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The cost of disruption Exclusive GDMag Exclusive
The cost of disruption
May 13, 2013 | By Patrick Miller

May 13, 2013 | By Patrick Miller
More: GD Mag, Design, GD Mag Exclusive

The game industry is obsessed with progress, but as we move forward, we leave a lot behind. Game Developer EIC Patrick Miller sifts through the ash heap of history in this column from the May issue.

Had I written this editorial two weeks earlier, I'd probably be writing about how enthusiastic I am to introduce our first-ever mobile-themed issue. In the past few years, mobile games have grown into a part of the industry no developer can afford to ignore, and the fact that Game Developer hasn't ever devoted an entire issue to the topic until now is rather shortsighted on our part.

Then I found out that Game Developer's parent company UBM Tech was axing all its print publications. That's right - if you haven't already heard, Game Developer's last official issue is the next one (June-July). Stick around for it; it's gonna be good.

Of course, the irony of announcing that we're ceasing publication in the issue that celebrates the new and exciting world of mobile game development is delicious, if rather bittersweet. To those of you worried about your future in triple-A dev due to last month's salary survey, and those of you who were laid off because whatever you were working on didn't have enough future-friendly buzzwords to satisfy your management, we understand. We've got a support group going down by the bar, and we'll save you a seat.

Closing Time

In a sense, both the publishing industry and the game industry have experienced similar disruptive patterns from the rise of mobile computing platforms. On one hand, the fact that practically everyone carries around some kind of handheld, internet-connected computer means that our potential audience has exploded. At any given moment, someone with a few spare seconds could whip out their phone and start playing your game or reading my articles. On the other hand, the design of these devices drastically changes the way people want to play or read; we want games to play in 30-second bursts and writing in 140-character chunks.

As creators, we know that there are truly great things you can do with short-form (well, more like microform, really) games and writing. But that isn't the work that inspired us to join this industry ourselves, and it can be hard to embrace wholeheartedly a new aspect of the medium knowing that the work we're doing isn't necessarily the kind of work that personally engages us. We can dig our heels in and resist the change as best we can, of course. It's a matter of pride; we just got the chance to make something good, and now it's being supplanted by something else.

Every New Beginning...

When news of LucasArts's exit from game development hit the wire, I had a chat with former Game Developer EIC Brandon Sheffield and former Gamasutra news director Frank Cifaldi about why everyone was mourning the loss of the studio's legacy despite the fact that all the games we mourned hadn't seen any love for at least a decade.

We don't miss Star Wars: The Force Unleashed; we miss Monkey Island and Full Throttle and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Grim Fandango. And, weirdly enough, we miss them even if we haven't played each of those games through; I only played a few of those games myself, but I was just as down as Frank was on that day, and he's probably going to name his firstborn Guybrush Cifaldi or something ridiculous like that.

I think perhaps the best explanation comes from a webcomic called Achewood, on the strip for the day that Michael Jackson died: "He was your Elvis, and when your Elvis dies, so does the private lie that someday you will be young once again, and feel at capricious intervals the weightlessness of a joy that is unchecked by the injuries of experience and failure. In other words, you two died a bit today. Welcome to the only game in town."

...Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

There is pride, and then there is denial. The reality is that game developers who ignore mobile, or indies, or any other major trend in games do so at the risk of their careers and their relevance to the medium. (Same goes for editors.) So like Autobots, we transform and roll out, knowing that the job ahead of us is not to remake the works that inspired us to enter this industry in the first place, but to learn new things so we can make new things - things that might just be the Elvis for someone else. Welcome to the only game in town.

- Patrick Miller Editor, Game Developer @pattheflip

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Michael Joseph
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"mobile games have grown into a part of the industry no developer can afford to ignore"

"The reality is that game developers who ignore mobile, or indies, or any other major trend in games do so at the risk of their careers and their relevance to the medium"

So melodramatic. People can afford to ignore mobile and remain relevant, employed and secure... if they have talent.

Marius Holstad
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I love that indie games and mobile gaming has developed into a trend in the game industry, but we must not forget the good things that comes with AAA. For some reason AAA developers has not been able to make the games they truly want, probably because of the lack of effective communication and market forces, but some day they will get back up on their feet and create great livingroom experiences again. At least that is what I think :)

Langdon Oliver
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"...and create great living room experiences again". Your implication here seems to be that there haven't been any great living room experiences recently and that none are on the horizon. I definitely cannot agree with this, and would be surprised if others can.

Gil Salvado
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Don't be so irrational to believe indie studios would be much safer. I just had to learn that lesson, and it's hard one to realize you got laid off not because of your own fault or lack of skill.

So, save me a seat at that bar, for when I'm sick of working on my portfolio and writing cover letters.

Jonathan Jennings
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I think everyone in the industry has to take a seat at that bar at some point. more so if you are a developer

Jay Anne
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Yeah, Clay Christensen's books seem to say that companies generally cannot adapt. Disruption means old companies die and new companies take their place. Look at the top 20 mobile games and ask how many of them came from old game companies. The traditional companies that try don't get so far (except EA I suppose)

Benjamin Quintero
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Unless Im mistaken EA just bought up a new company that already found success in that space. They didn't create an internal division to produce successful titles.

Jay Anne
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Oh right! They bought many (Chillingo, PopCap, Firemint, J2M, etc). Which does not always fix the cultural problem that Christensen describes as a major reason why old firms can't adapt to the disruption.

Kenneth Blaney
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I'm unsure exactly what Christensen said, but I've heard the argument before. That said, the trend seemed to have less to do with the age of the company, and more to do with how entrenched the corporate culture was. That is, a younger company where the managers are unwilling to embrace change will fare far worse than an older company that has no problem reworking how they present themselves (so long as they stay true to their brand).

Jay Anne
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@Kenneth Blaney
Yes, many of his case studies involved companies with cultures that believed lower quality products were beneath them, even though it became clear over time that their customers preferred them.