Cracked recently posted an article written by J.F. Sargent and Dave Williams entitled ‘5 Reasons the Video Game Industry Is About to Crash‘. It is an indictment of the video game industry from the perspective of Mr. Williams, who has worked in various roles in the industry, including lead systems designer and producer. His conclusion, as you may have presupposed from the title of the article, is that the video game industry is hurdling towards a crash, the same as in 1983 before Nintendo dragged the industry back to its feet. While I respect his experience in the video game industry, I wholeheartedly disagree with Mr. Williams’s conclusion. I am under the belief that his reasoning is fundamentally flawed. The problem is not with his individual assertions, many of which are true or bear the ring of truth, but with the conclusion he is developing. Therefore, today, I will be looking at each of Mr. Williams’s five points and rebutting his assertion that the video game industry is heading towards a crash.
5 – We Put People Who Don’t Know Gaming In Charge
This point is inexorably tied with the next section, but we shall try to discuss them separately. The charge, as you may imagine, is that the ‘suits’ in charge of video gaming are stifling the industry. It’s hard to argue with his point. The proliferation of DLC, constant sequels and remakes, and the preference publishers have towards certain genres, are definitely on the rise due to publishers who are trying eek out a profit from their insanely expensive medium. This runs the basic assumption that suits are stifling to the industry and game developers know best. Both of these assumptions can be accurate in certain circumstances, but are hardly universal truths. Apogee Software, the creators of Duke Nukem, is a good example where assuming developers know what is best fails miserably. Whereas, Nintendo has been pushing innovation and marketability hand-in-hand since the 1983 crash.
Unfortunately, Mr. Williams’s argument seems to stem more from frustration than anything else, frustration of having been constrained by bad publishers. And there are bad publishers. Many of the people in charge care more about getting a sure profit than making a good game. He makes that assertion, and I agree with him. However, this does not lead to the conclusion that the video game industry is heading towards a crash. The rise of indie gaming and Kickstarter has debunked this fear. I would argue that AAA gaming is in trouble because of Mr. Williams’s correct highlighting of various problems, but there is a whole segment of gaming that is ready to pick up the slack. Indie gaming in particular is the solution to most of Mr. Williams’s issues.
4 – Budgets Have Gone Insane, and That’s Making Innovation Impossible
Money is the single driving force in almost every industry, and Mr. Williams, correctly in my opinion, points out that large budgets coupled with publisher’s needs for a constant, stable profit is a serious problem in the industry. One need look no further then the new Tomb Raider game, which sold over four million copies, but it’s considered a financial failure because of its runaway budget. Mr. Williams correctly points out that the budgets for games have ballooned over the years, and, in order to keep up, all developers have to spend more and more on their AAA games. This, I would argue, has led to the downfall of the JRPG genre, which is simply too big in scope and too unprofitable to keep up on cutting edge platforms.
The problem, as exposed by Mr. Williams, is the stifling of innovation. Budgets are too big, the stakes too high to take risks. If Madden or Call of Duty sells well, why risk changing the formula? These bread and butter games are such that few publishers are going to allow a wayward developer, even one with a great idea, the ability to tamper with what works. Thus, the dearth of innovation and the continuance of sequels and remakes being the norm. However, despite all of the problems associated with runaway budgets and publishers playing it too safe, I would assert that the video game industry is more innovative now than ever before. Why is that? Once again, I put forward the rise of indie games. Independent developers are not as constrained by hard-nosed publishers. Moreover, every platform whether the 3DS or Steam has made provisions to allow for easy and ready access for indie gaming. What this sets up is the exact same situation we see in Hollywood movies. We have the big budget releases that appeal to the masses and have huge budgets, and smaller-scale games which titilate those looking for a more nuanced or intellectual spark.
3 – Publishers Are Gaming the Review System
I can agree with many of Mr. Williams’s assertions, but not this one. His third point is inaccurate, poorly thought out, and, in my opinion, flat out wrong. The idea is that publishers are forcing, or manipulating professional video game sites in order score the highest possible reviews for their games. The problem alleged is that these games are undeserving of these reviews, and that the gaming populace is being alienated due to misleading reviews. This will lead to a lack of confidence in gaming reviews and lead to some sort of Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic wasteland where no gamer can trust anything, and thus the game stores dry up like Lord Humungus’s stores of muscle oil.
The allegation is rooted in lunacy. He uses Metacritic user reviews in order to push that the majority of gamers disagree with professional reviews, and that they’re steps from rebellion. The fundamental problem is his reliance on user reviews from one of the most fickle groups in existence as a form of proof. Firstly, I want to get this out of the way – the internet does not represent the majorities opinion, no less any individual site. Most people do not take the time to post a review, or give a score, and far fewer participate actively in internet communities Never pretend otherwise. Secondly, gamers, as mentioned are fickle. Call of Duty Ghosts is a major example he gives as having a surprisingly low user review. However, he discounts the fact that fanboyism leads to both massive amounts of love and an equal amount of hate. Call of Duty is a series we, as hardcore gamers, love to rag on, but let us not pretend for one second that any of the games are actually bad. They might not innovate, but they are fun games, and the reviews reflect that. You see, professional reviews do not have the mind of the hardest of core in the forefront of their thoughts when they write – they are writing for the majority. As such, their reviews reflect the general quality of games for all.
