Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's a Good Day to be a Flamer. Is it a Good Day to be a Gamer?

By now many of you have read that Jason West and Vincent Zampella have formed a new company, Respawn, with a juicy deal from EA.

First let's get this out of the way: I was wrong. In my Face!

Now let's set the record straight: I am happy for them. I wouldn't wish anything to be different. In fact, if I had any say, then there wouldn't be so many clouds around their departure and all parties, including Acivision, would be happy with the situation.

I wish there would be a precedent set that indeed made the greater part of my statement, that diversity of product is in jeopardy in the AAA business, wrong as well.

What flamers don't understand is that I don't wish that diversity is in Jeopardy, or that developers can't get new gigs, but the opposite. I predicted the trend, but I wish to be wrong. This is similar to predicting global warming. None of the scientists are excited for possible polar bear extinctions. They hope they are wrong, or that some unknown variable might change the course. I wish it was ALL really in my face.

Those of you that read my Response to Bonus Round 402 Section 3, and have a greater depth than the average flamer, will realize this is a more nuanced situation. Again, I HOPE that Vince and Jason do create a great new IP, but there is a lot not to like.

First and most obvious, this is not the workings of a healthy industry. If starting a new development team requires lawsuits by both parties (with a possible further one from Activision claiming tortiuos interference against EA), an uncertain future for the team at the publisher, and possible loss of royalties for the leaving developer then this really will be the exception to the rule.

How many developers are going to follow in their footsteps if this is the case? If Activision does sue EA, then how many publishers will give the needed financing the next new development team to leave? I don't want to weigh in on the case itself, but it is certain that a lawsuit is miserable for all parties involved and that it will take years to resolve. That is unless Jason and Vince are willing to give up a good deal of their royalties in a settlement.

Lawsuits are also a major distraction. Jason and Vince will be fighting in court at the same time that they are trying to build a new team. And building a new team is a major challenge. They will have to hire 100+ people and get an engine and development system in place. Most people aren't aware of how hard this is today. Once more for the record, I hope they succeed, but we are far from certain that they will be able to create a new team and a successful new IP at the same time. It is a massive undertaking.

There is some word that other members of IW may follow them, and this is relevant to the discussion about diversity. If enough of them leave that Activision feels it has to use another team to continue COD then we haven't increased diversity... we've just shifted a team to independence. This would be similar to the Bungie spinoff, which created an independent developer (in a much more peaceful way) but didn't add to the number of teams in the business. This still remains to be seen.

So it is a great day for flamers (what day isn't?), but is it really a good day for Gamers?

Time will tell.