This is a collection of words.

On Patreon

I have a Patreon now.

There’s a running joke with a lot of people who know me that if there’s a way to make sure I don’t make any money from what I do, I’ll find it.

It’s true, I guess.

I’ve long maintained my games at accessible prices, either Pay What You Want, donationware or just flat out giving them away and yeah, I’m giving them away right now because I honestly think there’s a point where you do hand these things over for free, where you say “ok, enough”. I’ve done enough with them, it’s cool. I ran a big sale a few years back and spent all the proceeds on a big haul of shopping for someone who had none. I had a few quid over last year so I paid for a week in a spooky house and took people on holiday there. I’m not very good at making a fortune, I’m really not.

I’ve ran RR out of pocket for years. It gets some contributions to help keep it afloat and I’m grateful for that but the reality is that for the past ten years, I’ve paid out over 10k out my own pocket for the place and then some. Which isn’t a complaint, you have a choice in these things, right? Nobody forced me. Give or take the odd moment here and there, it’s been massively fun too. There’s a few things I’m not proud of along the way, a couple of things I’m sorry for but in the main, we did good I reckon. We made a lot of good things happen in our time. And during that time, I had amazing support from people too, when the shit hit the fan for RR, I never once had to deal with shit without help. I’m so thankful for that.

And I write here and write often for nothing. I’ve only really gone after one paid gig myself and I managed to “do a Rob” and make a mess of that by falling ill the week I was supposed to write something so that never really went anywhere. Truth be told, the kind of stuff I write about isn’t the kind of stuff videogame outlets generally look for anyway and it’s not the sort of stuff that runs to a schedule. I made an exception for Eurogamer recently because I have nothing but the most amazing respect for what Chris does and well, if someone you respect that much asks, be rude to say no.

But generally, writing about being a small developer, writing about the human parts of making games or making sense of the videogame world around us, it doesn’t pay anyway. Occupying a weird niche between opinion piece, explainer of things and intimate tales of my life as a developer? No outlet wants that stuff, especially not on the regular. I like writing here anyway where I can write more freely and be safe knowing that if I fuck up, I’ve got good people who’ll pull me on it and as I’m in control of things, I can sort stuff out pronto. You can’t do that freelance.

And I’ve been ok with all this. In many ways, I still am. No-one makes me do this after all. Also, after being knocked down ill a few times in recent years, it’s been an amazing way to stay sane during some really rough times. Wouldn’t change it, y’know?

But y’know, cash. It’s a bastard.

We’ve tried a few things in the past to ease the burden but nothing’s really sat pretty. Once upon a time a now very famous developer offered, alongside some other folks, to make games we could sell to help ease the costs but I kinda found that awkward and didn’t know quite how to handle it so I let it drift off. I’m glad I did now because there were better things waiting for him and for the rest who offered too. We tried some donation-incentives on RR and that’s cool but again, it was people putting up work to help get out of a rut and I couldn’t square that with my conscience. So.

Patreon seems cool. It’s sort of like donations and stuff but you get to know that because of it, it eases some of the costs of doing what I do. It means that I can justify the time I want to spend writing more without thinking I’m taking away from doing something that would pay a bill instead or get the kid some shoes. And there’s so much stuff I want to write, so many old posts that need to be updated so they can be useful still, I’m sure the world of videogames isn’t going to quieten down anytime soon so I’m not going to be short of stuff to say, yeah?

But more than all that, I’m kinda tired of being just a hairy dude with opinions on things. There’s been times this past year where I’ve near walked away, so many times, but the thing is I still love videogames but I miss being able to write about them. The reality is that with no money in it, there’s only a finite amount of time I can put away to writing things so that’s how I end up writing stuff that’s just bouncing off a thing that happens and being man with opinions. It’s so much nicer writing about games, what they mean to me and what they mean in the wider context of the whole game-i-verse (which is totally a real thing) and I miss that stuff a lot. I’d love to be able to afford myself a few hours here and there to be able to write about videogames proper again.

And it means that maybe, after ten years or so, I might be able to claw a few quid back for doing the things I do. Even a few quid takes some of the worry away, y’know?

