Further Iniquities of the Video Games Industry
If you are naïve enough to think that the video games industry is an equal partnership between those a pursuing an artistic vision and their benevolent financial benefactors, then todays news that Activision Blizzard is laying off approximately 800 staff despite a enjoying a “record year”, must have comes as a surprise. For the rest of us who are fully conversant with the iniquities of the business, this sad news has an air of tedious inevitability to it. If you want a coherent distillation of the unsustainability of the triple A games industry, then Jim Sterling’s latest episode of The Jimquisition pretty much nails it. Simply put the current levels of revenue growth seen of late by a lot of the major publishers cannot be maintained and will eventually end in a hard crash, further job losses and a migration of venture capitalists looking to make a killing somewhere else. For those who work in games development it means job insecurity, stress and financial worries. For gamers it could lead to popular titles being shutdown because they don’t make “sufficient” revenue.
This problem is hardly unique to the video games industry, and you’ll find many other big corporations acting in a similar fashion. But the due to the social nature of gaming, many of the associated businesses find themselves confronting their demons in a far more public arena. As a result, today’s news seems to be appearing on even the most casual gamers radar. My Twitter timeline has been full of it this evening and there’s a lot of sympathy and “finger wagging” going on. This is essentially a good thing, as it means people care and recognise that behind the headlines there’s a very real human element to it all. 800 individuals are now directly affected by this and are having to actively seek new employment. Hopefully all concerned will secure new positions and do so with minimum inconvenience, but even such a positive outcome only addresses the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem.
Few businesses are ethical by default. Hoping that the “bad ones” will change their ways is a fool’s hope. Hectoring them from the wings is also a failing strategy as it simply becomes a PR battle. We sadly live in an age of spin doctors and “alternative facts” so being right is no guarantee of winning. The only real solution to this problem is a political one. Workers in the industry need to unionise, lobby for regulatory legislation and employer rights. All of which are an anathema to many workers (screams of “oh no, that’s socialism”), because such concepts have been maligned by decades of increasingly strident partisan politics. Sadly, modern governments are far too deferential towards corporate lobbying, so you cannot rely on them to universally embrace employee protection. So if people really want change then they must robustly campaign for it through collective bargaining, engaging with their political representatives and building up a head of steam. They must also promote such activities positively in the media to gain public support and win the moral high ground. The alternative is to simply complain about corporate greed, while piously hoping that you don’t get trampled underfoot by the likes of Activision Blizzard.