Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Innocence Lost : The Corporatization of Game Companies

I had the pleasure of starting in the game industry at one of the most passionate development companies of our era. You literally had to love games in order to work there, and if you didn’t have a passion for them, you likely would not get the job. But as I moved up through the ranks the company as a whole was growing. Departments blew out from 20 people to 50. People were hired and fired in waves. Corporate policies had to be created to prevent the stupid few from ruining work for the rest of us. Of course, those same policies often ended up ruining it for the rest of us anyways.

It was around the 200 person mark that I realized the game studio that I had originally started at was pretty much gone. Maybe I had been naive and not seen the reality of the situation, but I used to be able to tell you the name of every person who worked there. I used to play Magic The Gathering at one of their houses. We used to have a Counterstrike team that would try (and fail) to play in tournaments. I used to have access to the entirety of the building… But all those things faded away as the company grew to epic proportions.

What came instead were the policies. Get to work on time, only take an hour for lunch, watch what you say… What? You should do those things anyways? Well, yes if you’re in a corporate environment, you should. But we creative types need a little breathing room to do our thing. Sometimes we work late into the night and might come in an hour late the next day. I guarantee you allowing that freedom makes those types of people more productive (and more creative). I highly doubt that any of the more unique games you’ve seen come out in the past few years were done by people who were following strict corporate policies.

Now franchises are the big coffin nail in the death bed of the game industry. These are exactly what the corporate types want to create. I can recall being told by the president of one of these companies that it would be ideal for them if they could score a movie franchise game and its subsequent sequels all in one contract.

Yes, they wanted to do not just one movie game, they wanted to do 3 movie games in a row, all from the same source material. First of all, what publisher would want to secure a contract for 3 movie games in a row that might COMPLETELY SUCK!? None that I know of… Secondly, what sort of mindless brain dead development team must you have for them to WANT to work on essentially the same game for the next 3-5 years?

Yes, if it’s their own intellectual property… If they’re allowed to innovate in new directions… If they can make the source material their own… Then maybe, they might just want to work on sequel after sequel of the same damn game. That’s not what these corporate styled studios want though.

They want to crank out these sequels like an assembly line thinking that this will somehow equate to profit. I guess if you can score that kind of contract, it would ensure the money for that duration of projects, but in the meantime your development team will be pulling their own hair out.

I don’t know anyone who got into the game industry for job security. They got into it because they love games. If they wanted job security they’d go learn finance and become a bank teller or something. Any development team worth their weight wants to innovate and create something new. Even a reimagining of an old franchise might be fun, but only if they’re allowed to go in any direction they choose. Copying something else that’s already been done or playing it by the book and attempting to copy the storyline of the source material (like movie games seem to do) is not fun for anyone (especially the player). It’s more like a problem that needs to be solved, but the real problem isn’t that you’re trying to translate a book or movie into a game, it’s that you’re working on a fucking book or movie game and you already know it’s doomed to fail.

Game companies were founded on the idea that a group of people could create something both new and fun that others might enjoy. As soon as you take that away and begin cranking out sequels or movie games, you’ve lost the entire reason to be in the game industry. Though you might think that securing a multiple game contract equates to job security, you’ll find that anyone with talent and creativity will soon leave the company to form their own studio or join another person’s innovative game vision. Worse, you’re going to end up with a crappy game that the publisher will NOT want a sequel of and at the end of the day, your corporation will lose its contract and all future business.

Job security? Not so much…

So I suggest that all those corporate mucky mucks who somehow got to be in charge of a “game company” re-examine why people are even in the industry. If you go to a game studio to give a speech and the words “multi-sequel contract” come out of your mouth, you’ve failed the people you’re in charge of.

posted by CommanderHate at 2:56 pm  

2 Comments »

  1. I’ve been in the industry for about 7 years now and have worked with soem VERY small companies (10 people) and all the way to larger super corporate companies like EA.

    There are many pluses and minuses of the small and large sweatshop corporate atmospheres, but at the end of the day, once you lose that passion to make FUN and CREATIVE video games, you lose what your company stands for.

    I prefer the laid back atmosphere but always having a focus…a solid concise vision striving towards the same end game. When policies and beauracacy hinder my creative motions, I lose that focus and strive more towards frustration.

    We are all here to make money, but the formula for success always falls into the laps of the people that actually form the product. If you go from small company to big company, make sure the people you have currently staffed are ready for that…if not, then talent will walk out of the building and you will continue to make mediocre and forgettable titles.

    Comment by The Mexican — January 24, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  2. Reading this rings so close to home.

    The reasons I left the games industry all deal with working in a big corporation with a focus on process and business instead of fun and creativity.

    I’ve been gone for only six months now, but in that time I’ve managed to rediscover my passion. I now have a better idea of what I have to offer gaming, and gaming has to offer me; and what I think I can do in the industry.

    Comment by Aaron — March 6, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

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