The times are changing.
Ever since the news broke early last week when Columbus Nova acquired Sony Online Entertainment - or perhaps more fittingly, Sony sold their online games development studio. From a business standpoint this makes complete sense for Sony. The bigger parent company has never really been directly involved in personal computers, even though they've been a technology and electronics giant. It was probably the birth of the PlayStation that led to the company into joining online games development with 989 Studios, but it was probably a move they never should have made.
I mean... I'm certainly glad they did, but it has long been time for that company to move on.
SOE has specialized extensively in online PC gaming. Yes they've done some PlayStation work, but I would argue that those games have been examples of the studio's versatility; not necessarily their expertise. Going cross-platform with DCUO and Planetside2 has even felt kind of awkward - but appears to be mostly working. It's a testament to the talent and ability of the staff in achieving the small bit of console success they've had thus far. So when the news came around of the acquisition, while sudden, several days to process the information has brought me the much needed clarity to put some of the pieces together.
But then all the layoffs happened.
Its Always Darkest Before the Dawn
Yesterday, if you aren't already aware, Daybreak Game Company (formerly SOE) pursued some wholesale restructuring and reimagining of its management framework from community, to production, to even core vision. Many fan-favorite developers and team members that the community held (and still holds) very dear, had to part ways with their Daybreak family. The whole event was heart-wrenching, for the team, but also for the communities that follow their work. We're not stalkers by any means, but we do care about the people that are making our games; largely because they also care so much about us.
If anything SOE/Daybreak has been nearly legendary with its community interaction throughout its history (especially compared to other equally-sized MMO-genre giants). Those teams and individuals have worked tirelessly to keep an open and clear line of communication between the players and even its most senior management. I'm sure there are hundreds (or thousands) of fans and players that could raise their hand if I asked whether John Smedley or Dave Georgeson has personally responded to one of their tweets. From top to bottom, the company has been as transparent as humanly possible, especially with their latest slew of projects (Landmark, H1Z1, EverQuest Next, etc.)
They've always held the upmost respect for their player-bases and have constantly shown that they are not willing to lower their standards or drop the bar down even one inch when it comes to serving their players. It took the events from yesterday to really open my eyes to the reality of all the layoffs that just happened; and also of the layoffs that happened a little more than a year ago when the company downsized its campus. All of those things happened largely because the company was unwilling to continue production on what would have been (in their eyes, and ours) sub-par products.
Those people lost their jobs at least indirectly because they would not bend their standards of quality or community involvement down to the level so many other studios have flirted with over the years.
A lot of my thoughts on that were also influenced by a recent reddit post by former Planetside 2 producer David Carey. Originally coming to the site to post a farewell, he noticed a lot of anger and distrust focused on the company that acquired them, Columbus Nova. He chose to abandon his original intent and try to provide some much needed insight into everything that just happened, even going so far as to label the so called perpetrators of his firing as "gracious, white knights". I'll let you read that post for yourself, as it is well worth the two minutes it takes to read. It has so much more to say, and from a much more credible source than myself.
The point is, Columbus Nova shouldn't be the target of our disappointment or anger.
The Real Truth of the Matter
If you want to be mad at anyone, you have to be mad at yourself - or at least the mentality of the developers in that they weren't going to put the inclusivity of their coworkers before the quality of their gameplay (which above all else is being designed for our own enjoyment). That sends a very strong and very positive message to me about the future direction of this rebranded and half-gutted company.
Yes. It hurts that Dave Georgeson, Linda Carlson, Tiffany Spence, Jeff Butler, Steve Danuser (and way too many other awesome people for me to go on listing here) are gone.
In many ways they were the lifeblood of the company and certainly much of the vision and soul behind some of the newer titles currently in development. That's a true statement because all of their employees are the lifeblood of those games. The fan reaction that's happening because of who got laid off isn't an insult to who is left (or who was making the decisions), but rather a compliment to how amazing those people that are now gone actually were.
The fact that the community reacted like this is just proof of how much they were doing right as a whole company. From top to bottom they've been taking the high-road whenever they can afford to - and even sometimes when they couldn't afford to. That is real character; and those people will be dearly missed. However, life will go on at Daybreak. That's why so many big-name cuts were made. Those people were some of the senior visionaries and leaders within the company. The fact that they were let go out of everyone should be a badge of honor - because it means that they didn't only perform their jobs with flying colors, but they also trained their subordinates and fellow team members to be capable in their absence.
Now we just have to count on those who remain to step up and follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
Many assistant producers and newer, less experienced team members are going to raise their own personal bars and embrace leadership positions and take charge of new tasks and roles. As painful as all the losses are, it's an internal opportunity like no other. Additionally, for those let go - they are all more than capable of finding new jobs elsewhere, for all the reasons I listed above and many more. Each and every single one of them are going to get the opportunity to reevaluate themselves, their careers, and their own individual visions and hopefully set out on a new adventure inside the industry (or even outside of it, if they want to). It's an opportunity for everyone involved, retained or departed.
Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to be fun? Not all the time, and it will probably even be quite painful at first... but that's just how these things go.
