If working overtime on AAA games with giant budgets is the only way to succeed, 'then maybe the industry deserves to die,' says RPG veteran David Gaider: 'There is another way to be'

 The main character, Grace, of musical RPG Stray Gods.
The main character, Grace, of musical RPG Stray Gods.

Underneath the professional atmosphere, there was a defiant tone to this year's Game Developers Conference. During the GDCA awards, Larian Studios boss Swen Vincke called out corporate greed for "fucking this whole thing up for so long," and other developers gathered to have a cathartic scream about the state of the industry. In an interview with PC Gamer, Summerfall Studios co-founder and former Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider expressed similar conviction that something has to give.

"The way the games industry and game devs are heading right now—the type of existence they have—it doesn't have to be that way," Gaider said. "There is another way to be. I just want to see them all finally get unionized and get treated fairly.

"There's this fear that exists—if we don't have everybody working overtime and we don't make AAA games that have $200 million budgets and the focus is on photorealistic graphics and 1,000-hour playtimes, we need to pack all that in and work everyone to death making it and that's the only way to make games.

"If that's true then maybe the industry deserves to die. If that's true. The thing is that I just don't think it's true."

In past years, conversations about crunch at large studios were central to dissatisfaction with the state of the industry, followed by developers from some studios making efforts to unionize. Now, the beginning of this year has been characterized by relentless layoffs. Gaider is one of multiple heads of independent studios who has spoken with PC Gamer this week about the state of the games industry. Dwarf Fortress co-creator Tarn Adams blasted execs behind layoffs as "greedy, greedy people."

"We're working four days a week right now at Summerfall," Gaider told me, explaining his hopes for a change in the status quo. "You just have to make a schedule that is realistic, that actually doesn't lie to the people that you're reporting to above or to your own team. You work with the time you have; you make a game that makes the most out of the time you have and then the result is that you have employees who love what they do and don't feel like they're just a resource to be tapped."

The strategy seems to have worked for Summerfall's first project, a musical take on RPGs called Stray Gods. Despite getting steamrolled a bit by the release of Baldur's Gate 3, even after moving its launch date to avoid that fate, the more visual novel approach to a character driven RPG is one we called "a genuinely thrilling, occasionally heartbreaking tale that shines a new light on well-known Greek gods" in our Stray Gods review. Summerfall Studios has not announced what it will be working on next.