Now that I have your attention with that, dare I say it, frankly inflammatory title, I’d like to introduce you to the world of game publishers.
I, being a young and supple boy at the age of twenty, can’t remember a time when publishers were not the gatekeepers to triple-A game production. EA, Activision, THQ (may you rest in peace, my sweet prince), Capcom, Konami, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony and more were in charge of what games got made and which ones didn’t. I always thought to myself, “Wilikers! These guys must really love games to be putting out so many of them!”.
Every game I had loved came from a developer under a publisher. Pokémon, a game by GameFreak, was published, in the U.S., by Nintendo of America. Fable, a game that I would still argue to this day as being quite fun to play, was published by Microsoft. Hell, I don’t even need to list anything here; every one of you know what I’m talking about.
But these days, it’s becoming more and more obvious to me that publishers don’t like games. With Konami basically pulling every stop it has in its magic bag of tricks to make sure people won’t buy their games, with John Riccitello telling gamers that “The game you bought was the game you got” as though it was a bad thing, with Bobby Kotick saying he’s only interested in a game franchise if Activision can release a new version of it every year for continual profits, I’m doubting more and more everyday of what I thought games meant to publishers.
And then it occurred to me that of course publishers love games. They love them very much, but not in the same way you or I love them. For, you see, in the brain of a publisher, videogames are not art, or even a fun way to spend an evening. Games are products, and nothing more.
This became evident after I kept seeing news articles about how things in the game industry need to die, even from the studios that make the games! There is this destructive culture around the games industry in which we need to kill off anything that wasn’t in a popular game. When co-op and multiplayer games became popular, we needed to kill single-player. When iOS games became popular, we needed to kill console games. This doesn’t make sense in a medium founded and maintained by artists. Art doesn’t have tiers or tools considered too outdated to use. When photography came around, we didn’t abandon painting because it wasn’t as high-resolution or accessible as the camera. Photos were just another way to experience visual art. So why are games not treated with the same retro-respect as other artforms?
This is because, in the eye of the industry, games aren’t art, they’re products. Products need to be top of the line. Products need to have more features than the other guy’s products, and if you don’t have the newest feature on your product, it gets left in the dust. If my game had multiplayer, and people liked its multiplayer, then your game needs to have multiplayer, or else it’s like a car without a radio and cupholders.
Thankfully, we still have a plethora of designers willing to ignore what is top of the line and instead focus on one or both of the two key fundamentals of game design: Is it fun? Is it interesting? Fez, TellTale’s The Walking Dead, Skyrim, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are just a few games that came out recently without a single hint of multiplayer. Some of them even brought back once-decrepit gameplay styles and breathed new life into them.
So, no games aren’t art, at least to a businessman. They’re products, meant to have the shiniest feature money can buy.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying games are not art. They are, that’s non-debatable.
You can follow Frank on Twitter @Fuhjem.