As mentioned in a previous opinion piece, consolidation is currently the most vital concept in video game development. One unfortunate side effect caused by consolidation is that more and more previously beloved game studios owned by large corporations are being demoted to support studios.
The closer that we edge to the upcoming war of acquisition, the more common this practice will inevitably become. If you are an independent, successful development studio, be prepared to be pressured into joining forces with a massive publishing house. And if you happen to work for a successful developer who already operates under a large publisher, get ready to become a support studio working on projects that you have no passion for.
Vicarious Visions is just the latest example of a talented studio being demoted to function as a support studio for a huge company.
The team who were able to revive the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise from the pile of ashes that it was previously buried under following the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, is now being banished to the Blizzard mines. This is their reward for all of their hard work, – for doing what many thought was once impossible.
For the foreseeable future, the team of creative visionaries responsible for the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy will be confined to work on games such as Overwatch 2 and Diablo. If they are lucky, perhaps they may be allowed to help with the development of Warcraft III Reforged, though even that title is unlikely to push any significant creative boundaries.
The fact that this insanely talented studio will cease to make games as a lead developer is a travesty. It is also a huge blow to creativity within the video game industry. This news along with the fact we are on the precipice of an all-out acquisition war should be alarming to gamers around the globe.
After following the inner workings and politics of major video game development for the last five years, not once has a merger been a good thing for the smaller company being consumed. And this is not the first time that Activision has been the bigger company consuming a smaller developer.
The team previously known as Neversoft has been stuck working on the yearly Call of Duty installments ever since they were merged with Infinity Ward back in 2014. Whilst the COD franchise has maintained an impressive amount of long-term success, it has never exactly been known for its ground-breaking creativity.
Up until now, EA has always been the company best known for smothering in-house creativity and promptly extinguishing any sort of spark of creativity that may appear under their oppressive umbrella. With that said, it seems as though Activision could be giving Electronic Arts a run for their money given recent revelations.
As disturbing as this trend of talented game studios owned by large companies being demoted to support studios is from an objective point of view, it becomes even worse when one considers how the studio employees must be feeling. This news must have had a significant emotional toll on Vicarious Visions employees on a psychological level.
Whilst it is easy to complain from a consumer’s perspective, imagine if you will that you along with your team of like-minded, talented creatives have just made a universally praised HD remake of a classic game. Likely riding high and excited to get started on the next project, you then receive the news that the studio is now a Blizzard support studio.
All of a sudden, instead of getting to work on something creatively challenging, you are now being told that the next ten years of your life will be spent creating skins for the Overwatch sequel. It is difficult to imagine anything more disheartening as a creator.
Regardless of what else happens over the next few years in the gaming industry, this is sadly a trend that is only going to continue. Between talented studios being demoted to support studios and small developers being consumed by large corporations, the future of gaming is looking rather bleak.
More and more it seems as though creativity is being snuffed out in favour of higher profit margins. Some feel as though there is not much that can be done about it, though others argue that voting with your wallet is the best way to fight back. Regardless, it is a precarious time to be a video game developer, as the landscape is endlessly shifting.
What do you make of Vicarious Visions and other talented game studios owned by large companies being demoted to support studios? Do you think that it will result in the end of creativity within the AAA gaming sphere? Let us know in the comments section below or hit me up on Twitter.