Why Papers, Please is much better than Gone Home

This is a post that I wrote for my blog at Geek Bravado but I decided to put it here as well because I'm curious what others think and figured Giant Bomb would be a good place to generate some discussion.

NOTE: This initial section is free of spoilers. I will clearly mark where spoilers begin. It is not recommended that you read that section unless you have finished Gone Home and played a lot of Papers, Please or don't plan to play either at all.

I normally don't do game reviews on here but I felt compelled to this time. This past week saw the release of two high-profile indie games: The Fullbright Company's Gone Home and Lucas Pope's Papers, Please. These have both been getting a lot of attention and with good reason. They're both titles that try to do things very differently and focus on conveying unique and moving stories through play. I had never heard of Lucas Pope before this but The Fullbright Company is headed by Steve Gaynor, who was the creative lead behind the incredible Minerva's Den DLC for BioShock 2. The reviews of Papers, Please have been positive and it's selling well as far as I can tell but Gone Home has been receiving rather stunning acclaim. Nearly every review is a perfect score or near to it and even The New York Times has been singing its praise. It's also been outselling Papers, Please on Steam by a decent margin. I finished Gone Home in two sittings yesterday and I have put about five hours into Papers, Please without having yet reached the end. However, I've experienced a lot of what it offers and what it's trying to convey. As seems to be often the case, my opinion differs from the common group think quite a bit as I think Papers, Please is not only a far superior game to Gone Home but is also a substantially better value at $10, half of what The Fullbright Company is asking for their creation. Rather than just do a straight up review of both, this is going to be a bit of a comparison to try to make that case.

Gone Home is honestly not that much of a game so much as it is an interactive story. It's 1995 and you come home from a European trip to find your parents and your sister are all gone with no real explanation as to why. You wander around your house, looking at objects and through them, you are told what is a fairly moving family story. There's no combat, no scares, no interaction with another live person. It's just you, the house and your sister's journal entries. Now don't misunderstand me, that's how this title has been billed from the very beginning. The Fullbright Company didn't mislead anyone and I applaud them for taking this creative approach. It's been done before but not often and rarely very well. One of the things Gone Home has been lauded for is how it's able to convey a narrative with no guns, swords, violence or really, any direct conflict whatsoever. That is indeed unusual but certainly not unheard of. In fact, my favourite game of all time, The Longest Journey does something very similar and with much deeper narrative and character development. Gone Home is a game anyone with any skill level can pick up and play and it rewards patience and a willingness to check every single nook and cranny for clues. In the end, you are treated to a story that can make you cry, smile and ponder all at the same time.

The problem is, both the story and the mechanics of Gone Home are basic and I dare say, cliché. Yes, you can look at every object in the house and you can complete the story without hearing every journal entry and piece of back story. The problem is that 95% of the objects you will come across are meaningless and serve as little more than padding. When you find something that has relevance to the narrative, it's made very clear to you so as you can't miss the point. By the end of the title's very short length (I finished it in just over two hours and only missed I think three journal entries), you know the key points of the story regardless of what you missed because you can't get to the end without discovering certain key elements. The story is also touching, topical, brilliantly voice acted and has some great accompanying music (especially Chris Remo's poignant yet haunting ambient score) but in the end, it's something reminiscent of an after school special (do they even still have those?) It discusses important subject matter but it's far from original and aside from a "draw your own conclusions" ending, you can see all its major developments coming a mile away and there's no twists or big revelations. You'll know what's going to happen before most of it does and that saps a lot of the magic they still could have infused into what I think is otherwise, a very generic, sappy narrative. Being a linear experience, Gone Home also has no replay value, aside from going back to find any journal entries you missed, something that won't be appealing to most people I don't think. That it takes place in 1995 means little to the overall story as the main point of conflict could easily happen today as well. It just serves as a vehicle for the story to talk about things like Super Nintendo and The X-Files while also avoiding the necessity to use things like e-mail and smartphones to convey narrative points. That part is kind of cool for people my age though and I do like that they've made discovering the story a very analog, tactile experience.

