Revolving Doors

Studio closures aren't a sign of crisis.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial offers analysis of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GamesIndustry.biz newsletter subscribers.

In the famous Lloyds building in the City of London, there is a two-hundred-year-old ship's bell which, traditionally, was rung whenever an overdue ship was confirmed to have sunk. Its sonorous tones told the insurers working in the building to cease any transactions on that vessel - while the bell's own history, salvaged from the sunken wreck of a Royal Navy frigate in the mid-1800s, was a reminder of those souls lost to the ocean in this latest maritime disaster.

This past week or so, it's felt rather like we need a similar bell for the games business. A single ring for Stormfront, developers of Neverwinter Nights. A ring for Pseudo Interactive, creators of Full Auto. A ring for the former Blizzard North team at Castaway Entertainment. Last and by no means least, a ring for the SEGA Racing Studio in the UK.

In around eight years of writing about the videogames business, game studio closures have been a recurring theme. I distinctly recall, only weeks after starting work for a trade newspaper for the first time, having to make a somewhat harrowing call to a studio boss who had just seen his entire business - and the livelihoods of his employees and friends - being pulled out from under his feet.

It doesn't get any easier, and the human costs of these closures shouldn't be understated. A great many studio bosses do try to do the best they can for their staff in such difficult situations, with the best bosses ensuring that employees are paid and kept informed about the situation as it progresses. (Of course, the industry doesn't lack its fair share of cowboys who don't bother telling anyone anything until the paycheques just dry up, but they're thankfully in a small minority.)

Regardless, it's a tough time for everyone involved - financially, emotionally, and of course, creatively. Nobody works in game development for the jet-setting lifestyle, fast cars and loose women (or men). For many, even those working on projects they wouldn't choose themselves, it's a vocation, a labour of love - and watching the harsh reality of the industry's business destroy the fruits of that labour is tragic and heartbreaking.

Even accepting all of that, however - and with the utmost of sympathy and best wishes for those who find themselves looking for a new beginning after the past fortnight's closures - I think it's absolutely vital to be pragmatic about what such closures mean for the industry.

There's a tendency, when closures are grouped together like this, for the development sector to navel-gaze a bit - pondering the harshness of the business environment, the fickle nature of publishers, the spiralling costs of next-gen development and the assumed bleak outlook for independent developers that results. Although, of course, one of the most high-profile closures of this batch was SEGA's own internal Racing Studio, who were by no means independent but seemingly no more secure for it.

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