Then there is the allegation of manipulation from publishers. True, publishers want the highest Metacritic score possible, but Mr. Williams’s connection with this point and the corruption of professional review sites does not fit. He argues that review sites tend to score high in order to get more foot traffic. This makes no sense. What brings the most foot traffic is controversy. If IGN gives Call of Duty Ghosts the same kind of score that every other site does, they are not obtaining an increase in foot traffic. If Gamespot gave the Last of Us a 5.0, they would be the ones to receive a boost in traffic, not if they gave it a 10.0 along with everybody else. As mentioned, controversy is what drives foot traffic. If you want to allege that all professional reviewers are corrupt, your argument has to at very least make sense.
Finally, there is the assertion that publishers manipulate professional reviewers by only showing them the most polished and best part of levels for their previews. What does Mr. Williams expect? Should developers let professional reviewers play unfinished levels, or should they not push their own product? This is an allegation against publishers, but any person, pure-hearted developer or demon-seed publisher would be a fool to do anything else. People argue it is misleading to gamers as weak aspects of the product are not properly vetted, but this is a short-sighted criticism. Previews are just that – previews. A game is not being fully vetted, and anyone who believes that is being foolish. If such practices were being used or presented as full reviews, then I’d agree with Mr. Williams. However, as it stands, his point makes zero sense.
2- You’re Always Flying Blind
If you remember, the title for this article is ‘5 Reasons the Video Game Industry is About to Crash’. Because of this, I find it interesting that nowhere in this section does Mr. Williams make a point that relates to the crashing of the video game industry.What he is trying to say is that previews are misleading and that gamers are growing jaded to the industry because they feel that they are being lied to as in the Aliens: Colonial Marines and Bioshock Infinite previews/scandals. However, he goes on to explain the very sensible reasons as to why this is. In short, the industry moves quickly. There are many factors that go into making a game, and sometimes, that game has to cut or change in order to better match the realities. The exact same process occurs in many industries.
This is a real problem that gamers have to learn to deal with. Previews are different than reviews, and gamers are learning to accept that. Sure, people get upset when the hype proved false as in the case of Colonial Marines, but that hardly means that the entire gaming populace is up in arms. Actually, as mentioned above, I see no reason to connect this with an industry crash. The fact of the matter is that this practice is a normal and expected part of business, not some dark or horrible hole that the industry has fallen into. Gamers basically have the choice of waiting for the full game without any previews, or getting previews with the knowledge that some of the content might not make it in the final game. Developers are selling a concept through the preview, not the nitty gritty details of the game, and I don’t think anyone would argue that previews should be completely done away with.
1 – The Industry is Extremely Exploitative, And It’s Driving Away Talent
I do not dispute the poor working conditions for video game developers in many companies. It is well documented that almost every position in the industry is incredibly difficult and gruelling. However, I have to ask the simple question – where are these exploitative conditions driving off talent to? Some game developers will retire, but the bulk of them are going to stay at their jobs, move to another company, or start up their own project. Why? Because like many people in exploitative industries, the reason people can be so exploited is because so many of them love what they do. Just ask many aircraft pilots, and they’ll tell you a similar story.
However, there is a silver-lining to this problem. I’m talking, of course, about indie gaming. If talent is fleeing publishers and they are staying in the industry, this can lead to new studios, more innovation, and, often, better working conditions. Striking out on your own is risky, but in today’s climate we are seeing more and more developers doing just that, and with excellent results. Then there are companies who have been praised for their working environments such as Valve. Discontent isn’t leading to a crash. Activision, EA, Ubisoft, and the like may be pushing its employees unreasonably, but as talent moves on to new ventures, fresh talent moves in. Does that mean we shouldn’t want better conditions for developers? No, of course not. I’m only making the point this is not something that is leading us to a huge video game crash.
I don’t need to spend the entire article arguing against Mr. Williams’s points. There are plenty of arguments against a crash that are not covered by the article. Principally, would be the immense success and widespread adoption of the industry as a whole as a major differentiation from the situation in 1983. At that time, the industry was at its most fledgling stage, and could easily be dismissed as nothing but a passing phase or gimmick to entice children. At that point in time, the industry could have vanished entirely. Nowadays, the industry doesn’t crash – it adapts. If there is a problem, the industry doesn’t simply disappear, or break. Solutions to problems that few people have spent more than a minute thinking about have already sprung up. Indie gaming and Kickstarter have made massive waves in the industry, and I would expect to see much from these two sectors in the future. At the same time, many publishers are focused more on quality and fun then profits. Companies such as Atlus exist, who have been championing an unprofitable genre with tremendous success. Because of these factors, I disagree with Mr. Williams’s assertion that we’re coming up to an industry crash. In fact, I believe we are poised on the precipice of golden age where innovative indie games and major blockbusters stand together for the first time. Or maybe I’m simply a cock-eyed optimist.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer