A few weeks ago at the end of June I published an article on my national video games column at Examiner.com titled “The problem with the gaming industry is that developers make too much.” The article put forth the argument that the six figure salaries of developers and publishers were driving up production costs of video games which are then passed onto the gamer in the form of nickel-and-diming DLC, stuff like paid online passes along, and a myriad of other intangible costs such as the cancellation of potential sequels to great games (Tomb Raider lost hundreds of millions of dollars, do you think there will be a sequel?) and attempts to kill the used game market off completely because it is “hurting sales.”
Despite the fact the article received a lot of support from everyday gamers (at the time of this writing it has 9,000 Facebook likes), a very vocal minority consisting mainly of developers and publishers were enraged and demanded I be fired for even daring to write such a topic. Although the article had been up for five days at that point and had already been previously reviewed by staff at Examiner, Examiner.com decided to fire me for the sole reason that “major developers and publishers” had complained about it. They told me they weren’t going to talk about the content of the article, but they were trying to establish relationships in the industry with other writers on the site and did not want to jeopardize them. In other words, they simply wanted to keep developers and publishers happy so they can keep getting free stuff and exclusive content. What’s that tell you about the legitimacy of what you read on Examiner.com? There’s a term for this. It’s called selling out.
But major implications about the credibility of news sites aside, what’s it tell you about the state of the gaming industry if publishers and developers demand a journalist be fired for reporting something they don’t like? Should developers and publishers have this sort of power in the industry? Journalists aren’t supposed to write things to make publishers and developers happy. They are supposed to write things to inform gamers. They are supposed to truthfully write their opinions regardless of what they may be. If you think Call of Duty is the worst game ever, you should feel free to say so and not silence yourself just so someone else on the site can get Call of Duty: Ghosts for free later. That’s bribery. Too many “gaming journalists” today forget that fact. Award winning political journalist Glenn Greenwald has said, “If you are pleasing the people in power with the things that you are disclosing, you may be very good at your job but your job is not journalism.” If developers and publishers love you as a journalist, then you’re catering to the wrong audience.
On July 12th game developer Kaleb Aylsworth wrote a blog on gamasutra, a community site for game developers and publishers (surprise), that was supposed to act as a “counter” to my original article. In his response, he writes the only way to accurately compare average salaries between game developers and other jobs is to ignore overpaid executives in the industry which skew the average. Uh… what? S o in other words ignore the very people that my article was criticizing? That makes no sense. My article was about these overpaid so-called “executives” driving $70,000 sports cars and making hefty salaries. Why should they be ignored? They are the problem! The fact this statement appears in his counter article at all further proves my original article was correct.
Kaleb then goes on to say that game development costs aren’t getting out of control because people like Cliffy B are worth $15 million, they are getting out of control because games today are bigger, better looking, and more mechanically complex than games in the past. In other words, game development budgets in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are apparently necessary and worth it to create such “awesome” games regardless of what cost is passed onto gamers.
One of his Twitter followers told him he should get some quantifiable data to back up those claims, such as comparing Metacritic scores from old and new games. So that’s exactly what I did. I found that not a single one of the top five rated PC games was released in the last five years. Furthermore, the top rated Xbox 360 and PS3 game is over five years old as well. Games with “bad looking” graphics tend to sell the best, too. I linked him to this list of the top 10 best selling games of all time. Not one game on that list has blockbuster graphics. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason that Minecraft is a top selling Xbox 360 game. There’s a reason that League of Legends is so insanely popular despite looking cartoony (and also being free-to-play). There’s a reason indie games with small budgets and retro looking graphics are becoming more and more mainstream. When I pointed this out to Kaleb, he called me a troll and Twitter blocked me. As you can see by the comments from N4G screenshotted at the bottom of this article, gamers agreed that Kaleb was wrong. It’s not just about graphics or mechanical complexity. Things like story, innovation, and fun-factor are just as important if not more so and all those things can be created on small budgets. But developers and publishers applauded Kaleb for a “successful” counter to my article.
