Why Do We Do This?

Why Do We Do This?

I am so tired.

I’ve watched this industry through thick and thin, through 15 years of writing, 40 odd years of playing and have seen it all.

I am so tired.

From 8-bit wonder to the 16-bit dream. The original console wars of Sega V Nintendo. The wonder of CD-rom technology to the change brought about by online play. I have watched the industry grow as I grew with it. 

I am so very tired. 

I’ve seen the joy of escapism, the smile on my own children’s faces as they joined me in my passion and the wonder as older generations discover just what games are capable of. 

I have seen this amazing journey, participated in it first-hand, and revelled in its successes. I’ve watched as video games went from a nerdy, almost shameful pastime to the biggest entertainment industry in the world.

And yet I am tired. 

You see, despite all of that, all of the joy, wonder, amazement and pure fun I have witnessed, what I see in the industry now neutralises all of that because the industry is destroying itself.  Corporate greed, late-stage capitalism, and the pursuit of short-term gain over long-term stability have turned this once-inspiring industry into an industry that is so exploitive, so focused on money over all else that I can’t help but ponder if there is any future.

Because I am so very fucking tired. 

The last 12 months has had me down, but this past week or two has really driven home the fact that I can no longer support the industry in the way I once did. I can no longer in good conscience champion so much of what I used to love. When I woke up last week to the news that Roll7, developers of the excellent (and by all accounts successful) Rollerdome and OlliOlli, had been shuttered by Take 2, even though the purchase of Gearbox had just gone through, I thought that was the worst it could get for a while. Boy was I wrong. Xbox, a studio that dealt itself a royal flush by purchasing talented studios by the bucketload, decided to fold instead of going all in. They decided to shutter Arkane Austin and Tango Gameworks, both successful studios with one coming off their only dud and the other riding high on a huge success. To rub salt in the wounds, Matt Booty, head of Xbox Games Studios came out a day later to say that Xbox needed more games like Hi-Fi Rush. How in the hell did he even think that after what he had just participated in, let alone speak it in a public forum?

But the week wasn’t done with games, no sir. EA’s evil Aussie overlord Andrew Wilson decided in a year where video game developer layoffs have numbered in the 10s of thousands to sprout just how wonderful AI will be when it takes more of those jobs. To top the week off, Sony, in a move that even someone who has been living under a rock for the last 10 years could see was a huge mistake, tried to force their corporate will on millions of PC gamers who are well-known to not take kindly to such things. While this wasn’t ultimately as evil as Take2, Xbox and EA’s actions, it only further highlights just how bloody clueless the executive class is when it comes to the real world. 

That is, where I feel things are so depressing. This is an industry fueled by passion but run by numbers. No one gets into games because they want to make money. People get into games because they love it. They love writing, they love programming, they love art and they love to bring joy to players. The suits and sleaze at the C-suite level know this, they know their entire workforce wants to be there, wants to be in the industry and they are more than happy to take advantage of it. To them, the people are an expendable resource. They are happy to hire when it works for the books, but just as happy to sack large swaths of workers just to get a slight bump in the share price before reporting time. 

I have seen this happen first-hand, I’ve seen dear friends have their dreams crushed over and over again as corporate overlords play Monopoly without a care for the human consequences. These talented artists, programmers, engineers and writers are just numbers on a spreadsheet to these people, stats to be manipulated as they please. As they sit in their swanky offices, counting their million-dollar salaries, they toy with thousands of employees who earn less than 5% of what they do. They force developers to make games with egregious money-making systems, they only green-light games that can constantly drain the pockets of players. They don’t see art, they don’t see entertainment, they see dollar signs and if those dollar signs aren’t enough, they see a cost-cutting exercise. 

Perhaps the saddest thing about this whole situation, the very reason I am so upset is the future. Who as a parent, knowing the state of this industry, would encourage any child to pursue a career in game development? I know I couldn’t. If my son came to me and said “Dad, I want to make games” I would do all in my power to make him look elsewhere for his future. I know where that road ends and for 90% of people, it ends in heartache. These massive billion-dollar corporations are, in my humble opinion, cutting their nose off to spite their face. They are creating an industry that is about as appealing as a paper cut covered with lemon juice. Who is going to be around to keep the industry going if there is more appeal in sewer work than game design?

I know this is a rant, I know that this whole article is just some old guy looking at the old days and thinking about how things were better. I recognise that in a sea of words, there are people more qualified, knowledgeable and skilled to comment on the current state of the industry. I am writing this because I needed to. I needed to know that despite everything, despite how fucking tired I am, I can still summon the passion to defend what once was, what I fell in love with. I needed to write this to know if I could find the emotion to care, even if that emotion is primarily rage. 

So why do we, as the human part of the industry, do this, why do we care? It could be because we all see something beautiful under the muck, joy in the horror. It could be that we long for what once was, not what it has become. Possibly it is for the chance to entertain, to provide light in an increasingly dark world. 

For me, it might even be because, after 15 years of writing, I don’t know anything else. I don’t know any better. 

All I can say is.

I am so tired. 

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