Games Industry Death Toll

Figured I’d start trying to keep this all in one place. Keep in mind these are just the ones I can find news stories for. I know for a fact of other studios losing folks but since I don’t have a source to quote, I’m not adding to the list. Some line items aren’t particularly clear about a number of layoffs, but I will make an educated guess when I sum at the bottom.

Updated: 2/13/09

Human Surplus
Studio Layoffs Source
THQ 600-700 + 3 Studios Source 1 Source 2
EA 1200 + 9 Studios Source 1 Source 2
Disney 200 + 1 Studio Source
Nexon 90 + 1 Studio Source
Sensory Sweep Can’t pay anyone Source
Microsoft “Bulk of” 1400 + >1 Studios Source
Eidos 14 + 1 Studio Source
Sega 30 Source
Crystal Dynamics 30 Source
Free Radical 0? Updated! Source
Factor Five ~100 + Studio Source
Aspyr 1/3 of workforce Source
Turbine A Number >0 Source
Midway 25% of Workforce + 1 Studio
(~225 by Yahoo Finance estimates)
Source
Sony Some fraction of 8,000 Source
Brash 20 Source
NCSoft 70-90 Source 1 Source 2
Ensemble Unknown, >0, + Studio Source
LucasArts ~100 Source
Activision Blizzard ~300 Source
Sega 560 Source
Obsidian 20 Source
Gearbox 15-25 Source

My official guess at this time is 5,700 or enough to fill about 38 Boeing 737 airliners.

Perfect Balance

Perfect Balance is an excellent and simple web-based physics puzzle game. Get all of the tetrids to balance to move on to the next stage. I spent the evening addicted to this yesterday and made it through the forty “Harmony” stages. The “Inferno” stages are less interesting because they all unlock simultaneously, so there is no measure of your progress.

I think what is so compelling about the game is that there are multiple solutions to many of the puzzles. If you balance in some ridiculous, yet successful way you advance just the same as if you had balanced the way the designer intended. If you have a spare hour (who doesn’t in this economy?), check it out.

Most MMOs Don’t Do It For Me

Short notes for a Thursday morning:

  • My CBS Evening News spot has been moved tentatively to Friday, I’ve heard. I guess the Congress signing a massive pork-tastic spending bill was a more important story. Yeah, spending $2 billion on national parks is really going to stimulate the economy. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
  • I’m blown away by the animation, environments and characters in Prince of Persia. I was about to complain that no one is giving them any credit, then I looked at the AIAS nominations and the game is nominated in Art Direction, Animation and Adventure Game. Whoops. I’m really enjoying the game, but it has some serious QA issues. Still probably the best in the series, though.
  • I updated the “About Me” page to better reflect my current situation.
  • Even after having the greatest celebrity cast of all time, Red Alert 3 ups the ante by adding Malcolm McDowell and the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to the cast for the expansion. And I still won’t buy the game because I really don’t care for bread and butter RTSs. How much did all these celebrities cost? Red Alert can’t exactly be tearing up the sales charts, can it?
  • Yinzer point. If you are going to have a food-off between Pittsburgh and Phoenix, then maybe you should have a Pittsburgher submit the Pittsburgh choices and a Phoenix….er Phoenixite? Phoenixian? submit for the Cards. While the Primanti Sandwich is often featured due to it’s uniqueness, I think most Pittsburgher’s would call it overrated. Vincent’s Pizza is an inspired pick, although burgh snobs like to call Mineo’s tops. I personally give the nod to Vincent’s. They wrap the Pizza in butcher’s paper instead of boxing it. How blue collar is that? But not going to The O for the hot dog is silly. And I don’t even drink beer, but a beer with a damn chili pepper in it is just a stupid and nasty idea. Where’s the Arizona equivalent of Heinz Ketchup, Pierogies or O Fries?
  • Good old Tom Chick explains why MMOs are crap. MMOs don’t have to be crap, but his five reasons are easily on my top fifteen or so reasons why I hardly ever play MMOs. I’d add to the list the following (with the caveat that there are some MMOs that avoid these issues):
  1. Required time investment: This ties into Chick’s complaints that he can’t play with his buddies unless he is the same level and his complaint regarding subscription fees. I’ve seen how WoW ruins lives. And for what? So that you can have a Lvl MAX_LEVEL? I don’t want to have to “pay my dues” to get into the meat of a game. This counts double on Korean MMOs where if you don’t live in the game, you can’t even play the game. How hard is it for other MMOs to get off the ground when they know people won’t quit World of Warcraft for fear of being left behind? Why can I play Left 4 Dead online with people of uneven experience and have a great time but I can’t on a stat-based MMO?
  2. Ridiculous patois:  I had to read the “Aggro” paragraph in the linked article three times before I understood what was being said. Aggro, mezzer, dps, tank, gimped, buff, nerfed, pally, gank… speak English. The developer can’t regulate this directly, so I don’t particularly have a solution without going all word police like the French.
  3. Reliance on Tolkien or Star Wars: Everquest, World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, Meridian 59, Warhammer, LoTR Online (obviously), The Old Republic (obviously), Guild Wars, Final Fantasy XI, even MapleStory. And you thought the WW2 setting was tired! Puzzle Pirates dodged this bullet pretty well, so did City of Heroes. What else? Goal Line Blitz doesn’t count. Of course, non-MMO RPGs have this disease just as bad. Here’s a suggestion: one based on the American Old West. Here’s another: a Ghostbusters MMO. Or even put the Tolkien archetypes in a new setting. How about the Great Depression?
  4. Skinner-esque reward structure: Grind grind grind. Oh, look a food pellet. Grind grind grind. Oh, what fun. How about some puzzles? Or some social objectives? Warhammer’s public quests have the right idea, but all the public quests I took part in were just aggregations of personal quests. Instead of you killing four rats, there were ten people killing forty rats together. It’s a start, I suppose.
  5. Having to buy the box AND the subscription: My boss made me try Warhammer Online a few months ago. There was no “demo” per se. I had to buy a box just to check out the game. Yes, I got a “free” month with it, but I didn’t end up caring for the game. Console games let me try before I buy with downloadable demos in many cases, but many MMOs don’t. Let me download the free trial and then if I want to extend, add the price of the box to my first month’s payment and mail it to me.
  6. Thirteen year olds. I’d love for an MMO to have a server where you have to be over the age of 21 and where acting like a dick is a bannable offense. Sure you will get a lot of false positives, but those who remain will engage in a civil and helpful gaming experience. Make it something that one can earn, a platinum club.

