To hear the stories, the game industry is allegedly as corrupt as a crime family. Publishers treat developers like indentured servants, withholding pay unless the game is successful (and sometimes even then). PR representatives offer bribes for good reviews, and then ad executives threaten websites that don't comply. Even the game developers themselves aren't clean, according to the tales. Working at some of these companies sounds akin to working at a gulag run by madmen. The worst part: Most of the stories are true.
For all of the fun and joy that games bring into our lives, there is a seedy underbelly, a dark side, if you will, that suggests that people who make games are just as normal and flawed as the rest of us. Billion-dollar industries don't grow overnight, after all. A certain amount of corruption and evil is simply par for the course - required, even - to keep an industry of this size in bean bag chairs.
This shouldn't be shocking to us. We, as cynical, well-educated consumers of media, should be immune to being surprised by the evil lurking in the hearts of men (and women). We should be prepared for it. We should know that for every idealist making games because he's following his dream, there's a shrewd businessman attempting to capitalize on that man's naiveté.
Why, then, does it set off so many alarms when we hear a reviewer complain he's been leaned on by a game publisher to give a certain score? Or to discover that the publisher of a blockbuster game series has withheld bonuses, even sued the creators? Why, in other words, are we so gullible?
Videogames are inherently about dreams. As fantastic and escapist as other forms of entertainment may be, playing a videogame requires a certain willingness to open one's mind to the experience, to fully immerse oneself into the world that's been created. One may know, for example, that movie studios are the bastard children of power-mongering labor unions of the 1920s and 1930s, but yet still be able to enjoy the spectacle, in spite of the corruption.
When we play a videogame, though, we expect the creators to have been the same high-minded idealists we are. We expect that the people with whom we share such a tender portion of our minds to have our best interests (or at least each others') at heart. We do not expect them to be thieves.
For this week's issue of The Escapist, we're exploring the seedy underbelly of the game industry. Greg Tito delivers a post mortem on APB developer Realtime Worlds and Jim Sterling takes a hard-nosed look at exactly why some game reviewers get "exclusive" access. Plus, Robert Janelle looks at CrowdWave, massively-multiplayer motion control and Chris Plante will tell you what you need to do to get your apartment ready for Kinect. Enjoy!