Amid the unfortunate and sad news that Silicon Knights has laid off a significant number of its staff on Monday, October 31, there is talk that the studio will be looking to reinvigorate its critically acclaimed horror-action game, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. Being a fan of the game, I am excited about the possibility. I wonder though with the studio's struggles and history if it still has the magic that it had at the time of the game's creation.
With the giant ocean of games in today's marketplace, it made me think about how fans, including myself, make decisions on what games to play and buy. It's interesting how fans of video games are brand loyal at face value. The average fan does not readily relate development talent and teams with the quality and acclaim of a game. This is not something that is exclusive to video games though.
Can you name a single engineer that helped to develop the latest BMW M3 sports car? You probably can't unless you happen to work in the automotive industry or are a die-hard car enthusiast. However, I would wager that the skills of the various engineers was vital to realizing the production of the car. In this case, the car consumer is brand loyal in a way similar to the average video game consumer.
This is not the case with all products though. Take team sports entertainment for example. Even with the chaos of free agency, sports fans recognize the individual talent and team chemistry of their chosen team. They will support or reject teams based off the year's personnel. One might argue that sports is a live performance based form of entertainment and that I am comparing apples and oranges. I would still argue though that how a development team gels has a direct effect on the quality of a product. This is similar to the chemistry of a sports team determining if they can win a game together.
Probably the closest relative to games is film even though there are notable differences. Subtract actors and actresses from the equation since they fall into the same role of sports players. However, your average movie goer will probably have an opinion on the director of the movie that they are watching. The movie goer may have actually decided to watch the film because it was made by that director. In this case, the fan is recognizing the individual talent of the people behind the scenes that don't actually show up in the product itself.
Ask your average video game player who directed the original Mario. I bet most of them would not be able to answer Shigeru Miyamoto. Ask your average film fan who directed E.T. I think that most of them would be able to answer Steven Spielberg.
Why is it that fans do not recognize the individual and team talent that goes into the creation of a video game? Having worked on bad and good games, I would definitely say that the quality of people that I work with makes a world of difference to pulling a game off successfully or not.
So this brings me back to the recent news at hand. Making an announcement that they may be bringing back a franchise that I enjoyed, I wonder if they still have the staff that made it happen in 2002. I believe that was their last game working with Nintendo. I would guess they benefited from the likes of Miyamoto and company who are credited on the game. Ever since they parted ways, it seems that they have struggled with maintaining the same level of critical acclaim with subsequent releases.
With their latest layoffs, it's probably not making it any easier. They are going to have to restaff new production team and see whether it gels or not. This is not exclusive to Silicon Knights and sometimes a business reality. There have been numerous times where I have eagerly anticipated a follow up to a hit franchise only to be disappointed by it. More often than not in these cases, I find that the team make up has changed dramatically and that key players are missing. These experiences have helped to validate my belief that great games are made by the strength of the talent.
Now a days when I hear announcements of beloved franchises making a comeback, I have to pause and wonder if the brand is larger than the sum of its parts...
Michael loves making games almost as much as he does playing them. He has worked on numerous hit titles and is currently traveling the world to help fight crime and champion clean design practices.