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“While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential.”
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick uttered these instantly famous words at yesterday’s earnings call. All told in this quarter Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s biggest gaming companies, earned $2.4 billion. To most that’s an unimaginable figure. Visualising two billion dollar bills is impossible. Visualising 800 recently fired, heartbroken people is very possible.
Activision Blizzard had been aiming for $3 billion in earnings in a single quarter. Ambitious isn’t even the word for this kind of attitude. Greed and avarice suit better. This is the latest example of the gaming industry draining passionate workers of their value, skill and enthusiasm and then kicking them to the curb when they become surplus to requirements. It is an ugly, cowardly thing to do and the effects and consequences are wide reaching.
Gaming companies are never based in a single spot like the tech conglomerates in Silicon Valley. They are based all over the world from Tokyo to Krakow to San Francisco. Moving jobs often means moving house or state or country. It means uprooting families, changing schools and social circles. That’s if a new job can be found. Gaming industry jobs often involve extremely long hours, low pay and anxiety inducing job security. This leads to a high degree of burnout. Developers and artists and animators move into tech rather than give an industry that takes so much and gives so little any more of their time or health.
This kind of ethic is unsustainable. There are only so many people that want to work in games and there is only so much time people can work in the games industry until all that pressure breaks them. The big companies, specifically Activision Blizzard and EA, care very little about the artistic merit of their games it seems. Nintendo seem to be a shining light in the darkness by comparison. Once they are playable and can generate a consistent cash flow there is little cause for concern. It’s why we see so many battle royale and multiplayer games. They sustain money but soon these companies will not be able to sustain employees. It will all come crashing down sooner or later.
What the industry needs is a massive shake-up. Rumblings over the past two years have indicated that game developers are more than willing to unionize but are afraid what will happen once these desires move toward becoming a reality. Unionization is a long, complex process and requires contracts to be agreed upon and ratified by both the union and management. But it is a necessary step. Abuses of power have gone on for too long. The need for supply to meet demand has consistently failed to recognise the human cost of all this. Gaming companies and the consumers they serve need to be taught that if they wish to continue publishing and playing games they need to support those that actually make them.
About a month ago Activision Blizzard hired a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO). His salary is $900,000 a year and he was given a $15 million signing bonus. The games industry and by extension capitalism is rotten to the core. In short: Eat the Rich. Burn their temples. Smash their idols. Build something new and stable and hopeful from the ashes because this depraved rat race can’t continue.