I’m about to say something which is incredibly obvious but always seems to need repeating: “The video games industry is a business”. I think most of us are very good at taking this into account when it comes to the discussion of video games, but even in some of the better informed corners of the internet, it seems that the facts about what exactly it means for games to be a business and how that business works at a base level often slip through the net.
Unoriginal, You Say?
One worryingly common criticism I keep seeing pop up is that developers in the mainstream games industry just aren’t being original enough. When story is unoriginal the problem is said to be that the industry’s writers lack creativity, when the design is unoriginal the designers lack creativity, when the art is unoriginal the art team lacks creativity, and so on. Even in people who are otherwise reasonably aware of the nature of the industry, it seems that this kind of logic can still come about because it’s only too easy to jump to these conclusions.
Time for another obvious point; paying for a studio, employing people from the games industry, purchasing the necessary technology, obtaining the necessary licences and getting together everything else for making a high budget game costs a lot of money, and that money needs to come from somewhere, i.e. Publishers. The businessmen of the industry are generally not interested in making original games, they’re interested in making money, and so when it comes to them deciding what kinds of games they’re going to fund, they’re going to fund the kind of games which are proven to make cash. This is why the market is currently flooded with a mix of “casual titles” and male-centric action games often reusing the same ideas to do what they do, because these are the games which make the most money. We can see from the world of independent games that there are plenty of developers out there with new and unconventional ideas, but for those who need a publisher to make their game a reality they don’t have this kind of creative freedom.
The Resource Game
As most developers have a reliance on the publisher funding them, they also have a limited amount of time and money to make their games and this can be a very limiting factor. It may sound slightly ridiculous that within the multi-million pound industry of video games that this could be a problem, but time and money often collectively translate into man hours within the studio. In general, the more man hours the development team have at their disposal, the higher the potential quality of the final product. More man hours mean more time for planning out the game and more time to find and fix the flaws in it. Development studios work to tight schedules and often times have to make compromises in their projects, because they just don’t have the hours to polish up and fix all the things wrong with their game.
Now that’s not to say that the quality of a high budget game is solely dependent on the resources at the disposal of the developers, far from it; the ability of the developers and the management of the development process are vital. You could give two studios the same resources and one could create a fantastic game, while another could create absolute rubbish, but it still has to be accepted that there are major restrictions placed upon developers beyond their own skills. As we’ve observed release dates aren’t always set in stone, but it’s an undeniable fact that time and money have a deep effect on games development and that business is a huge part of what defines the games we see on sale today. Even independent studios often find themselves highly restricted by a lack of money.
One big problem that seems to repeatedly occur is a misunderstanding of the relationship between us and the companies who develop and fund the development of games. I often see publishers being described as “greedy” and while there are certain metaphorical meanings of this phrase which can be used to refer to companies, the literal meaning of “greedy” just doesn’t make any sense in the context of business. Almost all businesses are out to make as much money as possible by any means, and so they are all by default “greedy”. This means that when you describe a certain company in this way, it’s a redundant point.
The large majority of the time, the difference between the companies screwing you over and the companies not screwing you over is either that one company has more power than the other, or one company considers keeping the customer happy a more profitable route than the other. They rarely value the consumer as a human being; they simply value the consumer as a source of money. This does not say anything about the people developing games, almost all of whom have the primary concern of providing a quality product and are passionate about what they do, but this does mean that there’s nothing exceptional about the business practises of companies like EA or Activision who are often labelled as far more “cheap” or “evil” than anyone else.
Many other companies in their position would be doing the exact same thing they are, and if a huge corporation says that they care about you as a person, you may want to stop and think before accepting everything they say, because in most cases they will say pretty much anything they can if they it will mean access to your wallet.
Duder, It’s Over
Thank you for reading and I’ll be back with the slightly shorter part 2 of this blog next week.