An unconscious but nearly constant frustration I have these days is my growing disappointment with what the gaming industry has turned into over the past decade (or two, depending on how you look at it). Also, before I get into it, just going to say this could easily just be nostalgia talking, but I think at least a few of my points are valid.
The crux of my argument is that I feel that the days of waiting for a game to be as good as it can be before publishing it and releasing it out into the world are long past us. When I think of these games, the first two examples that specifically come to mind are the Halo franchise and most Blizzard Entertainment games (the Diablo 3 launch being an exception). You’ll see why I bring up these two in a minute, but if you know games you probably already know why.
No big calamitous event ruined video games, I’d say. It was a slow, gradual descent into madness as corporations realized there was money to be had there, and started taking over the gaming world. Huge names like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, etc., bought every smaller studio they could get their hands on, and as a result took hold of a lot of video game franchises that were stellar. Games became about money, not games, as mobile gaming became popularized, purchased DLC, and subscription fees all put game developers’ time and effort where it shouldn’t have gone—that is to say, out of the hands of the player. (I will say that mobile gaming in general was a great thing; it opened up a lot of realms of possibilities, but things like Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, etc, were never about making a good game, which is the core of a lot of gamers’ hatred towards the genre as a whole).
So as companies realized they could make more money by locking more and more content behind larger and larger pay walls, a lot of focus started to be driven towards constructing those walls when it could have simply been spent making the experience the best it could be.
The worst of all this was that it is not and has never been an issue with the game developers. Everyone wants to make something awesome. Something everyone loves. But when the people in the big chairs say you have to release on a deadline that is immovable, regardless of setbacks and challenges, you will invariably get rushed and unsatisfying results.
Bungie is a good example of this. The Destiny franchise was strangled by Activision’s deadlines and rules, gutting a story without having time to rework it, simplifying content to fit a deadline, and locking all meaningful content behind seasonal DLC destroyed something that could have been amazing. A little digging will tell you that a lot of Bungie’s most iconic names have since left the company in the wake of a lot of disappointing corporate decisions.
This is the same story with Blizzard. Fortunately it took longer for the company to be eaten as they were larger to start with, but slowly Blizzard became less about its three flagship franchises and more about regularly releasing content for half a dozen games. Hearthstone hasn’t had anything innovative in years, it’s just a run of the mill card game now. Heroes of the Storm, which I still love dearly, has lost virtually all support from Blizzard, and it’s abandonment has left what semblance of a competitive multiplayer experience it had in shambles. World of Warcraft has been going downhill for about a decade now, and Overwatch hasn’t been getting the audience it used to now that it isn’t shiny and new anymore. Diablo 4 will inspire some new draw, for sure, but with how many veteran employees have left over the past two years, I can’t help but fear there isn’t much of a future left for what was once a titan of the community.
There are still good games being made. Nintendo is still the same old same old (God bless them). The newest God of War game is a masterpiece, and despite Fallout: 76‘s controversy, I’m optimistic Bethesda will Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI the best games they can be. But the only people I really feel I can trust in the industry these days are indie companies like Team Cherry and Chucklefish Studios. The only downside to this is that indie companies can’t make proper competitive multiplayer experiences without the support of huge servers and a large fan base (and I sort of always need a good PvP game to jump onto every now and then).
I’m not surprised that it’s come to this by any means. An optimistic Kasey would have hoped that Blizzard was above this ten years ago, even if capitalism consumed everyone else. Funny thing is, this nihilism does nothing to curb my interest in working for a game studio as a writer, because if anything I’d want to join an indie studio.
4 thoughts on “Me — The State of the Gaming Industry”
There’s one thing I want to say in Blizzard’s defense (though I think a few years from now it’ll just be another EA as it becomes just another flavor of Activision):
Blizzard is old. The founders are old. Blizzard for over 25 years (even longer if you go back to before they were Blizzard) with the same crew. Sure, World of Warcraft vastly changed things, but when your company is this old, you can’t keep the same people.
Take Nintendo – they date back to the late 1800’s. The dude who was in charge when things like Super Mario were being made was widely regarded as a dislikable jerk.
What Blizzard is going through is certainly a rough time – perhaps the roughest time the company ever will go through. But it might be like this – one friend gets tired, and just retires. Then after 30 years, you think, “yeah, you know what, I’m going to do that too.” Then all the founders have moved on because 30 years at the same place is a lot and they don’t need to work anymore.
Sure, the whole Activision thing probably jumpstarted this – maybe without them, maybe Metzen would have stayed on another 3-5 years, and Morhaime would have done the same. But it was always going to happen regardless.
Here’s how I see it playing out. Diablo Immortal will be fine – maybe not in the US, but it’ll be the dumb profitable thing Activision wants. Diablo 4 has to be good. If it’s good, then Blizz will delay the downward spiral it’s been in for a while.
If it’s bad… when that’s when everything grinds to a halt. Either Blizz then switches gears and goes back to what it remembers (don’t forget, there are thousands of people at Blizz – the OG founders aren’t solely responsible for making Blizzard feel like Blizzard). Or Activision eats it.
Time will tell. Maybe we’ll know this time next year. Or maybe a bit later…. I’m guesstimating D4 late 2020. With an expansion that makes the game “whole” in 2021.
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The fact that all the founders of Blizzard have been leaving I think doesn’t point directly to my argument, but it does hint at the heart of it. Yes, they’d all be retiring around now anyway, and yes, they are probably doing it sooner rather than later because of Activision, but this begs the question: What now?
I wish I felt like Blizzard was in good hands. When Metzen left after announcing Overwatch, I still felt confident we were getting what they promised. But with Morhaime and all the other names I knew, the only senior game devs I even recognize these are Jeff Kaplan and Ian Hazzikostas, and I’m not even playing their games right now. Of course the founders would retire, but I don’t feel good about the hands we’ve been left in. And without Blizzard to set the example for what gaming could be, where can we look?
Interesting and awesome article! Video games and the game industry as a whole looks relatively fine in my opinion. However, things are clearly changing because its just like anything else that becomes popular it gathers more attention and many many more people.
Overall in a few years things should be getting better than ever because it would have become as big as ever.
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I will reiterate by saying that my negativity may simply be pointing to the fact that I’m nostalgic for old games and therefore hold them to impossible standards, but I think the golden age for AAA titles is (for the most part) behind us.
I don’t think that something being big or popular necessarily means it is good or improving. I think if anything, it implies the opposite. that said, since gaming is becoming a bigger and bigger thing, that means it is also getting easier to get into as a career path, which means more indie companies. I think that’s where the heart of the industry still beats, so that, if nothing else, is something to retain optimism about.
Thanks for the read!