Of Games, Engines, and Culture Wars: A 2024 GDC Retrospective

Something is rotten in the streets of San Francisco. Excrement bakes into the asphalt as the light of day burns the refuse into the asphalt. Needles pile from wasted years of moral highs.

The Game Developers Conference has wrapped. Elbow rubbed elbow and jerk rubbed jerk among the usual crowd playing their game of Monopoly. But something is different this time around. We’ve seen their money-grubbing hands finding their way into the bank, cheating their way into funds. We noticed the lies and collusion as their friends worked together to give each other desirable trades of properties.

We’re not playing their rigged game any longer. We’re done choking on the noxious moralism emptying the recesses of corporate basements as their bubble bursts. The decadence has lost its luster; the foul stench emanating from their rank superiority spreads a deep truth.

The honeymoon is over. The intoxication of yesterday is gone, and this industry stares with sobriety at the bed they have made.

It was fun for a while; easy. They saw something innocent and pure and knew they could have it. Some empty promises, some hollow gestures, and gaming was theirs.

So much has been lost, so many pillars toppled by rank ambition, so many of the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed denied their breakthrough chance to make great works for all to enjoy, to partake in the time-honored tradition of storytelling and gaming among the passionate and devoted. 

So many years of heartfelt, uplifting memories were bled out as a tribute to the Summers of Love. But not all is lost. The pendulum swings as the opportunists scatter. 

Now that the piper demands his due and everything of value has been vandalized, those who care and sacrifice will be afforded their chance to rebuild now that there is nothing remaining to steal.

Where do we go from here? How do we soldier on as Geeks and Gamers from these wasted years?

Give the vandals a final cry, one last self-serving display to sound their decree that their petulance is the only thing that matters in their world:

Give one final look to the wolves let through the gates feasting upon themselves.

What an interesting time in gaming. It’s a time to lament what has been lost, but it’s also a time to look to the future, to think about rebuilding, to ponder how we can right this ship and start taking actions towards a better culture of geekdom.

Let’s now turn our attention away from the train wrecks and appreciate the pockets of gaming that not only survived but thrived during this awkward moralist reign. You see, it’s not grand sums of money that fosters excellence, not spotlights or astroturfing. The strongest compounds are forged in great fires of struggle and uncertainty, and we are living through times of great turmoil.

While most studios went insane drinking the Kool-Aid, hiding their decaying tech and standards behind a deluge of woke tweets, some stuck to their guns and maintained a culture of excellence, and we got to see some great tech and roadmaps for the future.

The Unreal Engine has been taking tremendous strides in the space of gaming, building out incredible new tech with mind-blowing new features for the future of entertainment in every conceivable space. The incredible new humanoid tech “Metahumancreates lifelike humans for integration into games and film and is still in its early days. It’s already changing the game, allowing developers to implement facial and body animations in cutscenes and runtime gameplay at a quality level never seen before, and it will only improve over time. 

Just a few years ago, they introduced their revolutionary lighting system, Nanite, paving the way for the line between games and film to evaporate. If you’ve seen The Mandalorian, you’ve already had a taste of the rapid and jaw-dropping production value the Unreal Engine can lend to large Hollywood productions, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Unreal is also developing revolutionary randomized systems for generating expansive, playable play spaces with hyper-real graphics that look BETTER than photo-real.

On their own, these graphical bells and whistles are revolutionary. When you combine them, it puts Unreal so far ahead of the competition in graphical fidelity that you begin to realize they are going to dominate the entire graphical ecosystem. Expect to see entirely new genres of entertainment as creators find new ways of integrating with this runtime graphical powerhouse, creating goofy YouTube shorts in wondrous new locations live, with avatars syncing with their voice and emotions as they bring you news, entertainment, or even funny cat memes in uncharted digital territory.

As any gamedev knows, it’s not graphics alone that make a game fun. Topping off these visual features are across-the-board improvements to internal gameplay infrastructure through blueprints and quality of life, like improved editor ergonomics, including massive improvements to compilation times. Shaders (the digital systems that make shiny, reflective, pretty things pretty) require an immense amount of time to compile every time a developer wants to try an iteration of the game, and moving forward, they will take only ½ the time or less to get ready before builds. This is just one improvement among thousands upgrading Unreal all the time. 

Happy developers who get to spend their time making their product, not wrestling with load timers and engine issues, simply make better games.

It’s easy to see all the monopolies, all the decaying culture and standards at gaming companies, and start to lose faith. But Unreal is a shining example of a company that still demands  excellence and executes at a level others can only dream of. 

For too long, incestuous relationships have allowed tech companies to manhandle the markets and elevate one another’s profits through agenda-driven gaming of the system, but there comes a point where a product becomes so far above the competition that it simply breaks through the walls of a monopoly. Epic Games is the Kool-Aid man, about to break through that wall while others chugged the vile, unhealthy juice.

