*Articles reflect the views of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the views of CCBC or the CCBC Connection.
Imran Khan had just finished his first full day covering the first day of the 2022 Tokyo Games Show in Japan. It was a long day filled with press conferences, hands on demos, and interviews. It was hard, intellectually draining work, but Khan wouldn’t have had it any other way because this is what he lives for. Miles from his home, Khan retired for the evening after burning the midnight oil, unaware that in another time zone, he was unemployed.
For anyone who keeps tabs on gaming media, the week of Sept. 12 was a seemingly nonstop barrage of bad news. Two popular outlets, G4TV and Fanbyte, both suffered mass layoffs. Either of these stories on their own could have justified in-depth reporting, but you may notice ways in which these stories “rhyme” which speaks to a larger issue. The gaming industry has a stability problem and not enough is being done about it.
On Sept. 14, G4TV, a subsidiary of Comcast, let go of somewhere between 20-30 employees from their roster according to a report from Kotaku. This latest iteration of G4TV launched less than 1 year ago after a 7 year absence (2014-2021) to much fanfare and praise. Kotaku reports that, despite its recency, Comcast had been unhappy with G4TV's financials for some time. This is coming from a company which had reported $3.1 billion in revenue in 2021. It is also of note that Russell Arons, former G4TV president had been recently replaced by a Comcast Executive Joe Marsh whose #1 priority, reportedly, was to slash the budget.
The very next day, Fanbyte media was hit with devastating layoffs. Chinese tech giant, Tencent, gutted their media vertical from every angle. GamesIndustry.Biz reported that most of the site’s senior leadership had been laid off including the editor in chief, head of media, head features editor, head news editor, the brand manager, and many others. Not even the intern on their second to last day was safe.
Former editor in chief, Danielle Riendeau, confirmed on the “Kinda Funny Games Daily” podcast that about two thirds of the site had been laid off. Riendeau went on record saying, “the jobs of 25 people have turned into the jobs of 7.” Former employees took to Twitter and Tik Tok to tell their side of the story. Employees were given the news one by one over the course of multiple hours.
Listen to the fanbyte intern’s story here:
Finance news outlet, "Benziga," reported that these layoffs are a part of a larger round of layoffs across Fanbyte’s parent company, Tencent. It is estimated they cut around 5% of their total workforce. Just like Comcast and G4TV, Tencent had been disappointed with a recent drop in engagement. In June 2022, former news editor, Imran Khan, pleaded with his Twitter followers to “go to Fanbyte.com and just click around for a while,” to boost the numbers. Khan elaborated on a podcast that the shameless plea originated from his boss’s boss not understanding the drop in traffic was due to waning interest in February’s mega hit “Elden Ring.” “You just don’t get an ‘Elden Ring’ with ‘Elden Ring’ numbers every month,” he added.
Now that the facts and context are out on the table, let’s talk about the issues at hand. These two instances have much in common, like they are both media companies wholly-owned subsidiaries of much larger corporations. Both outlets also saw large expansion during the peak of COVID-19 quarantine while gaming spending was hitting record highs.
If you had asked Comcast and Tencent, they would have told you that this was an unavoidable circumstance, but that’s not entirely true. If Comcast and Tencent had set realistic expectations and projections, these layoffs would not have been nearly as severe or sudden.
Andrew Brilla is a CCBC student studying digital forensics. When asked his feelings on the layoffs, he said, “I feel like all these big companies have record high profits but they still want to cut employees just so they can make more money. Companies should be focusing more on their employees that help run their businesses everyday.”
One popular suggested solution has been unionization. There has been a large movement pushing for unions in the industry, but little progress has been made. In the current climate of consolidation in the industry, there is no guarantee that your boss today will be your boss tomorrow. This makes securing workers rights imperative.
Pew Research found that over 70% of college students play video games in one form or another. Many students are going to school with the hopes of working in the industry, but the lack of stability is very troubling. Large corporations take advantage of the fact that, for many, this is a dream job and make them feel lucky to even have their foot in the door.
I feel that, for this problem to be fixed, corporations need to focus on long term sustainability as opposed to chasing every dollar. Why did Comcast not foresee a dip in games spending as quarantines began to wind down when quarantines were the whole reason that spending went up? Realistic and accurate projections could very well lead to better sustainability.
There also must be a focus to protect workers in this industry. Unions could be the answer or maybe government regulation is more appropriate. I am not an economist, but I know the way this business chews people up and spits them out cannot be good in the long term.
Both of these outlets housed unique and underrepresented voices in the media space that were doing new and interesting things in their own way and layoffs like these tend to burn folks out of the industry all together. PricewaterhouseCoopers projected that video games will be a $321 billion dollar industry by 2026, but how could that be realized if the people championing the industry are being pushed out? To ensure the growth and sustainability of this industry, there simply must be an effort to protect the people growing it.