Critical Intel

Critical Intel
The Games Industry Is Its Own Citizen Kane

Robert Rath | 13 Feb 2014 16:01
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poster - citizen kane_02

Given all this, is it any wonder that game culture is so eager to return the simpler, more innocent days of its childhood? The indie nostalgia wave, the Space Invaders coffee mugs, the remakes and reboots and Kickstarters for Double Fine Adventure and Mighty Number 9, all these are callbacks to days when, supposedly, games were made with love and not money. But that nostalgia - like all nostalgia - proves false under evaluation. Those days were just as full of cutthroat businesses like Atari, broken games like ET and advertisements as gross as the industry sees now. As much as Kane yearns for his childhood sled, the film also implies his father abused him - and it's only the folly of distance that makes him remember his childhood as the only time someone loved him. Likewise, in our own childhoods the game industry was both troubled and great, just as it is troubled and great now.

And crucially, the game industry is unlike Kane too. Kane is a rich man who wants love, while the games industry is a collection of beloved companies that want riches. And without doubt, they'll get what they seek. To paraphrase Kane's accountant Bernstein, it's no trick to make a lot of money if all you want is to make lot of money. But there's one other difference, and it gives me heart and hope. Unlike Kane, the game industry can admit when it's wrong. EA is no longer the corporate raider it's been in the past, and puts greater emphasis on preserving subsidiary and partner studios - they have a very good relationship with Valve, for example. Microsoft, for all its posturing at E3, did back down on controversial Xbox One features, something that Kane would never have done. Likewise both Microsoft and Sony have made progress cleaning up their supply chains to try and keep their consoles free of conflict minerals - though I wish they'd be more transparent about the process - which is welcome and needed (Nintendo barely acknowledges the problem). While there's room for improvement, studio work conditions seem to be on the rise as well. So far from being too full of pride to change, the game industry can overcome its problems once they set their mind to it.

There are some companies, of course, that will refuse to change. There always are. Some will keep to Kane's path, with the mistaken assumption that instead of adapting to the market, the market will adapt to them. Like Kane they'll see their empires collapse into bankruptcy, their assets distributed amongst rivals. Enslaved by their own tyrannical pride, they won't acknowledge their mistakes early.

They're going to need more than one lesson, and they're going to get more than one lesson.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher currently based in Hong Kong. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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