Game Company Failures

I’m a bit late to the party here, but I just read the Eating Bees post about game companies that fail, and the people that cover for them. Her conclusion seems to be that it’s usually easy to find out who’s to blame, but I don’t think that’s true.

There are lots of times when games fail through no direct fault of any immediate employee. In MMO’s in particular, the blame game is infinitely more complex. A typical MMORPG is developed by a team of 50-100 people, many of whom then promptly leave the company. They are replaced by other folks who actually run the game from day to day. It’s these folks, the live team, who have to clean up the messes, take the blame for any poor designs, and work their butts off to keep the game running. Sometimes it is fair to say that the live team ruined the game, but that’s hardly the common case.

In an industry with high turnover rates like ours, it’s not usually very useful to blame individual employees for a games’ failure. There are exceptions, but it’s not the rule. Fortunately, most of the game industry understands this, and a failed game is not usually a mark against somebody. (Unless they have only a very long string of failures to their name.)

Even the cases we think we understand aren’t likely to be as obvious as they look. A very well-known MMO completely revamped its entire gameplay long after the game had shipped, and they’ve suffered fallout as a result. It would be easy to guess at the logic behind this, but if you go by just the visible facts, your guess would be completely wrong.

Of course, since money is involved in making games, the buck has to stop somewhere, and it stops with the company. At a very practical level, it’s the company’s mess. They’re the ones who took a risk on making the game, and their risk didn’t pan out for one reason or another, so the company may go bankrupt as a result. But that doesn’t tell us why a game failed, or whose fault it was. Without knowing all the details, we are very likely to reach the wrong conclusion.

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2 Responses to Game Company Failures

  1. Sanya says:

    Perhaps I was too broad – I was trying to entertain as well as inform, and sometimes shades of gray are lost.

    It seems to me, based on my own experiences and those of my comrades on other developing MMOs and their live teams (you’re quite right to draw a distinction between the designers and the people who cope with the fallout), that management decisions are often not in tune with the realities of the customer base… but the management class is the one that is protected in the event of disaster. It frustrates me to see the 30K/year guy take the brunt of the pain in terms of relocation, job changes, and blame.

    I also prefer directness. For anyone to say “Here are the reasons for closing a studio – failure to XYZ. Oh, but I don’t mean THESE guys” is the worst kind of nonsense and entirely prevalent within some corporate cultures. Either the speaker does indeed mean “these guys” or he’s referring to a different studio entirely, and either way, his statement reflects poorly on him.

  2. Eric says:

    I completely agree about the unfair fates of the low-level content creators. It’s a sad state of affairs when a customer service rep, earning $30k a year, can get “promoted” to designer positions and find that they have to take a pay cut! They also get treated as disposable resources, when it comes time to lay people off: “we can always hire some more out of the QA pool!”

    There are so many people who want to design games that the actual earning potential of new designers is very low. I’m not sure what to do about that, but I guess I’ve wandered off topic anyway, so I’ll stop now. :)