Friday Ramblings.

I know it’s not Friday. I was sitting at my computer this morning thinking “hey! It’s Friday!” and it took me a while to realize it isn’t. I have a feeling today will be a long day.

Scott at Broken Toys keeps updating recent job cuts in the industry. Hearing about mass layoffs sucks – even when you aren’t the one getting laid off. It is easy to empathize since we can all imagine what would happen if our own jobs ended tomorrow. Scott takes it even more personally as he is firmly entrenched in the industry, and those are his friends and colleagues getting let go. If you are one of those people who have, or think you will be, tough times are ahead. Trust in yourself and your capabilites and try not to lose your confidence – although confidence is no doubt the first thing to go.

Layoffs are “fashionable” right now in publically traded companies. I know that is a terrible word to use but with the stock market plummet and wary investors steps need to be “shown” to make the company be a more “worthwhile” investment for potential buyers. I do contract work in the food industry, and our biggest challenge is trying not to raise prices although costs around us are increasing. When minimum wage increased we used it as a legitimate opportunity to bump prices accross the board to offset increasing labour costs. Consumers weren’t upset because they expected it – because everyone was doing it. The gaming job market is in a similar position. Since everyone is cutting operating costs (wages being one of the most easiest to do) everyone is else is doing it to stay competitive. When EA cuts 1100, THQ cuts 600. THQ needs to be “viewed” as staying competitive and hopefully can get some external investors.

It isn’t as easy as that sounds – although it is very easy to think that way. Credit markets in the USA have basically shut down – even for the big companies. So when you lost 600 million you could just go get it covered with cash reserves and future credit, since your billion dollar in revenue company would make it back. Without the access to that credit, and needing a much stronger cash position, this is the result.

Whether it’s A, or B, or parts of both, it is no consolation to people now out looking in the worst job market in our recent history.

I live in a Big 3 Union town and the last 10 years has seen over 10,000 jobs eliminated (from a community of 200,000). People tend to not empathise as much when Union members lose their jobs – they were partly responsible with strikes, and getting insane wages (by the “average” person, not comparable to company income). Of course Unions aren’t solely to blame, but try explaining that to someone who makes $8.50 an hour, when Joe on the line makes $32 and goes on strike for more money. It just isn’t common sense to the average person who is working 60 hours a week just to pay the bills that someone making almost 4x the amount is refusing to work. Unions have a combative nature about them making them even less popular to the typical person.

I am not sure of the average salary of the 600 being cut at THQ, but let’s just guess for a minute – $60,000 fair? (average between highs and lows). So that cut would save them only $36,000,000 – 18% of their ~200 million loss. Where are they going to make up the other $164,000,000? Of course, that 36 million is being saved over a period of 1 year, which means in the interim it is hardly savings at all, compared to how much they are out. I am trying to find the sense in it. Who is going to produce games in 2010 to drive revenues for the company when ~25% of their workforce is now gone?

I am just rambling, of course, (and my apologies if you were expecting something special today) I have no pointed direction to this article. I feel bad hearing about the job losses, and equally as fortunate for being self employed that I don’t have to face layoffs the same way. And of course, guilty for thinking the latter part while I know the former is going on.

This article at Gamasutra has an interesting take on how to reshape the Game Industry. Perhaps now is as good of time as ever. It is an interesting read.

It isn’t even Friday yet.

12 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The article on Gamasutra explains well how the games industry currently works differently from both the software industry and the film-industry. There are a lot of finer points which I agree with, but I dislike the overall conclusion: That games should be made more like movies.

    We’ve all been hearing that one for a long time now.

    Personally, I think games studio development works just fine, it’s the corporate system and financials that have been screwing up. Poor management, bad decisions, fickle / controlling investors and the quarterly whims of shareholders. Tim Carter isn’t addressing those, instead he’s suggesting workarounds at the development level, by copying a model from an entirely different industry.

    The development system isn’t broken, many great games have been made using it.

    Games aren’t movies. I don’t know how many times this has been said. And the movie industry has many protections in place to make sure their workers (actors and otherwise) don’t get screwed in a project-by-project system. Count me as cynical, but I don’t think the games industry can go through the long history that Hollywood did to get where they are.