But I know times are tough, I know Patreon isn’t something that can be relied upon in the long term. Of course I do because these are the sort of things I spend my days thinking about. For now though? Hopefully it can be a way for people who value what I do to help make it easier for me to do more, to write more. And spare some time to sort out a proper archive of the really useful posts. (All two of them or whatever)

I still feel awkward about it, probably always will, but if you like what I write, what I do and want to help make it easier for me to do more? I’d be grateful for your backing. I’d like to be able to keep on writing, keep on talking about life in videogames and every ounce of support, mo matter how small really, truly helps me be able to do that.

So yeah, I have a Patreon now and I’d be most grateful for your patronage.

Thanks again.

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The Problem With Percentages

There’s lots of (rightful) noise about UDK going not-actually-free but we’re using FREE in big letters anyway. And by FREE (in big letters) what we mean is a revenue share that kicks in if you earn over three thousand dollars in a quarter. That revenue share is 5%.

There’s been a lot of “ppfft, 5% is a fantastic deal for what UDK is”

But the problem with percentages, especially when we’re talking videogame deductions, it’s really hard to tell. It might be. It might not be.

Depends.

So the threshold before you have to pay Epic any money is one game, built in their thingy, that earns over three thousand US dollars. That’s a little less than 2,000 squids in UK money. So far, so OK, yeah?

Let’s play with some numbers.

If you earn 3k RIGHT NOW and owe Epic 5% then what are we paying out?

$150. That’s not too bad, yeah? In UK money, that’s a little less than a hundred given recent exchange rates so that’s sort of not too much off the top all things considered.

But that $150 assumes you’re not paying anyone else out of this three grand. And this is where it gets a bit more complicated because you’re not paying off Epic with what you’re left with after everyone else has taken a cut, you’re paying off Epic out of the full amount regardless of other deductions.

So let’s just assume your work is being carried on one of those popular stores with the industry average of 30% being creamed off before you see your part. Suddenly, you’re not down $150, you’re down $1050. Out of $3k.

But what if there’s a publisher involved too? You might be looking at a 50/50 revenue split of what’s left after the storefront has taken their cut.

So we’re left with $1950 of our money from the $3k after the store has taken its cut. Split that in half and you’ve got less than a grand left to bank. And you’re down ANOTHER 150 dollars because the chances of the publisher taking the brunt of your engine costs are slim to none. So out of $3k, we’re left with somewhere in the region of $825 dollars. Or in UK terms, we’ve just gone from nearly a grand and a half in squids to around 400 of them, give or take.

And then we’ve got tax to pay out too. And maybe other revenue shares too because this is indie and some people pay artists, some people pay musicians, some people pay staff in revenue shares.

It all adds up and project or person depending, 5% may not be a good deal. But then it might be too, it depends.

There’s other things to take into consideration too, mind.

How do you hit $3k? For a lot of people this feels like an impossible number, for a lot of people it will be an impossible number. It’s always worth bearing in mind that most videogames simply don’t make money, many don’t really get the opportunity to make money because they don’t reach their audience for one of lots and lots of reasons and blah blah blah. But $3k isn’t the number it was a few years back.

$3k is an accidental iPhone hit, unlikely but it can happen and it can take you by surprise. See Flappy Bird or something. What was with that?
$3k is a middling Humble Bundle. They’re still hitting reasonable numbers unlike elsewhere.
$3k is a feature slot on a store at the right time.
$3k might just be a successful launch day or the majority of your earnings until much later. Who knows.
$3k is a good press placement that leads to more press and more press to a load of people all buying a game one day.
$3k is a YouTuber shining the spotlight on your game when you least expect it and linking to it too.

Sure, sure, most people won’t see that $3k anytime soon but the opportunities to land $3k are, for better and worse, more plentiful than they were only a few years ago. That doesn’t mean they’re accessible to everyone, not by a long chalk, but they’re there. Unreachable for many but there. Crucially here, the opportunity for that $3k to be a one off event for a day, a fortnight or whatever are more plentiful. We live in a time where it’s now possible to earn $3k one day and flatline back to negligible the next.

The good news? If a game peaks then drop again, next quarter it’s off the hook until it hits 3k again.

The bad news? If a game peak then drop again, it’s time to get paying out 5% on the 3 grand and whatever else trickles through for the rest of a 3 month period. It’s not unrealistic that the 5% could wipe out a substantial part of the rest of the sales, yeah?

It depends.