Conversely, I think Papers, Please has a far more interesting tale to tell and does a masterful job of conveying it and the myriad of choices you make that directly impact it through its mechanics. Rather than deal with a modern, topical issue, this game throws you back to the Cold War era, tasking you with being a document screener at the border of a fictional country that totally isn't communist Russia (honest!) and where you must try to support your family's ever-increasing expenses while getting paid piece work. As the days progress, the rules under which you're forced to operate become more and more complex and difficult and frequently, random events will be thrown in that disrupt the flow of everything and present you with a myriad of different choices which can impact the story and lead you to one of what I believe are twenty different endings. In Papers, Please, there really is no winning, only losing in the best way possible. Make no mistake, this is a game that has a point to make but rather than do it through heavy-handed exposition that's largely delivered through object triggers, the game play itself is the vehicle for the message. Nearly everything you're told about the world you inhabit and the conflicts you're involved in is communicated through and during actual game play and it frequently requires you to think on your feet and make snap decisions that you may regret later on. There are only a handful of times where you aren't under pressure and this really helps convey the oppressive, dismal and often, very dark circumstances in which your character is under. It certainly doesn't have the presentation of Gone Home but it doesn't need them either. It's simple, 8-bit graphics do as good a job of conveying emotion and depth as Gone Home's super high-resolution object textures. There is violence in the game where there is none at all in Gone Home but it's very measured and all done with a purpose and never recklessly.

I think these are both very interesting games in their own way but in the end, I think Papers, Please deserves a lot more love than it's getting. It's substantially longer (I'm at almost six hours and haven't finished one playthrough yet), it encourages and rewards repeated play and it's decides to not only portray a rich and detailed story but it does it in a (partially) fictional past and let's the game play and its choices drive the narrative for you. Gone Home on the other hand delivers a well-told, yet very cliché drama in a linear format that will take you maybe four hours to get through if you're very thorough, while not really providing meaningful incentives to be thorough. On top of that, it also costs twice as much. Value for money and taste are subjective of course but through the lens most game critics tend to operate, I find it rather shocking that Gone Home has received such universal acclaim, while Papers, Please has received generally good-but-not-great reviews for what I think is a much more important experience. If you're into indie games and have the budget, it may very well be worth buying them both and making your own call. If however, you can only choose one right now, I would recommend Papers, Please without a second thought. Gone Home would be far more worth it when it's $10 or even $5 in an upcoming Steam sale.

From this point on, I will be going into heavy spoiler discussion of both games. DO NOT READ FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED GONE HOME AND PLAYED A LOT OF PAPERS, PLEASE OR HAVE NO PLANS TO EVER PLAY EITHER TITLE!

As I said above, my problem with Gone Home's story is that while it's well told through some absolutely fantastic voice acting, it's super cliché, generic drama. When your character arrives home after returning from a long European trip with no notice, she finds an empty house with a cryptic note from her younger sister saying she's gone. As you explore the house, you find out that a lot happened while you were gone. Your sister met a girl at school and as she gets to know her, she discovers they have romantic feelings for each other and that she is in fact a lesbian. Their relationship gets hot and steamy quickly but they keep it very much on the hush hush from everyone. Why? Because your parents are religious (demonstrated by the fact that there is a bible to be found within close proximity of several objects that trigger journal entries about your sister's homosexuality) and they very much would disapprove. Subtle, eh? Your sister's lover also proves to have a rebellious bent to her, something that starts to blend into your sister's life as well, eventually leading her to get into trouble at school and making her peers suspicious about just what she and this other girl are up to.

You also find out through the environments the game will tour you through that your father was once a successful fiction author, who essentially had one hit book and then flamed out, never coming close to that success again. He's now been reduced to writing reviews of home theater equipment just to keep making money off his writing. Slightly unique implementation but again, a tired and generic trope. Meanwhile, your mother has ended up on the fast track up through her career with the local forest service and has become the family breadwinner, while also entering into an affair with a co-worker. This combined with the surprise revelation of your sister's lesbian relationship (of course) creates a huge conflict in the family and especially the marriage. Your sister's relationship also begins to unravel as she finds out that her lover had planned to join the army from a young age and when she goes away, they will probably never see each other again.

