We’ve all been there at some point in our careers: worked long hard hours, taken a personal interest in a project, only to see it abandoned before your very eyes, seemingly without reason. Outraged you storm out to the nearest coffee shop to cool down, where you order a regular flat white and vent to the barista (earning a paltry $10 an hour) about how your job is terrible and how you’re underpaid and unhappy, proposing that you’re going to work at the local supermarket packing shelves. You return to work, slightly less angry but still unable to let go of that project, trying to justify to your superiors why the project should in fact continue.
What happens next is a hard lesson to learn, but an important one.
You are told by senior management that the project was pulled for business or strategic reasons beyond your control. While you are sitting isolated in your cubicle or office, surrounded everyday by the nuances of this one project, there are people whose job it is to make sure that every task, every project, every arse on a seat, is leading to something positive. That can be profit, that can be social outcomes, or that can be a piece of art – but more often its a combination of all three. This is the big picture, and this is what drives businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organisations, not the small picture. The old advice that the journey is the important part just doesn’t apply in a majority of cases and it certainly doesn’t pay the bills.
Even when this is the case, decision to pull a project is undoubtedly a hard one, particularly for those who have shed blood, sweat and tears for their passions. Developers and Publishers don’t take the decision to pull the plug on a product lightly, particularly where there are high levels of sunk costs, but it is almost always in the best interest of the business – and by virtue of that fact — often in the interests of a studio’s survival. Creators need to be creative, but they also need to play within the same economic reality as anyone else.
The solution to all of this isn’t simple, but it is obvious. The goal should be to reduce costs, not increase revenue. It lowers the risk of an uneconomic product, it gives developers more creative control and in turn makes game development more sustainable. More importantly for publicly listed companies, it gives shareholders greater confidence to ride out any downturns in the industry. And that is good for everyone, the businesses, the creators and the consumer.