The first month and a bit of a brand new year is often a slow time for news organizations, especially those covering the video game journalism industry. People are still on the high of the new year, recklessly damaging their ability to complete resolutions, and so nothing productive happens. There are exceptions to this rule, however, with 2011 being one of them. Not just because of some big releases next week, but also the continuation of a trend seen from last year - the terrible economy swallowing studios whole and relentlessly exacerbating resources until all is gone.
It's always a tragedy to hear of a studio being closed and people - qualified, talented developers - losing their jobs over reasons mostly out of their control. They put a product out that they created, and have no idea how the community will respond. In these times, it is exceptionally difficult to make a masterpiece, or at least something that doesn't suck, and not every studio can spit out works of art. As unfortunate as it is, that is the nature of business. Two studios - Propaganda and Bizarre - are going through this scenario as I write this. One studio made a great game that didn't sell well (that some blame on infrequent advertising) and one had a huge game canceled leading to its demise.
Bizarre Creations, legendary in the field of racing, has treated audiences over the years with Project Gotham Racing and Metropolis Street Racer. The developer also made the immensely popular Geometry Wars, one of the most colourful and seizure-inducing games I have ever seen. And then, the company came up with an idea that we haven't seen since the days of the N64 - a grown-up version of Mario Kart. The template was basically there, and adhering to adult audiences would be a breeze (although I still know plenty of people that love Mario Kart). Blur, a promising new IP with the backing of a legendary developer, was born. As a video game enthusiast, I try my best to play as many games as I can afford; I had heard about this game a week AFTER it was released, with no commercials on anything. The reason why the game sold poorly (and for people that haven't played it are doing themselves an injustice) is Bizarre's owner, Activision, had seemingly no advertisements anywhere. There were commercials but it seemed like these 30-second snapshots were played sparingly. Look at what happened to Tony Hawk: Shred - minus the fact that the game was horrific, it only sold 3000 copies and the only advertising Activision had put out was a 30-second bit at a game conference. Publishers can't magically expect every game they put out to have the same success as Call of Duty.
The other studio - Propaganda Games - had everything working against them. Established as a Vancouver-wing under Disney Interactive, the company was doomed from the start. Pitted to "reboot" the seamlessly terrible string of Turok games, the developer's first outing got mixed reviews. After that, since Disney wanted to further capitalize on the monetary powerhouse that is Pirates of the Caribbean, Armada of the Damned was announced for a March 2011 release. Some major development setbacks and firings forced the studio to cancel the game, hindering its ability to stay afloat. It was deja vu when Propaganda was asked to make the ill-fated Tron: Evolution, the obligatory video game tie-in to the movie sequel. In my review, I tore the studio apart and rightfully so, but I do apologize because it is a sad day that any business - regardless of who's fault it is - goes out of business and people lose their jobs. So I am sorry, Propaganda Games.
Aside from the studio-closing heartache, I'm sure we can expect every more bumps on the road to video game perfection. Activision has said they have tried looking for someone to buy Bizarre, and here's to hoping they do (I have a drink in my hand), but for now we'll have to wait and see. What other memorable moments does this year hold? As I've said, it's fun to speculate.