    Maybe I’m a dreamer to think the problems should be tackled more directly.

  2. Aye, I’d not really want to go with the Hollywood model, either. For one, that means a union and a cesspool of freelance buffoonery. I’m not convinced that such is more efficient.

    He has a good point in that small independent projects will almost always be more vibrant and interesting games. They suffer in polish and promotion because they typically don’t have big backers, but they are usually a lot more fun and innovative. Then again, I’m probably biased since I’ve worked for EA and for a small indy studio, and the working environment has been better at the small studio I’m at now. The games have been better, too… but I can admit to loving some big blockbusters, too.

  3. I would be a bigger fan of the Hollywood style for games development if more parallels were consistent. In mmo’s they aren’t. Look at the “stars” of the MMO flips in recent times. If I go see a Spielberg movie I know it will be good and consistent. Because of market timing and multiple year development cycles success isn’t consistent as in the movies. (one could argue what that is but that’s for another day).

    The fun trend in the NFL right now are young head coaches who haven’t been a head coach before. These are long storied franchises worth hundreds of millions of dollars – owners are identifying past successes and the “old ways” don’t necessarily lead to success like it used to. Fresh, innovative young minds are now in control.

    I would prefer to see that movement in game design. Usually they come a bit cheaper, but they have a lot more to prove and can empathize better with players.

  4. Wait, that’s a “but” that they come cheaper? That sounds like a good thing.

    …unless you’re taking into account the risk factor, which may drive up their “cost” to the company as they flail about a bit.

    Yes, I’m all for some fresh blood in the MMO upper echelons. That’s probably obvious by now, though. 😉 I do think that it’s time for some new eyes and new ideas. What could go wrong? They make an expensive failure? *coughAoCHellgateTRcough*

  5. No, it wasn’t a “but”, it was considered a positive!

    I’m not sure what Richard Garriott cost NC Soft, but I know in the end it definitely wasn’t worth it. Which a great publisher behind a rookie “coach” they could help ensure obvious mistakes aren’t made.

    Hellgate is the perfect example, these are the guys that made Diablo for crying out loud. Without a good publisher behind them, it failed. Now, if Blizzard was behind them but they had their own room and space to design, the time spent learning to publish could have gone to the creation aspect.

  6. The impassioned rookie thing is something Sanya @ Eating Bees covered recently and I’d side more with her perspective:

    I’ve stuck up for Richard Garriott, even in the wake of Tabula Rasa. He’s a better game designer (far more hits than misses) than producer and it seemed to me they tried to hire him instead into some sort of Lucas-esqe rockstar hybrid role.

    They hired the wrong person for the wrong job, for sure, but what they needed was either an experience MMO producer for their huge game, or better yet simply made a smaller game.

    They also bought into the “do it like Blizzard” reiterative design, like throwing paint at a wall and seeing what sticks. Difference is, Blizzard knows when to cancel something and move on, but to be fair Blizzard has always been in a better position to do that.

    Anyway, yeah I think Tabula Rasa is a poor example for what you’re recommending. Hell I think the whole problem on this subject has been too many bad “X is like Y” comparisons.

  7. Rog, I’m not arguing for more ea_spouse fodder. I’m saying that the people who already made it through that meat grinder seem to think that it’s normal, and that everyone wants EQ or WoW clones. The industry needs professionals who understand HR, scheduling and management, and it needs people who question the status quo, both on the design side and the management side. Whether those qualities are found in the same person, or in a grizzled veteran or scrubby noob, it doesn’t matter.

    The industry at large is suffering from a severe case of inbred notions, and needs change.

  8. @Tesh: I understand and I wasn’t trying to move it back in that direction either, just that the idea of newer people = fresh notions is a bit of a fallacy too.

    There’s also a wide gap here between MMOs and other videogames. Because hey, failures happen, they come and go, not every game can be a success. In the overall industry, they’re just little ripples in the pond, but given that MMOs are fewer, come with greater risks and barriers to entry– a couple of failures make bigger splashes.