You find out close to the end of the game that the reason your house is empty is because your parents are away at a troubled marriage retreat (which they told your sister was a vacation to celebrate their anniversary.) While mourning the loss of her lover, your sister gets a phone call from her, saying that she can't live without her and she's ditching out on the army and that she should just come get her so they can run away together. The "draw your own conclusions" ending is because that's where everything is left. Does your parent's marriage survive? Does your sister meet her lover? Do they get in trouble because her lover ditched out on the army? Do you ever seen them again? Who knows!

Now, there is nothing wrong with this kind of ending and I think it suits Gone Home very well. I also want to make it clear that despite all my criticisms, I do think the story is very well told, emotional and heavy. I don't cry easily and this game didn't cause me to but I was very moved and heavy hearted as I watched the credits roll and was thinking about the ending quite a bit throughout the day. It's not a bad story and certainly a very good version of this one. The thing is, stories like this have been done a million times before. The way in which Gone Home conveyed this one may have been a bit different but the story itself isn't and there's not really a lot of originality on display here and the major points kind of hit you over the head with little subtlety. I've seen other dramatic stories (even in games) that had a deeper impact on me and there was a lot more "game" involved in them to boot. This story is ultimately just another teenage drama.

Papers, Please is a whole other animal and while it won't necessarily have the gut-wrenching impact of Gone Home, I think it's also moving in its own way and it doesn't brow beat it's over-arching points into you, it lets the game play tell things organically. Your primary motivation is simple: Earn enough money through your piece work border job to pay your rent, food, heat and buy medicine for your family on occasion. If you fail to do any of these things on a regular basis, your family will suffer and potentially even die. The game is purposefully cold and calculated about this, portraying your family the way an oppressive bureaucracy might view them. You never see their faces, you never even speak to them. You are just shown a status icon for each one at the end of the day and are given an emotionless, typed out line of text indicating their needs. If you ultimately fail one of them, it will simply say "Your wife/son/uncle/etc. has died." That's it. In my first play through which I've yet to complete, I have lost both my son and uncle because I couldn't make enough money to get them medicine they needed. When the game coldly informed me of that, I didn't feel my heart sink into my stomach but I did feel an immense sense of failure, that I'd let these faceless people down and was a bad person for it. That I got anywhere near as worked up over a change in an icon as I did over a fully voice-acted monologue with sad music behind it speaks volumes to what Papers, Please can do.

This is to say nothing of the experience of actually playing the game. You are put under immense pressure to shuffle people through your border as fast as possible while adhering to a maddening set of ever-changing rules. I was never leaning back in my chair the whole time because I was so intently staring at the screen so I didn't miss anything. You always have a quota to meet to pay the bills but every missed detail results in both an immediate penalty and a larger punishment that can come later. My only real gripe here is that though border agents like yourself are apparently required, the government somehow omnisciently knows every time you make a mistake so they can punish you. If they already know the answers, why am I needed at all? It's honestly a minor thing to get over though. As the days go by, more and more choices are thrown at you. Multiple people will offer you bribes to either break the rules outright or to subvert them in ways that don't come with direct punishment, but require you to live with the knowledge that you screwed over honest people. You're also presented with opportunities to help a rebel organisation, multiple terrorist attacks will close your post early and sometimes, the government will just seize heaps of your savings because it's a dictatorship and they say so. It's difficult, oppressive, unfair and a remarkable slight of insight into what it must have been like for someone trying to scrape by in one of these Cold War countries.

Papers, Please is not a pleasant game at all. Unlike Gone Home which is designed to be sad but also uplifting, this is not designed to make you feel happy. It's playing to work. It's designed to inform and create sympathy and it does is almost entirely through playing it, not through reading, not through audio logs but simply by playing the game and succeeding or not at it. I think this shows incredible talent and creativity on Lucas Pope's part and makes Papers, Please stand apart not only against Gone Home but indeed against almost any other video game we've seen so far. I've played a lot of games and I've never seen anything like this, nor have I ever seen a game with such a dark, oppressive tone to it that after hours of playing, I didn't want to put down and kept saying "Just one more work day!"

