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Jaffe Defends Gaming As A Business, We Stand Up And Applaud

Gaming is a business. Everyone seems to accept this yet only a few wish to fully understand it.

Perhaps this is why many gamers continually take potshots at publishers, claiming "corporate big business" is stifling developer creativity, and essentially, stomping on the oppressed "little man."

It's a common trend in today's society that "big business" is intrinsically evil and that if corporations get involved with smaller companies, the latter will always be – eventually – persecuted. However, while I absolutely miss the days when big business was not part of the industry, and for various personal reasons, one has to accept that such theories are often false. Take, for instance, the words of David Jaffe , who addressed a recent Kotaku article concerning the need for better game publishers . One should also note the picture they chose to use for that article.

Jaffe's ensuing rant includes the disclaimer that he does agree with some of the points the author (dubbed "Anonymous Game Developer") makes in that article. Still, he goes on to reinforce that if you want to succeed, you come at the publisher with quality , and you don't let yourself get manipulated by contracts you don't like. Wrote Jaffe:

"I agree with a number of AGD's theories about why modern games are tough to get right (i.e. AGD's write up on game's desire to be film vs. games was pretty spot on) but I reject the tired accusation that it's the publisher keeping game developers down. And I reject that accusation because of the classic line that I am sure you've heard before: you are worth what you can negotiate.


Don't like the way a publisher treats you?

Don't sign a contract with that particular publisher. Or if you do, make sure you have what you will and won't tolerate written into the contract.

And if your studio is not good enough to demand better deals and is not clever enough to secure alternate forms of financing (thus allowing you to bypass the publishers all together) then you deserve what you get."

He goes on to compare the issue to the whole "every kid who plays gets a trophy even if their team loses" line of thinking. As quaint as that may be for t-ball, it doesn't work and indeed has no place in business. Jaffe says that if you're unable to improve a contract offered by a publisher, you should improve your team "until you can demand in the real world what you think you are really worth in your mind."

The crux of Jaffe's rebuttal is something we should all continue to believe in- Effort and talent supersedes entitlement due to laziness. There are of course other factors to consider and as I said above, the impact of big business on gaming has absolutely had negative consequences. At the same time, it also breeds a higher level of competition as quality is more essential than ever. If you've got what it takes, you will be rewarded. If you don't, stop pointing the finger at the "faceless corporations" that don't necessarily exist only to squash your dreams.

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11 years ago

I can see that, but it's hard to argue that once the big publishers smell cash they get their foot on the neck of the developers and what was once an organic gaming experience becomes a commercialized bastardization.

11 years ago

Totally agree.
Imagine a board meeting at EA or Activision after they got the rights to publish "Journey 2"…
"We need some more explosions…"
"Yeah, and testosterone…"

11 years ago

right, dont sign anything till you get the companies kissing your every whim!
no wonder the guys only been working with $ony, and when TM went under he bailed before his baby even released and pretty much has not been seen since!
so this is why your ditching console development and moving to mobiles, mr successful?
oh the hypocrisy!

11 years ago

All well and good, but as a well established developer this is just sooo easy to say.

It reminds me of similar discussions about artists and how they've been exploited by record companies over the decades. Sure, the bands had an option of signing the deal they were offered or not… Or had they, really?

It's too easy for Madonna to sit there and say "be careful what you sign, kids".

Last edited by Beamboom on 4/16/2013 8:56:56 AM

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

I'm relatively certain Jaffe (and others) signed contracts they weren't too happy with when they were first getting started. It's how you break into the game. The point he's making is that developers who aren't established, who have not proven themselves, shouldn't be whining about being "oppressed" when they haven't proven themselves in any capacity whatsoever.

That's like saying I should be able to get the same contract Madonna does because I THINK I can sing. No, this is about talent and drive and effort above entitlement and "we're all the same" bullcrap.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 4/16/2013 10:15:04 AM

11 years ago

It's not that easy, Ben. It's not like they can break out of a contract the moment they have proven themselves. It's not like that at all.

The big publishers have *all* the advantages in the world when these contracts are written. They got the lawyers, the experience, the business, they hold the keys and they know it.