    Honestly, I think at this point, we should all just be shrugging over Tabula Rasa, Hellgate and Vanguard. They didn’t perform as expected, oh well. I really don’t think they mean the industry needs to be reinvented because of them.

    As for inbred notions, back to that fallacy. It’s my experience that designers with some history of inventive designs are a much better bet to challenge the norm than the new kid. This is a bit of a generalization I realize, but too often the new kid has x, y and z as his favourite games and that’s what they make– in other words, inbred notions come from the new and untried just as often (my opinion = MORE), at least until the me-toos get weeded out.

  9. I perhaps should have clarified “newer people”. I didn’t mean armchair developers – but you know those guys who tell devs the game that they are working on will fail, and the devs are so ingrained on what they “used to do” or their “experience” they refuse to listen. Mark Jacobs may be a good MMO manager, but hardly a visionary (could argue barely up to date). All they did was try to poach all the good WoW revenue streams and cram it into his game – a PVP game – where the levelling grinds are counter to PVP fun (look at /level in DAOC).

    Richard Garriott? Has he had any relevance since UO? That was quite the time difference in customer expectations.

    Brad McQuaid – don’t get me started =)

    The “all star releases” haven’t been on the people (in MMO land), but instead have magnified the failures that much more. That does point to a market timing issue with MMO’s moreso than the people behind the development.

    I agree though, if I was given an MMO budget I would mose assuredly fail – it’s not my bag of wax and what I enjoy in MMO land probably is more niche than what companies do. I am also not gaming industry – although a diversied business background.

    With every top business guy I know, (the multi-millionaire types), they ALWAYS have key people below them who are calling the true shots and continue those successes because of those people – for the most part, the older successful people continue to stay in that position due to the great younger minds they have drawn to them. Eventually those younger guys (and younger, I mean in 30’s and 40’s compared to 50’s and 60’s – so they have tons of experience still) will either go somewhere and do their own thing or take over completely.

    The younger guy might fail without his mentor to oversee, whereas the older guy will fail without his younger, more in touch right hand man. It’s a good relationship.

    How do you take that and put it to the computer development world? I don’t really know. If the World of Goo guys teamed up with EA what would be the result? A bigger budget excellent title or a run of the mill generated content sequel where half the team is let go after launch? How to allow clever gaming minds to enter the bigger budget game without losing the core goals and values that gave them their success in the first place?

    Sorry for the ramblings, had a flight today and just settling into the hotel room.

  10. Speaking of rambling, this is a side subject, but I’m going to pursue it:

    I’m always aghast when people with stellar histories are treated as has-beens, based on lack of recent product or a recent failure.

    I heard someone once make a derogatory remark at Ralph Baer, basically a ‘what have you done lately’ to the man who created Pong. His response was look up his patents. I laughed, he was wittier than the kid who accosted him. He’s far more brilliant in his 80’s than most of the people I’ve ever met.

    I have similar opinions of Richard Garriott, Richard Bartle, Raph Koster and Peter Molyneux. Each of these I see often dragged through the muck by random people in blog comments and forums, based on what, one failed game, or an extended sabbatical?

    Speaking of sabbatical, if you’d gone through the legal hell Richard Garriott did upon leaving EA, you might have taken a break too.

    So yeah, I’ll defend these guys, they rock as far as I’m concerned.

  11. @Rog: Don’t take my comments as disrespect to their past at all. They were great and did great things for the industry. My listing of them wasn’t meant to portray that.

    Back to sports, I am a HUGE John Elway fan, been a Broncos fan my entire life (as a Canadian I know that’s weird – long story) and his accomplishments over his career were phenomenal.

    Now, if he was to strap on the pads and QB the Broncos next year I would say the same thing as I did to the aformentioned developers. Great in their time, did amazing things, but the “game” had passed them by. It doesn’t change anything in their past but like in any industry, it isn’t what you did 10 years ago you are judged by your current performance. Vanguard, Tabula Rasa were proof that being a past all star doesn’t mean you can successfully manage a project in the current market.

    I’d vote for those guys for the Hall of Fame, I just don’t cling to them to save current franchises.

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