There’s the oft heard argument that if you earn lots and lots of money then paying that 5% won’t matter to you but well, that’s a personal thing right? It’s easy to sit there and talk about that kind of theoretical but we should all appreciate that’s going to depend from person to person. But Rob, the engine is amazing and…

But what if the game only uses the basics of the engine, something any other engine can do and none of the mega shiny features. What if the game makes millions and millions in a freak Flappy Bird-ism, is it right that the person who made the engine continually profits from that success? I can see you shaking your head at me right here and now but that’s one messy fuck of a question with shit flung everywhere and as I say, it depends.

A lot of this all depends on what you’re happy with. I can’t and won’t say whether Epic wanting 5% is a good deal because that’s stuff that’s dependent on circumstance, on what the person making a videogame feels. When it comes to tools, there’s no agreed ground here. Some will be happy to coin over the 5%, comfortable even. That’s cool. Some won’t. That’s also cool. Deals are personal, “good deals” very much depend on circumstance. We need to remember this when we talk about these things.

And we need to talk about what the deal means at the low end and at the high end and do it honestly. EPIC are fairly up front (once you find your way to the EULA anyway) of the what, why, where and how you reach this percentage but people will and do get caught out because they missed a bit. Maybe they didn’t realise that $3k can be from a crowdfunding campaign, maybe they didn’t know that’d take them over the line? Maybe they got a $3k advance from a publisher to tighten up the graphics on level three and didn’t know that took them over the line. Maybe either of those aren’t good deals? It depends.

So rather than talk about whether 5% is a good or bad deal, we need to talk about what percentages mean to our deals, about the costs and outlays of making games, the long term effects of making deals now which could come back to bite you on the arse in the future and as it’s becoming clear that there’s an increasing push for a part of a developer’s revenue share, that too. (Actually, on that last point I’ll debate Epic and engine makers but fucks sake DO NOT give revenue shares to YouTubers or anyone else entirely uninvolved in the process, fucks sake)

Because the people just coming into videogames aren’t born with an innate knowledge of the costs, the ways and the means involved in getting a game to store a lot of the time and maybe they won’t make the choice that’s best for them because no-one stepped up to explain what all these numbers mean.

That’s a conversation that’s vastly more important and vastly more helpful than working out on our fingers whether the work of the team at EPIC is worth 5% because we CANNOT decide this for other people, we can only empower them and educate and let them make their own choices. And maybe that choice is “well, let’s go with Unity instead” or maybe it’s “fuck this for a lark, I’m off, I can’t be bothered with this” or maybe it’s “YES! Unreal offers me the things I need to make my game and it wouldn’t exist without it so I’ll pay the 5% and fuck it all, away to freedom”.

It depends.

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Honest

I’m the last honest man in videogames and so is my wife.

I read with interest and slight bafflement the recent Polygon piece on the aftermath of Molygeddon, that with Peter now shushed and I guess, partly as a result of John’s barely saying boo to a goose interview, developers will be more guarded, more PR savvy and that’s it now, we’re done here.

We’re not done here.

It’s bafflement partly because in a post-Molygeddon world we’ve seen no shortage of old hands willing to shit themselves in public in service of distracting from having even the slightest light shone on the games industry, we’ve no shortage of them willing to say the most absurd and sometimes unintentionally callous things to prove that game development is hard (everything is hard, it’s how you carry yourself through the difficulties that counts) and well, come on, this is videogames, there’s never any shortage of someone saying some damn stupid shit. It’s a daily event, handlers or not. Talking unguarded is not and never was the reserve of just Peter.

It’s bafflement because sure, Moly may have been let loose without a handler but his honesty is still PR, it might come across as a more sincere, more open conversation but it’s still just PR. It’s all in service of the videogame and it’s often more than slightly dishonest in its claims. I honestly don’t know what’s preferable, being rolled out with a handler or the poor fuckers back at the studio who have to read about a bunch of features they never knew existed or were ever to exist until the interview went live. My hunch is to say that I’ll take the handler, it hurts less.

It’s bafflement because it assumes that the world hasn’t changed, that there is a shortage of interesting people who’ll talk to to the press, now there’s just folks who won’t say boo to a goose, no-one left for the press to sit down and interview unguarded. This is, to me, more an indication of a press not looking around them, unable to keep their ears to the ground and to find new blood to speak to. I’m not pointing fingers or looking for folks to blame, I’m in the middle of the videogame whirlwind and *I* find it hard to keep up with what’s going on around me. I’m not hamstrung by the need to make rent to pay people to do their work either.

