There seems to be bad blood these days between gamers and business; invoking the likes of EA often conjures images of the devil himself ordering an anchovy pizza. Where did this divide come from? Why is it so prevalent? And what does it mean? Let’s take a look.
Back in the old days games were developed by small teams, and were fairly niche as far as broad markets were concerned. The industry was a Wild West of pioneers just figuring out how the medium worked, and over time, we got better at making games. And the money noticed. The market started growing, sales started increasing, and investors, marketers, corporations and the like naturally followed the trail. They kind of sound like scavengers or parasites, looming in to feed on their next meal. They were not nearly so bad, however.
As a fledgling game designer myself, my personal pinnacle of advertising is this shameless plug right here. The industry is filled with specialized roles; we have people who focused their lives on honing specific skills for design, engineering, animation, and more. Having someone on the team who actually knows something about running a business and selling a product is incredibly useful. Without them, gaming would not be nearly as large as it is today.
So what went wrong? How did the Suits go from a helping seat at the table to ruining everything forever? Let’s take a look back ten or fifteen years ago: we were obsessed with making games bigger and better, we wanted to break boundaries and make giant leaps forward. We have since arguably reached that goal. This past decade has seen the birth of the AAA, of titles so absurdly large they require hundreds of people to create. It also saw the Great Global Recession; at a time when production costs started skyrocketing, consumers were becoming much more conservative with their wallets. It’s only natural that companies decided to highly prioritize profit given these conditions.
So how much is too much? At what point does business become bullshit? I believe the answer lies in a balance between making money and making games; I am okay with a company getting some money from me provided they have earned it by delivering a worthy experience. I accept that investing resources into truly great games without seeking any return isn’t always a sustainable option. However, the one thing that I cannot abide, is sacrificing the game itself in the name of money and marketing. When Suits tell designers to implement a feature “because Call of Duty has it,” or “it’s the only thing audiences can relate to,” they cross the aforementioned specialty line. There is a reason the industry employs specialists in many fields. Imagine a game developed by a team consisting solely of business executives: it would merely be a set of paywalls around a core so bland and unfun nobody would want to play it anyway. If you are a marketer, then your job is to take my game and sell it, not tell me how to do mine.
So tell me what you think. How would you ideally balance design with business? Do you have any experience with someone telling you what to do “for marketing reasons?” Have any subjects you’d like me to cover in the future? I’d love to know!