Game Companies in Trouble? That Isn’t Necessarily Bad News For Games

By  |  Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 11:38 am

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the video game industry, once touted as recession-proof.

The carnage began last Thursday, when Electronic Arts announced a 14 percent drop in stock, followed by a cut of 500 to 600 jobs–6 percent of the workforce. THQ followed suit by sending pink slips to a third of the staff from one studio and shutting down at least four others entirely.

I have a soul, so let me first say that it’s terrible when people lose their jobs, especially at a time like this. But on the bright side, the overall quality of video games themselves aren’t likely to suffer as a result.

Let’s first consider what THQ is losing here. One of the shuttered studios, Paradigm Entertainment, has only produced Stuntman: Ignition since its acquisition from Atari in 2006. Like the original Stuntman game for Playstation 2, the sequel received mixed reviews, averaging a Metacritic score in the 70s. Juice Games, which will lose a third of its workforce, developed the Juiced series of racing games, which also received the critical cold shoulder. The other two closed studios were working on follow ups to the just so-so Destroy All Humans! series.

As for EA, the losses have caused it to delay another Harry Potter game (read: yet another cheap movie cash-in). EA Sports is also dropping the NBA Street franchise, which resembled NBA Jam in its arcade approach to streetball. Midway, another game publisher that is shedding money, is doing away with its similar NBA Ballers franchise. Those games weren’t bad, but EA’s logic behind the move is a breath of fresh air, as EA Sports President Peter Moore told ESPN:

We rely on other people’s IP for everything we do and we need to develop some new things … We need a mixture of experiences that are not only for the hardcore, ‘it’s in the game’ crowd. But if Wii Sports has taught us anything, it’s that people will sit there and play big head tennis all day long. We need to be able to tap into that audience.

The video game industry is criticized in some circles for being risk-averse, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here as EA is willing to drop a respected franchise in search of new gamers. Combine Moore’s comments with other recent remarks about EA’s willingness to sink money into new intellectual oroperty in other genres and you’ve got the potential for some really great games. We can only hope for a similar attitude at THQ and Midway.

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