Economics and Game Development

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Stupid or not this is the driving selection criteria for the AAA industry.

Imagine that the gaming landscape is like an ecosystem. Different player bases and trends represents resources and availability. Games are made by game companies. So these companies exist in an even greater ecosystem.

At one point when videogames were stupid things that were a complete waste of economic time no one gave a shit about games. Games got made because there were some very ambitious people willing to seek money and take risks. We look back at the ones who made it as visionaries. But really the fact that there was so much untapped potential meant that eventually someone would do it. There was an emerging ecosystem where great risks had great pay off.

Once videogames were discovered as interesting people recognized the potential to make money off of it. In the late 90’s it began to really take off. And in 2006 the videogame industry surpassed the movie industry in capital.

Before games were worth investing money in the selection criteria for games was largely based on player interest. If you made a shitty game people didn’t want to play then you went under pretty quick. Games at the time still tried to meet their capital requirements and the design reflected it (lives and difficulty were of course ways to cash in on quarters). Some people invested in games of course, but they recognized the potential of the medium. Not the potential for it to direct pure capital. Because if you wanted to focus on capital there were much better investments.

So there are 2 levels of ecosystems deciding what AAA titles are made. What companies have money to make AAA titles. And what game designs return the money to appease the people who invest the money to make the titles.

This is why we get samey redundant design. Because it is the perfect thing to appease the real people making the selection of what gets made. When games sunk or float based on interest game design was competitive and inventive. (And crazy, confusing and stupid sometimes). Now that companies sink or float on investment the player market share is now what is for sale. Games are approached as things to capture percentages of interest. Established tropes and concepts are utilized for their return potential. Deviating from them is simply not worth the risk.

Call these people stupid or whatever. But they make the decisions on how Nintendo makes games. Much more of an authority than you. And this will continue as long as collectively we make it worth their time to influence game design for profit while they actually give no shits about games.

It’s not good or bad, it is how it is. It has terrible implications in many ways for the game industry if you like game design. Obviously not so bad as to stop them producing products people still derive enough pleasure from to continue purchasing. Companies aggressively keep game design from leaving its comfortable spot. By controlling the talent and copyrights they are able to completely stagnate game design. While also making obscene profits. The status quo isn’t that great for anyone but shareholders.

We as players are cut out and not allowed to participate. Players view games with such a narrow view that deviating from the big players often means you can’t get enough money to even survive. Does it matter how well a game is actually designed? Or is it enough to be Nintendo and produce a game wrapped up in an established brand? If a games success is better predicted by the mascot than anything else, we have run into serious issues in terms of moving a medium forward.

Imagine if we could only ever write books about Sherlock, Gilgamesh, or King Arthur. Game of Thrones can be written but the entire world has to be drapped in the theme of King Arthur. Twilight is written but it’s an adaptation of of Sherlock. The original concepts all stripped away but it’s still called Sherlock and it uses all the same characters, but it’s still twilight. Every damn story the same sickening universes reused and touched up to evoke different things. If you write a story about other things people get upset, but so long as you use the same names then people feel comfortable. It’s not conducive to good design.

It is stifling to creativity to lock a medium into concepts and characters. We as players deserve better than this. There are millions of us sucking off the teet of a few big companies that are essentially run by people that despise us. Game design can move forward from this. It will happen slowly at first as people get completely fed up with the medium and its current state, how many years of fucking mario? How many useless DLC’s and steam sales?. Then suddenly the bottom will completely fall out. The game industry is not aligned with reality right now. That is the making of a bubble burst. The sooner it pops the better for players everywhere.

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