There are hundreds of developers out there right now making interesting games and only a scant few millionaires and successful folk that the press give their attention to. There’s honourable exceptions, there always is and I tip my hat to folks like Mike Bithell who manage to ride the quote machines and be good human beings at the same time, no shortage of respect there.

I almost didn’t want to write this because I’m not in it to kick anyone, just kinda sad at all these kids, all these people riding the waves of a new openness in development, all these people desperate for a voice that aren’t being given their chance to speak, are having their ability to speak open and unguarded, their willingness to speak open and unguarded, written off because the industry is stuck in its ways and floundering to keep up with the new blood.

It’s always been this, of course, but in the thousand trailer preorder bonus jiggling new news cycle it’s more difficult to cut through the bullshit of an unending blast of PR from the big, the monolithic and the old. This is, of course, partly the point of those PR blasts, to consume attention. Yet we live in a world where most of the chances to talk about videogames go to the people who, even without a PR guard, have the least to say. Those increasingly irrelevant men, doing what they’ve always done.

There’s so many people in games now with so much to say, so much of worth and use but they don’t fit within the system. They don’t have organised PR, they don’t do press tours and in many, many cases, you won’t find them locked in a room at an event showing off their videogames to the press because that is still a privilege reserved for the few (as good as some indies are at reaching out and playing the game). We can’t keep on going as we always have done and expect the new blood to fit in with us and the old ways, we need to accommodate them somehow. Reach out to them for their words.

Rather than lament the virtual death of the last honest man in gaming, it’s time to find ways to reach these new people and let them speak. It’s something the music press worked out long ago, sure with its own imperfections and troubles but still, they look for the new, the upcoming, the gobshites and more.

It’s time for videogames to do the same. Good vocal people are out there, no handlers, fuck all. Let’s break the cycle of the old news and help usher in generation of generation of new game authors and give them their chances, their opportunities to speak. No tears for Peter or any of the other old guard, they’ve had a good run and they can always chime in when they feel like it. And they will because fucking hell, we’ve no shortage of people who don’t know when to shut up (*waves*). They’ll be OK, they’ve done OK.

Time to catch up with where games are now, eh? No more laments for the old guard and the old ways. On with the new.

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Rob on Eurogamer

I went and made some words for Eurogamer on games as the new rock and roll. You can read it here.

Truth told, it’s not the best piece I’ve managed to throw out into the world but I enjoyed it all the same. It gets, in a slightly circular manner, where it wants to go but it never really finds its rhythm. Of course, my method of finding the rhythm is usually to spend a lot more time editing than I had reasonable time for with this commission (being a last minute replacement and all that) and to pepper the piece with swears, which I’m not allowed to do for Eurogamer. So!

I pitched three ideas across originally, one on Glorious Trainwrecks and another on my love of B Games (there’s some crossover here!) and this one on games as the new rock and roll. When it came down to having to choose I had to weigh up how much time I had to give over to it and I couldn’t really sing the praises of Glorious Trainwrecks to the public without getting some quotes (doable but it’d be pushing an already tight deadline tighter) and well, B Games I had a shot at but again it was tough to say everything I wanted to say about why they’re necessary without more time to plot and plan.

So, yeah, games as the new rock and roll it is. It’s a subject I’ve harped on about before but I’ve been a broken record for thirteen years, why change now?

The piece itself is partly inspired by reading Bombed Out, an all too familiar story of growing up in the North, lurking around bands and then going off and doing something else instead. Even though it’s a good few years before I’d be dreaming about bands, there’s a lot of stuff that rings familiar to it. And a lot of stuff lost too but that’s how it goes, yeah?

Talking of lost, I lost a lot trying to bail it down to a sensible wordcount. About halfway through and I’d hit around 1.5k words about stuff I’d still need to expand on and so a night with the scissors was in order trying to salvage it into what you see now. Had it not been half term, I’d have probably given it another day of going over but the kids must play and the dad must nod at them sleepily whilst stopping anyone sticking their heads in the oven and well, here we are.

