Friday, November 20, 2009


It was this time last week that the video game company Electronic Arts announced that they were cutting at least 1,500 jobs and reducing their research into new game IPs due to the massive downturn in their profits. Then came a new statement on Tuesday of the closing, or consolidation as the press release says, of Pandemic Studios. This means another 200 jobs cut and everyone left at Pandemic being moved in as part of EA’s Los Angeles offices. Not the best week as a whole if you’re looking for stability in your publicly traded video game design company but, if it staves off the need to do something like declare bankruptcy, then it is a win-win in the eyes of the parent company.

Unlike many other businesses, the video game industry works in an odd sort of the fits and starts. You have the big companies that spend years developing, designing, and finally releasing new games be them original works or sequels and at the same time you have the smaller companies making flash games that might be released at a quicker pace then their larger counterparts but don’t have the high level of polish and quality that those long gestating games are supposed to have. These two extremes make the business have constant little jumps ahead combined with moments of big releases showing their faces. A business model like this for a company based around attempted creative innovation doesn’t really scream out as a stable place.

The need for innovation but lack of funds can bring about a very stagnant level of new IPs and make the whole business into sequels and carbon copies of whatever is hot at the time. You can easily trace the fallow period in the video game industry by the number of sequels that are released in comparison to everything else in the market. This lack of creativity can kill off both large pieces of the industry itself and make many people decide to look for a different way of life that excites their levels of creativity.

This is actually something that shouldn’t need to happen but it sadly does to many times. Instead of using those innovative minds that are already on the payroll, the company shifts into safety mode and makes what it knows will sell on the open market. You can’t really argue with this model since it allows the companies to remain in business at the level that they are at but it can lead to substandard games that are mere copycats of what has come before.

It might seem to be an overly pessimistic way to look at the whole situation but there is a way to tweak the system to work for everyone. While it might not be cost effective to have many subsidiary companies bringing out new properties that run the risk of never making a success of their investment, you can definitely use some of that innovation to liven up the current stream of releases to make them a better game all around. That is really a win-win for everyone.

One of the best examples of this combination of solid intellectual product combines with innovation was released a couple months back. The game in question is “Batman: Arkham Asylum”. After years of standard boring comic book hero games, the people at Rocksteady and Eidos mixed in the fighting mechanic from the current round of fighting games and levels based around a heavy load of stealth to mix up the game play. The stealth levels play like a superhero version of Splinter Cell which is a very good thing indeed. By taking these known IPs and combining them with innovations made in other games or brought about specifically for that game, you make an even better game out of what could have been a standard game.

Another way to tweak the situation is to plan better for the games that might carry more of a burden upon release. You don’t want to spring a totally new game on the fandom right in the middle of the prime buying season like EA did with “Mirror’s Edge” without expecting the release to be a little bumpy. The level of ad space was strong but you wind up leaving the buying public to make the decision between your new and unknown property or a game that the fans have knowledge of and have a shorter distance to being accepted.

The video game industry can be a very difficult business field to try and work under. You are expected to constantly be innovative in your games but then you also need to worry about making a profit for your investments. It might not totally be a two way street but you can set up new intellectual properties while playing it safe. Either by taking that innovative idea and mixing it into an already weathered franchise or planning the release date and advertising even closer there is a way to propagate new IPs in a business environment that doesn’t seem ready to be accepting.


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