Monday, May 20, 2019

Executives in Gaming, Let's Take a Moment to Reflect

That's right...another one.  Another article to jar you into the funny crap-fest about Randy Pitchford's drama as the CEO of Gearbox studios.  FULL STOP!  This is not about to become one of those articles.  If you really want to read one of those, go do a google search for his name and you will find far more than you would like.  Rather than drone on further and give him more publicity over his childish and garish activities, I want to take some time to talk about accountability.  I want to talk about a company executive's responsibility as the head of a gaming studio or publisher to step outside of themselves and look at the bigger picture.  Do you think they have a responsibility to do so?  Is it simply a right they have to do what they want?  How should they be penalized when their personal load of crap has an affect on the overall sale of a game?

I think these are just a few of the questions we, as fans, have to consider.  More importantly, a company needs to think about.  What happens to a game when personal drama from an executive or internal company drama becomes public knowledge?  A lot happens in a short span of time.  In that short span of time, the company is typically forced to make a drastic decision to course correct.  After all, the bottom line of the company is what matters.  If the company is in the red, it is dead.  If it is in the black, then it is on track.  This is how studios live and breath.  The company has to make a call on whether or not some simply apologies will fix everything in time for the launch of their game, or if the removal of an executive is necessary.

Look at the cautionary tale of Telltale Games; due to poor management at the executive level, the company hastily and with little notice shutdown all development.  Many of their employee's were not provided with any kind of severance package.  You can bet your bottom dollar that those executives walked away with a sizable chunk of what was left of company funds after the simple payroll was executed.  Is it right that the employee's have to suffer for whatever was leading to poor management?  Absolutely not.  Too be clear, this is not about the consumer.  None of this article is about the consumer.  That is a wholly different conversation to be had some other time.

How about Starbreeze as another prime example.  The company had been off to a small, slow start with the Payday franchise and overtime gained a little momentum.  They told their employees, in certain terms, that the company was blowing up big and stepping up to that AAA fold of games.  Two years after that announcement, the company started imploding on itself because of executive actions.  People were arrested for insider trading, the CEO Bo Andersson was given the boot.  Why was he given the boot?  Because he was a poor leader and did not have the skills to lead the company in a real direction.  He got wrapped up in the excitement of making all the money.  This led to team leads being setup for AAA titles, but not having the experience to lead the development of a AAA game.  It only ends up being lucky that he was given the boot, but by the timing of that move was too late.  The studio is still trying to recover from the fallout of one mans actions.

Much of the problem is that there are too many people that have a great idea for a game, product, or studio they want to build.  They have bigger dreams of the success they can achieve, but I do think that they lack a certain wherewithal to lead a company.  This is why there are very typically publishers and developers.  Publishers have the financial and managerial knowledge to get a studio moving and promote the product being created.  It can be refreshing to hear from the project lead about what they are developing and see their excitement.  It can also be mortifying when they seem like a cool person that is really in tune with the project, but says/does/reacts in a negative fashion.  This is why every single one of them should probably not speak on social media, ever.  This is also why you always talk to your PR department before you respond on your own.

At the point that you decide to create a company and hire people to make your dream into reality, you are accountable and responsible for those people and their livelihood.  Your personal matters are no longer yours if said matters effect jobs.  When you make yourself the face of the company, your responsibilities extend to far beyond yourself anymore.  If you are your business, then you no longer have complete free will.  You are bound to your business and the life blood that keeps the heart of it beating.  That means you have to keep those employees happy and healthy for as long as they are with you.  So how do you manage all of that and stay semi-sane?  You hire executives or a board that will keep you in check at all times.  If you are not good at talking to people, you have to swallow your pride and allow the haters to hate.  On the chance that you cannot do that, then you must recuse yourself from being that face of representation.

When we talk about the penalty, there are a lot of possible penalties.  Obviously, the most severe that we see is when a executive is given the ol' boot-to-ass.  They still get a great severance package and are not injured with the loss of position.  Many of them go on to make other companies or projects.  I think the answer is to create contracts that hit them where it will hurt them.  The wallet!  A serious adjustment needs to be made in the way these companies hold themselves.  It is how the rest of us function in the world.  I lose my job, I do not pass Go and collect $200.  Rather, I get what I earned since my last paycheck and told good luck.  Why is it not the same for these people.  They become to big and it is not fair that they walk away with more than the people that were the lifeblood.

So what is the takeaway from all of this?  Do not let the actions of one idiot be what effects your decision to have a potentially harmful effect on the innocent people that worked hard.  When you decide not to buy a game simply because of one persons actions, you must also realize that hundreds of people put their creative efforts into that game as well.  You are effecting them with your decision as well.  Vote with your money, but make it an educated vote and not just a knee-jerk reaction.  Executives must be put to task, but we must encourage better business practices to ensure the heart-beat of the game is not stopped.

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