There are plenty of stories from the music world where well established bands have been completely stuck in ten album deals they just can't get out of, and where they don't own a single note of their work afterwards. There's absolutely no reason to believe it is that much different in this business.

Last edited by Beamboom on 4/16/2013 2:11:00 PM

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

I'm aware of the bands, Beamboom. The members of such bands were manipulated right out of the gate, and that included their managers, who were supposed to get them the best contracts possible.

You read the contract before you sign it. You know what you're getting yourself into, if you do your homework. It really is this easy- You either have the talent to make your own demands, or you don't. You don't hear about developers like Naughty Dog complaining bitterly about their publishing relationship with Sony, now do you? The vast majority of complaints I see come from mediocre developers and I say, too damn bad. Get better and then get the contract you deserve.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 4/16/2013 3:34:27 PM

11 years ago

"You read the contract before you sign it. You know what you're getting yourself into, if you do your homework. It really is this easy- You either have the talent to make your own demands, or you don't."

And this is where this strands. Cause I'm saying it just is not that easy. You can tell the above to all the bands we talk about here.

When you are young and inexperienced, you are in a completely different situation than if you are negotiating on behalf of a giant company with hundreds of emplyees and decades of experience.

So it's easy to sit there as one of the successful names of your industry, being you a Jaffe of the gaming world or a Madonna of the pop world, and just say "read the f*cking contract, fools." It's sooo easy to say. So obvious. But it's not that easy.

Personally I think there is a *moral* responsibility that rest on the strong part in a negotiation process. Just because you can, don't mean you should. But that's my personal opinion.
Point is, it is so easy to be one of those who made it, to tell others what they should do. In real life it's not just that easy.

Last edited by Beamboom on 4/17/2013 4:40:22 AM

11 years ago

So what happens when something like the Mass effect or Dragon age trilogy happens?

Bioware earned its right to demand a good contract from EA, yet EVERY SINGLE change to the formula for ME2/3 and DA2 we obviously done by EA wanting the game to appeal to a wider audience and make more money. And Bioware caved to this.

Would a highly respected RPG dev team take two brilliant RPGs(ME1 and DA:O) and purposefully bastardize them to the point where they lost what made them great RPGs in the first place? I don't think so.

ME3, got rid of the exploration, the huge citadel, the mako, the loot, the big skill trees, the whole leveling system got shrunk, they added ammo clips, and on top of that they used a tired and cliched military ooh rah suicide mission that just was so out of place compared the great sci fi opera that the first game had.

You're telling me that Bioware decided to change 60% of Mass Effect and basically scrap all of what made it an RPG because they thought it would be a better game?

Lets go to Dragon age:Origins to DA2. Another huge change for the worse, it was a rushed hack job, with less and less RPG elements for the players to play with. So Bioware one of the first great CRPG developers decides to scrap DA:O and make a crappy ARPG/CRPG hybrid mess? Again no way that it was all of their decision and if it was, it was a guy at bioware(casey hudson probably) just getting greedy.

As for big business, it absolutely ruins things. Mcdonalds runs local restaurants out of business because it is an established logo and uses promotions and bullying tactics to bring in customers. But thats cool, its just business that family own shop would have survived if it was quality right? Wrong, because no matter how good you are, marketing and brand recognition can screw you over *cough* Call of Duty every single year *cough*

My dad is getting bullied because of big business and it is making his psychology practice hard to compete with. Because this company pays kids with two year therapy degrees to essentially do what he is doing, for less than a third of the price. Doesn't matter he has 3 decades of experience, and incredible results. Its cheaper and people want to save a buck. I personally have run into similar issues with my personal training business as well.

Big business ruins things. It personally has negatively effected my family so I see it in a different light I suppose.

Also I don't respect this guy as a developer really, and I haven't for a while. This guy acts all edgy and stuff but mostly comes off as a pompous dick. God of War 1 and the twisted metal games were good and all but what has he done since then?

I trust the words of Tim Shaefer, Brian Fargo and other industry veterans who had the balls to speak out and tell people how crappy publishers can be.

11 years ago

I would argue that if you wanted control of your product then they shouldnt have sold to EA.

I understand that you need money to make money, but when I see smaller companies get bought out by larger companies, I tend to look at the smaller companies selling thier soul to make a dollar. There are plenty of smaller developers out there making it on thier own with contol of their games.