Those who stood by their standards, who did not surrender their pride and work ethics to the woke mind virus, are now poised to absolutely dominate the tech space for the foreseeable future… decades. This is why titles like Elden Ring and other powerhouses in the East are ruling the entire space. It’s not JUST that they’ve pushed forward with innovative new experiences; their competition has stagnated to degrees not seen since the collapse of Atari. 

Tech doesn’t simply pop out of thin air; it takes a throng of talent working in unison towards a common and difficult goal. The work practices and the standards of excellence within game studios take YEARS to foster, to teach the right creators foundational rules of creative products, hard-earned lessons that can only be learned by empowering the right team members in the right positions as they learn to work together and bolster each other’s strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.

GDC is a tale of two diverging paths of key tech. Epic stands as a shining beacon of excellence, but for every story of greatness, there are several of decay. Epic’s key competitor and recently maligned engine, Unity, had a far less compelling showing at the function and has languished in its own shadow for some time as it became distracted by underhanded means of generating investment and growth since going public. You may remember Unity as the company that was lambasted for crazed monetary schemes, charging an “install fee” to developers any time a player wanted to try their game, even if it was free:

While casual observers of the game space will know about this fiasco, developers in this industry know the controversy is only a fragment of a larger dysfunction crushing the future of this engine for years now. Unity is the most used indie tool in the world for budding creators to make their own games. Many thousands put their faith and invested their time and money into creating their games within Unity, and over the past several years, greedy corpos and self-serving activists have run amok amidst its walls.

You may recall the now ousted CEO John Riccitiello, who was embroiled in several controversies ranging from misconduct allegations to reprehensible monetization practices like becoming giddy at the idea of selling a player ammo when they’re in the heat of a fight and need a leg up on their opponents. He also helmed the company during this great decline, using social altruism as a shield for mass corporate greed. 

Unity began a reckless dive into venture capital, ballooning their employee headcount by many factors and diverting the main focus away from core engine development, which would have allowed cool new tools to create great new games towards secondary commercial ventures in an attempt to greatly reach out to emerging markets outside of tech. In short, Unity began focusing on monopolizing and expanding markets over creating a quality product to help people make better games.

Riccitiello’s dream was to produce new bits of tech to combine with the everyday operations of all sorts of businesses in the world. Think of a factory owned by Amazon that could interface with Unity and automate the work of all its employees, human or robot, to maximize efficiency with mass amounts of data collated and turned into mission plans for daily operation. This same venture would have seen automated fast food restaurants operating in their cloud.

Without fail, these schemes for domination in nearly every financial sector, ranging from airlines to factories came with a mass hiring spree of activist employees. A quick glance at their Twitter profile or reviews on Glassdoor will paint a clear picture of the company. Money-grubbing activists stiff-armed their way in, fueled by righteous feelings of superiority over nerds trying to create quality products. Allyship is a key tenant to subversion, and with quickly growing numbers and power, they waged war on all existing milestones and subverted them towards their crusade to dominate all markets through moral grandstanding and pie-in-the-sky dreams, as if tech simply grows on trees and they are the only visionaries that ever had such lofty ambitions. The strength of this new activist-driven monetary cancer ravaging the industry was in the overlap of unbridled corporatism combined with a falsified moral mandate. As venture capital poured in, zealots were hired en mass, as the circle jerk whispered sweet nothings to each other of the utopia they would usher in, by hook or by crook, as their every end justified the means.

Unity is the #1 game engine in the world right now, but what hasn’t been discussed nearly as much as its predatory monetary schemes under the command of these “bleeding hearts” is the absolute and across-the-board stagnation of tech that was once a driving force of innovation in the gamedev space, affecting thousands of games all over the world across all genres and platforms. Many of your favorite games, ranging from Blizzard’s Hearthstone to the most popular phone games, were all created in the Unity game engine. 

Once you understand how the machine of game development works, you will understand why a single company like Unity falling to the wayside because of modern corporate practices will have a massive effect on the industry as a whole and a tangible impact on the games you enjoy in the future.

You may have asked yourself, “Why are games these days just not as enthralling as they used to be?” If you guessed it’s because of the activists who have infiltrated key positions at a throng of powerful corporations that control everything from digital storefronts to the tech that powers your games, you’d be right. But what you don’t understand is the multifaceted decay this infiltration has burned into the tech space.

Unity has been lacking key tech features for over a decade now. Some five years ago, they were nearly on the verge of releasing their ultra-performant tech DOTS (Data Oriented Tech Stack), as well as ECS (Entity Component System). These two pieces of tech combined were going to form the bedrock of all new features within the Unity engine; they were going to allow for better-looking real-time and baked lights, more expansive worlds, and a faster editor with more powerful features – in short, games that were easier to develop, faster to make, better looking, bigger, with a higher frame per second, and just all-around more fun: the exact qualities we detailed with Unreal above.

