In order to paint a picture of the games business as it looks right before GDC 2013, the Game Developers Conference has polled more than 2,500 North American game developers who attended the conference in 2012 or plan to attend GDC 2013 in March about their development practices, revealing several notable trends with regards to platforms, money, team sizes and more.
GDC intends to field a similar survey each winter, in advance of the conference in San Francisco.
The Rise of the Indie
A key finding of the GDC 2013 "State of the Industry" survey is that independent game development and smaller teams are on the rise like never before. In fact, 53% of the respondents identified themselves as "indie developers," and of those, 51% have been indie developers for less than two years.
In addition, 46% of the survey's respondents work within companies of 10 people or less. Further proving the move to indie, only 24% of those surveyed worked with a publisher on their last game, while an even smaller 20% are doing so on their current projects.
Smartphones, Tablets, PC Dominate Dev Platforms
Another major focus of the survey was the platform preferences and interests of the development community, an important topic in a year when next-gen consoles are anticipated to come to market - alongside a slew of new types of consoles such as PC-based TV consoles and Android consoles.
The survey found that more of the respondents are developing for smartphones and tablets than for any other platform. In fact, 38% of the survey's developers released their last game for smartphones and tablets collectively, but 55% are making their current games there. Even more impressive, a whopping 58% plan to release their next games on these platforms.
PCs and Macs are the next strongest platforms, with 34.6% of developers releasing their last games for PCs/Macs, 48% developing their current games for the platform, and 49% planning their next games on PCs/Macs.
Console Development Stable at a Lower Base
In terms of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, the survey found Microsoft at the top, albeit from lower numbers, with 13.2% currently developing for the Xbox 360 and close to 14% planning their next game on the Xbox 360. For the PlayStation 3, 13% are releasing their current game for the console, and 12.4% their next game.
In terms of the Nintendo Wii U, only 4.6% of developers are currently making a Wii U game, and just 6.4% of our surveyed developers are making their next game for the console. (Finally, an identical 11% of respondents are making their next game for upcoming Sony and Microsoft platforms.)
Sony's PlayStation Vita handheld showed a slight uptrend in support, but from extremely low percentages. While less than 2% of respondents made their last game for the console, 4.2% are making their current game for Vita, and just over 5% plan to release their next game there. And North American developers are unconvinced of the Nintendo 3DS's potential: 2% are currently making a 3DS game, and only 2.8% of developers plan to release their next game on the 3DS.
Smartphones, Tablets, PC/Android at Top
The survey also asked developers about their levels of interest in developing for the variety of platforms on the market or coming soon, and received a very different response from what they said about current and future projects.
Tablets and smartphones are still way out ahead in terms of interest, with 58% and 56%, respectively, interested in the platforms. PC-based TV consoles, such as Valve's Steam Box, have a very high 45% level of interest for developers. Android home consoles, like the OUYA and GameStick, are also high up the interest curve at 37%.
Interestingly, when asked simply about expressions of interest, next-gen Microsoft and Sony consoles shoot up the relative graph ranking to 29% and 27%, respectively. And Nintendo platforms continue to lag in developer interest, with a relatively small 13% and 5% interest, respectively, for the Wii U and 3DS.
Finally, the GDC survey looked into how developers are funding their projects. The vast majority of games are being funded from the company's existing war chest (37%) or an individual's personal funds (35%).
Only 9% of our survey respondents were primarily venture capital funded. In fact, 10% are still primarily publisher-funded, and 4% are actually primarily crowd-funded. With regards to crowd-funding, 8% of surveyed developers have worked on a project that was crowd-funded, while a surprisingly sizable 44% plan to do so in the future.