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Economic Change

What Game Developers could do to prepare for the next Global Disaster

Richard Marzo, Blogger

November 11, 2014

10 Min Read

Part 1

The early years of the millennium were turbulent, to say the least...terrorism, war, corporate corruption, the increasingly polluted environment (yes I mean Global Warming, et. al)...the list goes on, but that sums up the worst of it. Solving those problems would make almost all the other problems trivial and quite easy to deal with.


The culmination of those problems led to worldwide economic crisis in 2008-2009, and humanity as a whole has still not quite recovered. The consequences of being an intelligent, dominant species on a planet, and the associated terraforming that occurs, have already reached a tipping point. Yes, true disaster has been averted for the time being. But we were lucky, and I think you can all sense it, you can all feel it...another disaster could very well happen in the near future, and it could irrevocably cripple humanity’s ability to truly prosper on this planet.


I won’t talk extensively about world peace, about clean sustainable energies, or about social justice/freedom, though those are all worthy goals for better minds than mine. Instead I’ll focus on economics.


I believe we are in the final stages of the decline of Capitalism. In its very best ideological forms, Capitalism promotes a free market, high quality via competition, and a satisfied consumer. We all know how the real world works though; how monopolies stifle freeness and competition while giving consumers the minimally satisfactory product, how wealth accumulates in the hands of a select few, and how poverty continually increases.


Obviously I sympathize with many ideas of Socialism, but looking at real world attempts to implement it, I am often disappointed to see oligarchical nationalism instead of true socialism. None can deny that every government has been influenced by socialism in some form, but where ever we see it as the governing principle, what we end up with is something with significantly less freedom than what I and many of you would ever be comfortable with.


Enough politics though, this is about game development! And to repeat my earlier sentiment, I think you can all sense the impending troubles with the current economic systems in place around the globe. The game industry has marched on through all these troubles, and arguably things have never looked brighter for games in particular and the computer industry as a whole. The problem is that many of the same people (and their associated organizations) who were directly responsible for the economic calamity, these same people are still in power. They are still ultra-wealthy and they still direct economic policy on a global scale. And many of their policies remain, at the core, unchanged. So it stands to reason that another crisis is waiting to happen. Given the complexity of the situation it’s clearly quite difficult to make accurate predictions as to the when, where, and how, but the who is clear enough: the wealthy will make out like bandits, and the rest will suffer.


Unless, that is, adequate change is implemented at some level to prevent this rather worrisome cycle from repeating. We are all painfully aware of how slow the political machine is, which is why I am doing my best to avoid a directly political discussion, not to mention how quickly political discussions turn into flame wars. So what advantages does the game industry possess, that is lacking in most governments, and that can be used to help create a more prosperous tomorrow for future generations? Well, game developers, you are damn smart. You are nimble, you are quick, you adapt. You have contacts in entertainment, technology, and in the arts and sciences. And, to top it all off, you design complex systems, which is exactly what we need.


The old economic systems are gasping their last breath. Barter gave way to money, which gave way to...well we still use money, don’t we? I have to oversimplify, because I don’t really feel like writing a treatise. The problem is our current notion of money. And who, in the modern world, has experimented the most with varying monetary systems and economic ideologies? Game devs.


There are different ways to react to someone talking about looming economic doom. There is indifference: you are free to go elsewhere and read something else. There is denial: we can debate about it, but I won’t argue with you if you think the rich aren’t getting richer...I’ll just let you be. And then there is preparation, for which game developers are amongst the best of the human race at.


If playing games is about anything, it’s about preparing. Preparing the next move, the next button press, the next voice command; whatever the input method, the gamer is always on some level thinking about her next move. This ability is magnified tremendously for developers. They have to think about things like IDE’s, API’s, evolving language specifications, new graphical packages, assets, pipelines, changing chipsets, and so many other things that it’s kind of bewildering that any games are ever even made in the first place. And yet we have a giant multi-platform behemoth of an industry. PC, console, mobile are all billion-dollar industries considered separately, and there is no sign of an arcade-like crash any time *soon* for the major areas of video game deployment.


Being prepared can take many forms. One can stash jewelry and rare stones. You can have a safe filled with various currencies from around the world. You can learn to be like Catwoman or you can become a Bruce Wayne. You could muddle on, and be complacent, in which case you won’t have read this far anyway. Or you could do what developers do best, which is to prepare for the future, and hope that when it comes, the systems you have put in place are the best for your players, which are in this case all of humanity, not just the hardcore few and the well-off casual masses.


Part 2

Perhaps it’s a little far-fetched to be thinking about development with a mind towards solving the world’s biggest problems. In this case I focus on economics, but I did mention others above such as pollution and war. But consider this: have games yet proven themselves to be an indispensable part of humanity? Video games are still disposable forms of entertainment in the eyes of many, so I think the answer is currently a solid “No, they are dispensable.” If the next (economic) crisis did occur, and it was more severe than the last (or actually present) one, how could that affect the game industry? Again, game developers have weathered the storm quite well. While other industries were on the verge of collapse via a series of scandals, bankruptcies, and corporate thievery, only to be saved at the last minute by The Government, the game industry (and really the whole of the computer industry) more or less survived the whole thing without significant external aid.


But what about next time? If things don’t change enough, there will be a next time, and if the games industry does not prepare enough for that event, it may not survive so well. And it’s a long shot to think that any government (again we are in the scenario of little to no change) would bail out the game industry in its current form.


I am not a doomsaying, conspiratorial eschatologist by any means, but there is certainly room for concern, no? So let’s do the thought experiment - Global Economic Crisis Part 2: The Video Game. Prices plummet, banks go bankrupt, people who aren’t already super wealthy start losing their life savings. It’s a disaster of global proportions. So people start trimming with their entertainment. The pay for food, utilities, and rent/mortgage. They then spend what little they have left on the most affordable entertainment around, which is lucky for us Video Games. At least in terms of efficiency, games are the best bang for your buck, in terms of their cost/time ratio. So in dollars spent per hour of enjoyment, games are cheaper than (well almost) anything else out there which is also of a commercial nature. So this will be good up to a point. But games are only a few steps removed from being completely free. I won’t expand on that. The computers they run on - desktop, console, phone, etc. - still have other uses. In short, games are a luxury, and if the disaster reaches far enough, games are gone for sure.


Part 3

So what to do? I can’t bring myself to write an extensive part 3...so just do something. Please. I said a few lines up that I wouldn’t expand on games’ “freeness”, but okay I’ll expand on it a little bit here. It is good that games are so efficient at generating value over time. The problem here is that “worth” and “value”, though related, are slightly different. I don’t want to get too much into the subtleties of the English language because I want this and all my future writings to be as translatable as possible, so I’ll just specify the way I am using the two words. In this context, “worth” implies money; so something’s worth is equated with how much money I put into it or get out of it. “Value” on the other hand is the intrinsic quality of something. So I think that is a good starting point for the evaluation and eventual development. I leave the rest to you.


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