It seems strange to be here: a week after the biggest gaming launch in history, and still concerned about the future of the big-budget blockbuster. But for me, the biggest story of last week was not the massive sales of a game we knew was going to sell, but the sacking of 1500 developers at Activision's erstwhile rivals for the top-dog spot, EA. The news snuck out, perhaps deliberately, just in time to be swallowed by the tidal wave of hype surrounding Modern Warfare 2, and is of little interest to those who do not work in the industry. But to me it says a lot more about the state of this business than all the millions that Activision is raking in.
The games business as we know it is not in a healthy state. Taken at a whole - including handhelds, MMORPGs, iPhone games, flash games and that Farmville nonsense that clogs up my Facebook feed - more people are playing more videogames than at any point in history. But most of the users of this site likely have a much narrower definition of games - a definition that focuses on titles like Assassin's Creed 2, Dragon Age: Origins and Modern Warfare 2, huge experiences that only come around a few times each year (and generally between October and November). These games offer the type of sensory overload experience that gives you a tingle just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, they're simply not making enough money. Again, I know that sounds ridiculous in the context of the mind-boggling figures already being tossed around for MW2, but it's the equivalent of a record-breaking lottery jackpot winner - it still doesn't mean that gambling is a reliable way to make a living. For every MW2 there are a dozen titles that aimed for that top spot only to come crashing back down to earth. Two out of three first-parties have no hope whatsoever of making any money in this console generation, and will likely be paying off their debts for years to come. Out of the major third-party publishers, maybe no more than half a dozen will make a significant profit this year, and there are a number who are one high-profile failure from bankruptcy. And do we have to go over the list of small- and medium-sized developers whose doors have shuttered forever over the past two years alone? (Off the top of my head, Factor 5, Free Radical, Grin - oh, and now Pandemic, I see.)
In the midst of this, it sometimes makes my blood boil to see gamers' reactions to any perceived slight. The MW2 PC boycott - is it too early to call it an "attempted" boycott? - was always doomed to be a dismal failure. I am not a PC gamer, so the most salient points of the furor are lost on me, and Shamus Young did a fine job of going through them the other day.
Unfortunately for PC gamers, Shamus is far more eloquent than most of their other spokespeople. The thing that struck me hardest amongst these arguments was the idea that Activision was greedy/morally corrupt/the spawn of Satan himself because it dared to change how things had been done up until now by removing key PC-only features, charging for things that used to be free, and/or charge $60 for MW2 PC instead of the "standard" $50.
Be it dedicated servers for MW2 or Rage, day one DLC that "should be on the disc" like Warden's Keep in Dragon Age: Origins or Activision hinting at creating a subscription-based service for future Call of Duty titles, gamers have been bellowing with rage across the internet at the slightest suggestion that they might have to pay more in order to get the things they are used to.