That Papers, Please comes with a price tag half of what Gone Home is asking and is already been three times longer an experience for me with no signs of ending yet, I think the value proposition is obvious. I want to state again that despite all the negative points I've raised about Gone Home (which I focused on mostly because they've not been discussed at all everywhere else I've looked), I don't think it's a bad product and I don't regret my time spent with it. I think Papers, Please is a far superior value, a more unique story, has more unique mechanics and does a better job of storytelling through game play instead of just being another narrative sightseeing tour, the likes of which indie developers constantly slam on the AAA industry for having too many of. Gone Home is good but it shares many of the traits of the AAA industry in which its developers originated and walked away from.

If you can only afford one right now, my recommendation without hesitation is to get Papers, Please and wait for Gone Home to go on sale. Gone Home is worth experiencing but not for $20.

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Your Company Shouldn't Be A Soapbox

 

For those who aren't aware, Stardock Corporation is a software company that provides enhancement utilities for Windows and which also develops, publishes and digitally distributes a number of great PC games.  I'm a huge fan of this company and the way they execute the corporate ideals of their CEO Brad Wardel l, ones which include providing polished products that aren't laden with DRM and offering top-notch service that treats their customers like people rather than just buyers.  Many of their values coincide with those we have at the company I co-own.  However, what I'm writing about today is a rookie mistake many company executives make and which Mr. Wardell unfortunately made himself lately:  combining your business with your personal politics.

Mr. Wardell is very conservative in his political beliefs and to his credit, makes no attempt to hide that fact.  He maintains his own blog which frequently details them.  I've got no qualms with him doing that and I'm not writing this to debate his beliefs.  What concerns me however is when he decided to protest a decidedly political issue with elements of the business he is charged with running, published his intentions and then became agitated when the Internet community called him out for doing the very thing he was decrying someone else for doing.  This is becoming an increasingly large problem with business owners and something that I think needs to be curtailed.

First off, a bit of background:  Recently, it was revealed that in protest of the increasing inflammatory rhetoric being broadcast from anchor Glenn Beck on FOX News, the major courier company UPS had pulled all its advertising from the network and possibly from the entirety of FOX Television.  Stardock was using UPS as the carrier for product they physically shipped to customers.  Mr. Wardell did not approve of UPS doing this, stating that "I don't like to see companies trying to push their ideology on others."  The following day, he requested his employees to start shipping with FedEx instead of UPS.  Shortly after doing this, he posted about it on his Facebook page which he thought was private but someone published the comment which was picked up by the gaming press and like many things in the gaming community, spread like wildfire and inspired a lot of anger.  Many who were very loyal customers of Stardock began calling for boycotts, saying that in effect, Mr. Wardell was endorsing the views of Glenn Beck and FOX News by dropping someone who refused to advertise on the network for supposedly political reasons.  UPS has since claimed that they were in fact not boycotting FOX and that new ads are already running on their networks.

My. Wardell has since blogged about this issue and the response from the gaming community.  He claims his comments and actions were overblown and that he wasn't trying to make any major political or moral statement, he was just annoyed and decided to go with another shipper.  His response was calm, thought out and clear to the point that yes, Stardock is his company and choosing another shipper was his perogative, as it was UPS' to pull their ads from FOX in protest, if that is in fact what they did.  All that said though, I do think he made some very poor errors in judgment and he seems to be a bit too eager to pass blame for this onto others.

Mr. Wardell's company operates almost entirely off online commerce.  He is very familiar with how Internet communities work and how they tend to react to things.  It was a gross oversight on his part to think that this wouldn't get found out about and that the reaction wouldn't be significant, particularly since he published the reasons.  He claims that this was published to a Facebook account he tries to keep private.  But two sentences later, he talks about how he has roughly 350 Facebook  friends.  That's an awfully large number of people to have to trust with a controversial subject.  Anyone who is Internet savvy knows that privacy ultimately doesn't exist online.  Mr. Wardell said "I would be the first to agree with the people who said “It’s not good business to publicize such things”. Except I didn’t."  I'm sorry sir but yes, you did.  If you put something up, you are publishing it and there is a very good chance it will be seen by many people, at least a few of which will strongly disagree with you.  If what you're posting is something you aren't comfortable with the world knowing, don't post it.  Decrying the media for doing their job and republishing something of significance which came across their desk is disingenuous in my opinion.

