Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Virtual Island of Economics

A few years ago, I went to a Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco and watched the head of Microsoft Games give a talk about what he thought was the future of the industry.  It seems the future has a lot of PowerPoint slides.  He talked about the move to hi-def and gave away some hi-def screens to a few people in the audience.
There is a reason he looks like Lex Luthor.
Two comments he made that caught my attention the most.  He told us he wanted us to be like the ringtone industry, which went from nothing to two billion in sales a year.  That’s right, he told people who worked grueling hours in a difficult industry because they had a passion for their work that their work was nothing more than a scratchy, three-second recording of “Achy Breaky Heart.”
It's a highbrow audience.
Next he said the thing that most inspired him about games was the old ad campaign: “Have you played your Atari today?”  Why?  Because the whole family was shown playing the game, not just the kids.  I looked around the room at all the adults who played games, loved games, and didn’t see their industry as a cheap advertising gimmick.

Afterwards, there was some polite applause, but the overall feeling I got from the crowd was “fuck you.”
Actually, this could have been over Vista.  I'm not sure.
The next day, I went to a talk by the president of Nintendo.  He started by holding up his business card and saying “My card says ‘president,’ but in my heart, I am a gamer.”  Then he told the crowd about how he still found ways to program games from time to time.  He showed off what Nintendo was working on for the future.  He even invited people up to play a game against him and squealed with dismay when they all ganged up to take him down.

That is how you win a crowd of gamers.  We would have gotten Mario tattoos on our butts had he asked.
And then he gave a box full of magic wishes to the audience.  He was that good.
Last night I went to an International Game Development Association presentation.  Part of the night included people coming before the group to talk about the projects they’re working on.  One guy from Virtual Island of Entertainment gave a speech about how they were making a virtual community that women would enjoy.  VIE were doing some clever things to make their game appealing and he spoke about how games make us feel good.
Okay, not THAT good.
Then he started talking about business.  It turned out that he didn’t care much about women, except that they spent more than men.  He had a plan to use VIE dominate the dating scene and become the leader in virtual commerce.  In short, he was going to make a bundle.
We were at the Google complex.  I took this picture in the bathroom.
I looked around the room as he concluded and expected to see everyone give him a one-finger salute.  They didn’t.  They applauded.  They cheered.
"We think your game is fun and innovative."
For most of our industry’s history, we’ve been about passion.  We loved games and we were heroes fighting to make something new and cool.  Games have always been huge, but now they’re the most powerful entertainment medium.  People who couldn’t care less about games have flocked to the industry looking to get rich over the last few years, and they have. 

Last night, I realized we weren’t heroes anymore.  We were just a bunch of corporate sell-outs.  Game developers only care about getting funded and getting rich.  I, for one, am heartbroken.


Ned Wolpert said...

Wanting to write games don't make you a hero, as much as wanting to make money doesn't make you a sell-out. You can't expect purity in decisions people make. Humans always rationalize their decisions based on the best evidence they have at the time to explain their actions in a positive light.

M. A. Kagle said...

I don't expect purity. However, I did feel betrayed. At first he got me interested because he was talking about making an online place to appeal to women, that was safe and nonconfrontational. Then he told us it was really because women spend more than men.

Everyone at the conference was talking about getting funded, going public, etc. That's making us less of an industry. It makes us pump out the crap we do now.

I spoke to a VC a while back. I explained that I wanted to make high-quality, low cost, innovative games. No interest. Then I said something "businessy" and suddenly he was interested. I guess it's the way things are going to stay.