It all comes down to, what is the direction that the developer wants to go. Do they want to make as much money as possible, or do they want to have as much say in what goes into their games as possible.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

xenris: Here's a plain and simple fact. Nobody – and I repeat, nobody, not one single member – of BioWare has ever said they were forced to do anything by EA. You can argue that they're staying silent because they're afraid of repercussions, but why? They'd have zero trouble finding another publisher to pick up their products; hell, it'd be a freakin' lottery to see who gets to publish BioWare games.

Furthermore, if EA just demanded everything, we'd almost undoubtedly hear about this from BioWare employees who have left. The developer has owned up to everything the fans have complained about, and I mean everything. It's why almost every month, there's another survey put out by BioWare, asking the fans what they want from the new Mass Effect and Dragon Age. This shows me a developer that made mistakes ON ITS OWN and is now trying to remedy those mistakes. If EA forced them to make all the changes fans hate, this would not be BioWare's tact.

BioWare is wholly responsible for what has happened to their franchises. The bosses at BioWare will tell you that, and anybody at EA will tell you that. You're just using the publisher as a scapegoat. What about Final Fantasy? You think developers won't change "60%" of what makes a series great without pressure from the publisher? No? Final Fantasy proves exactly the opposite. Square Enix develops and publishes the franchise, and it took a far worse turn than anything seen in Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

It's illogical and ignorant to say that all big business ruins everything. It's the fault of the rampant stupidity of the masses if they choose to eat the so-called "food" at McDonalds. No "bullying tactics" are going to get me to eat there because I know it isn't food, and anyone with a brain wouldn't cave to any such tactics, either.

My family has owned a small business for nearly 30 years. We're constantly under pressure from businesses like Stop and Shop and places like that and you know what? We've survived because we've adapted to the environment, as all good businesses do, small and large. And if the recession had killed us in the early 90s, nobody in my family would've pointed any fingers at anyone because we pride ourselves on being able to conquer adversity. See, we don't believe in whining.

The idea that EA held a gun to BioWare's head and said "change all this or we drop you" is downright absurd. BioWare holds the cards, not EA. BioWare could get a publisher tomorrow if they needed to and if they had a big problem with EA's treatment of them, they would've left by now. Furthermore, almost every single developer has said that most publishers are almost completely hands-off when it comes to the making of a game. Almost entirely. Dozens of interviews with devs who say that all the time.

Publishers can apply pressure because they have deadlines to meet and this is a business. They must cater to the masses nowadays and not just the niche hardcore crowd, and those masses always want the same crap over and over, which is precisely why McDonalds is still around. None of this is the fault of anything but the PEOPLE, my friend. None of this. Nobody forces anyone to buy Call of Duty, nobody forces anyone to buy disappointing installments in franchises. You buy it, you eat it, it's YOUR fault. If CoD wasn't selling, publishers wouldn't be asking devs to make their games more like CoD, now would they?

Fix the intelligence of the average consumer and you'll fix the problems you have with big business. But of course, the people are never wrong, now are they? …of course not. That's just too difficult to accept. Responsibility is a bitch.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 4/16/2013 4:50:33 PM

11 years ago

You didn't respond to one of my points. Bioware said they had creative freedom? Like I believe that, just like I believe Maxis when they say that the new sim city game would NOT work without always online, even though hackers proved this to be false.

Guess who owns Maxis? EA.

Now why is it that every game that came out after Bioware was bought by EA drastically different from what made them great in the first place? Its not a coincidence that everything got streamlined and bastardized to high heaven once EA started publishing them. Its not a coincidence that they gutted half of the RPG elements from game to game. You really think Bioware wanted the RPG elements in ME3 to mimic CoDs online gun customization to a T?

Bioware can't just get out of a contract with EA, they sold themselves to them and now they have to deal with them. Its called a contract for a reason.

You know you also proved my point in saying that no one in their right mind would eat mcdonalds. Well guess what buddy, it turns out that the lowest common denominator can't think for themselves and they choose mcdonalds over other restaurants, the shop at walmart because its cheap and why not. Guess what else, you can go to mcdonalds facebook page where they tell you that mcdonalds is actually healthy for you. Yup and guess what, it has thousands of likes, and people supporting them. Because people are idiots and are not educated in the slightest.

