You may remember a couple weeks ago I sat down with game journalist extraordinaire, Leigh Alexander, to get her take on the industry, the media, and the games she loves. Now, we’ve got the second part of her interview ready to go (part one’s right here). This time, she speaks about the industry—from the Fat Cats to the have and have-nots of DLC to open-source development. And if this interview’s not enough Leigh for you, check out her wonderful Kotaku article investigating the cathartic appeal of GTA IV’s Liberty City for the residents of New York’s rougher neighborhoods.
So, without further ado, part two of our interview.
Hardcasual: Over the past two gaming generations, big-business game studio’s like EA have developed a negative image over tentative buy-outs, employer relations, and license exclusivity (in EA’s case, their ownership of the NFL license). What are your feelings on the mega-studios’ role in the industry?
Leigh Alexander: One of the things I’ve never bought, whether in the videogame industry or anywhere else, is this idea that big business, “big corporate” always has to be evil. People always dump on EA, but if you were to walk in there, you’re not going to see Darth Vader sitting in the Death Star. I think you’d see a building full of game developers who care about the work they’re doing, individual people who want to do a good job, and who want to make enough money so that they don’t lose their jobs. They’re working 80-hour weeks—yeah, of course they want to make money. They’re people like we are. People write to me who work on these games, and they’re good people like us who like their games and like their work. It’s true there are decisions being made with investors in mind before the audience is in mind, but that’s how the world works. It sucks, but they’re not your friends – they’re there to do a job.
The thing that gets me is whenever there’s not a scandal going on, the topic of discussion on the Internet is “how can we make games deeper?” We say, “It needs to be richer, it needs to be better, we want it more immersive, it needs to be more realistic, we want more explosions, we want more, more, more, more.” More multiplayer, there are not enough maps, et et cetera.
Guess what? It costs money to do that. It costs the developers a lot of money. In fact, it costs them more than we realize. I know nothing about the actual pound for pound cost of making games, but, at the least, I know it costs millions of dollars. Well, these companies can’t lose money on the games they make, because their stock will devalue, they don’t turn profits, their investors sell and then they have no development budget. Any given game company, even if it looks like a fat cat billionaire, could just as easily be a hair away from in the hole. It’s enormously volatile even over short periods of times. Look at Atari. [Mimes a downward spiral]. Look at Activision [Reverses it]. Some people think [Activision’s] bigger than EA now. This can turn on a dime.
[These companies] start at the books before they even go into development. They say, “this is how much we need to make to be risk averse.” If the game does not do as well as they planned, developers lose jobs, budgets for the next game get cut, things get delayed. Things we don’t like happen when games don’t make the money the companies set out to make. It’s not like John Riccitello [EA’s CEO] is going to roll your money into a cigar and smoke it. Lots of times vilify companies like EA, but they’re very carefully planning “is this a good investment or not.” The thing about the industry being that volatile is they have to naturally be risk-averse. They have to make games they know will sell. Things that are very different don’t often make it through in this market. It’s not worth the risk to the game company. It’s not just enough to make a good game; they have to make good decisions too. That’s their responsibility to their employees and their investors, and just because that comes before the audience sometimes doesn’t mean the people behind these companies are evil warlords.
Downloadable content, open-source development, and the need to make a buck after the jump…