Yesterday, the news hit of an upcoming Youtube series by Maker Studios that ultimately went down the tube, called Green Label Game Jam, but referred to in branding as GAME_JAM. Unlike similar gatherings, this was being filmed as a competitive thing, sort of like Sony’s The Tester, with notable figures, judges and all.
It was vehemently pushed by Mountain Dew and an outlying event agency. In itself, it created an atmosphere that was so unbearable that the entire project fell down with everyone leaving the set after just one of its four planned days.
What A Jam
Product placement was forced on participants, side attractions that didn’t involve development distracted from the subject with tacky prizes, there were loaded questions about gender being thrown around; it’s a pretty uncomfortable story. There’s quite some lecture on it from the lengthy post of Jared Rosen, a producer there who stuck their neck out to expose the malpractice, along with some of the participants who managed to outmaneuver restrictive contracts.
Developer Adriel Wallick was one of those people who also spoke out against GAME_JAM. She left after overhearing the branding agency asking a developer team the following:
Do you think the teams with women on them are at a disadvantage?
The mere existence of that question is enough to infuriate anyone. It’s posed simply to create tension and drama that could then be captured, edited and put out by Maker Studios as a reality show, instead of the brainstorm session it was.
People there were being used as a product to appeal to the drama-craving masses that don’t connect to otherwise more introverted bouts of tinkering on games.
That question’s essence reduced any skill of Wallick, a designer of satellites, to whatever shallow appearance remains. Arguably, Wallick’s feats surpass many of our own. Jared’s post said it best on that notion:
Adriel built shit that flies around in space. It’s probably flying around in space right now.
After everyone exited the Mountain Dew stage, the toll of several production teams, dozens of people running around and tons of equipment to capture it was evident. GAME_JAM was the most expensive game jam event ever attempted, with an estimated cost of $400,000. It never happened.
Disney’s Game Jam
A lot of industry people were rightfully shocked by this news. Still, there’s a reason it happened. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t be shocked at all.
That’s where the plot thickens. Unfortunately, it requires looking going deeper.
Disney recently acquired Maker Studios for hundreds of millions, because it’s popular, it’s connected to a large demographic and it’s profitable.
Now, the GAME_JAM planning precedes the acquisition, but it’s because the Youtube sensation was growing so exponentially that it attracted Disney. With bigger companies come bigger plans and so on.
Disney grows well beyond just games; it’s a global entity looking for profit first and anything else second. It had no issue in closing down developer LucasArts, despite its rich history and its work on the acclaimed Star Wars 1313. It tore what it could from the franchise and moved on. We were shocked.
It will definitely hold this nightmare in the Maker Studios books once it becomes less marketable than its expendable cost makes it now. Games and its surrounding industry aren’t Disney’s prime concern, therefore anyone that does think so during GAME_JAM is an obstacle that needs to be swayed.
Luckily, several did their part in caving in for showmanship, but the two worlds don’t exactly see eye to eye. Indie development, by default, has no stake in selling out, since that’s when the whole indie shtick dies out.
Mountain Dew Marmalade
With a company like Mountain Dew backing GAME_JAM, the level of corporate interest becomes all too obvious. This is the company that is now synonymous with corrupting any gaming industry integrity. That happened with the well-known Doritos and Dew campaign during Halo 4 and then repeated with an Xbox One partnership. We were all shocked then too.
This is just one more in the line of bad ideas, but it does make a point. Mountain Dew is there to see a return, one way or the other.
That’s why drinking the soda, in the appropriately held way, was mandatory during GAME_JAM. It needs all the product placement it can get, even if people like Wallick stated that they didn’t drink any of the sort. Money is on the line, advertising is on the line. Masses have to be reached.
Anything is a commodity as long as those crowds tune in and get hooked. That should be shocking, indeed, but it isn’t. It’s what happens when costs like millions are thrown around effortlessly. It’s what happens when something becomes mainstream.
Gaming is now mainstream.
