Game Devs Report Project Delays and Loss in Productivity Due to COVID-19, Survey Finds

Courtesy GDC

In the Game Developers Conference' latest State of the Industry report, industry professionals opened up about the impact of working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahead of GDC Summer, the all-digital iteration of the Game Developers Conference, the results of the organization's State of the Game Industry report were released Thursday and found that 70 percent of pooled developers switched from offices to remote setups as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Among those, nearly half reported a loss in productivity and others noted challenges in virtual collaboration and creativity.

This version specifically investigated the impact that COVID-19 has had on the video game industry and surveying a group of nearly 2,500 game developers working at companies of varying sizes (1-500 employees). The report indicated that less than 10 percent of devs were laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19, while 92 percent had not seen their employment affected.

Looking at how the pandemic affected their business, 7 percent of respondents answered that it has "greatly increased" their overall business, while 24 percent said it has "somewhat decreased" business and 8 percent noted that it had "greatly decreased" their business. "Clients aren't willing to spend money," wrote one respondent. Projects have evaporated."

Meanwhile, 37 percent indicated that their business was operating "about the same" as when the pandemic was not happening, and 62 percent said that their household income was unaffected. Among the respondents who reported drops in cash flow, 18 percent said that their income had "somewhat decreased" and 8 percent noted their income had "greatly decreased."

"I am now unable to afford rent and may very well have to move back home with my parents in order to survive," wrote one respondent. "We have not lost business, but we have lost prospects and need business soon," wrote another. 

When the respondents were asked whether they had experienced game delays as a direct result of the pandemic, 33 percent reported "yes" — that's 1 in 3 devs. "Our entire team has stepped away in order to focus on desperately trying to manage their lives, living situations, and find bread and butter work to make ends meet," said one respondent.

Meanwhile, 46 percent responded that the pandemic had not delayed any of their games, with the shift of work environments not being too much of an issue for some people. "The company was quite effective in switching everyone to remote work," wrote one respondent. "I work on a central team supporting external development. None of our games have been delayed due to COVID."

When stay-at-home orders became nationally mandated, 70 percent of devs switched to remote work, with nearly half reporting a loss in productivity as a result of the change in work environment. Childcare and family responsibilities and the need for clear written communication were cited as some major factors impacting productivity and creativity. "My whole family is living with me and sometimes it's hard to focus on my tasks," wrote one survey-taker.

"The most difficult part is problem solving," wrote one respondent about working from home. "Not everyone can sit on Zoom all day. We typically would have brainstorming sessions in the office together that would help when we were stuck on an issue."

In addition to feelings of isolation, a deteriorating work and life balance, lack of accessible collaboration and challenges in communication, longer working hours also appeared to be an issue while working from home, with 11 percent of respondents reporting that they were working "much more hours" than before and 28 percent reporting "somewhat more hours" of work. "It's a little harder to leave work at work, since I have the same machine for work and home use," wrote one survey-taker. "I get sucked into a Teams conversation at night sometimes."

As far as returning to the office, 39 percent reported that they would only feel safe returning when a vaccine is accessible. Looking ahead to reopening plans, 66 percent reported that their company has a plan for reopening, with the month of October cited by some as a possible time for large groups to work together in the same space — one that is properly cleaned — again.