A Matter Of Trust: What The Game Industry Should Do To Win Gamers Back

As I watched the news come in the other day of Microsoft’s closure of four gaming studios which was followed the next day by news that more cuts were likely to follow; I was reminded of how volatile the entertainment
industry has become.

Years ago I took a job doing tech support for a gaming company soon after completing my B.A. I knew it was only through the launch of the product but I loved pitching ideas for the game as well as others and seeing my contributions included in the final product.

I remember how happy I was to have a position for me created that allowed me to stay with the company and still be involved in testing and such when
other titles came along. Sadly the move from the back offices to the front opened my eyes to some of the harsher realities of the industry from an Exec who did not know or play games and seemed more fixated on sucking up
to foreign investors; to an executive who was more concerned with being a celebrity and we would hear of his trip to California to get a certain
type of car that he could not get here.

While an incredibly nice guy who went on to be in many ways what he
wanted; it showed me how priorities can be skewed.

A few years later I took a Job at Sierra after completing my M.A. and
loved the job and people I worked with. We had a great team and when I was not offering support for games, I was helping test new products and doing so many fun things to the point where I had hoped to go into Marketing in the future as I loved working with them to pitch ideas.

While the company had changed hands since Ken and Roberta Williams owned it; I was told that our new owners were much better than the company who
had it prior and we had a string of high-profile games coming.

Sadly we started to see games like Outpost arrive that were not complete and lacked items that were promised on the box text and had to be added in later such as Monorails.

The rush to get units out to appease investors became an issue and it hit
a peak for me with Tribes 2. I was assigned to be the point support person for the game and I had created nearly three pages of issues after only an hour of play. I was told the next morning that the game shipped despite nobody being willing to sign off on it as it was “over time and “over
budget” and out it went. We saw a massive spike in support calls and
e-mails as soon as it hit the shelf as well as massive returns. The studio
that created it was shut down soon after and eventually our office was as well.

The desire to product quantity over quality to appease investors was
blamed as a big factor and it hastened my move to media as I wanted to stay with games but not be in such a volatile situation.

Today we see film and game studios; sometimes one in the same yet
different divisions; struggling to make the numbers that they want.
Reasons ranging from Covid changing the markets, rising costs, Unions, the lack of trade shows, and changing consumer tastes have all been listed.

I thought about a post on Facebook where a fan of Godzilla was boasting
about what a smash hit the new film was as it had earned over $500.00
million. I reminded him that while it is a great number, it does not
warrant a smash status yet as based on budget, ad costs, revenue sharing, and such, a film usually has to make 2-3X its costs before a profit is
seen. He went on to argue about how much money it has made and I pointed out an easy way to consider things.

Your movie costs your $160.00 You then add in $75-80 more for promotion. You cut deals with cinemas where you take say 70% of the sales the first
week or so and it declines each week to eventually being a smaller take
and you also have to factor in declining sales weekly.

Combine that with deals to pay talent more if a film hits certain goals. At the end of the day you make a profit but you have risked 225.00 of your
own money to make 50-75 back. Yes there are things like On-Demand, Home Video, Merchandise, and Streaming to factor in, but when you are in the millions and asking a studio to front 200-300 million for a major title
that could lose you money, make you 50-75 million back, or soar, it is in
many ways like a form of gambling as you are at the mercy of the public
and you are betting that you have a product that they will want and will
be willing to pay for and in numbers that will cover costs and make a

When this does not happen; you have investors all wanting answers and quick fixes which sadly becomes a case of cutting projects, taking less
risks, and eliminating staff.

For the gaming industry I see it as the old Billy Joel Song; A Matter of

We do not have E3 and major companies coming to PAX anymore. Gamers got to see companies big and small show what they had to the public and press ahead of release and in some cases; actually play then and get an idea of
what they could expect.

Now we get live-streamed scripted presentation with carefully edited
videos that in many cases leaves more questions than answers. I miss the closed-door E3 meetings to see deep dives into games or watch developers
play the game. I also miss being able to go on the floor and play the
games and then tell people what really stood out for me and which ones I am excited on based on more than a trailer.

Looking at Redfall; this is an example of what I mean by trust.
Discounting that it was available on Gamepass and such which is another debate; the game had issues at launch but people trusted that fixes would come and that DLC that they paid for would arrive. When it has not; and is not coming; people are going to take a wait and see attitude towards
future projects from that company and sales will be impacted and in-time we saw what happened.

Game companies and their P.R. firms flood media outlets with requests for
coverage frequently leading up to the release of a game and then
Cherry-Pick who gets code to review the game; yet have the nerve to hit up companies deemed not worthy to review it to keep posting coverage for the game. They cite a lack of codes yet somehow small indie companies never seem to have this issue and generally can cover any legit outlet who wants to review a game and as one former P.R. person at a large company told me years ago, it only costs a few dollars at most to generate a code as it is
not like the old days where they had to ship a physical product.

This leaves us with the issues we have now; rising costs, declining sales, and a consumer base less willing to pay for new releases; many of which have shorter playing times, bugs, or diminished gaming experiences as they feel they are supposed to support a product that in many ways is not as compelling as it was in the past as they have more options than ever.

While I know money talks; perhaps the key is to stop listening so much to investors and more to the consumers as they will tell you what they want. The old story about Big Auto telling consumers what they wanted in a car and only making changes and actually listening after seeing foreign manufacturers start to dominate the market seems accurate.

There are so many talented individuals out there with great ideas for games and the industry. While I know this takes money to be come a reality; there is a happy medium to give gamers the products they want and at the same time be financially successful. It will just take some adjustment and hopefully this will come sooner rather than later.

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