Former Sony CEO Discusses Risks Of Video Game Industry Consolidation And Game Preservation


from the preach! dept

There’s a lot to get to in this post, so we’re going to dive right in. Shawn Layden is a former CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, otherwise known as essentially the boss of Playstation. He has made several appearances as of late, both in a keynote speech for a video game industry summit and in a recent interview for the LAN Parties podcast, discussing two topics we’ve covered regularly here at Techdirt: video game preservation and industry consolidation. And while I’ve personally had some challenging things to say about Layden in the distant past, in both instances he’s making some very insightful points on both topics.

On the topic of consolidation, it’s important to note, as Kotaku did, that Layden has long been a critic of the traditional AAA blockbuster game. He rightly notes how that style of game has really become a stagnant piece of the industry. You can see evidence of this everywhere, from the success of indie studios and their often shorter games, to game concepts that go beyond the “amazing graphics and 70 hours of gameplay” standard and instead focus on replayability, and so-called “forever games”, such as the Minecrafts and Rimworlds that are out there.

So it’s within that larger context that he recently warned the period of studio/publisher consolidation that the gaming industry is going through brings with it a lot of risk.

“My concern around consolidation is that often it impacts creativity. For instance, it takes some kind of small, independent, wildhorse studios and brings them into a larger conglomerate and essentially time slows down the bigger you are, time slows down,” Layden said. “I’m also concerned when studios get bought and instead of enabling a way to create their game, they maybe get absorbed into a larger enterprise that’s making a larger game, you know, how many studios are involved in making blockbuster games that will stagger the mind.”

He said that in specific instances, acquisitions can save studios from shutting down and he’s glad to see that, but he remains worried about the lasting impact of the larger trend. “I’m just concerned about what it does to the creativity urge inside of the studios, and can they keep that sort of independent creativity alive or do they just get absorbed into the larger whole? Time will tell, but it’s a bit concerning. When you go from hundreds of voices to dozens of voices, you lose some voices,” Layden said.

He specifically goes on to call out the consolidation of game genres that has come along with consolidation within the industry. His overall point is that these massive acquisitions we’ve begun to see largely only make sense if the acquiring company is looking to purchase successful game franchises with an eye towards pumping out sequels and titles that mirror those successes. That means you’re not going to get free-thinking creativity in the studios that get acquired and will instead see those studios turned into gaming factory lines pumping out tried and true types of products. And as those genres continue to get stale, all that consolidation will lead to consolidated stagnation of interest from the public.

As to the topic of game preservation, well, all I can say is that Layden’s public comments on the topic are a breath of fresh air coming from someone tied to the industry.

“Preservation is important,” Layden said. “I’m hoping that more people in the industry, certainly the big players, begin to realize that there’s an obligation and responsibility. This isn’t throw-away stuff we’re making. This is stuff that should be around for a long time because future generations will enjoy it in the same way that we have and it’s criminal that we’re not doing more to protect it.”

While companies have been happy to remaster older games or sell new anthologies like this week’s Metal Gear Solid Master Collection, there’s been no larger unified campaign by publishers and console manufacturers to invest in keeping gaming’s history alive and available. As Layden points out, it rarely helps the bottom line. Culturally, though, it’s an important way for one generation of players to share their passion with the next. Besides, a medium untethered from its past might have a harder time seeing where it goes next.

It may well be impossible to frame the issue any better than that. Of course these content-producing companies are in it all to make money. That is a given. But there is a responsibility, to borrow Layden’s word, to protect the culture that is being created here and the simple fact of the matter is that the industry is by and large shirking that responsibility, pretending like it doesn’t exist. Or pretending like copyright protections are more important than that cultural preservation.

And that is absolutely stupid. Imagine a world in which you could no longer legitimately watch the movie The Maltese Falcon, simply because some Hollywood studio both didn’t bother to ever put it on a medium that would survive modernity and insisted nobody else could either because of its intellectual property rights. Would we accept that from the film industry? Not willingly, I’d argue, though I’m sure we could all find some instances of that very thing occurring. So why are we by and large accepting it for the video game industry?

You really should go check out the full interview if you’re at all interested in the business of video games. At the very least, it’s nice to hear from an industry executive who seems to get it.

Filed Under: consolodation, playstation, shawn layden, video games

Companies: sony

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