You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
-Tyler Durden, Fight Club
This week, the utterly meaningless noise-box-news-machine is generating a lot of heat about the bitch fest between the game industry’s #1 and #2 game publishers, Activision and EA. EA used to be #1, but now they’re #2. Activision, previously #2, is now #1. Which means that now it’s Activision’s turn to make public pronouncements that it is the company that really knows how this whole thing works.
Enter Bobby Kotick, Activision CEO, who, last noise-box-news cycle, was famous for being the mastermind behind the infamous dismissal of the heads of Activision-owned studio Infinity Ward after a particularly nasty bit of business involving withheld bonuses and an insanely-well-grossing videogame. What kind of publishing company roughly manhandles the masterminds behind their company’s single most popular videogame franchise? One could safely argue it would be a company more interested in profits than personnel. So what’s Kotick saying this week?
“The most difficult challenge [EA] faces today is: great people don’t really want to work there. It’s like, if you have no other option, you might consider them … we have no shortage of opportunity to recruit out of EA.”
Kotick goes on to lambast EA for their policy of renaming and reengineering the studios that EA acquires, contrasting EA’s formula with his own, citing the fact that all but two of the studios Activision owns (including Infinity Ward) are being run by the same people who ran them before selling out to Activision.
What’s most troubling is that Kotick has a point. I’ve visited a number of EA’s various studios and they all look and feel startlingly similar. For a company that ostensibly produces so many varied types of games, it’s a bit unsettling to see how similar each studio making those “varied” games seem to be. For better or worse, EA definitely has a “template” that it applies and strictly enforces. Does it work for them? Well, yeah, to a point. Being #2 in a multi-billion dollar industry isn’t entirely a bad thing, and considering the company is currently holding down the number one and two spots on the videogame sales top 10 chart, it’s hard to say they’ve got a losing formula. Kotick is probably just sore that no matter how popular the Call of Duty franchise may be, it will never be Madden.
So what should all of this mean to you, the gamer? Nothing. Whether or not he really cares about the quality of life of his employees, Bobby Kotick doesn’t care about you. EA doesn’t care about you either. Nor does 2K, Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony. Forget how many T-shirts you own, how religiously you follow the blogs or how many mind-bending, deeply personal experiences you’ve had with their games or how much you lurve their products, videogame publishers are not your friends. To them, you are just a wallet.
If a game with no heart or soul will sell the most copies, then that’s the game that these companies will make. And if a studio named “Activision Cleveland,” managed personally by Bobby Kotick and staffed with a thousand monkeys wearing identical blue polo shirts can make that game better than anyone else, then that’s the formula Activision and everybody else will apply to running their company.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of admirable game creators who do genuinely love the art of gaming, gamers and themselves, but those companies are so small in the overall picture that you have to squint to see them. And if we’re all being honest with each other, even those guys are in it for the Benjamins, not your never-ending affection.
If you really want to show the game makers how much you love their work, then pay for it, encourage others to do the same, and refuse to pay for crappy titles rushed out the door unfinished or lacking features. We can all have it both ways if we’re smart. Publishers will get their dollars, but only if they put in the work. And we will continue to get the products we love and enjoy. No T-shirt required.
If you want to get even more engaged, rather than taking sides in a pissing contest between two enormous corporate entities each trying to shake you down for as much money as they can, get smart about the real threats to the industry and do something about those. Start here and here to send a message to politicians that enforcing a government mandate against games as free speech is something those of us who pay for both games and politicians’ salaries won’t tolerate.
Then, while you’re at it, go out and buy some used games before they make that illegal, too.
By prolonging the debate over used videogame sales, while espousing EULAs that prevent purchasers from re-selling or returning used or defective or just plain unsatisfactory videogames, videogame publishers are sending you a message that they don’t care about your satisfaction, they just want your dollars.
Imagine another industry where it would be reasonable for a company to release something in an unfinished state and charge the same price as a finished product. Imagine if Avatar didn’t have a finished final scene because, whoops, James Cameron lost track of time and couldn’t spend any more money to make it perfect. Would you have paid full price to see a movie that ended with stuttering special effects in the exciting climax, or showed Cameron waving spaceships around on sticks while he narrated each part himself? Of course you wouldn’t have, but we play – and pay for – unfinished videogames all the damn time, meanwhile the publishers are laughing all the way to the bank, rightfully believing the videogame audience is full of suckers who will shell out for anything, that we are little more than a gaggle of walking wallets.
Don’t think so? Do you really believe that you are the all-singing crap of the world? Prove it.