Looking Reality in the Mirror
The way I look at it is this: life will always be full of highs and lows, of achievements and challenges, set-backs and opportunities; and no matter what, everyone has the equal ability to look at those from a lens of positivity or a lens of negativity. Even we the players have that choice. We can look at everything that's transpired with Daybreak/SOE over the past couple of years and grow sour, malcontent, angry, and start distancing ourselves - or we can embrace the change; however painful, as a new opportunity, ripe with potential.
There are some huge positives to everything that just happened. Daybreak became very independent with this transaction and this painful trimming of talent and personnel. They have the opportunity to achieve some things that were never possible before, under the previous ownership and in the former financial/management structure. That's probably a big reason why Dave and Steve and so many others that were let go are so positive about what they left behind and of what their friends who remain can still achieve.
I can't tell you if that's all going to come true or not, but I do know they will at least have a fighting chance. Which... is something they didn't really have before.
Sony's absence of presence in the PC universe was only hurting SOE's potential. The size of the studio, with the current level of income was apparently unsustainable for the near future. The sweeping goals and changes this company has had for its latest lineup of games (that have only really occurred to keep the traditions of quality and community-first alive) necessitated the losses that just happened. Yes, while they will immediately hurt the team, they ultimately provide an opportunity at longevity and new growth that just wasn't possible before, given the same circumstances.
Anyone in the gaming industry can tell you how unpredictable this business is.
It Ain't as Easy as it Looks
It's a volatile job-field with so many changing parts and a continuously shifting market that is made even more dangerous by the constant evolution of its foundational technology. Even we here at TenTonHammer are trying to weather a storm of our own as new tech is constantly demanding reform in how we produce our content, provide our content, and somehow monetize our services. You're seeing it everywhere in the industry - particularly with online gaming.
Massively and Joystiq felt it (closure), Daybreak is feeling it (this whole entire article), NCSoft (poor Wildstar returns) and Blizzard (abandoning the Titan project) are feeling it. Everyone is feeling it. It's survival of the fittest, and development studios, game publishers, and content coverage sites like our own must adapt to overcome. If we don't, we perish; and all these unique human beings with all their talents and skills won't be able to keep providing you with amazing gameplay, thrilling titles, or insightful coverage anymore.
It requires tough choices, and not just on our part as content creators - but on every player and consumer's part as well. Everyone is going to have to dig deep and decide what truly matters to them as gamers. There just isn't enough money to go around and people are going to have to start choosing who they want to support and then actually putting their money where their mouth is. Game development isn't free. Game production isn't free. Game coverage of high quality certainly isn't free, and people need to stop pretending like it is.
For studios like Daybreak, they will live or die based on the quality of the games they produce and whether or not people will consistently pay for the great products they're constantly using. The same goes for us here at TenTonHammer. Sustaining revenue isn't raining down on us from the heavens through some miracle of advertisers throwing money at us for traffic and click-through advertisements (that most people are blocking anyways). It just isn't a successful business model anymore. There's no money there. It's unsustainable.
Put Up or Shut Up
It's a greater problem with so many players (and people in general) thinking that everything is free and that they can somehow work the system to always pay bottom-dollar for top-tier products and services. Economies just don't work that way. If everyone is trying to buy low and sell high, everything collapses. Some people have to be willing to invest - and in my opinion, that should be everyone. If you like a game, or you like a service - open up your wallet and pay for it. The people providing those things aren't paying their bills with your compliments, good reviews, or friendly demeanor. Nice things cost money, and yesterdays tragic losses for Daybreak are a microcosm of that fact.
I can promise you right now that every high quality game, and every interesting coverage website will disappear if everyone keep playing and consuming for free.
We've got to support each other and that takes more than just wordy pleasantries or good intentions; you've got to back it up with your actions. If that upsets you or offends you, I apologize; but it's reality for every single one of us working in this industry and providing entertainment and information for everyone out else out there. It won't survive if someone isn't willing to pay someone to do it, and lately it feels like most people in (particularly the younger generation) feels like they don't need to pay for anything.
It won't take long for everyone to realize the critical error and fallacy of that line of thinking, as the reality of economics smacks them right in the face, and hopefully that happens sooner than later.
Until the greater gaming population figures it out, many more people will lose their jobs to attrition. So before you go throwing your money at the "next best thing" that's getting advertised to you, think very hard about it. Consider if it's something you're really behind or really want to enjoy. If it is, then contribute. Do your research. Spend that extra $20 you would have blown on some crap-game you never really looked into before purchasing on something that really matters to you.
Pay the people that are producing meaningful content and games that you really do enjoy and stop wasting it on people and companies that are only thinking about your wallet and not what you really care about.
I'm not writing this article just to get a paycheck (like many bloggers and journalists out there do). I'm writing it because I actually believe in each and every word I've said above. I am passionate about games, the progression of the industry, and the health of the gaming community at large. I want to enjoy playing great games with awesome people and I am more than willing to pay for that experience.
The real question I've been getting at here is: are you?
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