Eric-Jon RÃ¶ssel Waugh of Next Generation has another excellent feature out, this time about five legendary game companies that bit the dust--or, as Waugh puts it, a tribute to "five fallen icons of the videogame industry." In case you're wondering, the icons in question are Atari, Origin, Sierra On-Line, Black Isle Studios, and Looking Glass Studios. All of these companies made outstanding games, and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading about their rise and fall--and contemplating how things would look now if these companies were still with us. He ends the piece on a powerful and insightful note:
It's the Western industry that concerns me. We've lost all our old guard. Over here it's like you can't do anything right, you can't innovate, you can't change the world without someone steering you over a cliff or absorbing you into the great corporate sponge. Where are our Capcoms, our Nintendos, our Namcos, our Konamis? Where are our Enixes, our Segas? We don't got none. They're all dead. No leaders here.
Go read the piece! I'll warn you, though, it'll probably get you mad about the current state of things...Too much money in the game industry for true creativity to emerge--the "suits" run things now, not the wacky eccentrics of the early days.
First I'll comment on your last comment about "too much money in the game industry for true creativity to emerge". It's a complex issue that has its pluses and minuses in regards to where our industry is on the financial and power scales, but to me, bottom line, creativity only gets stifled at the highest levels. There are still plenty of opportunities for something different to find its way out. Any industry that matures needs to go the indie route. After all, one can't expect to release a blockbuster movie, book or CD unless you were to get super lucky by signing with one of the mega distributors. It doesn't mean there are not indie avenues for the truly talented to showcase their work in those areas, and the same applies to gaming. Where there's the right drive and talent, there's always a way. This is a free society after all, more or less.
Second, in regards to the losing of the old guard, most of those people mentioned are still working in some capacity in the industry. It's not just those five that were affected though, it was the WHOLE industry. Significant things changed, from an increase in the mainstream to the rise of the Japanese development houses to rising development and publishing costs. If the industry had stayed more like it was 20 years ago and we lost those five entities mentioned, then I think it would be more of a story, but in reality it's more a story on how things have "naturally" changed/evolved. I miss Infocom and SSI a great deal, for instance, but I understand why they can't exist the way they once did. It doesn't mean the treasures of the past have gone away either. We have the benefit of all the stuff from the past 30 years and all the present and future stuff. It's not so bad from my perspective...
Really, the computer game industry is in the same state as the film industry in the 1930's or so-- none of our games have sound and are filled with overacting.
In all seriousness, however, around that time the film studios rose to power in Hollywood, much like the 4 or 5 major corporate conglomerates have rose to power in the gaming industry and have bought out smaller studios. With big funding, there is a lot one can do that small funding can not.
I view the relationship as this: Creativity =(Commander Keen)=============(NFL 2007)====Budget
In other words, Low Budget = Higher Creativity.
=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor
Hear my gaming podcasts!
Sure, and it's the same thing that generally the smaller the pallette, the more creative you have to be. That's why many 8-bit games are more ambitious/clever/etc. than today's 128-bit creations. There are many variables to the whole thing and would make a very interesting paper/debate indeed...
One of the mightiest factors here is how many people are in control of a project. One reason why so many of the early games were creative (and I'm not saying most were; most were clones) was that one or only a few people were in control of the entire project. It's impossible to realize a coherent vision when you start adding committees and boards and what-not; they won't be able to see the vision and will insist on sanding it down and rounding it off until what made the idea special in the first place is gone.
One reason why I think people still enjoy hobbies like painting, drawing, and writing is that you can still use those tools to bring a vision to fruition. What's exiciting to me is that, finally, the ability to make films and games on a low budget is starting to have an impact (albeit it's taking longer with games).
My prediction is that within the next ten to twenty years the game industry will really start to support an active independent industry, rather like films have already (with engines like Cannes and Sundance to publicize them). Tech like digital cameras and software editing programs has made so much possible that just wasn't feasible even twenty years ago! It's really exciting to think of what might be just around the corner.
We'll still need the "big boys" to blaze the trail technologically, but things won't start really heating up creatively again until it's possible for one person (or, again, a very limited group) to make a full-fledged, commercial-quality game again. When that day arrives, the field will have been sown for some truly groundbreaking titles. The rest will depend on the dedication and creativity of the individual game developers.
More creative perhaps, more fun, not per se. Creativity does not equal quality. A low budget also doesn't equal quality. If it did, the freeware and OSS gaming scenes should be brimming with quality software. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case. There are gems, but regular software houses have them as well. The point it that creativity doesn't last, invariably there comes a point at which your creative genius is superceded by others. Did the writer really expect Sierra to still churn out one original graphic adventures after another after 15 years? Of course it's clear the industry has problems, but the fact is that there are still great games being made, even if sometimes they aren't as creative as you would hope. Platforms like Live Arcade, can of course help to redress the situation a bit, by giving developers with small budgets (and therefore nearly unbounded creativity ;)) an outlet for their products, and even give them the opportunity to make some money in the process.
And while we complain about sequels pounded out by EA, we're still happy to stand in line for Final Fantasy 12.