So, no one is a stranger to the notion that the entire country is in some economic turmoil right now, that's rather well-known. Plenty of people are out of work, there's no money ANYWHERE, we're all just freakin' miserable. Save for a new administration shortly to be inaugurated into the White House, it's pretty bleak bleak across the board, and that sucks. Two things - 1. Gasoline is about as cheap as it was like 10 yrs ago (how did that happen?) And 2. Videogaming, as a business, is doing better than ever in history.
So what's to complain about - well, for starters, a lot of the old guard is eating it hard. Typically (and ironically), right before the holidays is when the layoffs generally kick in. That sucks, but that is how it goes - therefore it is no surprise that some studious would downsize at this time of year. However I have never seen it happen at such record numbers. Like TEN studios have been suffering dire economic catastrophe and resorted to laying off staff this season! Maybe not ten, but certainly getting up there. I can't name them all - Aspyr, Midway (yeah, the long-standing old-timers!), Sony (not the games division yet, but even so) - Turbine, EA (record numbers of layoffs). Factor 5, Free Radical. That's off the top of my head, surely there have been a couple more. I know some Activision Blizzard studios got shuttered too (Mass Media, either laid off or closed completely, I don't recall). So what's this all about then? Games are making record money, to a ridiculous degree - where is it all going?
The development model is in need of a change. What worked with small teams on smaller-scale productions can't hold in this multi-million dollar climate. Studios NEED to churn out blockbuster titles to make money, since they are pouring so much dough into development. And now we have a peculiar phenomenon - even if a studio produces a quality title, will it even sell? It used to be the case where the worst thing one could imagine was that the market would be flooded with crap. Now, strangely, the market is flooded with good damned games! You look at the release schedule for the holiday season and what do you see - Tomb Raider. Resistance 2. Gears of War 2. Left for Dead. Dead Space. Mirror's Edge. Call of Duty 5. Rock band 2. Guitar Hero 4. LittleBigPlanet. Fable Fallout 3. WOW Lich King. This is the tip of the iceberg - thank GOD our game didn't ship this season..! Who has the time to play half this stuff? I guess it is actually GOOD people are losing their jobs, so they can manage to sit home and have time to play all these games!
So what is next? You make a bunch of decent selling games, then one bomb and you're toast - is that how this plays out? Suddenly making DS and PSP titles is sounding way more attractive. Is there money to be made there by anyone besides Nintendo? Man are those guys having the last laugh (and look at their Xmas release schedule, it's dead - they didn't even NEED to release anything! Mario Kart and Wii Fit are still doing well enough..). Then there's iPhone development, and beyond that things like Steam, Xbox Live, PSN, Wiiware.. all new models, all waiting for their time to hit, and in what fashion I cannot quite say. Well, it will be big, whatever form it takes, no one can deny that online deployment is the way of the future, and it is only a matter of time.
So, to my fallen comrades, I salute you. I have been laid off before, and it truly sucks. This is exacerbated if you have a family and all of that, especially now with the crushed economy and hell - it IS the holidays. I can't say what's to come, all I know is that it was a banner year for games (some of the best releases ever, and some of the worst layoffs and closures by a wide margin). Hopefully onto better times, though I suspect rocky roads lie ahead. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, if you are reading this and you are on the other side, I wish you much luck and hope you can get crackin' on your demo reel... there's a damned lot of competition out there, that's for sure.