Every morning, before I crack my neck and get into some work, I have my rituals on the Internet. I’m sure most of you do, right? Where you pop open a Google Chrome page and everything you check out is laid before you, like a newspaper page of everything you care about. One of those is my TweetDeck and, more often than not, I usually wake up to some devastating news about another video game studio closing its doors. I’m not kidding; it’s at least once a week if not once every two weeks. The small studios get a brief whimper of attention, but the bigger ones can be felt. Deeply.
Usually, it’s enough to send out your condolences and give a few brief essays, in 140 characters or less, about how you cannot believe yet another video game studio is biting the proverbial dust. Sometimes that can be enough and you lament about it among your friends, but Wednesday was different, you know? Wednesday brought to light that there is no stopping the money loss that is killing our nostalgia. Simply loving a video game isn’t going to keep the money flowing where it used to mean everything.
LucasArts and the Price of Nostalgia
Disney announced that LucasArts was joining the depressing ranks of hundreds before it — video game developers and publishers that have had to close their doors. Even just in 2013, we’ve watched Square-Enix fold and THQ admit defeat. These were huge gaming houses in my day! These companies used to pad my childhood out with amazing content and one of the first roleplaying games I ever held tightly to my chest was Final Fantasy, Square-Enix’s bread and butter title. If you would’ve sat me down as a child and said, “You know this game you’re enjoying? Hey, most of the games on this shelf actually? These companies are all going to take a huge nosedive when you’re an adult. Have fun playing them now, kid.” I would’ve never believed you. Think about that: your childhood and the video games that guided you through it, unfolding expansive fictional worlds and stories that you’d take with you, are now history. Literal history. My video game shelf is becoming a museum with every passing day because of fluctuating profits, loss of gain, and other terminologies that don’t belong in fantasy.
The Day the Music Died
It seems like I’m always going to remember LucasArts going under as if it was the day the music died, along with my childhood. As an enthusiast, my heart breaks for the end of an era, but as a realist, I recognize that this was all on the table this whole time. How could companies that have lasted this long actually live forever without re-invention and innovation? They can’t. It’s literally impossible to keep making money doing the same old thing for multiple decades in the video game industry, and that’s proven by the track record kept. You see it coming when companies start compiling high-definition collections of top sellers from 10 years ago — sometimes 20 to 30 years ago — they know they’ve got nothing in their hands right now and they’re hoping nostalgia will feed their families. At the end of the proverbial day, you have to recognize that it does come down to money and, without that paycheck, these people wouldn’t work to preserve your childhood memories.
That Paycheck is Why You’re There
The employees of LucasArts wouldn’t walk back in those doors if they knew it meant no pay and their health benefits are no longer active. Why? Because it’s the same concept that Don Draper touts in AMC’s Mad Men: that paycheck is why you’re there. Nobody at Disney is saving the world, but they are turning profits. And if they aren’t making money off of LucasArts, it’s time to kill your darling and recoup the losses. No matter what fondness you have for Day of the Tentacle, that is the sobering truth. Money needs to be made; if you’re not buying a company’s titles and it can’t reconcile spending money to market a game that it can’t stand behind, the company will stop it, drop it, and not put another dime into the property. When your favorite game series releases a title that flops, remember that moment because it is the death knell to the upcoming consolidation of that company’s assets. Not everyone can shoulder a burden such as a million dollar loss without having to start taking from the pockets of other smaller studios, which is why you see those shut down as well. All those tiny development studios that you love have gone under mid-production and you don’t understand? Think of it as “Here’s a studio of 40 people that we need to liquidate and get the money back. Sell their stuff, remove them from the insurance, and let’s try and soften the blow.” And maybe you can see it.
Yes, it’s mind-numbingly corporate. Get over it.
Supporting the Independence of the Independents
Think about it from another perspective though: the independents. They’re coming fresh out of school or they’re self-taught geniuses who can put together massively adored games with mere thousands in their bank accounts. They’re building up titles, doing their own PR, and bringing gaming back to the root of what it is about: love of the game. Purely altruistic due to loving their hobby, these indie developers are currently getting raised on everyone’s shoulders because they’re thriving where these big companies are failing. They’re releasing premium content, gaining a massive following, and not buffered with massive budgets to cushion their possible fall. It’s a beautiful thing, really. By supporting these independent companies, you’re showing that you want to see more games from them in the future and that you recognize their effort and hard work into something that they love. It’s the video game version of going to your neighborhood farmer’s market, you know? Support your local businesses, kids!
Chasing the Nightmare
What you have to worry about with independents, though, is that everyone sells out in the end, don’t they? Why wouldn’t you? The “dream” is all about success, isn’t it? Doing what you love and being able to live like a king whilst doing it, right? So find me an independent who is going to spend the breadth of their career being their own man when they know it’s coming from their pocket. Find me them. Find me the independent who won’t eventually take sponsorship, corporate funding or even accept lucrative partnership deals. Nobody stays indie, folks. It’s unreasonable to expect that people are going to purposely keep themselves poor in order to keep your shimmering concept of a white knight alive in video games.
I know that I just unleashed a lot of very dystopic ideas and realities on you and maybe you’re wondering how I, a massive gaming enthusiast, can be so dry about something so close to me. At the end of the day, I want to see these employees of these huge broken companies actually get jobs again. We need to recognize that game companies will fall for the rest of our lives because this is an industry of entertainment, and then we need to keep finding these people employment. We, as fans, need to show our support for our games’ creators and get them new jobs so that we can continue seeing content being pumped out from their talented minds. Don’t boycott games, don’t protest movie licenses, and don’t act unrealistic and immature. Be proactive and help people with their new transition.
For all you know, Disney just freed up some wonderful mind from LucasArts who could make that next new game that we’re going to be clamoring to play. Think about that.