The lowest common denominator also apparently thinks Call of Duty is the best game ever, and year after year 20 million copies of a mediocre shooter are sold, with something like half of those customers buying the ridiculous seasons pass. Plus you just said that if CoD wasn't selling publishers wouldnt be telling their devs to make their games more like CoD. I thought you said that devs have free rein?

My father and I don't whine because big business is making things hard, but it does open our eyes to the light of the matter. It makes us make better choices about what we support with our money. However the majority, the lowest common denominator does not know this and just wants to save a buck.

Your missing my point by saying no one is forcing anyone to buy anything. Obviously that is the case, people are choosing with their money. But you have a psychology degree do you not? You should be able to see the tricks they use in marketing Call of Duty and mcdonalds which preys on the weak minds of the masses.

You tell me that my thinking is illogical, but all I am using is logic to come to my conclusions. WHY WHY WHY would Bioware start doing stuff differently with their games? Why would these RPG masters decide to streamline everything towards a more action based game style? Why would they add ammo clips to ME2 when they explained why they weren't needed in ME1. Why would they hold back the prothean day one DLC even though it was on the disc, and part of the leaked script. Why would they go from Dragon age origins, and turn the sequel into an action hybrid mess?

This all started happening DIRECTLY after they were under EA. If you can't piece that together yourself then your purposefully ignoring it.

Last edited by xenris on 4/16/2013 5:42:53 PM

11 years ago

I'd just like to point out that game developers drastically changing their design philosophy after being bought by EA seems to be a pattern. The Sim City fiasco is a recent example. The people at Maxis actually lied about being able to run Sim City offline without major modifications to the code. I don't think it's a huge leap for Bioware to have chosen words words which wouldn't incriminate EA.

Also you seem to forget, Ben, that a developer is dependent on the publisher for money, not the other way around. You act as if it would be possible for Bioware to just leave EA and find another publisher if they wanted to.

Pretend you're EA for a moment, and imagine that you are about to spend a whole lot of money to acquire a development studio. Are you going to just let them walk away if they stop liking you? Even after you spent all that money on them? Knowing that every other major publisher will accept them if they do?

No, no sane business person would spend money on an investment like that and not have the developer sign a contract which forbids them from accepting other offers.

It's clear that in this industry the publisher has the power to dictate the content of their studio's games because the games wouldn't be possible without massive amounts of capital. If the games don't create a reasonable return on investment then they aren't worth investing in in the first place.

And THAT, is why people are saying that EA has tried to make McDonalds out of every great studio it's acquired.

It's not some creepy conspiracy, it's just an unfortunate fact about the way the system works, and the way the lowest common denominator is so low.

11 years ago

Jaffe makes a good point. It's easy to sit around and bitch that your treated unfairly, but when you (the company) negotiated your contract you have nothing to blame but yourself. Defintently true. Next time your contract is up, either stand your ground or go to another publisher. And if your product is really good then you hold the position of leverage.

Tangent; I was watching Adam Sessler on Youtube rail against Metacritic the other day, and while he made good points, the rant seemed to reak of entitlement to me. Point of his argument was that publishers use rating to determine wether to or not to pay bonuses to developers after games are published.

While I agree that is a shit idea, I dont agree with the idea that developer are entitled to bonuses. The idea of a bonus is supposed to be for profit sharing above and beyond normal, a way to thank workers for working hard to make the company more money. But the idea that a bonus showed be payed every time a game is released, to me, is asinine. The coders and programmers do get paid a salry do they not?

Sorry I went off on a tangent but to me, Jaffe's point, which is do good work to gain the leverage then negotiate from a position of power, makes the opposite argument of Sessler's, which seemed to be since I did the work I deserve to make extra and your being unfair if you dont give it to me.

11 years ago

Sesslers rant was more, they should get a bonus if the game sells well not if it gets rated well.

See Fallout new vegas sold really REALLY well, but it was one point under what the devs needed to get the bonus.

That is where the whole thing started I think or at least that is the best known case of the ratings dictating a bonus.

I think that if the game sells really really well the devs should get a bonus 🙂

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