This is sort of like if I had written an article criticizing overspending in congress, then a congressman writes up a reply saying how crazy and wrong I am, and all the other congressmen applauding him for “destroying” me. How much weight should such comments truly be given?
This really goes to show the divide between publishers/developers and gamers in the industry is getting worse. Kaleb himself admits to this in his article but claims he is trying to repair it. No he’s not. Otherwise he wouldn’t have called my article “malicious journalism” simply because of what it reported on. Numerous developers called me names such as “another self entitled idiot gamer” in response to my article. Industry analyst and indie developer Sean Malstrom wrote a commentary about my article titled “Article saying ‘game developers make too much money’ is about how out of touch the Game Industry has become” and a lot of it was spot-on. Needless to say developers and publishers insulted his article, too.
Kaleb and other developers complaining about the article want you to believe it is talking about the average developer. This is actually a misconception due to their misunderstanding of what the term “average salary” means. Even Kaleb apparently did not know what an average was, based on some of his tweets. Average salary is not a measure of what an average developer makes. That would be called the median salary. Median salary means half of the people make less, half of the people make more. That is a more accurate measure of what the average developer makes. Average salary doesn’t do that. Average salary is skewed by the guys at the top who make ridiculous amounts of money. That’s was the entire point of the article. These guys are making too much. Their salaries needlessly add millions of dollars to game development and administration costs. Then these same people try to blame gamers for video games no longer being profitable. According to celebritynetworth.com, Cliff Bleszinski is worth $15 million. And yet he has the gall to write tweets that games are becoming no longer profitable because gamers are buying used games? Maybe he should look in the mirror before pointing the finger at us. Sean Malstrom likens him to “a guy in a top hat in a Rolls Royce telling the people in soup lines that he needs more money.” If you are a struggling developer that makes around or below the average salary quoted in my article, the article wasn’t about you.
Some developers attempted to discredit my article by saying the numbers were wrong. One even went so far as to say I “pulled the numbers out of my ass.” Apparently these people did not see the nine different referenced sources that I cited after mentioning a number including Game Developer Magazine and salary.com. I didn’t come up with or calculate these numbers. They are all referenced from verifiable, trusted sources. If someone doesn’t believe them, they should go to the source and talk to them about it. For example, one developer said calculating average salary is a useless statistic because it tells you nothing. He should tell that to Game Developer Magazine, then. They reported it. Not me.
What it all boils down to is gamers are sick of feeling like they are being taken advantage of. People don’t recognize the gaming industry anymore. It’s become more about making money and less about making fun, innovative games. A developer from Visceral challenged me to name one sequel that had been canceled due to its predecessor having too massive of a development budget. I only needed a few seconds to think of the perfect response. I pointed out that Dead Space 4 had been cancelled and asked her to tell me what the development budget of Dead Space 3 was. She replied, “sorry but I can’t tell you that.” I didn’t think so.
Exorbitant salaries of developers and publishers may not be the only problem in the gaming industry, but it is one problem. The backlash from developers and publishers over this article has brought to the surface what is perhaps the biggest problem in the industry today – the divide between gamers and industry professionals. I’m a voice for average gamers so calling me an idiot and saying I’m self entitled is insulting to lots of other gamers, not just me.
This isn’t the first time it has happened, either. Remember when Rab Florence left Eurogamer because they edited an article he wrote about journalists and PR being too close? You know, the one with the now- infamous picture of Geoff Keighley with the Mountain Dew and Doritos? Or what about when Jeff Gertsmann was fired from GameSpot for writing a negative review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men? How many more times do things like this need to happen? Whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve said, the industry can’t continue on this same path. Something needs to change, that much is clear.
***Editor’s NOTE: Alex’s views are his own and may or may not represent those of RealGamerNewz and the rest of their staff. This article will not be taken down for any reason(s) citing the 1st Amendment of the United States of America. Thanks, -RGN Staff