OPINION: Is the Gaming Industry in Trouble?

With all the noise that the once deferred and despised GameStop received in the stock market this past quarter of 2021, I thought a lot about how the state of the gaming industry is outside of a store that has poor trade-in returns and constant run-ins with burglars.

As a former computer science major when I first enrolled at Kent State, I was very reluctant back then about the state of the gaming industry as a collective and naive 18-year-old at Kent State’s campus. I still insecurely thought that this would all work out as someone who used to play games about as often and with as much dedication another student may have in a sport or play they participate in or are passionate for. One semester later, I would switch majors to digital sciences (or emerging media and technologies as it’s called now) in the CCI college due to my growing interest in IT over the precise and robust nature residing in programming.

After changing majors, I met more people in the same boat as me who made the same decision at the same time or before the fall of 2017, each with their own or shared reasons as to why they switched majors. Some of their reasons again aligned with mine, but some were similar to each their own with similar phrasing to how the gaming industry’s current status being why they switched. 18-year-old me would’ve scoffed as to why that would be a good reason to leave computer science for digital sciences. However, over the course of the last few years, I think I get it now.

Don’t get me wrong; the revenue counts for the video game industry are still at their best lengths possible especially with the likes of COVID-19 giving people more time inside to play games rather than do outside activities. What I am referring to is how the practices of the gaming industry have turned heads based around some practices that have seen great to serious issues at the helm of the “big heads” in the gaming industry. Some of these practices include measures such as in-game pay-to-win exploits, loot boxes that align with child gambling issues, developer burnout, manipulation of press releases for their products and a partridge in a pear tree.

Growing up, of course, I knew next to nothing about what is going on behind the scenes as I played games from the likes of Madden NFL 06, Lego Chess and Soccer and Flash games on work-focused and off-white computers. It worries me years later how games institute and veil in-game currency and the past exploits I mentioned as a part of their business practices. It was my blind optimism in how all games were made ethically and without struggle as I continued my gaming hobby, playing more mature titles as I grew older like Skyrim and the BioShock series. 

That all being said, I am very perplexed and worried about what future developers will have to face going into 2021-30 as developers face crunch time deadlines, next to no benefits in some instances and blowback or even threats from fans for business decisions made by their supervisors.

Fans should not let their fandoms completely encapsulate what being respectful and genuinely being human makes us all just because “my game is delayed yet again” or “I don’t like the direction this game is going.” The ignorance of the internet online culture alone makes me want to just get back to reading and unplug myself from it all despite my coursework and current job being done online as I also continue to apply to jobs after college. Likewise, the gaming industry has also been faced with a lot of remakes and sequels present within itself.

Akin to the movie industry, many of the current game companies or “big heads” have stuck with what works instead of deviating from the norm both in titles and characters, as well as plot and story design within the games. Every game nowadays seems like it just mimics and mirrors something put out before by a different company or even themselves as companies like EA, Activision, Blizzard and Ubisoft trudge through backlash online when titles don’t hit and just coast by despite the developmental and management issues that may be present. 

The childlike optimism I had for the industry makes me yearn for the past, back when games had less predatory practices and pressures on its staff and reflected passion projects from those involved in the project. As I’ve deviated from my gaming hobby over the past three years to focus on my campus job and personal matters, I really wish those in the computer science program luck going forward. Game development used to be a dream passion of mine and I want others to be able to pursue their passions in their professional lives and within their own potential despite what other people may say. I just hope the conditions for the programmers and developers in the future get applicable and the respect they deserve to make.

Gregory Hess is an opinion writer. Contact him at [email protected]