The past few months have been up and down in terms of games news and reviews.’We’ve had games that have been proclaimed the final word in ‘games as art’, and we’ve had sacred franchises tossed in the air, then hated and loved and campaigned for and campaigned against and so on and so forth until the last syllable of recorded time.
Throughout all of this excitement though, there have been a number of serious and unfortunate revelations concerning developers and core companies in the industry. It’s easy to hear of a company sinking into bankruptcy and feel perhaps disappointed that a franchise you grew up with are falling by the wayside, what is of most concern is the sheer number that seem to be suffering.
This week in the United Kingdom, GAME, arguably the most well-known brick and mortar videogames retailer in the country, closed 277 (almost half) of its stores in one fell swoop as it went into administration, a process of cutting down assets in an effort to form a sellable business package and find a buyer. Among ‘core’ players, GAME is likely not a high consumer priority, but it is almost definitely where they will have first begun to nurture their hobby, whether by acquiring their first consoles, or using their limited funds to trade old games for new releases. GAME has, as of today, been bought by an equity firm, though not in its entirety, and the purchase is no guarantee of continuing success. The death of a big box retailer might not seem so terrible, but the loss of a key gaming business in the public eye is undoubtedly an undesirable loss.
Sega is preparing to post a loss of just over 7 billion yen next week, citing “the challenging economic climate and significant changes in the home video game software market environment in the U.S. and Europe.” Sega have been suffering for a long time, almost ever since the Dreamcast failed to garner the financial success it (I believe) sorely deserved. Their decision to move away from hardware production in order to focus solely on games has without a doubt led to their reputation waning within the industry. The announcement of financial loss is going to be accompanied by plans to ‘streamline’ the company for ‘sustained profitability’. Streamlining is such a positive-sounding word for such a negative reality.
THQ is the company perhaps most in spotlight for financial disaster of recent. GiantBomb’s Alex Navarro put it bestwhen he said, “It’s not that we enjoy talking about THQ’s miseries, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so, given the general volume of rather lousy news we’ve reported on the publisher in the last several months… but we swear, we hate reporting on this. It’s just that this stuff keeps happening.”
This week’s THQ tragedy concerned their Warhammer MMO, Dark Alliance, being downsized to a single-player focus from its MMO origins. Alongside the gameplay adjustment, 118 further layoffs hit their company, between Vigil Games and Relic Entertainment. I hold fond memories of THQ for their early 2000s wrestling titles on the N64, and it’s sad to see them die what looks to be a slow and agonizing death over the last year.
Finally, I want to return to a company I was celebrating last week: OMGPop. No overnight success story would be complete without a fall from grace, and OMGPop’s came this weekend with a massive backlash against CEO Dan Porter, who took to Twitter to badmouth Shay Pierce, the only (now ex-)employee to have refused the move to Zynga, choosing instead to return to his indie gaming roots. Pierce wrote an article explaining his motivations this week in Gamasutra, if you’re interested. Choosing to badmouth ex-employees is one thing, but the backlash has extended further, highlighting a number of offensive and embarassing comments made by OMGPop’s CEO. Perhaps the most offensive tweet follows:
“Games are fun. But they can be socially relevant too. Please share this. At Draw Something, by OMGPOP & Zynga, we just added the word HOODIE”
I’m not really sure what to say about that. Is it supposed to be a failed attempt at satire? It’s in bad taste. While it might blow over, we may just see something develop out of this over the course of the week. Needless to say, I’m put off at the prospect of playing Draw Something now.
Each of these stories concerns hard workers receiving poor treatment, whether it has been willing or unwilling. It’s a sorry picture for the industry, and our thoughts go out to each and every one of the families who’ll be dealing with the ill effects of this news in weeks to come. Corporations are people, my friend, but their employees even more so.