Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown mulls over Notch, Bleszinski and Kojima’s futures
Six years ago, I was working in finance. I’d spent almost my entire career in banks and finance departments, the exception being a magical 12 months at a dance music website in my early 20s, a job that essentially involved reviewing records all day and going clubbing every weekend. My employer’s funding was pulled after 9/11 and, with London rents to pay, I needed a job. I figured I’d drift back into banking for a bit while I planned my next move. It took me ten years and a generous redundancy package to not only make that move, but even to work out what it would be. It’s hard to break the status quo when you’re living payday to payday, and only when I had the time and money to stop worrying about where next month’s rent – well, mortgage payment by then – was coming from was I able to stop and mull over what I wanted to do.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, because some of the industry’s big names are currently at various points in that process. Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, newly monied and unemployed after selling Minecraft, recently had a very public existential crisis on Twitter. Cliff Bleszinski revealed his new studio’s first game, and admitted he thought he was out for good after leaving Epic because he’d grown jaded with the business of making games. And with The Phantom Pain on shelves and his time at Konami messily brought to a close, Hideo Kojima is pondering what to do after almost 30 years of making games with Metal Gear in their titles.
The difference between me and those three is money, but I’m not about to join the massed ranks of press and public outraged at the suggestion that rich people can have it hard too. Such was the case with Notch, who turned a fun coding project into $2.5 billion, outbid Jay Z and Beyoncé for the most expensive house in Beverly Hills, then started partying with insufferable EDM bellends. Whether it was this or underlying psychological issues that prompted a smallhours social-media confession and the public pile-on that followed, that’s his business. If a man wants, and can afford, to spend his days munching M&Ms in his specially designed candy room while he decides what to do next, then good luck to him. We’d all do it differently (Masters At Work and Skittles Sours, if you’re asking), but what matters most is that he’s starting to work out what he wants to do with his life. He’s shown again that a bottomless bank account is no guarantor of infinite happiness.
Bleszinski’s got dough too, of course – enough to fund his post-Epic sabbatical of tweeting pictures of his feet in front of various hotel-rooftop infinity pools – but he too will have interspersed his downtime with some serious contemplation of what to do next. I wonder whether Notch will be struck by how Bleszinski’s moved forwards by looking backwards; the in-production
LawBreakers is a hi-res homage to arena shooters such as Unreal, the game on which Bleszinski made his name. Notch can’t follow that to the letter – Microsoft might have something to say about him making another voxel building game, and the industry’s got that well and truly covered anyway. But Bleszinski had the time and the money to work out what he wanted to do with life, and he’s doing it. Crucially, he seems happy.
Who knows whether Kojima is. Money’s clearly not an issue for him – he’s got enough to keep him in arthouse Blu-rays, Ultravox picture discs and Instagrammed posh lunches – but compared to Notch he might as well be you or me, despite his role in creating a series that has helped keep Konami afloat for three decades.
While he has plenty in common with Bleszinski and Notch – and even a little with the me of six years ago, in a roundabout, much less boring way – his situation is the most difficult. His reputation means he will have options, no doubt; Konami aside, surely there isn’t a publisher on the planet unwilling to back his next big idea to the hilt. But while Notch chose to take Microsoft’s cheque for Minecraft and Bleszinski likewise left of his own accord, Kojima is different. Konami gave him the money and the time to make what he wanted to make, and ended up punishing him for it. He made the game of his life, and was given his marching orders. At least he, like the others, is now in control of his destiny, free to work out what he wants to do next. Perhaps, if he hasn’t tired of an overbearing corporate structure that doesn’t properly reward his hard work, he might consider a move into finance.
Konami gave Kojima the money and the time to make what he wanted to make, and ended up punishing him for it