I was thinking about game companies this morning. I think the thought is a response to a game that just came out, and how it follows all the tropes, how it strongly copies Dark Souls, how it emphasizes limited interaction with the world, limited/dull combat, balanced by extreme emphasis on bloated art budget.
My reaction to these is usually some variation of: why are they doing this again? Why do they keep making this game? What happened to the good old games, back when people explored different kinds of story-telling and new kinds of interaction?
So I quick calculated back-of-the-napkin the truly creative, unfettered, not derivative game companies I can think of from over the past 20 years. Then I needed to quantize how many game-related creative endeavors take place in a single year. I came up with the totally guessed number of 8000 creative projects per year. This counts all the big franchises, all the Nintendo, Disney, EA, each project counting as 1 unit, smoothed out into units of single-endeavor/year.
The number of truly great game companies is much smaller. At first I was thinking of like 20 or maybe 40, but the more I scratched at it (and counted some of the indie studios I really love) I realized there were many hiding in the corners, so I bumped up the number to the hundreds range, and arrived at a plausible guess (conveniently a power of 2) of 320 great game companies over the past 20 years. Perhaps I'm being overly critical? To calculate:
320/(8000*20) => 320/160000 => 32/16000 => 8/4000 => 2/1000 => 1/500.
1 in 500 chance per year. Not good, but almost tractable. That is a 1/500 chance per year I will ever see, find, or let alone be hired by one of these fabled companies. The prospects are pretty grim.
Of course there is the alternative — do it yourself. This is the one avenue open to all of us who believe in the sacredness of creative endeavor. It's also worth remembering that this is how most game studios get started: a very small core team of a few highly-capable folks build the kernel of an idea into a product that later takes on a life of its own. It's better than sitting around and waiting for the world to do it for you. As an aside, here is Steve Jobs talking on the perils of companies losing sight of their product and letting the marketing department take over. This has become dangerously normal in modern western business. I can hardly name a company that hasn't suffered in some way from this kind of product erosion. People aren't thinking clearly about what they are making or the reasons they are making it. In our idleness we've let the money-people kind of slip in and take over everything. They've hijacked the rhetoric on why we do things, and I think this is very dangerous, and fundamentally is at the root of my complaint above about the state of poorly written or conceived creative projects. It doesn't have to be this way, and certainly wasn't always this way, though the wolves have always bayed at the door.