A few days ago, I read an opinion piece about a formerly free-to-play game that has received, shall we say, a bit of a negative response in the past few months. The reasons for that are myriad, and you’re probably familiar with the tale surrounding Landmark and Daybreak Game Company/Sony Online Entertainment, so I won’t try and make a case for or against it here.
The author does a reasonable job of laying out her reasons for why people should ease up on Landmark, even while admitting its flaws and the failings of its company. I think I have to disagree, however, with one of her reasons for ceasing criticism, even harsh criticism, of Landmark:
But it has continued, and in cases this hate is to an extreme that is not only unnecessary but damaging — to the industry, the community, and even the haters themselves.
I’m not totally sure if the author is saying that Landmark being reviled, and possibly suffering for it, is bad for the industry, or if the criticism itself – making gamers look like petulant trolls – is bad for the industry. It’s probably the latter, but I’d like to talk a little about the former, a version of which I’ve heard on several occasions. If Landmark, or any other game, is forced to shut down is that bad for the gaming industry? Should we root for every game to survive, even one as disappointing and small in scale as Landmark?
Shut down but not out
We touched upon this a few weeks ago on the Free-to-Play Cast, when discussing several other game shutdowns, and I was solidly of the opinion that no, a small-ish game shutting down doesn’t really impact the gaming industry as a whole. A few Ubisoft games getting the hook doesn’t have any effect on the gaming universe as a whole and may even be beneficial.
This doesn’t mean that I think nothing bad comes as the result of games shutting down, but those effects are localized. It’s sad for the players, few in numbers as they may be, and almost certainly worse for the people who worked on the game, who may find themselves reassigned or, in the worst case, looking for new employment.
If there’s a positive to consider, though, it could be that those developers will move on to a more active game — learning from their previous mistakes, no doubt — with a better chance for success, and the players will also find something new, bolstering that game’s active population, profits, and ultimately, development.
Still, a relatively small number of people needing to find a new hobby or job doesn’t mean the sky is falling all around. To use a sports analogy, it’s a little like a backup player announcing his sudden retirement. Unfortunate for him, sure, but it’s not going to have a major effect on the team or the league as a whole. If a big game – the equivalent of a star player on your sports team – or a large number of smaller games shut down, then there might be a problem, we haven’t seen anything like that. Nosgoth, The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot, Magicka: Wizard Wars, and yes, Landmark, just aren’t on that level of importance.
Plenty to go around
There is the counterpoint, though, that the gaming industry isn’t just a few big players, and that smaller, niche, games serve an important purpose. Even a game in a bloated subgenre, like MOBAs or CCGs, probably adds something unique to the mix and is a product that future developers can learn from. Heck, I even once said nice things about Black Gold Online’s perplexing loot system, if you can believe that.
There’s the belief that any “shrinkage” in the gaming industry is a bad thing, that more choices and more options for gamers are always better. While I can believe this on a theoretical level, I struggle to accept it on a practical one. As I said a while back, there are already more games than any of us could possibly play. While I don’t suggest an actual “freeze” in development like I proposed in that article, I also don’t think it’s terrible if a few low-populated games went away. There’s still plenty out there to enjoy.
I’m not suggesting we root for games to shut down, or revel in their misfortune, as the author of the original article seems to think is a big issue with Landmark. I’m just not going to shed too many tears if they do get ripped and then go away, even when it’s a once-beloved, but now shrinking, game, like City of Heroes or Star Wars: Galaxies. Maybe if it was a big, in-or-near-its-prime title, but I won’t sweat the small stuff. The gaming industry is probably a bit bloated as it is, so “trimming the fat,” so to speak, doesn’t do any real harm.
A final point to consider: Some games have shut down this year. More will shut down next year. That’s always news, even for smaller games, but there’s usually less to say about new games being announced. If 30 new games launch next year and 10 shut down, people will fixate on the 10 shutdowns and declare that the sky is falling, despite the overall addition of 20 new games. I think there’s still a net positive in terms of the number of games that are available, and as long as that’s the case, I’m not worried about the gaming industry – even if a few of the lower-tier titles have to close up shop.
What do you think? Should we hope that all games stay alive? Is it bad for the industry when they shut down? Or is it a natural part of the industry, and not something we should worry about, at least in small doses?