By: BRENDAN MCDANIEL
I love video games. However, I do not love the video game industry.
Once you get past the phenomenal triumphs of art and leisure that the world’s largest media industry can produce, you’ll find an industry filled with greed-fueled decisions, corporate cruelty and what can be only described as an innate urge to shoot themselves in the foot whenever possible.
While most of the industry’s ill-advised business efforts could be considered humorous—such as the time Bethesda’s faulty cheat-detection software unjustly suspended a number of Fallout 76 accounts, and the developer demanded that players write a 500-word essay to have the accounts reinstated—the current source of gaming outrage is far from comedic.
Activision Blizzard, publisher, and developer of series such as “Call of Duty,” Warcraft” and “Overwatch,” have recently elected to cut 8% of its employees, roughly 800 people. This came about as a result of their 2018 financial report, which was very displeasing to the higher-ups at the company. Activision Blizzard made a disappointing $2.38 billion in net revenues, shares, unfortunately, doubling the expected fourth quarter values and innocent company records being remorselessly shattered by the 2018 financial year.
Sarcasm aside, Activision Blizzard is at an all-time high. “Call of Duty,” though not as powerful a gaming institution as it once was, was only supplanted by the success of the company’s own “Overwatch.” “World of Warcraft” and “Hearthstone” are both the unquestionable kings of their respective genres. Although the loss of ownership of the “Destiny” franchise to Bungie was a small setback, no reasonable individual could possibly expect Activision Blizzard to be anything but overjoyed with the current state of affairs.
Enter Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard and current “anything but overjoyed” individual. According to Kotick, “While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential.” This quote is objectively awful. But did you know that it actually gets worse?
Here’s the rest of the quote from the 2018 Financial Report, which I was able to read in summary courtesy of “BusinessWire”: “To help us reach our full potential, we have made a number of important leadership changes. These changes should enable us to achieve the many opportunities our industry affords us, especially with our powerful owned franchises, our strong commercial capabilities, our direct digital connections to hundreds of millions of players, and our extraordinarily talented employees.”
Although the quote is heavily laden with corporate euphemisms, it’s hard to miss the gross cynicism behind it. In short, Activision Blizzard sees its layoffs as a tactical decision, designed to help achieve more success in the future; cutting employees so that the owners and investors can reap greater rewards.
While the Activision Blizzard layoffs are genuinely terrible, I won’t pretend that this is anywhere near the worst thing the games industry has done. In an industry where developers at Rockstar were reportedly working 100-hour weeks, 2K Games is allowed to sue Belgium over the nation deciding that its microtransaction policies were equivalent to gambling and Konami hasn’t been dissolved “Infinity War”-style, the firing of 800 good employees is perhaps a drop in the bucket. But that’s the problem. The games industry runs rampant with absolute contempt for everyone who isn’t on a board of directors or investors (fun fact: companies that make free-to-play games, which derive most of their revenue from microtransactions, like to refer to their largest spenders as “whales”). It’s an industry quick to throw both consumers and producers under the bus if it believes it can gain the slightest extra dollar. It’s everything I despise about corporate America rolled into one.
And yet, I’m conflicted. I have nothing but sympathy for those affected by the layoffs; 800 people fired translates to 800 families disrupted, deprived of a major or perhaps only source of income. I have little patience for the cruelty and greed displayed by the individuals responsible at Activision Blizzard. But at the same time, I don’t know what to do
I don’t know of a way to hold those responsible accountable without harming others below them, and I don’t think that the company should just disappear. I know that games can hold a strong place in people’s hearts and minds, and we can’t take that away from anyone simply because the people who profit from it are awful. That’s the problem with corruption; once you get enough power, you can keep yourself there for as long as you like.