GDC 2024But what started festering in this industry some five years ago? What started clouding the minds of the C-suite and the movers and shakers who manage the money and ultimately steer the ship at these massive, and now public, companies? Venture capital. 

The hugely important new tech of ECS and DOTS, just as it stood to make huge improvements to Unity, was now put on the back burner. Riccitiello and his orbit decided NOW was the time to use what tools they had to start their quest for dominance in their digital twin empire-building. 

It wasn’t about the games anymore; it was about empire building, and they used the face of moral altruism to hide the inhumane practices of AI and automation that were poised to cut out the human element of development and pump the money directly into the CEO’s pockets in every industry across the globe. CEOs like to sit in their towers and daydream, “How can we gut our companies and funnel ALL the money to those who plot and scheme to divert all funds to the corporatists?” They think of creative ways of minimizing risk, of subverting the need for quality product to produce something that simply prints money. We are now entrenched in the nightmare world of late-stage capitalism, of money at any cost, big lies, and promises as hollow as the worker’s wallet.

Luckily for humanity, while it’s easy for mega-greedy corporate types to plot horrifying plans for market domination, at the end of the day, you need quality developers who are passionate about making great things to achieve these goals, and being stuck in a basement writing code for horrifying tech to make the John Riccitiellos of the world even more money, just doesn’t light a fire under the best and the brightest.

While Unreal had a massive conference hall at GDC and jaw-dropping presentations of wondrous new technologies fully online, showing the world they were poised to change the future, Unity had a very modest showing, full of worn down devs reading forced technical mumbo jumbo off teleprompters, very likely written by Chat GPT, that would have had people yawning even ten years ago.

The contrast between these pillars of gaming could not be more stark, or our future more galvanized. The massive corporations that drank up the venture capital, bloated their headcounts, subverted their pipelines towards activism, and bought into the social engineering and gaslighting of the day are now stumbling forward, weighed down by the lies and slanders they levied so fervently against the meritocratic world of yesterday.

The story of the Game Developers Conference is no longer one of Render tech, Nintendo vs. Sega, or Nvidia vs. Geforce, like the good ol’ days. It’s woke vs. meritocracy. It’s Unreal vs. Unity.

The true story of gaming in 2024 is unrestrained greed mixed with moral grandstanding burning this industry to the ground.

So, what does this all mean moving forward? It means that Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Unreal who has suffered the incestuous monopolies that artificially platformed his inferior competition through platform manipulation on various digital storefronts across Microsoft, Apple, and elsewhere, is poised to eat this entire industry’s lunch in the coming years. All those high and mighty smiley CEOs who took all the success for granted, let the activists stroke their egos, and set the industry on a course to drive off the cliff are going to come together and say, “We’re sorry.” 

Sure, they destroyed the industry; they allowed their egos, their greed, tribalism, and nepotism to destroy it. But they did it because they’re BETTER than you, neckbeard. They’re going to jump ship with their golden parachutes and land on their mega-yachts as the industry implodes around them. Did they really fail? Or did this all go exactly to plan? 

At the end of the day, gamedev ebbs and flows in cycles. Hardworking creatives who love the medium toil to build it up, add value to it, and give to the world wondrous games as celebrations of our humanity. And jackasses will swoop in, take advantage of our good natures, and turn all the investments towards themselves until there is nothing left to swindle. And the cycle will start anew.

Now’s the best time ever to get into game development if you’re a passionate creator who wants to build something great from the rubble. Unreal has never been more approachable or powerful with a bright future ahead, and other startups like Godot are just firing up and will be coming online with amazing new features never before seen. 

While it needs to grow a bit more before it can compete with Unity, it’s a living, breathing engine with an active dev team excited to fight for the title in the future. They have mass funding, but more importantly, they have a fire under their behind, unlike Unity. Godot is poised to take Unity’s spot as the easy-to-pick-up engine that uses C# and allows developers to approach development with a lower overhead in a performant environment that can target a larger range of users on more devices.

Whether you’re It’sAGundam looking for a platform to generate your real-time avatar, Epicverse Studios just setting up shop to compete in the film industry, or a Geek and Gamer looking to make the next great video game, the future of gaming is still bright. As we move beyond these speed bumps, expect to see a new golden age as the monopolies topple and only the best engines and best games are able to compete in open playing fields.

Let’s all take a deep breath. We’ve all suffered a good bit over the past few years, whether we were a gamer wanting good games without any agenda or a developer wanting the same in our work environments. 

We can finally begin to let go of the cancellations and the stress of losing friends and acquaintances over petty politics. The gut punches we took on Twitter as our favorite celebrities shitposted at us can begin to heal. The reign of friends, family members, and co-workers who made us pariahs are beginning to get off their high horses.

The world is healing; tech giants that abused their positions as the carriers of the torch are falling into obscurity, and those who carried it are poised to reap the rewards.

The corpos and the commies lost; let them have their cry about it. 

We have an industry to rebuild.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our mailing list to get the new updates!