A grim time for gaming

Most of the time I prefer to link to Bill Harris then the actual news article simply because his commentary is usually worth considering. However, while I agree with his points and encourage everyone to see what he has to say I have better things to do then reiterate what has already been said. Instead I want to take some of the facts as we know them and shed some very painful light on them.

Electronic Arts just shed a large number of workers. I think the analysis at Dubious Quality is being conservative in saying they’ve released a quarter of their workforce. 2,600 people this year, around 1,300 in this most recent layoff alone. At a time when unemployment has hit double digits in America (I understand these were not just American jobs at EA) this is a terrible time to be looking for a job much less a job in an industry that is struggling to survive.

Hubris has destroyed many large corporations. I was there to see it bring AOL to its knees. Steve Jobs admitted outright that it nearly destroyed Apple. Yet at the end of 2008 and well into 2009 we had one executive after another talking about the “recession proof” gaming industry. How many development studios have shuttered their doors this year? I have actually lost count. Sadly, the nature of the gaming industry means that even beloved companies will close their doors in even the best of times. The epidemic of failing studios this year does not mean good things for gamers in 2010, and probably 2011. The real lesson learned though is that games are not recession proof. No luxury good is ever recession proof.

While people are out of work and budgets are tightening, the gaming industry is selling games at a higher price, targeted the secondary market, and looked at methods to put their hands in our pockets as directly as possible searching for whatever loose change they can find. One use codes, exclusive pre-order bonuses, and other strategies seem intent on making it clear that “buying new” is the way to go. I have to say that my biggest incentive to “buy new” is when a game hits a price I actually think it is worth. I didn’t hesitate to get Borderlands at $50, but the initial $60 asking price is simply too high to risk on a potentially bad game.

Questionable marketing strategies aside, the grim reality is that EA may not have any choice. At this point the gaming industry, like any industry, just needs to survive long enough for the economy to improve. This means less innovation, less risk-taking, and more “sure bets”. This means that we as gamers will have fewer choices and more of the same. After Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sells a bazillion copies do you think Activision is going to tell Treyarch “Hey, people are tired of you guys making the sucky Call of Duty versions, so why don’t we just release every 2 years and you can go back to making games you actually care about”? NO CHANCE! Bobby Kotick is going to milk that cow with his calloused little fingers until the udders fall off.

I see fewer and fewer games of interest to me. I think it’s going to be a rough couple of years for my hobby. The good news is, this too shall pass. Like a kidney stone, it will pass.