All of these are merely secondary symptoms of the one core issue which Mr. Wardell unfortunately tripped over:  Never mix your personal politics with your business.   He was actively engaging in what he was attempting to decry UPS for, using their business clout to denounce practices by another business they didn't agree with, an irony I'm not convinced that he fully appreciates.  In his blog post, he claims that one shouldn't mix business and politics when that is precisely what he did--without apologies.  I have no formal business training and the necessity of keeping that separation is something I have known from the very beginning.  I don't preach politically on my company's corporate blog or to our customers and this post isn't about whether or not I agree with Mr. Wardell.  But I can say with some certainty that if Stardock was a public company, he would likely be answering some very tough questions from its board of directors right now.  Speaking for yourself is one thing but speaking through the mouthpiece of your business--whether with words or actions--reflects on your entire operation including the staff and the brand which we all know takes far less work to damage than to build up.  It is unfair to those who work for you to paint them with the brush of your own beliefs.  I doubt Stardock will suffer much economically from this controversy but any drop in business affects everyone there, not just the few at the top.

I still think Stardock embodies corporate values that are sorely lacking in today's world and this flap will not deter me from doing business with them in the future.  However, I would like to urge Mr. Wardell and any other fellow business owners who might read this to really consider the value of keeping your personal views on politics or whatever else just that, personal.  It's good to have your own ideals and to express them and fight for the change in the world you want to see.  More of us need to do that.  But your business involves more than just yourself and it is critical to make sure it doesn't end up unintentionally adopting your views as well.  Chances are many of your customers are also your political opponents and politics are never a good reason to push people away.

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How Good People Don't Do Business (In A Game Industry Context)

NOTE:  This was originally an entry I wrote for the corporate blog of the startup company I run with a friend.  I'm posting it here because I wanted to share my thoughts with the gaming community, not to try to plug my company which is just a local firm anyway.  Our company name is mentioned but I am not linking to our site.  You can find us on your own if you want.

As you can already see, this will be a long post and is my first attempt at a business essay of sorts.

When Dan and I first decided to start the company, we made an unequivocal commitment to operating with the utmost honesty and integrity, the inspiration for which largely came from our experiences at other employers.  Some of our competition as well as the general business environment in which we operate test this often.  We are offered "business is war" and "you have to do what you must to succeed" as advice with disturbing frequency from those with far more business cache than us.  However, our resolve has always been that if operating as we do results in slower growth or even failure, we will have attained our status with a clear conscience.  While we understand that there are a growing number of businesspeople who are willing to fill the moral and ethical gray area in which we refuse to tread, we prefer to use the examples they set as inspiration for how we should avoid behaving, rather than idolizing their success as many do.  This essay cites a recent example from an industry and pastime that Dan and I are great enthusiasts of, video games.

If you aren't into gaming and in particular, haven't followed the hobby going back a number of years, you probably haven't heard of Tim Schafer.  He's a designer who holds a legendary status among many for his contributions to a number of ingenious and more importantly, hilarious adventure games for LucasArts, the video game division of the George Lucas empire.  In the late 90s, adventure games began a decline in popularity and LucasArts largely abandoned the genre.  In 2000, Schafer left to form his own studio called Double Fine Productions.  Their first title was called Psychonauts and came out in 2005.  While not an adventure game in the traditional sense, it still retained the quirky humour and brilliantly imaginative world design that Schafer was known for and despite some gameplay flaws, is still hailed by many (myself included) as a great creative achievement.  It was originally to be published by Microsoft Game Studios but was dropped by them and ultimately, the game was released by a small publisher whose experience with big budget titles was limited to say the least.  Despite receiving rave reviews across the board, Psychonauts received almost no marketing help and was ultimately a sales flop.  Despite this setback, Double Fine still had enough resources to start work on an even more ambitious project, Brutal Legend.