They might not be the best words I’ve put to page, it often might (as one commentator says) be like trying to untangle coathangers but it’s something I believe strongly in, it’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough because we’re too busy talking up our million dollar successes without looking at the ripples they produce and y’know, these kids are our future of games, they deserve a shout out.

As always, it’s about remembering that there’s humans involved in things. It’s never “just videogames”, there’s people, there’s hopes, dreams, intentions. Some noble, some not so much. But in a world of constant discussion around sales numbers, SKU, framerates and all that jazz, it’s all too easy to miss the how, the where and the who. I feel I stumbled a bit on this piece but judging from the reactions, the point didn’t get lost in my awkward prose so we’re cool, I guess.

For all these reasons and a few more, I’m grateful to Chris for letting me have an audience to bang this drum at.

Thanks, Chris.

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Health

I’m still not sure if I’d managed to wipe my arse.

Looking back, I kinda think I did but I can’t be sure. It’s all a bit, well, hazy.

I’d woken up on the bathroom floor, somehow I’d manage to land face first. Clearly I’d tried to steady the fall and I must have done something right as nothing seemed to be broken but there I was now, face down, my arse in the air, my pants round my ankles.

The ambulance guy looked down at me and made a joke about the other end making more sense or something like that. It made me smile for a few seconds, enough to take in what was happening anyway. I remembered the intense feeling of sickness, I remembered the feeling of everything slipping from me, like everything I was being drained. I remember sitting on the bog but I can’t remember if I’ve managed to wipe my arse. I think I have? It’s awkward. Is this even the time to worry about this? That I still don’t know is a source of much bother.

Minutes later I’m in an ambulance and rushing off to hospital. Thankfully after I’d pulled my pants back on. You’ve got to keep some dignity, right?

Really, if I’d have had any sense I should have seen it coming. Between spending time trying to make a videogame and doing what I do when not making videogames, I wasn’t so much burning the candle at both ends as taking a flamethrower to it daily. Nights and days blurred into one, 20 hours awake far more usual than unusual. Fucking hell, how did I even think I could do this? Turns out you usually can for, far longer than is actually healthy. Or at least I could and I did.

Far from the first time of course. When I was much younger, I’d get up and be in work for 10am, I’d leave work at 10pm and stroll down to the pub. From the pub a group of us would pile back to mine and we’d play games, chat and quietly party the night away until 4 or 5 in the morning and do it all again the next day. But I was young then, invulnerable then. Youth brought that for me, a heady mix of seeing all your future stretching out in front of you and profound doubts of whether you’ll see the future so fuck it all.

But two years ago? I shouldn’t have felt invulnerable, not at all. I’d had two major health scares, both times somehow luckily getting out of them alive. The first, the excruciating pain of being hours away from my appendix giving up the ghost, me scraping into hospital just in time, the second a near fatal bout of pneumonia where fortunately for me, my only real memory of the whole thing is Mrs B trying to shave round my oxygen mask. My beard still grows slightly off from that.

It didn’t stop me throwing myself down to London, hocked up on painkillers for a 7 hour ride, only a few days after getting my strength up enough to actually walk round the place, to go and sit on a panel and give a talk about videogames.

Because I’m fucking stupid, yeah?

It took falling off the toilet for me to realise that this isn’t on. When you’re in hospital and the treatment is pretty much being stuffed into the quietest room they could find on the least busy ward they could find and left to get some sleep… It’s gone wrong.

I left at 10 the next morning, feeling perkier than before.

I also left realising that I’m shit useless to anybody dead so maybe I should do a bit more to avoid that. Maybe life could be a bit healthier, right?

It came with another epiphany. I make videogames. I don’t just make videogames but I make videogames. I have my doubts sometimes as to whether I’m good at it, I don’t read my own press but Mrs B assures me some people think I am. I think they’re off it but OK. But videogames? Creative pursuits in general? They’re easy to get lost in. Easy to give too much to.

As I walked out of the hospital, took the taxi home, I figured that’s it, no more. Not no more videogames but no more giving too much to videogames. Because one day, it won’t just be a scare, it won’t “just” be collapsing off the bog and waking up to an amused ambulance dude. And what will my friends and family think of the guy who gave up his health for videogames? Will they say “Rob really loved his videogames” as they load the coffin into the hearse?

