on consoles who keep themselves pretty clueless about what's available to play. They need the giant posters on the windows at GameStop to figure out what's coming down the pike. Are the budgets for these indie games going to support that kind of exposure?
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 7 years ago
What? Not this again.... What studios were surveyed and how many participated... 53% were indie developers. Well off course they are gonna cater to mobile, cause they cant afford to develope for the consoles. Much like people making a film for youtube or direct to DVD, because they cant afford a full blown high production hollywood film. There is alot more indie developers now, but few games offer the scope and value I find in most mobile games.
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Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto7 years ago
This may be representative of changes in the industry, but it could also be that mobile developers are more likely to go to GDC, because networking is much more important for them than for individuals working in AAA development.
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Rob Jessop R&D Programmer, Crytek7 years ago
There might be all sorts of different contributory explanations for this finding. Larger studios that work on AAA console games for publishers may typically only send a small number of staff (Crytek UK are about 150 developers; about 10 of us are going). Larger studios may also have less need of attending GDC, with having more established skillsets and contacts.

While this is an interesting fact about the people attending this year's GDC, I'd suggest caution before taking this as an indication of the overall shape of the industry.
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 7 years ago
No no no. Console gaming is dead. It makes for far more interesting talk to keep screaming that out loud while sticking fingers in ears to other alternative "facts" ;)
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers7 years ago
This survey isn't a great sign for the WIi U. Granted, it doesn't cover every developer everywhere (and skews more to the West than Japan) but if Wii U sales are going to pick up, it needs more software support.
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Art C. Jones Writer / Blogger 7 years ago
Strangely it also suggests that 2x as many people are working on Vita as 3DS (despite the 3DS having nearly 10x the install base).
So...I'm not sure what it says. Perhaps it shows developers are not all that bright?

I do wish more developers were working on the new game play opportunities of the Wii U than were working on the new graphic opportunities of PS720.
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Chris Lowe7 years ago
The idea that mobile games will replace console games is probably about as accurate as when people said TV will kill the cinema or the internet will kill TV or the airplane will kill the automobile. Anyone spewing such nonsense is a poor student of history. Do we really need to go through the long list of "revolutionary" dot-com 1.0 companies who were going to change the world and upend traditional industries only to flame out and vanish after 3-4 years? Anyone here old enough to remember Kozmo or Webvan or or Quokka Sports? Very rarely does a new platform wholy replace another. Also keep in mind only a very tiny number of people in the film industry work on major motion pictures - does that mean the film industry is dead? Of course not. That said, I think the industry is finally starting to realize there is a much bigger audience than the teen-to-30-something male crowd they've almost exclusively been catering to with their AAA titles. Core gamers may turn up their nose at things like the Kinect or Angry Birds but the sales numbers don't lie. There will always be big budget, predictable, sequel driven AAA console titles just as their will always be big budget, predictable, sequel driven motion pictures. Difference is there will now be a much greater range of games being offered to cater to a wider and more diverse audience just as there are made for TV, direct to video, and independent movies. I think it's great we're seeing a greater diversity of offerings. Plus some titles simply work better in a big screen/console setting while others really only come to life in a touch screen format. At the end of the day the more diverse the industry is, the healthier it will be.
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Meelad Sadat [a]list daily editorial director, Ayzenberg Group7 years ago
Publishers don't send a lot of their dev staff to GDC. But indies, startups and students go in droves. This seems to me to be more about who attends GDC. I'd like to see Gama or GD mag conduct the same survey from subscribers.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago
With 53% calling themselves indie, it would come as a surprise, if they all owned console developer kits and contracts to begin with.
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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek7 years ago
Moving to smartphones and tablets? Good luck... its a blood bath if your not part of the major games distributor. When mobile developers realize they need to be part of the major distributors they are offered extremely harsh deals with little percentage going to the actual developer. You probably won't even come out of it owning your own IP.

I also don't agree that AAA games have to be expensive, the problem is publishers compete against making the same game bigger and bigger than the other. With less focus on a balance between most bang for buck. Anyone can fart out ideas all day long, but the truly great developers and the truly great ideas are both creative and cheap to make :D

Also a few people mentioned it already. I'm no publisher, but with free to play been so popular a lot of focus these days is on barrier of entry. If you can prove to a consumer your game is great, they will happily invest in it. So what do we do? Increase the price of games! *facepalm*
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 7 years ago
Microsoft's next box was interesting to 29.5 percent, followed by the PS4 at 27.3 percent. The Wii U lagged significantly with interest from 12.6 percent of surveyed developers
I find it interesting that people are, interested in the next box than the PS4 and Wii U, if only because it hasn't been officially announced yet and the others have. But these are developers we are talking about so they obviously know something we don't that gives Microsoft's next system the advantage in their eyes. I can't wait to find out what that is.
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James McLaren Director of Engine Technology, Q-Games7 years ago
Or you could read those figures another way. For a largely american attended conference wouldn't you expect people to be more skewed towards Microsoft given their sales advantage in that territory ? In that context isn't a 2% advantage in developer interest rather small? Perhaps Microsoft has less mind share than you'd expect .
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development7 years ago
It just amazes me how long some people will hold on to the belief that consoles are not dying. It's actually quite funny.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee7 years ago
Judging my the survey, half of them are physically unable to target consoles in the first place. I don't see that in itself a good suggestion that consoles are 'dying' or the investment has disappeared.

Mobile has opened the door for a lot of people and is a key growth area with a lot of potential. I would think most of these 10 dev team guys/girls would have either targeted PC or nothing in the past, because there wasn't the opportunity, resource or cash to be successful anywhere else.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 28th February 2013 11:50pm

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Rob Jessop R&D Programmer, Crytek7 years ago
Another thing I forgot to mention in my list is that large console manufacturers run their own development conferences for their consoles (at least Sony and MS do), which are more relevant to larger developers as they are more targeted.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 years ago
Mobile has opened the door for a lot of people and is a key growth area with a lot of potential. I would think most of these 10 dev team guys/girls would have either targeted PC or nothing in the past, because there wasn't the opportunity, resource or cash to be successful anywhere else.
This is precisely the problem. Fresh blood. All the new stuff, the experimental, risky will go towards those platforms, which will just make mobiles synonymous with cool stuff. And cheap. And since everyone 'cool' is going towards mobile, people with real passion for making games will think about the platform they should be experimenting with.
Yeah, us, old timers love consoles. But what about the new generation? Where the industry will get fresh talent, fresh ideas and more importantly, new consumers standing in virtual queues to buy them?
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd7 years ago
@ Tom Personally I haven't seen a lot of experimental or risky stuff on mobile. Certainly not in the meaty, content-filled games that have really changed PC in recent years like Minecraft or Portal. I'm not saying there's no creativity on mobile, but there's not much that stands out on mobile. The vast majority of successes in that market are still autorunners, physics puzzlers, and sim games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 1st March 2013 11:51am

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So, proportionally based on either the number of different devices, or the install base - consoles win hands-down.

You know, the mobile market hasn't changed *that* much - there were still hundreds, if not thousands of games being developed for phones back in the MIDP2 days.

I know which of the platforms I'd rather be developing for - the one with the majority of the revenue-per-developer. And hint, it isn't mobile...
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