Consolidation can solve the worst aspect of the gaming industry
The game industry has gone through its fair share of trends over the past few years, with the explosion of battle passes, battle royales, and subscription deals. But perhaps the broader trend in the group is consolidation.
Microsoft has been a particularly noted investor in the most talented teams in the industry in recent months. Before announcing plans to buy Activision Blizzard for a staggering $68.7 billion earlier this year, Xbox Game Studios added Bethesda parent company Zenimax to its lineup for $7.5 billion. in early 2021. Like many observers, Bethesda founder and gaming industry historian Christopher Weaver worries about the impact of consolidation on creativity, but he also sees it as a unique opportunity.
“I’m still very suspicious [of] the more monolithic the structure and the industry, because what ends up happening is all the things that are anomalies are pretty much removed,” Weaver said. Reverse. “Anomalies are dangerous when you have these big public companies that have to satisfy shareholders in 90 days.”
In Weaver’s mind, corporate culture and shareholder expectations often don’t mesh well with the creative, collaborative process that is essential to creating iconic interactive experiences.
“You can’t tell a creative group, ‘We need this game by Black Friday, so you’re going to have this game four months from now, come hell or high water,'” says he. “That’s not a good way to get a quality product.”
At the same time, Weaver recognizes the value of the kinds of delays and limitations that a more traditional business environment can provide. It’s not possible to allow a development team to tinker endlessly on a project while the rest of the world moves on.
“It’s not the nine to five in their Brooks Brothers Suits who create these kinds of industries.
“A lot of it depends on the kind of quality of the people managing the people who ultimately create something,” Weaver says, “And that’s my concern.”
In Weaver’s view, a harmonious studio environment depends on management and creativity knowing their ways – and sticking to them.
“It’s not the nine-to-five in their Brooks Brothers suits that make these kinds of industries,” Weaver says. “These are people who are a bit on the sidelines. They happen to have a bug and they want to try to fix a problem or something.
Weaver points to Atari as a cautionary tale of the consequences of allowing businessmen to supplant freethinkers. A convoluted series of corporate consolidations, mergers and restructurings has left the once-iconic gaming brand a shell of itself. (The company was valued at $32 million in 1976, but sold in 1998 for just $5 million.) Today, the company’s businesses understand the odd VCS-Console, dubious cryptocurrency initiativesand a chain of branded hotels.
“We have the story to answer some of these questions. But assuming some of these people know the story, they won’t repeat it,” Weaver says. “I hope it will be a good thing. But time will tell.
Jacob Kleinman contributed reporting for this story.