This new game is as creatively and financially daring as Psychonauts was and is shaping up to have an equally tumultuous time getting to market.  The title was originally to be published by Sierra Entertainment, a now disbanded imprint of top five publisher Vivendi Games.  In 2008, Vivendi merged with Activision, the number two publisher in the world to form the mega publisher Activision Blizzard.  The new company immediately took first place from Electronic Arts who were the undisputed top dogs for many years.  Activision owns some of the most recognised and successful video game series in the world including Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, Tony Hawk, World of Warcraft, plus the rights to games based on a number of big movie licenses, all of which sell millions of units per year.  Their ability to make large sums of money is simply undeniable.  However, the company has also quickly earned a reputation for not fostering creativity or new ideas and pushing out many sequels to the same franchises, usually on a yearly basis.  CEO Bobby Kotick has gone on record saying that his goal was to foster franchises that could only be "exploited" on a yearly basis.  To his credit, this is a strategy that has worked very well for them.  This will be where my credit to him ends.

Shortly after the creation of Activision Blizzard, the company quickly and unceremoniously cut loose a number of titles and entire studios that didn't fit Kotick's vision.  The majority found homes at other publishers fairly quickly and have either been released already or will be soon.  Brutal Legend went without any word for a while though and the gaming community became concerned that no one would be willing to take a risk on Schafer's new and unusual idea.  However, last December gamers were both shocked and elated to hear that former first place publisher Electronic Arts--who themselves were not known for taking risks--had partnered with Double Fine to release the game.  Since then, EA has thrown a sizable amount of their marketing muscle behind the game, making its release in October a major event and stirring up lots of excitement for it.  Things finally seemed to be going right for Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine.  A few months later though, the air began to sour once again.

This past February, Activision began grumbling that though they had dropped Brutal Legend and left it in limbo, they in fact still been "in negotiations" for it and that as a result, Double Fine's deal with EA was invalid.  Everyone involved dismissed this as little more than posturing, with an EA spokesperson going so far as to publicly equate the situation to "a husband abandoning his family and then suing after his wife meets a better looking guy."  This was also unusual behaviour for the rival company but gamers around the world applauded their tough stance.  Nothing more was heard for months and most assumed the issue had fizzled.  That all changed this past week.  On the last day of E3 (the yearly video game industry trade show), it was revealed in the press that Activision had filed suit against Double Fine Productions, claiming that they were not legally permitted to give publishing rights to Electronic Arts and that Activision still has the rights to release the game, which they claim to have invested almost $15 million dollars in.  Tim Schafer responded with his usual brand of humour but no more has been heard on the issue since.

Now that you've heard the story, you may wonder why I chose to use it as the basis for an essay on shoddy business practices.  Some of you may be siding with Activision, thinking Double Fine jumped the gun handing their publishing rights to someone else.  After all, if Activision supposedly put so much money into the project, one would expect them to fight to protect that investment.  To someone who doesn't follow this industry or these games as people like us do, that's an easy conclusion to reach.  However, most of us on the enthusiast side have recognised several key tells that give us reason to believe that this is a case of sour grapes and Activision trying to exact revenge for what was ultimately a short sighted decision on their part.

Firstly, the new Activision Blizzard cut loose Brutal Legend back in July 2008, almost a year ago.  Yet, they claim to have been "in negotiations" during this whole period of time, in which they coordinated the sale of a number of other high profile titles and indeed, entire development studios.  Double Fine is a small, independent company who is self-funding Brutal Legend--a very rare thing in today's video game industry--despite already having one title fail to be a sales hit in an industry where one miss is usually enough to sink a developer.  How long were they expected to sit and wait?  In this period, they must have known that Double Fine was courting other publishers or at the very least, would have found out when a new deal was announced.  They had ample opportunity to stop a new deal from happening before now but didn't do so.

Secondly, due to Sierra not heavily promoting Brutal Legend before the Vivendi/Activision merger, few outside the enthusiast gamer community knew about it.  With the budget for most "AAA" games now exceeding $30 million, appealing only to enthusiasts simply isn't enough to succeed.  After EA acquired the publishing rights, they began a heavy marketing campaign which has quickly driven up mainstream awareness and excitement for the game.  It is reasonable to assume that upon seeing this reaction, Activision may have had second thoughts on whether losing Brutal Legend was a good thing for their business and maybe saw potential for it to become the type of mega franchise they aim for.

