Money cannot buy success in gaming. Creating an awesome game is hard work, and huge companies are finding that out the hard way. Recently, Amazon and Google closed gaming projects that they had been working on. In an article by Keith Stuart for The Guardian, he explores gaming culture and what leads to success. With all the money in the world, Amazon and Google prove that there is more to it.
“What this has shown is that a game development studio isn’t something that can simply be built and operated through the combination of financial investment and a few big-name talent acquisitions. You can’t just pour in money at one end and watch blockbusting games pop out the other. One inconvenient factor that seems to have been overlooked in both these cases is that, like a movie production team, or a sitcom writers’ room, or an orchestra, or a repertory theatre company, a games studio is a culture. It requires a combination of factors, including a shared vision, a work ethic, a supportive environment. A sense of identity and purpose, which emerge not out of funding, but out of creative relationships and trust. Frustratingly, you can’t buy these things, they develop.
As a games journalist, I have visited and written about hundreds of video game studios all over the world. I have met ex-nuclear missile engineers working on flight simulators in Moscow. I’ve met role-playing game makers in Tokyo and shoot-’em-up creators in Dallas, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. And every successful studio I’ve ever spent time with has had one thing in common: they’re all different.
Blizzard, the creator of the Warcraft and Starcraft titles has a campus in Irvine, California that feels like a university. Media Molecule in Guildford, creator of charming handicraft titles LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, feels like the modern approximation of Oliver Postgate’s animation studio. When I visited the Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward, it was like a combination of a teenager’s bedroom and an underground hacking collective. Someone actually lived in the office.
Nobody designed these places to feel like this, it just happened; it evolved over time, and through the gauze of shared experiences.
When I worked in game development in the early 1990s, as a writer and QA assistant at Big Red Software in Leamington, we worked very closely with Codemasters, the developer of the Micro Machines and Colin McRae Rally games. The company was based on a farm, with teams housed in barns and portable buildings. It was ramshackle and chaotic, but it was also fun. The people who worked there felt like they belonged to something.
It was the same as DMA Design, the 1990s Dundee studio that created Grand Theft Auto. An anarchic collective of talented ne’er-do-wells who pitched crazed ideas based on the movies they watched together, sparking eccentric projects into semi-life then ditching them, but using those experiences to create better things. Grand Theft Auto emerged like a mutant from other failed designs and ideas, barely functioning, barely wanted by the publisher. Fortnite: Battle Royale evolved from a somewhat unsuccessful co-op zombie blaster. That itself emerged as a creative side-project back in 2011. Nobody slapped $2bn on a table and said “make me the digital version of Lego in two years”.
Modern major game development is a quagmire of dysfunctional working practices, where unreasonable crunch periods are still seen by many as the price of brilliance. This is not a culture to be lauded. At the same time, however, formulating a successful team is not a cold and precise endeavour, it relies on people gelling together, sparking ideas off each other, being willing to try and iterate and try again. That’s the process, that’s how it works. Money can buy art, but it can’t in the end, simply generate it.”
After reading this, what do you think defines success in gaming?