The Downside to Corporate All or Nothing Game Development

Take Blizzard for example, while many companies struggled and failed to meet expectations in the past decade, Blizzard blew away everyone’s expectations with World of Warcraft. It was a game that only could have come from a large company. For years the game saw unrivaled success, peaking at about 12 million subscribers, and Blizzard continued to grow because of it. But the game is old now, and even though Mists of Pandaria has helped bring them back to about 10 million subs, their last two releases, Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3, weren’t nearly as successful as they would have hoped. Starcraft 2 as an E-Sport has failed to thrive in the way that LoL has and Diablo 3 doesn’t seem to have the longevity as its predecessor.

Pandas saved WoW, for now. 

Despite their astronomical success with WoW, in February Blizzard fired nearly 600 people “in order to address the changing needs of our company.” At their peak they needed all of those people to manage the company and WoW, but as soon as subscriptions dipped those least critical to the ongoing success of the game were let go.  It’s sad, but it’s the cost of doing business in the game industry. The massively popular games we love to binge on eventually cause a hangover of layoffs and downsizing for honest people just trying to make a living.

Big risks can sometimes bring success in this industry, but when they don’t pay off young developers are often the ones paying the price. Post project layoffs are common practice and while we’re at home enjoying games the laid off developers who made them are repeatedly thrown overboard by the companies who hire them.

After spending over $200M on the development of SWTOR, EA “restructured” Bioware’s Austin office when subscriptions didn’t meet expectations. Even though it was a Star Wars game it was still another big business all or nothing gamble designed to dethrone WoW as king of the MMO. It didn’t work.

Back in May Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning developer 38 Studios were forced to let their entire staff go after “experiencing an economic downturn.” They filed for bankruptcy two weeks later, and are now being sued by the state of Rhode Island for failing to make payments on their taxpayer-guaranteed loan. If World of Warcraft was a big company gamble gone right, then Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a big company gamble gone wrong.

We’ll never know if this fantasy based MMO would have been successful. 

Not all players enjoy an over-hyped, delayed, gold plated, big budget release, but a lot do. Every year big companies bet it all on a few massive releases hoping to score a blockbuster with players. While we as players may be the beneficiaries of games made in this fashion there is unfortunately an entire generation of developers whose jobs are in a state of constant uncertainty because of it.

Big games are great. Every once in a while a game is developed that captures the hearts and minds of millions of players. They are the reason that many of us play games to begin with. But their development comes at a cost. Sometimes failure in this industry means someone’s stock is going to tank or some CEO is going to have a gaffe to apologize for, but usually it means that some young developer is going to have to find a new job because some game didn’t sell quite enough copies. Betting it all on a big release is fun for the rest of us, but those who make a living developing games are the ones who end up paying the price.

  • Branovices

    I read this while thing but I really keep thinking about is Castlevania nostalgia from the first paragraph. I couldn’t get into the God of War ripoff one, and am hopeful the next 2D(ish) one based on it will be good.

    Anyway, I’m not sure the industry was any better for the people making games in the 80s either.

  • Dzuksi

    I love Darksiders games, very underrated. Shame if they don’t make it. Would love to see sequels.

  • Ben

    painting the fall of THQ on the failure of one game is a gross missexageration. They’ve been failing for a long time with a whole bunch of shitty decisions.

  • evrlozano

    It’s too bad for Kingdom of Amalur, I seriously love that game. Would of liked to have a sequel someday (although I’m not sure about the MMO they were talking about; sounded too much like WoW). I would still be playing it if it weren’t for ACIII, Halo 4 and Black Ops 2.