Fall of Duty

Let me chronicle you the steps I had to take to get the Operation: Anchorage expansion running for Fallout 3:

  1. Read that the expansion is available on a blog.
  2. Open Steam
  3. Launch Fallout 3.
  4. Go to “Downloads”. The menu says “No Content Available”. Well… that’s a lie, right?
  5. Click on “No Content Available”. This opens the Games for Windows Live Browser (?!), which I will dub G4WLB.
  6. Look in G4WLB for Operation: Anchorage. Oh, there it is.
  7. Click on ‘Buy’. It is 800 Microsoft Bux. I have 790. Okay, I click to add more.
  8. My web browser is now opened up on MS’ site to buy points. FOr those keeping track, I now have Steam, Fallout, G4WLB and Firefox open.
  9. Do the things required to add points to my account.
  10. Downloading! Doop doop doodle doo.
  11. Close Firefox, G4WLB and Exit Fallout.
  12. Relaunch Fallout.
  13. Resign in to Xbox Live because my auto-sign in is now disabled for some reason?
  14. Click on ‘Downloads’. Click on ‘Operation: Anchorage’. Nothing happens.
  15. Load game. Whoops, don’t load the save at the end of the game when you can’t go back into the Wasteland. That won’t work.
  16. Load an earlier save. Hm. Don’t see anything about Operation: Anchorage here.
  17. Minimize Fallout. Fire up Firefox.
  18. Ask the Google Gods how to fire up the $10 expansion I just bought.
  19. Google Gods are generous and let me know I have to stand around for a few minutes and then a new radio beacon will appear. That makes sense?
  20. Go back into Fallout, load earlier save. Walk in circles for a minute.
  21. Enjoy Operation: Anchorage!

I’m sure the process is much more streamlined for console players, but it seems like the process of acquiring and using the downloaded content wasn’t thought through very well for PC users, especially considering that they knew they would be having DLC packs. I imagine the disconnect between the Bethesda and Microsoft teams is the culprit.

I finished the pack in one sitting. It took a little under two hours for me to complete.

Operation: Anchorage is much more Call of Duty than it is Fallout 3.

I hate to say that because I was really looking forward to having a new story with new characters, new quests, new toys and new playgrounds to abuse said toys. What I got was a short linear shooter, with barely any story, memorable characters or surprises. There are ZERO side quests, you just progress from Point A to Point B to Point C. Periodically, you happen across a few Red Chinese thrown in your way in a very FPS-like cadence. The characters you meet are your standard gruff military stereotypes with little imagination expended on their dialogue.

With the high quality of the Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles expansions for Oblivion, I was expecting much, much more.

Time is Worthless?

Maybe the years at EA have dulled my nerd rage receptors, but I do not understand the universal outrage over the “Time is Money” downloadable unlock for Skate 2. For those unaware, one can buy the $5 pack which unlocks all locations, skaters and gear which can be earned through the career mode.

