The Light At The End Of Gaming’s 2012 Tunnel
If you follow video games and the industry with any sort of regularity, it’s no secret that 2012 was a bit of a rough go for everyone concerned. A limping economy and other factors created, for reasons that differed from group to group or even person to person, a more discerning game player whose time and money was valuable to them. On the other side of the coin, studios and companies looked to deal with not just the usual idiosyncrasies of the typical gaming customer, but also with their own ability to stay afloat and create success in a belt-tightening, more cautious environment.
All of this created a formula that unleashed some pretty difficult news to read about, including:
- Layoffs, reductions, and/or restructuring at quite a few studios and publishers, with a laundry list that included Blizzard, BioWare, EA, Obsidian, En Masse, Trion, and more.
- The closure of studios, most prominent and painful among them the shutdown of 38 Studios/Big Huge Games. The morgue includes what appear to be 20+ studios in 2012 shutting their doors.
- The related shutdown of projects in progress or long-lived standbys, such as Kingdoms of Amalur and Paragon’s City of Heroes.
- The fall from grace or controversy introduced into once beloved-franchises such as Mass Effect and Diablo.
- The re-igniting of the debate of video games correlating with violent acts following the Sandy Hook tragedy.
As someone who straddles both sides of the fence between gaming industry professionals and video game players, I was keenly aware of the pain on both sides of the fence. On the one hand, gamers looking forward to titles they either continued to be loyal to or anticipated highly were disappointed by either unmet expectations, the project’s legs being cut out from under itself, or in some cases, both at the same time. Studios falling like dominos or at the very least knocking down whole parts of the domino house didn’t kindle a huge amount of confidence from players that games could weather the storm. I wouldn’t go so far as to give credence to the people angry at wasting money – that is the risk you take buying any new product with your own expectations built in – but there definitely was a lot of “it coulda been a contender” thought out there.
But if I had to throw down on any side, it would have to be the industry as far as my pain being greater one way or the other. Not a single one of the people I know, love, and respect who bust their balls in the high-risk gaming industry are the type that deserve to be put out into the street with their livelihood and financial stability shattered due to a reduction or studio closure. With so many other factors that have gone into these terrible bits of news, much of them behind closed doors, it’s hardly the fault of a developer or a studio employee who probably loved the game as much as any gamer who picked it up, likely spent long hours away from family, friends, loved ones and sanity to put it together, and who, more than gamers think or see, feel keenly the emotional investment placed into a game they’ve put years into, and who hate to see it take a dive.
So there’s been pain and suffering all around. But the intent of the blog and title of this post takes a more positive tack, and that’s where I’m going to finish things. Because despite all of this bad going on, there has been plenty of good to report on, too, such as:
- The continuing rise of the indie developer part of the industry, who continue to take games in new directions with titles such as Journey.
- The overwhelming support of the industry to help and assist their peers in need with initiatives such as the #38jobs hashtag/trend.
- The new channel of crowdsourced funds for game projects through sites like Kickstarter and the support for distribution and development through projects like Steam Greenlight.
- New IPs seeing acceptance and critical acclaim, such as the steampunk-influenced Dishonored.
- The reduction in the stigma behind the free-to-play model and proof that gamers are (finally) receptive to it.
Couple this with the fact that the people I know in the industry haven’t given up and continue to be passionate about games, and there’s plenty to look forward to in 2013. Whether they are on other projects, or still need to land on their feet and soldier on, they, like me, continue to look forward, and the gamers who play their games should do the same. Projects continue to move forward, the horizon is full of upcoming and anticipated titles, and love and interest in games of all types is still extremely high. Trust me when I say that the people who make the games, manage the communities, squash the bugs, and design the mechanics are just as ready to keep working hard to deserve the appreciation they get from players – whether they are on a new project, or looking for the next one. The simple satisfaction and contentment seen by a gamer who enjoys something they worked on, and the corresponding feeling it elicits in industry folks, is a one of a kind thing that makes all of the pain, risk, hurt, and long hours well worth it.
2012 is coming to an end, and the industry has been shoved into the ropes, but it keeps coming back – it will, and it must. The wise Rocky Balboa said in his final film that it’s not about how hard you can hit, but about how hard you get hit and move forward. The industry’s taken quite a few body blows and hits over the course of 2012, but it never stopped going and never will stop, and neither will the people that make it up all of its parts.
I hope everyone is looking forward to a great 2013 filled with new possibilities and opportunities. I know I am.