Atomic Heart was not destined to be a flashpoint for conversations about real wars. But the newly-released first-person shooter, being set in an alternate version of 1950s Soviet Russia where killer robots have run amok, has stepped right into the crosshairs of discourse stemming from current-day Russia's very real invasion of Ukraine using killer robots.
My takeaway from this article is less about the geopolitical factors involved in game production and more about just how much development money comes from various states’ fossil fuel industries. It’s mentioned briefly that Mundfish received funding from a Russian oil & gas firm, and while it’s not said directly in the brief mention of the Saudis, you can assume any big money venture coming out of Saudi Arabia is linked with oil. Tencent seems to own a stake in a Chinese oil firm called Sinopec, and pretty much every major American tech company (Microsoft included) has some kind of fossil fuel contract. Is there a version of the games industry that can survive without that? I say that as a writer with no delusions about how literary publishing is still basically under the patronage system, with universities and billionaires (see today’s kerfuffle about Elizabeth Koch and the recently-shuttered Catapult) standing in for the Medicis and the Borgias. So the answer may very well be no. But we should figure it out sooner rather than later.
I’m gonna push back at the suggestion that the games industry might need petrochemical money to survive. Petrochemical investment is the same as when companies perform major layoffs: they don’t need to do it to make money, they just can make more money by doing it. The games industry isn’t a charity, or even (as a whole) a loss leader, these things turn a profit. It’s just that a profit isn’t enough for corporations, they need maximum profit.
Exactly. Gaming is by far the biggest non-extractive industry in terms of dollars made these days. They don’t need that money, but they do need swimming pools of cash to fund the kinds of games that the market demands.
I think a great example from another industry is Cameron’s Avatar movies. They’ve take 13 years to release a sequel, which then needed to take in $1bn to break even. Its done that and then some, but it was made in New Zealand where employment law was shredded over 10 years to accommodate international film productions of which Avatar was one.
Now Avatar and its sequel are arguably generational hits, but the gaming industry takes a similar time-frame to make AAA games at the same scale as an Avatar and the market expects at least 5-10 of them to be released on an annual basis! The kind of financing you need for those timelines is monumental, no matter what kind of project you’re talking about.
The Gamers want a giant, high-fidelity hit every quarter and somebody is going to want to underwrite that.
Irrespective of the game’s geopolitical provenance, importance, or lack thereof, it’s clear that the game itself has less than stellar politics and the people who made it have shitty personal politics (i.e. weirdo ex-GG types).