In Real Life

What Do You Make?

The games industry does not treat its creatives well, on that we can agree. A troubling pattern seems to be emerging — allow developers the time they need to create a product, and then casually cast them aside when the job is complete. Today, in response, we ask publishers a simple question: what do you make?

In AMC’s Mad Men, main character Don Draper is in the midst of a nightmare. In this nightmare he is confronted with an unexpected question.

“What do you make?” His dead father asks him. This is the question that haunts his existence.

In Mad Men, Don Draper is a character ingrained in the world of advertising, a man who essentially makes nothing, who creates nothing. Draper makes his living from the toil of others, from the products they create. It is his job to help sell these products. Nothing more. His is an artificial role made necessary by our need to consume, to scratch an itch.

But he creates nothing. What will he leave behind?

Last week almost 40 people lost their jobs at SEGA Studio Australia. Just days before we heard reports that 10 developers lost their jobs at Firemint and Iron Monkey, despite the success of both studios.

It’s a common story, particularly in Australia — a story so common that we’ve almost become numb to it. As someone who writes about video games for a living, you might argue that I should keep an appropriate distance — simply write the facts as they exist and get on with things.

But I can’t.

Because in my own way, I create things — I write. Writing is what I’m passionate about and I take it very seriously. By following this path I’ve had to accept that I’ll most likely never earn the same kind of money the person selling my work makes.

Yet I do receive something in return: an incredible and receptive audience at Kotaku Australia and the respect of my employers. I know that, at the very least, I have some measure of job security here, the kind of security that allows me to write and express myself as I see fit. I have that freedom, I have that trust — at the very least I have that.

But those in the games industry, those that lose their jobs so consistently, so easily – they don’t.

No. They are made redundant by people who make nothing, by people who create nothing; whose sole job is to make such redundancies as easily palatable as possible, to spoon feed an array of buzzwords designed to dissociate us from the human element and the simple facts — hard working developers are being siphoned for their ability to create something, then cast aside the second the job is done.

SEGA Studio Australia underwent a ‘proposed restructure’, the closure of Blue Tongue and THQ Studio Australia was part of a ‘right sizing’ of ‘internal development capacities’. The redundancies at Iron Monkey and Firemint were part of ‘cycles of expansion and contraction… a normal part of the game development process’.

Now, I completely understand there are financial realities — there are shareholders to satiate, costs to be cut — but the ease with which jobs are lost in the games industry absolutely terrifies me. This is an industry which takes for granted the efforts of developers. An industry that takes advantage of young men and women following their passion, that takes full advantage of their ability to create. An industry that proceeds to callously spit out talented individuals the second a job is completed, with nothing but buzzwords and a redundancy package to comfort them.

To those who so easily drop the axe on developers — talented, hard working people who worked themselves to the bone creating your product — to those writing the buzzwords, I have a question: what do you make?

What do you make?

Because you don’t make much sense. Your buzzwords are hollow; utterly meaningless, a hallmark of a business model in transition and, some would argue, in decline.

The 40 or so employees left at SEGA Studio Australia are now set to work on digitally distributed games for its publisher. It’s now a smaller studio designed, I assume, to be more agile, to work on smaller projects, to help usher SEGA into a new digital era.

But in this environment, where it is markedly easy to self-publish, what need do these remaining 40 have of a publisher? As this thought provoking piece in Develop suggests: why build digital games for SEGA Studio Australia, when you can build them for yourselves?

It is the publishers who are struggling to manoeuvre in this new marketplace, not the developers. Why should they continue to suffer the constant overhanging threat of potential redundancy when it is the publishers themselves that can’t find the solution?

As time and technology barrels forward, the move towards self publishing is going to become increasingly attractive to those who have been chewed up and spat out constantly by a system that takes advantage of their passions, and takes their talents for granted. What happens then?

It’s a troubling nightmare, and a reality into which you are soon to awake — because you don’t ‘make’ anything worth selling. In fact, you don’t make anything at all.