Lastly, you will notice from the lawsuit announcement that Activision chose to go after Double Fine and not EA, the company that is supposedly publishing a game they have no claim to.  This is perhaps the most telling indication of their true intentions.  EA and Activision are both massive companies with armies of lawyers.  Entities like these don't sign agreements they aren't certain of.  If EA signed on Brutal Legend, they would have done their due diligence and been certain who owned what rights to it.  To claim that a legal mishap of this nature took place is disingenuous at best, ludicrous at worst.  Also, it would only make sense to name them as a party in a lawsuit over the publishing rights since they are publicly claiming to be the rightful publisher.  However, Double Fine is the small company who is likely low on cash since they are so far into development of Brutal Legend and they don't have the aforementioned legion of litigators that EA has.  Mounting a legal fight against Activision will undoubtedly be difficult for them and even if they manage to do so, it will drain away from the profits they hope to see from the game's release.  I am not sure if the US civil system would permit EA to enter the fight with them but if not, this could be a very precarious situation for Double Fine.

To me, Activision Blizzard's motivations are crystal clear.  They dumped a title they didn't think they could turn into a yearly series, a rival picked it up, poured money into it and generated a ton of buzz for it.  Then after it turns out Activision may have made a bad call, they are saying "if we can't have it, no one can."  An equivalent in our industry would be a bigger competitor giving us a service call because they were too busy to handle it, us finding out after that it was for a massive client who wanted to spend thousands of dollars and then the competitor demanding months later that we give the client back to them along with all the money we'd already billed them.  It is petty, manipulative, anti-competitive and unethical.  Yet, not only does the business community at large tolerate this kind of behaviour, Activision Blizzard would likely have been faulted for not taking this course of action, regardless of how weak their case seems to be.  Meanwhile, a small company who has only ever wanted to release a quality product is facing a David vs. Goliath situation when they are perhaps at their most vulnerable. In my opinion, this is just unquestionably wrong and is another example of a large corporation feeling they don't have to accept the consequences of their decisions.  One would think that in light of the huge number of corporate scandals the world has seen in recent years, that fewer executives would cling to the erroneous mindset that being big means you don't have to be accountable.  Yet it seems that as the number and scope of the corruption increases, so does the belief that such actions are the right thing to do, simply because they are "in the best interests of shareholders."  

There are several possible outcomes to this scenario and obviously, I am hoping that Double Fine is able to fight Activision Blizzard and emerge victorious.  I want Brutal Legend to succeed so that a great designer can keep making the games he wants to make and that I want to play.  I will buy the game day one no matter whose name is on it but it will sadden me if I see the Activision moniker on the package.  I follow the video game industry closely and hear about questionable business decisions all the time but this one in particular struck a chord with me and reminded me of exactly why Dan and I committed to taking honesty and integrity so seriously.  We talked about this concept when we were planning the business and have both agreed that should either of us start to fall off the path of honest business as Activision Blizzard seems to have, that we have passed our period of being valuable to the vision we created for Digital Lifeline.  Of course, our company exists to make money, as every company does and I don't think Bobby Kotick is necessarily a bad person, just an executive who thinks he is serving his shareholders.  My problem is that a great many would see that as all the justification he needs in order to sleep well at night.  With respect to those who hold a much higher business standing than I, just because it is best for your shareholders doesn't might it the right thing to do.

Activision Blizzard was already making tons of money and continues to so why can't they just be content with that and accept the lessons learned from letting Brutal Legend get away?  Why do they have to put a small and dedicated team in front of a perilous situation rather than just admitting they screwed up and wishing them luck?  Is what few extra cents per share Brutal Legend could have brought their stock price really worth the good will they are losing from enthusiast gamers and the potential livelihoods of the dozens of staff at Double Fine?  To me, the answer to this is clear but the more I see this kind of thing, the more I realise that my opinion may be the minority one.

When we started Digital Lifeline, we weren't naive about the business world.  We knew we were walking into an arena where more people played dirty than not and where trying to be an example of how to succeed while being honest was an uphill battle to say the least.  When I read stories like this though, I realise for the first time just what kind of people and tactics we may face in the future and I have to say that it both scares and saddens me more than a little bit.  I do remain confident that we will be able to lead by example and that as we continue to grow, we and those who share our corporate values will be able to raise the bar for the more established players.  Maybe one day, actions like Activision Blizzard's will be met with scorn rather than applause.  I look forward to that day.

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