A Look at the Game Industry Landscape of 2023

Since May 2022, Dr. Jakin Vela has been serving as the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). In this position, he is focused on empowering developers to achieve fulfilling careers in the industry. Additionally, leveraging his background in sociology, he is researching the impact that games and technology have on society.

During the 2023 Game Developers Conference, I got the chance to sit down with Dr. Jakin Vela. This was a chance to hear his thoughts on the challenges indie game studios and developers face in 2023. It was also an opportunity to see what he is excited for at GDC. 

Back to GDC

The first question brought up was an obvious one, what is he excited to see at GDC 2023?  Despite his busy schedule, which he described as “go-go-go,” Dr. Vela expressed enthusiasm for reconnecting with old acquaintances and meeting new people. He is particularly excited to see the event return to its pre-COVID levels.

“I know last year people were still hesitant. This year I have seen a ton of people and the lines are super long. I like that hype and excitement.”

Dr. Jakin Vela, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association

Now it was time to get serious with the interview. I wanted to know what he saw as the biggest challenge among indie developers and studios going into 2023? According to Dr. Vela, the two major challenges are funding and the emergence of AI tools. While funding has always been a concern, the economic uncertainty, particularly following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, has made it an even greater challenge. Additionally, the emergence of new AI tools has raised concerns among individuals who fear that these tools may be used to replace them. Furthermore, there are numerous ethical concerns surrounding their usage.

Funding in the Economic Climate of 2023

Wanting to dig deep into the subject of funding, specifically related to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, I wanted to know if studios were affected by the collapse?  Dr. Vela is not personally aware of any studios or projects that had been directly affected by the collapse. Nobody through the IGDA affiliates studios and his personal network has informed him of being impacted by the Silicon Valley Bank collapse. However, he noted that this was a major concern among studios, as it was one of the biggest bank failures since 2008. He also stated that he had not heard of any studios whose potential investments had been impacted by the collapse. This could be seen as a positive sign, indicating that investments had not been directly impacted at the time.

Given his role with the IGDA, I wanted to know if he has helped any studios acquire funding and what he would recommend to others during these times? Dr. Vela wanted to make it clear that the IGDA itself doesn’t directly fund anything. Rather, the organization works with them to connect them with partners who can offer the resources they need, including funding. This can range from microloans to equity-based funding. In addition, the IGDA provides guides on how to make a successful pitch and find a publisher, to help studios secure the resources they require.

Dr. Vela also noted that with current rate hikes, alternatives to loans have become more appealing. Wanting to piggyback on that statement, I was curious to know if loans were popular when the interest rates were at 0.3% to 0.5%? Even when interest rates were at historical lows, it was not an appealing option to studios unless they really need the money and have little to no industry connections. 

“Loans are probably most appealing to developers who don’t have a strong connection to either the industry itself or other funding sources. Oftentimes, people will look to loans to jumpstart their new studio or business or to just keep them afloat for maybe three months.”

Dr. Jakin Vela, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association

Concerns About AI 

After our conversation about studio financing, I wanted to dig more into his concerns about AI. While everyone is concerned about AI replacing them in the workforce, others see it as a tool to streamline their work. I wanted to hear his thoughts about the latter. Dr. Vela has seen numerous examples of AI being used in the QA process to help prototype a project faster. He believes that AI has the potential to be useful in getting a project started and helping developers determine if an idea is viable. However, he also understands the concerns around AI replacing human workers. Dr. Vela emphasizes that AI is a program and cannot replace human creativity, which remains an essential aspect of game development.

While AI does present numerous opportunities, he also points out how some issues need to be addressed. Key among them is the biases that it has based on the input during its programming. Additionally, there are ethical issues that have emerged with the use of AI, which he believes studios should take into account. Dr. Vela emphasizes that studios that seek to use AI tools need to carefully consider how they align with their values.

Wanting to dig more into the ethical issues of AI, I wanted to know more about the biggest ones (with the exception of copyright infringement)? Copyright infringement is an issue but Dr. Vela feels it should not be the only issue focused on.  

“I don’t think we should run away from technology because it could do something scary. I think we should go to technology and say, “What great things could this accomplish?”. But what should be watching out for, as you mentioned, is, of course, copyright infringement, stealing artwork, stealing people’s writings and stories.”

Dr. Jakin Vela, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association

Dr. Vela emphasizes that a major ethical issue that also needs to be addressed is the biases that can be programmed into AI based on the social influences of the programmers. He brings up the fact that tech ethicists have been having conversations about the use and creation of AI for a long time. With its emergence in the games industry, it’s important for the community to ask similar questions while finding ways to use AI responsibly. 

The last question was what he sees as the best way to combat developers putting their biases into the AI program?  Dr. Vela acknowledges that it’s a complex issue without an easy answer. However, he suggests a starting point would be for developers to use inclusive language when writing programs. This can reduce the risk of the AI developing biases toward certain groups.

This interview is part of our coverage of the 2023 Game Developers Conference. If you attended the event, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Disclaimer: FortySeven Communications provided 8Bit/Digi with press passes for GDC 2023.

8Bit/Digi is an independent media outlet that provides an insight into the gamer community of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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