I hadn’t thought of that really, too busy with the extra half hour, the extra hour, the extra three hours making a thing. Too busy finding time and ways to make a thing. Whilst doing other, already exhausting enough, things. Too busy to know when to get up and take a walk, when to walk away. Cut half an hour off doing something else to find another half hour to make videogames.

3 scares on and it’s only the past year or so I’ve realised the answer is to know when to walk away. To try and learn what’s worth giving yourself over to. Instead of finding half an hour to multiple hours to work harder at making videogames, I should have found the time to go and do something else. To switch off, to be with friends, to be with family. To eat, to drink, to be healthier.

And it’s not a regret that I didn’t. Me then wouldn’t listen to me now anyway. It’s a lesson. And it’s a lesson nobody else has to really learn the way I did.

We’re more than what we create and in the grand scheme of the universe a videogame is not worth trading your health for. It’s hard to remember that when everything around what you’re making seems so important, so vital. I know this.

I’ve also seen the flipside and I know you don’t see it coming because we’re always better than that, immune to it. Until you find your own equivalent of being found arse in the air on the bathroom floor and trust me, you don’t really want to be found like that. You really don’t.

Take a break. Make videogames healthily. Look after yourselves. Be as comfortable as your circumstances allow.

Just take care, alright? And try and make sure you definitely know you’ve wiped your arse if you fall off the bog, it really bugs you otherwise.

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Glue

I’ve been thinking a lot about this piece on USGamer on whether console gaming can save itself.

I’ve been thinking, mainly, how little we notice about the changes that go on around us. Well, that and really wanting people to stop invoking the great videogame crash. As Rami put it only a day or so ago, we’re crashing all the time. Rami’s piece acts as a good, if coincidental, counter to some of the points in the USGamer piece but it’s also a worthwhile look at the current state of affairs. We are, as we’ve always been, not fine. Look, next person to invoke the spectre of the videogame crash gets their ears boxed, OK? I’m not putting up with this anymore. We’ll be talking about “are games art?” again at this rate.

What is broken about console gaming? We talk about budgets being unsustainable, we talk about mercenary monetization strategies, we talk about bugs but mainly we talk as if big budget AAA entertainment is the normal of videogames, rather than the effect of a few select publishers and developers consolidating everything to bet big to win big. We treat the videogame-as-movie-launch as if it’s the usual, not the anomaly that it is. And historically, it very much is an anomaly. It’s only really the latter stages of the last gen that brought this to the fore. It’s an anomaly that can and does produce great things, it’s also an anomaly that crushes great things under its weight too.

It’s an anomaly that was never sustainable, not really, but it is sustained all the same. It’s an anomaly built on poor labour conditions and a flow of money from outside videogames, from people who care little about the art, the craft and the beauty of videogames as well as for the people within the machine who do care about the craft and the art. It is an anomaly that shapes itself around the need to be big, to spend big and an industry that’s worked to optimise that, to narrow towards that whilst outsourcing to cheaper markets, setting studios up at tax-advantageous locations and closing studios that no longer fit into this narrow money making machine. To fix console gaming now, in terms of big box, is to try and fix ten, fifteen years of an industry getting itself ever deeper into financial holes and no amount of shouting from the consumer can solve that.

AAA gaming was and is a small part of all the videogames ever made, its domination of the enthusiast press, of mainstream discourse a necessary side effect of the need for big businesses to stay big. There are many great big box games but over the years so many more crushed by it, hampered by it, left abandoned by it. Over the course of the last generation, we’ve felt the rumbles but rarely managed to put two and two together that we’re not where we are now because budgets were unsustainable, we’re not where we are now because the manpower required to power the AAA machine is just too much, at least not entirely. We’re where we are now because this is where the quest for money led us and we were too distracted to notice the changes as they happened.

We lambasted the big development and publishing houses as they closed studio after studio, we sometimes mourned the loss of studios that had been on life support, that had been crushed by the demands of publishers long before the staff were kicked out on their arse. We turned our heads away as another story of a studio not receiving payments hit the news because our press is a consumer press that dips its toes only into the business side to save Nintendo every three weeks and report on console sales and successes. Sometimes we talk about the more dramatic closures but mainly, we’ve been content to watch the changes happen without considering what the changes mean. So much so that we barely noticed when new titles from one big publisher stopped appearing on the regular as they moved towards casual, sports and F2P leaving the traditional ground of AAA big box behind. We ask for more games whilst not asking where, when the studios are closed, these games are supposed to come from.

