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Polarity

posted on August 2nd, 2006 by matt

Another example includes a major games company CEO being disgusted with EA for not being able to release Superman Returns for consoles when the movie came out. Jeez, so someone actually delayed a movie game to make it good. That’s like the second time in history that that’s ever happened, and gamers are more fortunate to have a better game when it releases. But that comment leaves us wondering again, what is the point? Why release a game before it becomes what it should be, a great game? That particular CEO was apparently really upset about it too, like EA personally defiled his mother’s grave. EA can do it, but they went against the shareholders to make a better game. This is definitely a rare occasion, especially for EA, but it’s refreshing to see someone fight for the quality of a game rather than a release date. And remember, that CEO is the head of a major player making those kinds of decisions, and we are caught in the cross-fire of it all.

Comments like the one just mentioned pit companies against each other for no apparent reason. I thought they were trying to give people fun, so why worry about the other guys? It’s all the same in the end, right?

All of the proceeds of Halo 3 are going to charity. Just kidding, they’re really being used to buy competitors to maintain a monopoly.

Wrong. Companies don’t want you to play the other guy’s wares. Mark Rein will profit more it companies create bigger games because he gets more money from Unreal Engine licensing. If a company is looking to create a small game, they aren’t going to buy Epic’s engine because it would be too expensive for that type of game. But selling the idea that making smaller games is stupid will make sure that Epic turns a profit with their middleware business. Business over pleasure.

Bill Gates would love to release Halo 3 when the PS3 launches (which definitely isn’t going to happen, by the way), but that would put us poor gamers in an annoying spot. We’re going to play Halo 3 at some point Bill, but why does it have to be in direct competition to another source of many people’s joy? Can’t we all just get along?

Another good example of this conundrum is the story of how Shigeru Miyamoto became what he is today. Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former president and still owner of Nintendo, basically needed the right guy to spearhead software development. He saw financial success in Miyamoto, with his wonderful imagination that lightened up kids’ lives.

To this day, Yamauchi has still not played a video game, but he sure knew the right guy to make them. Business, in this example, meant pleasure for a lot of people. No one can deny that Mario and Zelda are some of today’s most popular titles, but lurking behind their success was a balls-to-the-wall businessman that wanted complete control of the industry.

A lot of you probably think me naïve. That business is business, and nothing more. But tell that to all those independent developers out there who don’t do it for the money. They put all their passion and love for games into their work, and all they ask in return is for your approval. This is a viable counter-point because there are thousands of people that call themselves independent developers out there in the world, with games being released as shareware almost daily. They have a very big voice in the video game industry today, and their loud and proud voices tell a different story for the industry.

Stock RPG Maker sprites? Shouldn’t Ledonne have respected the victims enough to steal sprites from Final Fantasy?

Examples of this can be seen with the recent Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which was developed by now uncloaked Danny Ledonne, or “Columbin.” He developed the highly criticized game to create conversation on the horrific tragedy. He did not make this game to make a name for himself as a programmer. He was quoted around the time of the game’s high point of controversy that he isn’t looking to get into game development. He created the game to help others see what the tragedy really meant, and “behind all the pixels is the fact that people really died, including two angry boys who were, at times, very thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent young men.”

This goes above and beyond what we have defined a video game to be in this era, and it’s people like Ledonne that show onlookers that the industry isn’t just made of people looking to become rich. He spent an estimated 200-300 hours to develop a game that saw not one cent of profit. He was looking for something far more gratifying: community discussion and interaction, which is probably the farthest from monetary gain that I can think of.

Also, think of what Dennis Dyack of Silicon Knights has been saying for years now: that video games can and will surpass cinema and books as the dominant form of media, on the artistic side of things. And with games like Eternal Darkness, that future can definitely happen. But will all the other companies follow in Dyack’s footsteps? Probably not, because business runs the show. Even though Eternal Darkness was an achievement in interactive entertainment from many people’s eyes, it sold rather poorly. And that is probably why we won’t see a sequel for a very long time.

In the end, though, we cannot dump the video game industry into one category. We would hope that they only make games to give people a sense of fun and happiness, with maybe some controversy here and there, but the almighty dollar says different. We might get a few gems in the end, but the majority of games released are just to keep the company alive, plain and simple.

Sources include Rocky Mountain News for the Ledonne quote, Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution, written by Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby for the history lesson, and all the GAF bloggers that helped create this essay with their opinions on the matter.

