He is a writer. He is a guy who plays games. He is The Perfect Strom. This week’s Ziff Davis lay-offs don’t just hurt those at IGN and its sister companies, they affect anyone looking to get a foot into the same profession. Like a mighty tempest, Steven will descend upon one of the video game industry’s most recent tragedies and rain down his thoughts.
I originally intended to dedicate the debut of my new column to the Playstation Vita (look for that later). Unfortunately, Ziff/Davis decided to give me something more important to write about.
Yesterday, the 90s, cartoon super-villain of a company decided to cull a huge swathe of employees from its newly acquired branches, including IGN, GameSpy, UGO and 1UP. The former saw massive lay-offs, while the latter three were shut down altogether leaving a much-felt hole in quality games writing.
It is, of course, absolutely tragic to see so many talented writers and fine human being suddenly out of the job. Those who have been a part of this industry for decades seemingly lament the loss of 1UP, in particular.
However, if the closure of development houses like 38 Studios and and Vigil taught us anything, it should be that the video game industry is a spectacular place to find yourself unemployed in, at least when you’re not the only one. After seeing those much-dreaded reports of mass termination, a quick scan of Twitter usually yields a few dozen employers eager and willing to see applications. Some of them will find themselves at other once-rival publications while others will likely vacate consume-side reporting altogether.
It’s an inspiring cocktail of sympathy and the smart headhunting of established talent. It’s an example of the game industry taking care of its own.
And it’s really too bad for the rest of us.
Remember that old chestnut about monkeys locked in a room writing Shakespeare? Imagine not just one, but hundreds of lucky primates finding themselves blessed with the gift of prose. They’re still locked in a room with all the other average poop-flingers, but they’ve got a real talent.
Once in a great while — and I mean a very great while — someone outside the room notices one of these literate simians, takes him or her outside. As long as they keep cranking out Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Chaucer, the world will throw a few bananas their way. Maybe they’ll think back to their old friends eating their own feces in that room with the rest of the majority of the monkeys, maybe they won’t. Maybe, with enough time and tropical foodstuffs, they’ll even come to realize they were human beings the whole time and just needed someone to treat them as such.
That is essentially what it’s like to write about video games. Writers spend a seemingly infinite amount of time typing away for nothing, on the off chance that someone will give them a second look and raise them up from the void.
It can be exciting, of course, having a stroke of brilliance and thinking this will be The One; this will be the thing those outside of the room can’t ignore. It’s also incredibly terrifying to think your words aren’t even being seen, or worse, that you’re not really one of the Shakespeare monkeys and just another one of the howlers screeching to be let out. The whole thing is rather… dehumanizing.
Now picture a few dozen of those human beings being locked in that room yet again. They remember how awful it is in there, of course, but they also remember other things, like how to open doors and all of the friends they made on the other side.
So with more monkeys than bananas to go around, who gets to eat? Likely it will be those who have already proven their banana-worthiness to the outside world.
And so the next hundred or so chances to leave the room will just scoop the cream off the top, last in first out. Maybe a well supplied few will even make a special, unscheduled trip to stop by and check on how their old friends are doing. Just to see if they need help getting that blasted door open because we take care of our own.
The problem is, there is that “we” is actually “they.” They will take care of their own for as long as necessary, and during that time the rest are not only locked away, but also effectively invisible. Being able to reproduce “Coriolanus” won’t matter when it reeks of the perpetual stink of a room full of wild animals. Not when there’s a battalion of fresh-smelling and proven writers who can do the same thing, and probably better than the rest have learned to do, as well.
Of course, it’s not the fault of those clean-faced few that this has happened. They distract from the new, untapped talent not just because they got lucky once, but also because they leveraged that luck with hard work and raw talent. It’s the constant devaluing of creators — even those with jobs to speak of — that’s to blame. Consumers demand an increasing amount of content and resources, but balk at the prospect of paying for it. Some even go out of their way to circumvent payment methods which are free to them with ad blockers (though not all not all realize how much harm they’re doing.) It’s that mentality that’s stretching this industry’s resources so thin in the first place.
Those laid off this week absolutely deserve any help they get.
They’re just not the only ones who will suffer.