When people look to Sony and they look to Microsoft and they ask “but where are the games from the big publishers?” we need to say “well, they closed all the studios so there’s no-one there to make them”. Instead we just truck along, like we always do.

We want it all putting back together and it never can be, it never will be. We cannot demand it back, we cannot scream loud enough for the industry to put it back. The moments have gone. When we look at big box getting increasingly dodgy monetization options, we need to understand that this is part of what big box is, it is a lot of people with love and craft building videogames for entities designed to maximise profits and they have new ways of maximising those profits and in many cases, they are financially successful.

Once upon a time, they tried to keep the money trickling in through invasive DRM, logins and season passes but when there’s a more passive and successful way? They’ll choose that. In the past games would remain broken, unpatched because teams were disbanded to save money or moved onto other projects and the funding for fixing previous games was removed. Big box has always found its angles for this. If we’re saying a few bugged releases makes the model unsustainable, have we really forgotten the amount of games shipped full of bugs never to be patched, rushed to market half finished in so many ways so soon? Did Driv3rgate happen in vain? The last gen is filled with games that never found fixes at all yet it’s this gen that’s spiralling out of control?

The routes big box take now to optimise their moneys won’t last forever, they never do. There will be something else on the horizon soon enough once they’ve milked this one dry, there always is. This is not, in their terms, a failure. Quite the opposite, this is what success looks like. It’s a success reflected in record console sales and a booming videogame market too.

There is always change. In the present, why worry about running a studio when you can set up a label and get smaller studios and developers to carry the overheads themselves (with some budgetary sweeteners along the way, natch) in exchange for getting to play with some of the IP you’ve accumulated from buying studios, setting up new studios then closing those very same studios? The AAA big box machine finds its way, the press celebrates the return of a label, a name, a studio, an IP long gone. People buy the videogames made. The wheels continue to turn. We’re seeing this already with the resurrection of the Sierra brand, with Square Enix’s inept fumblings with The Collective. Elsewhere, Ubisoft are mixing small scale projects with their big box releases. The industry, console gaming, fixes itself on the industry’s terms.

In the meantime, change happens elsewhere, outside of big box. We can either shout at a brick wall to try and change companies who don’t give a single flying fuck or we can boost the alternatives, we can look around for those who can and want to shape the videogame industry in ways we’re more comfortable with. Support efforts that aren’t about keeping shareholders smiling as well as those that do. But that requires stepping off the news cycle as we know it and that’s a lot harder than it seems, right?

It requires opening up more avenues for developers to climb the ladder, it requires coverage from the press of smaller titles not just works from known developers flying solo or compounding their previous successes. The future requires more than the consumer to vote with their wallet in the near term, it requires a press reliant on big corporate ad money to flex its muscles and expand its coverage, a not insignificant ask given the current climate. It requires more open arms to an expansive world of videogames, from casual to traditional and all the alternative spaces that surround. Maybe this can’t come from the mainstream, maybe we need to build alternatives as RPS once did for PC games when PC games were on the back foot. The customers are there and buying these games but most of the games are under-supported in the press, struggling for coverage with barely a mention given over to them.

It’s not console gaming that’s in trouble, it is as ever, videogames as an industry doing what videogames as an industry does. Not sitting still, not ever, forever in flux. We need to understand that console gaming isn’t broken or spiralling to destruction and big box isn’t broken and spiralling to destruction, at least no more than they have ever been. We’re expanding and widening what videogames are and can be and we’re changing things faster than many of us can respond to. I propose the first step is to stop referring to big box as what console gaming is, to stop trying to understand it in terms of big box and big box alone because the ship has sailed and is never coming back to shore, at least not for a long while. Never say never in videogames, I guess. It’s been over ten years of digital-only as mainstream now, why are we still doing this?

It’s time to let in the new but more than that, to acknowledge that we all have our own parts to play in making the new the best it can be and working out where we fit in that and what we can do along the way. Console gaming doesn’t need fixing anymore today than it did five or ten years ago, consoles don’t need fixing, they’re doing fine in their own inimitable way. And as Rami says, at the very same time, they’re not fine too.

Such is videogames as industry. Welcome to videogames, please enjoy your stay.

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