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9 Comments

  1. Matt said on August 4, 2006:

    Hello everyone, this is Matt, the author of this lovely editorial on the pitfalls of game development. I just wanted to say hello to the staff, and see if they enjoyed my article. This is basically my first piece of journalism/writing for the internet, so I’m open to suggestions on content and style. That’s it from me right now, but I hope to bring in some worthwhile content to videolamer.com and its readers.  "laugh and grow fat" 

  2. Christian said on August 4, 2006:

    Matt, this is a great first article.  I really enjoy the topic, the pacing, and the overall tone.  I’ll respond with a better post, discussing the article itself, but for now I just want to say to keep it up, and I look forward to more

  3. Christian said on August 4, 2006:

    As promised… I doubt any of the major companies have consiered what they would do should a competitor completely fold.  However, they would most likely attempt to hire the best and brightest over to their side, in order to meet their newfound demand and keep their marketshare.  This gets a little trickier with international business.  I doubt Hyundai or Nissan is too worried that Ford is cursing at them right about now.  Then again, a lot of these companies have deals and partnerships to help each other out in foreign markets, and probably wouldn’t hesitate to buy each other out.     The game industry is still an industry, thus the goal is still to crush the competition.  Even though competing brings about better products, it also means a smaller piece of the pie, so no one is going to say they’re happy to be fighting tooth and nail for market share.  If, say, Sony killed Nintendo, they’d most likely try to hire guys like Miyamoto, or just buy them out completely.  Or if its MS, they’d probably make Nintendo, or Sega, or whoever in charge of their Japanese division. They’re probably not worried about snuffing out creative minds, because in the end they’ll probably be able to recruit them (unless they’re incredibly stubborn).    I’m afraid that as long as gaming is more about business than it is the art form, this mentality will remain.  It isn’t a bunch of musicians who will tour together, or writer’s who may collaborate on something.  Its all about making a whole lot of money, even if that means having people love your console so much that they’re willing to buy a replacement rather than try something new. 

  4. Matt said on August 4, 2006:

    Yeah, all good points. It’s just a crazy situation. We, as gamers, merely see games as a means to an end: new and entertaining experiences. But, on the flip side, you have the bean counters, flipping through stacks of cash and still wishing it could be a more from whatever drivelthey spilled on the market. The industry has many similarities to the movie industry and Hollywood, but when you get games like Shadow of the Colossus and Eternal Darkness that are solely there to give the player a chance to interact with a wondeful universe, you can’t help but think that the industry is, and can, be a place where dreams are made.

  5. Matt said on August 5, 2006:

    And thanks a lot for the kind words, I really do appreciate it. I was worried that my rusty writing abilities would wash away what I was trying to prove in my article.  

  6. jay said on August 5, 2006:

    The article is definitely thought provoking and on a topic I have thought a lot about. I hope you’ll keep us supplied with more, Matt.

     

    Christian, I think you’re right that MS would snatch up Miyamoto, but what about the Treasures, Camelots and Compiles of the world? Would anyone have the budget or taste needed to buy up small talented developers? Some of the problem is the international factor, like you mentioned. Nintendo would buy Camelot, Sega would buy Treasure…no one bought Compile, but stupid Sega bought the Puyo Puyo license then threw out all of the series characters. But if MS dominates, will they care about these small japanese companies, and likewise, if Nintendo dominates will they care about small Western developers they push out of business?

     

  7. Christian said on August 5, 2006:

    With the smaller guys, chances are the emloyees would all go their separate ways and find work elsewhere.  We wouldn’t get the same games, but their influence may still be felt. Somewhere along the line they may even get back together and work on something.  You’d probably see scenarios like Obsidian and Troika coming from Black Isle.  Not a great situation, as one of them is dead and the other unproven.  And who knows?  Even if, say, MS doesn’t pick them up, if there’s some other strong Japanese company around, then they probably would.  

  8. jay said on August 5, 2006:

    I find it unlikely. The industry is pushing towards more sequels, the same games based on proven designs, and top sellers taking almost the entire market. In other words, it is an environment that isn’t particularly welcoming to small independants and many talented people are going to be left out. I understand why these things happen, but I still long for the days of Richard Garriott and  Jon Van Caneghem competing with Ultima and Might and Magic but still saying that they thought each others competition was good because it got more people into role playing games.

  9. Christian said on August 6, 2006:

    Well we’re splitting hairs here.  Its silly to say that someone who’s worked at Treasure for ten years and has vast amounts of experience is going to have a tough time getting hired somewhere.  The problem lies in the fact that said person probably wouldn’t have the freedom to make the same kind of games.  That’s another issue entirely however, and really I think its one that any industry faces.  Hell, it has happened close to home; what the hell is Romero or Steve Wozniak up to these days?  Nothing near as big as Carmack or Jobs.  Its just the way it is, even if it stinks. 

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