For those folks who don’t want to spend 30+ hours on the game, but want to see all their purchase has to offer, they pay a premium and can enjoy the game at their leisure sans grind (Grind meaning repetition for advancement, not sliding on a rail). For those who want to run through the game the old-fashioned way, that path is available and free. Their game is completely unchanged. In fact, the free way will be more rewarding because they will be gaining skills via the challenge curve that the designers intended rather than jumping around all willy-nilly.

When did selling something that gives value without causing any externalities become an evil? This isn’t ZT Online where he who has the most money wins; it is simple market segmentation. It isn’t evil that the Post Office charges more for two day shipping than for first class, is it? After all, it is the same mail carriers bringing the package to the door, right?

This isn’t even a case of nickel-and-diming consumers, where one thinks that they get the full package at a $60 price point, but then realizes that they can’t get the full experience unless they pay $2 here or $5 there. The $60 game contains everything. Why not be mad at Bethesda for the Broken Steel expansion to Fallout 3? You mean we have to pay to get the rest of the story? Revolting!

Or is it just that consumers look at the cost of producing something as the price that they should pay? Since Skate 2 sans Time is Money costs the same (within a small margin) as Skate 2 with the DLC to produce, does that mean to the horde that they should be valued the same at market? Is that where the disconnect occurs?

Value to Consumer Cost to Produce Outrage Level
Oblivion‘s Horse Armor Low Low High
Skate 2‘s Time Is Money High Low High
Rock Band tracks that
no one cares for
Low High Indifference
Fallout 3‘s Broken Steel High High Low

Seems to be.

A Winner Is You

Remember when I said that Kotaku commentators were the lowest form of life with the exception of Youtube commentators and lobbyists? I may actually have never said it, but I’ve insinuated it. And if I insinuated it, I now realize I was much too harsh.

In this Kotaku post about EA throwing some party at the Super Bowl, user “Cenobite” makes the following remark:

I vote all those let go from EA should be the ones allowed to go to the superbowl [sic] and get free drinks at this party!

A diamond in the rough this Cenobite fellow is. A diamond. 😉

News About News

To add to the wonderful exposure from the Orlando Sentinel and WDBO, I just finished an interview this morning on-camera with the CBS Evening News (the national one with Katie Couric). They are doing a story on how the economy is affecting those in diverse fields. My girlfriend says I did great, but I felt very self-conscious.

Anyway, it is supposed to air this Wednesday during the primetime edition at 8, but it may be bumped off. I’ll update this post when I know more. Very exciting, no? I’d just rather have been interviewed about doing something awesome rather than being a chump who was laid off.

Back to looking for a job!

UPDATE: Segment moved to Friday at 6:30pm.

Between Awareness and Interest

Superhero Tom Chick swoops down from his Fortress of Solitude to deliver a fantastic top 10 of 2008 list. The list is great for its breadth but the amount of nerd head asplosions that happen in the comments are just sweet sweet icing. What is it about nerds where they (we) need to engage in this incestuous doublethink where only the christened games are allowed to get kudos and if you dare ignore them then you get the scarlet letter?

I added EndWar back to my wishlist after reading that list simply because the game hadn’t been explained to me properly in any of the “mainstream” reviews. I suppose this is more the fact of Ubi’s lack of marketing versus reviewer ineptitude.

As far as I am concerned, the industry does a generally crummy job of marketing. The focus seems to be on maximizing title awareness over converting disinterest into sales. I honestly don’t know what makes Gears 2 different from Gears 1 if anything, but I do know it exists and is a very graphically impressive game. I knew EndWar was a strategy game with voice commands, but beyond that my interest was not piqued, so I didn’t dig farther. Some folks have told me that Tomb Raider: Underworld is a great game. But I haven’t played a Tomb Raider in a very long time. Unless marketing / PR can tell me why it isn’t just another Tomb Raider, I’m not going to bother to look.

Who will bother to look? The people who are already going to buy the game because they are fans. That’s hardly a good marketing spend, is it? Eidos’ marketing did a fine job of letting me know a new Tomb Raider existed, but since I already didn’t care about the franchise, what good did that do them? I of all people know exactly the constraints that one is faced with in a company with limited resources, so I don’t necessarily blame the marketers for not marketing successfully to me exactly. I probably couldn’t have done a better job, but then again, I’m not in marketing.

I’m going to throw it out there and say that PopCap does the best at this. They have a natural advantage since their games are simple to grok, but every time I see an ad or story about them, I always know exactly what is going on in their games. I bought Bookwork Adventures and Peggle without having anticipated their release – those purchases were based simply on good marketing that informed me about the games succinctly and let me know that those were titles I’d like to buy. It worked. My expertise isn’t in marketing, so I can’t tell you why it worked, but only that it did.

Is any other company in the industry particularly good at this?