I’d like to tell you a story. I’ll preface this story by saying that I am a huge video gamer and as such I read a lot of video game news in addition to current and world events. Many of my ideas for writing in this blog are spawned from video game-related news stories. The tale I’m about to tell you is one such story.
Once upon a time there was a game developer called Visceral Games. In the world of video game creation there are two kinds of developers: independent developers who have to find a publisher to release their games to the public and “in-house” developers that are owned by publishing companies and are beholden to them to do their bidding. Visceral is owned by Electronic Arts, one of the biggest publishers in the business.
A few years ago Visceral made a game based on a new intellectual property called Dead Space. It was a science fiction horror game. Games based on new intellectual properties are very hard to get made or published because publishers know it’s safer to give gamers experiences that are familiar to them staring characters they already know and love. Electronic Arts took a chance on Visceral Game’s idea and it paid off in spades. Dead Space was a huge success and sequels were planned.
Over the course of two sequels the game “evolved” from the atmospheric, tension filled, fright-fest of the original game into a more action-oriented game. According to sources from Visceral Games this was done at the behest of Electronic Arts to “reach a wider audience.” You see, the publisher wasn’t happy to have a runaway success on their hands. It wasn’t good enough for them that they had a quality product that resonated with a niche market of the gaming community. They wanted MORE.
As the game changed, they drove away the players who had enjoyed the first game by changing the core experience and failed to bring in any new customers to the series because, let’s face it, if you didn’t want to play a game about an alien lifeform that assimilates and reanimates dead tissue to attack the living then you probably still won’t want to play that game regardless of any changes that are made to the game mechanics.
Now comes this news. Electronic Arts is apparently so unhappy with the lackluster sales of the latest installment that they are shutting down further development on the title and have had sweeping lay-offs at Visceral Games. Since the original report, Electronic Arts has denied it all, which is unsurprising since their business practices have made them one of the most despised companies within the gaming community. Naturally, they would want to squash any story that makes them look like the money grabbing, bean counters they are. Whether or not the layoffs were done over low sales of Dead Space 3 or not, the facts are that people at Visceral Games have lost their jobs and while this story is about the video game industry, it could have happened anywhere.
The American model of capitalism has this strange concept of never-ending growth. Companies don’t seem to be happy unless they are doubling or quadrupling their profits year after year. At what point do you say, “You know, we have a great product that people love. We are making money hand over fist. I think we’re good.” No company, especially publicly traded companies, ever says that. They feel compelled to continue to grow exponentially until they dominate the market they are in.
Some might even say they are forced to follow that path because of the shareholders. Shareholders are by their very definition people who have no real interest in a company, other than a financial return. So companies really have no choice but to grow, grow, grow; until you have Walmarts and Starbucks on every corner and no one else has an opportunity to create a similar business. You also get situations like the one at Electronic Arts in which the original product is changed in an attempt to sell more.
This greed ends up screwing over the people doing the actual creative work because they are forced to change their vision and then take the blame when the change fails. It screws over the consumers who are given a product vastly different from the one they originally loved. And it screws over the greedy people behind the forced changes as they ultimately sell less of the product instead of more, essentially defeating the purpose of making the changes in the first place.
It’s pretty easy to see who loses the most though. It’s certainly not the CEOs at Electronic Arts. They will just start this process over again with another development team. It’s not really the consumers who will complain on a few discussion boards and then move on to another distraction. It’s the people pouring their blood and sweat into their creations. They are the ones who lose their jobs when those driven by greed think they know best and make poor decisions. I fear this routine will not change while we have a small minority who create nothing but control all the capital and the people who do all the real work are at their mercy.
America needs a new kind of Capitalism, one where everybody has a chance to own some capital.