It may not have sunk in with everyone, but it’s going to need to, since it happened years ago already. That’s why these monster figures are coming back in rapid succession.
Another shocking reveal was announced around the same time as Disney’s acquisition. Giant business Facebook bought the firm behind Oculus Rift for $400 million in cash and the rest in stocks, totaling $2 billion.
Stocks plummeted the next day as a result, considerably lowering that takeover. That’s why Facebook is a business.
Original Oculus Rift supporters were flaming, since it meant an end to the “for gamers by gamers” campaign. Now, Oculus Rift is taking to the mainstream. That’s where the money is, not in the niche crowd. More people equal more money.
There’s a weird dichotomy there. We all want games to be an accepted medium, but once it’s on the verge of mainstream appeal, we cast it out. That’s probably due to it coming with nefarious interests like the aforementioned, but that’s exactly how these things operate. For all the good the financial strength will do for Oculus, for example, it will come with a loophole or two.
These corporate interests are so prevalent now that others need to weigh in preemptively, such as $41 million project Star Citizen reiterating it won’t be bought out anytime soon. That’s an exception to the rule though.
Many have used their initial success to jump on board of the corporate bandwagon.
Trace back how many successful Kickstarter projects eventually attracted a publishers. That’s just a new way for companies to lower their investment risks and sink their teeth in when appropriate. Opportunism; that also is mainstream.
EA Been Jamming For Years
Perhaps the most consistently insidious company leading to this era of mass marketing is Electronic Arts. Ever since their E3 presentations started being geared towards advertisers, instead of consumers, the corporate interest ball has started to grow. Just think of every social media application outlined in its titles.
Fifa, Madden, Battlefield, Need For Speed; all have social hubs and have been growing for years now. In connecting the social element to nearly all its games, EA has an excuse to tie its products online.
By locking users online, EA can then collect data on their behavior. What they’re watching, what they’re playing, which items they interact with the most; these are valuable tools for marketing and pleasing ad sponsors. It’s usually in those terms and conditions no one reads ever.
Games here are the byproduct of the main goal, which is to attract more funds. Hell, even SimCity had a social spinoff on Facebook, which immediately partnered with brands for in-game items like a Dunkin’ Donut building or a Mercedes dealership.
Dungeon Keeper was remade to generate profits first and being playable second. Real Racing essentially had fuel tanks consist of real money.
Anything is deconstructed and built from the ground up to generate more and more. It’s still a game, it’s still produced as a game, but if it was anything else that reached such potential, it would be that thing instead.
Just like the failed reality show of Maker Studios, gaming has become a sideshow in the mainstream world. People are trampled during massive PS4 launch events. Entire riots break out at conventions to snag a premium copy of Call of Duty.
That stuff is morbidly entertaining, which bounces back as an excuse to do it again. People are invested, for better or worse.
Any time news such as GAME_JAM, Oculus or anything else arises, there is this disbelief that comes from two worlds meeting. This isn’t going to die out. While indie development is on the rise, it’s always going to be money that measures success.
If anything, as games reach more homes, corporate interest is only going to increase in number through the years. One day, its negative side will probably even become accustomed inside the industry.
Desensitization will set in as glaring issues are normalized through the giant machine that is gaming’s mainstream appeal. Just another scandal, like a politician smoking crack; it’s just a sideline factoid. As an aside, together with the following mention, “mainstream” was used eight times in this article. Sorry if that triggers any hipster alarms.
While there are rarely solutions against sycophant consumerism in a neo-capitalist world, there are things that can be done. People like Jared Rosen going against their own to expose the industry are a great start.
Consumers, in turn, can vote with their wallet.
Support companies who treat games and their producers fairly. Don’t buy any product from businesses that have a history of malpractice, no matter how hyped their titles are. There’s usually an alternative right around the corner.
Instead of each individual buying a copy of Battlefield, rally friends to skip it and play Loadout at a fraction of the cost.
Ultimately, we create the world we live in. Have a happy April Fools’ Day.