The Gaming Industry is Dead

We just don’t see it yet, because it’s not quite done bleeding out all over the floor.

Who am I to be making such bold proclamations?  I’m not in the gaming industry.  I’m not anybody.  I’m just another idiot fan with an opinion, and we all know what that’s worth.

But now that we’ve established my bona fides on this subject, one positive thing I can say about me, is that I’m a fan that pays attention.  And lately, I’ve noticed that the gaming industry sucks.

Hard.

Today, gamers struggle with gimmick consoles and bad ports of games that were never designed for the system they’re porting to (almost every 3rd party title on the Wii).  We have games that are making millions of dollars at release and being considered failures for not making millions more (Tomb Raider).  We have Publishers regularly interrupting game developers, pushing games out before they’re ready, leading to disastrous results (Mass Effect 3, and many others I can’t even name right now).  Other publishers close successful niche games because it’s not in their “interests” to keep them open any more (guess).  Always online DRM and other security schemes designed to make pirating harder but also make playing harder (thank you EA, though you’re hardly the only offender in this area).  DLC that’s, in some cases, necessary to play the game at release (Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Mass Effect 3 again).

Then there are the console wars that erupt every few years.  On May 21st, Microsoft will reveal the next X-Box, and Sony is already hyping up the PS4.  Nintendo is looking to be the big loser, as it’s already reporting missed sales expectations with the Wii U.  But, expect the second half of 2013 and parts of 2014 to be another horrible knock-down drag-out between all the heavy hitters.  All of this, and I haven’t even gotten to the subject of bad games themselves.  Games that just suck because of story, or game play, or both and more.

But how bad is it really getting?  There’s talk of the great Video Game Crash of 1983 being bandied about, like it’s about to happen again.  Below is a link to a 30 minute video about that very subject, put together by the group CleverNoobs.

Is the Game Industry Crashing?

The gist of it is in 1983, the gaming industry went from being a 200 million dollar a year industry to barely 3 million a year.  To lose that much value in a single year takes a breath-taking amount of failure.  That failure was epitomized by bad games (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial), and bad experiences being provided by game makers.  The market didn’t recover until 1985, when Nintendo introduced the NES in the U.S.  Today, most video game publishers have yet to recover from the economic crash of 2008 that affected us all.  And in their weakened state, many in the industry seem to be employing similar strategies as employed by the industry back in the early 80’s before the crash.

That was then, this is now.  How can you tell the industry is even in trouble, LockOn?  In the past six months we’ve had a rush of game studios closing or laying developers off.  If we start counting back from November of last year, there’s Paragon Studios, Square Enix, High Moon, Lucas Arts, EA, EA again, and Harmonix.  The carnage amounts to at the very LEAST, 650 developers that have been fired from their jobs.  That is however a conservative guess and the actual number is likely up towards 1,000.  According to the 2010 Video Games Report by the Entertainment Software Association, there are some 32,000 jobs in the gaming industry in the US.  Take away the publishers from this and the number drops to 20,000.  Put together it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Even if we use our liberal number, 1,000 is still at best, 5% of the entire industry.  But keep in mind, this is all within the last 6 months.  This isn’t even a years’ worth of lay-offs.  And how many jobs can an industry lose before it collapses in on itself?  At this moment, I think it’s possible we may find out.

The fault I think, lies with the executives.  Publishers have become so big and so powerful, people who’s job is to manage money are in charge of the industry.  And all these people know how to do is manage money.  The game makers themselves are of tertiary importance and this is why I praise the coming death of the industry.  Yes, there is a point where you can become, too successful.  There is a point when you become so bloated and overloaded with cash and success, you can actually damage the eco-system in which you live with your very presence.  Gasp!  Shut up!  You sound like a communist!

But I’m far from that, my friends.  I can’t wait for these big AAA publishers to go bankrupt.  It is all that they deserve.  I can’t wait for the market to come in and replace them, as it should and eventually will.  Sadly, I fear that we are in for a few more years of bad systems and bad game,s as the industry big-shots still have a bit of money they can throw around and things they can affect.  Eventually though, the center will give way.  Publishers’ poor treatment of their costumers, will eventually reach critical mass.  And eventually enough people will start to listen when I and other better writers then me, say things like, don’t put your money into a company that doesn’t care about you.

But LockOn, you say.  That blonde is hot and knows how to dress it up.  This was an actual comparison that someone made to me of a AAA game publisher and the work they put out.  A hot, dumb, blonde in the corner of the room.  Yeah she’s not that bright, but she’s winking at me, and I can tell she’s ready to go.  Can’t I just give her a try?  Sure you can, buddy.  Enjoy the contempt she treats you with.  Enjoy the feeling of your empty wallet as she burns through your cash on things you don’t care about, and don’t want or need, and oh yeah. When you call her back and ask her out again, and you can’t seem to get through, or the number she left you with, doesn’t seem to work.  Yeah, do enjoy that empty, used feeling down in the pit of your stomach.

I suppose the silver lining in all this, is that the game industry isn’t really dying out, I just like hyperbole.  The industry will eventually transform into something else.  It may have to contract before it rights itself, but when the fix does happen, things will be better.  We’re already seeing some of that transformation now.  Kickstarter and other self-funded development studios are starting to gain traction and showing that there are markets for games that publishers won’t touch.  Project Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Star Citizen are 3 recent examples of fantastic looking games, all completely derided by publishers as being un-fundable and too “niche” to make money.  All funded by fans thanks to Kickstarter.  Hell, Star Citizen made 9 million dollars in it’s fund-raising drive.  Did you get that?  The game is a space star ship shooter and it’s already turned a profit.  It’s vaporware!  The game doesn’t exist!  But people are so excited about it, the developer making it has already guaranteed a profit.  But no publisher would touch that game, because star ship shooters haven’t been made in 10 years and couldn’t possibly sell today.

One more bright spot we can also look forward to, is in the new game consoles under development right now (also funded by kickstarter).  The Ouya and the Gamestick will initially make the console wars worse.  But, I think these two complete upstarts will eventually win out and bury the AAA console makers by virtue of one tiny detail.  Both of those consoles are android powered and open source.  The Ouya team is already boasting that it has 10,000 developers working on games for it’s console.  I believe that these consoles will eventually bury the AAA console makers with volume, and while many of the games released won’t be great.  Many of them will.  Because these consoles are open source, they will have a built in advantage over the X-Box, PS4, and Wii U, that will help bleed them out and eventually finish them off.  This I will put money on.

So yes, gaming sucks right now.  The industry is being run into the ground by money men, squeezing out that last bit of blood before the bottom falls out.  This is disheartening, especially since most of the burden for this failure is being borne by the development studios themselves.  And while it may yet be a while before this particular eco-system dies out and transforms into something better, there are bright spots out there now.  Find those bright spots and support them.  Do not continue to give your money to people that hate you.  Because if a company is using DRM, or release day DLC, then they hate you.  If they tell you they can’t make a sequel to a game you loved because the first didn’t make enough money, it’s really because they hate you.  If they demand you drop half a grand on a new system and then tout everything about it to you except it’s video game playing capability, then clearly you’re not what they’re interested in.  And they hate you.  And you shouldn’t support them.  Not with your time, or your money.

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