For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out the end game of the gaming academic elitists. I understood that their fear of Peer Review was bred from the desire to make as many “academics” as possible to exponentially push their narrative. I understood undermining the will of the consumer and the creative process creates the “ideal” of utopian equality of outcomes while shifting focus away from quality games toward games with indoctrinative stories of dubious quality.
But those are means, not an end. I was lost about the ends until I read an interview between Ian Miles Cheong and independent developer Caelyn Sandel. It starts as the typical “Woe is me for I’m indie and broke and not smart enough apparently to get a day job.” that’s become as predictable in the Ministry of Truth’s indie game developer interviews as 3 punches, the big boot, and the atomic leg drop have been in Hulk Hogan wrestling matches for the last 30 years. Incredulous, I continued to read, and that’s when the thunderbolt struck.
It wasn’t the words themselves that got me; rather, it was the sentiment of bitterness from someone cast out of the gaming industry. Someone who doesn’t care about consumers or the overall health of the gaming industry at large, so long as her Patreon is doing well. Here’s the quote:
That said, those are mainly changes in the rhetoric surrounding video games, not the video games themselves. The AAA industry doesn’t seem to have changed at all, and at this point I sort of just feel like GG can have it until it collapses.
Do you see it? The bitterness of a recently dumped girlfriend when she finds out her ex, in fact, traded up. Just to make sure the sentiment wasn’t unique to this one perspective, I went to Leigh Alexander’s Made up List of Ethics Concerns. There it was. 4 paragraphs about press, Brick & Mortar game stores, “game companies”, which means AAA, and how corrupt it all is. Then it struck me. If the Ministry of Truth and terrible indie game devs can recreate the Crash of 1983, the only people who lose are the people they hate: gamers, AA and AAA Game Developers. If you’re already broke, or “deadbeat taxing” people with day jobs, and the market you feel entitled to be in collapses around you, the collapse doesn’t affect you at all. In fact, it is much more likely the collapse is to your benefit.
I won’t go through the entirety of 1983s crash. The important details are thus: too many consoles, too many games from third party developers, bad business decisions, and some notable god awful games. The result was gaming industry revenue (arcades and home systems) dropped from $3 billion in 1983 to roughly $100 million in 1985. I remember the fallout well: trying to find games for the Intellivision in 1984 and 1985 was very tough, even in stores with large electronics departments.
It was only the popularity of the Commodore 64, among a few other popular PC brands, and the arcades that allowed the video game industry to survive in a sort of stasis until Nintendo managed to release the NES in the US in December 1985. I count myself lucky, as I had the Intellivision, and none of the arcades in my local area closed down before Nintendo, Sega, NEC, etc. showed up to resurrect the industry.
Back to the Present
So, how close are we to a new industry crash? Opinions are mixed, but let’s look at the measurables. There are 7 viable consoles: Xbox 360, Xbox 1, PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. You might disagree with me about last gen consoles still being “viable”, but I can still buy games for the 360, and I can still use my 360 for Netflix, Hulu, WWE Network, NBA League Pass, or a game of Toe Jam & Earl on the couch with the wife. That fits my definition of viable.
The PC Master Race continues to grow like clockwork. Projected PC revenue for 2015 is a touch under $25 billion for 2015. Meanwhile console revenues have stagnated between 2012 and 2014, and are projected to remain stagnant in 2015.
Sunset Overdrive wasn’t released for PC. A stylized shooter not getting released for the single best platform for the FPS? Sounds like a bad business decision to me.
Finally, the barrier of entry for making a game is nearly non-existent, especially if you classify Choose Your Own Adventure e-books as games, instead of books. Even if you don’t count CYOA books, there are enough low cost or free utilities such that anyone can make a game. Further, because anyone can distribute their game for free on a website, or hoodwink Steam into putting his/her not-game on Greenlight, there’s no gate keeper for quality control. Any old garbage gets to hold the moniker of “game”, and get released to the public.
Near as I can tell from some “back of the napkin analysis”, it would appear the gaming industry is ripe for a 1983-like market meltdown. If only there were some sort of catalyst narrative that could be spun to induce the collapse sooner rather than later. And as if on cue, the narrative appears: Gamers are trying to harass women out of the gaming industry (when they’re not too busy being dead for the millionth time).
Scorched Earth Policy
It’s in the best interest for ABC and ESPN to commit journalistic malpractice and sell out to the narrative, as they are both owned by Disney—less disposable income going to gaming is more disposable income going toward the movie industry, which has had nearly stagnant box office revenue in recent years. The effect of a market crash on Kotaku, Polygon, Ars Technica, Gamasutra, RPS, Badass Digest, The Mary Sue, Salon, et al. is negligible. Terrible writers who are worse “journalists” can continue to offer click-bait trash articles about how attacking female avatars in MMO PVP is sex assault, or domestic violence if the attacked party cohabitates with the attacker. They can continue to write infomercials for the latest garbage not-game from the Patreon darling of the minute. They can cover GDC Panels with no game developers and a simple majority of abusers on them.
I covered how consumerism became a naughty word to the Ministry of Truth when establishing a new orthodoxy for gaming. I thought that was the end of it. Devin Wilson’s playbook for killing gamers has it all. Gaming needs to be less about buying and rating games. Gaming should be about discovering everything a game has “to offer” instead of buying the new hotness. We should stop using fun as a measure of the quality of the products we consume. A handful of folks that perpetrated the 2 Minutes Hate weighed in with, “Woe is the industry, for consumers like to be informed, and variety is the spice of life.”
The people who benefit the most are those who make bad video games and beg for money on Patreon, Kickstarter, or Indegogo. There’s a media cabal eager to cover topics based on anything but merit. The developer gets paid regardless of quality of their product. The definition of “game” becomes even more blurred toward the Golding definition of every piece of software ever written, and those that want to kill the enthusiast gamer get their wish.
Okay, enough of the gloom and doom. I’m not suggesting Blizzard, Activision, or EA would fold if the gaming industry crashed. I’m much more worried for the developers we’ve interviewed on TechRaptor, who have neither giant corporations behind them, nor a media cabal to artificially inflate the quality of their game, nor the benefit of an equal playing field on which to compete for work thanks to the IGDA sanctioned, if piss-poorly designed, industry blacklist.
Enthusiast gamers aren’t going to buy terrible games; fortunately, there are a handful of reliable sources on the net who are advocating for consumers. I, for one, don’t want to find out how all the chips fall if SocJus decides they want to crash the enthusiast gaming industry.