Last week, 38 Studios and Big Huge Games instituted a company-wide lay-off. Their big game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, didn’t sell quite as well as they needed it to. These are real people who were laid off. People with mortgages. People with children. One game doesn’t sell and these people lose their income. It’s a frightening thought that money has this much power over our lives. Video games are a fantastic hobby to have. But, it’s easy to forget that behind the entertainment is business. And when business gets in the way, everyone suffers.
One problem video games face is that with each generation, games are becoming more cinematic. Game development can easily rival a Hollywood film nowadays. When the industry started out, there were maybe a handful of people working on a game’s development. Now, the credits at the end of games can roll on for 15 minutes. In the quest to become more like Hollywood, gaming companies tend to overreach, as seems to have been the situation with 38 Studios and KOA: Reckoning. The story was written by acclaimed fantasy writer R. R. Salvatore. Todd McFarlene had a hand in creating the world. It seemed that the developers were hoping that big names would draw big profits. The problem there is that big names require big paychecks too. As a business, developers need to have financial responsibility, and these additions came at too great a cost for 38 Studios. They have peoples’ lives in their hands and over reaching on the production values can hurt not just their bottom line, but also the families of those in their employ.
Another issue I find where the involvement of money in gaming becomes problematic is the endless slew of sequels. For years, instrument-based games were released at an alarming rate. They sold well for a long time. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were kings in the gaming world. Then gamers got tired of the endless slew of these similar titles. It was apparent very little was being done to make the games new and fresh. Every release was a quick cash in. And with each of these releases, the demand for music based games-as well as storage space in the living spaces of gamers-dwindled. The instrument-based music game genre is all but dead now, bludgeoned into submission by its creators.
This trend is apparent in other areas of gaming as well. Assassins Creed has seen a yearly console release over 4 games with another coming out near the end of this year. I enjoy this series, but hope that UbiSoft gives it a break before they ruin it. Call of Duty is another series that launches new versions yearly and risks over-saturating the market. However, since these games sell, developers will continue to churn them out, and continue to do so until they’ve exhausted the content. As a Cubs fan, I think I have an analogy that fits this particular point. Even though the Cubs are in last place, the stadium is always packed. Because of this, the club has no real reason to try to improve. If fans stop going to the games, then the club is forced to make a change. Until that happens, we may have to wait another century before seeing a World Series win.
As Notorious B.I.G. put it, “Mo’ money, Mo’ problems.” The same holds true for the gaming industry. The world economy is a very fragile thing right now. Game companies all want that big hit, but they risk a lot when they over-reach financially. Sometimes, they’ll find that big hit and beat it until it’s dead. In the end, because of money, we gamers have to deal with yearly releases with meager updates or the loss of potentially great games because a company went beyond its means. It’s a shame money has this much power over us and the things we love.
-The 4th Wall is an imaginary barrier that separates a particular medium from its audience. It is also a weekly column on Vagary.tv born from the Just In Bailey column, written by Joey Alesia. Each week, Joey looks at video games and the industry as a whole and works to break the 4th Wall armed with over 25 years of gaming knowledge and a twisted sense of humor. Be sure to follow Joey on Twitter (@wrkngclsswrtr) or email him at Joey.Alesia@Vagary.tv.