Game development in a capitalist society


So, you are an aspiring game developer, just like myself! Or, let's just pretend for the sake of argument you are. Great! Let's develop something cool! Thus, the process would look like this, albeit massively oversimplified:

Idea -> Assemble a team -> Development -> Game

Alas, no. In a capitalist society, where petty monarchs known as landlords can charge you a regressive tax known as "rent", this approach will only work for game jams. For more ambitious, narrative-driven titles, the kind of game play Total Rendition aspires to achieve, the process looks more like this:

Idea -> Assemble a provisional team -> Develop prototypes (to capitalists, on whose mercy you depend upon, you will call it a "minimum viable product") -> Recruit a business partner -> Obtain funding -> Assemble a team -> Development -> Marketing -> Game

Looks a bit inefficient, effort-wise, now doesn't it? It puts the lie to the idea that capitalism is the most efficient economic system there is, especially when it involves culture. Granted, free-market capitalism is probably a lot more efficient than feudalism or central planning (which contrary to popular belief has very little to do with socialism, the USSR of yore's rhetoric notwithstanding). Sadly, Stalin's goons, as well as Franco and his cohorts, being supported by Hitler and Mussolini, as well as the largest paedophile ring in the world (you know, the one for in whose honour Mel Gibson made an antisemitic propaganda movie), brought the mood of revolutionary Catalonia to an unfortunate demise.

And unfortunate indeed: Had the social structure of revolutionary Catalonia survived the Spanish civil war, it would probably have produced a treasure trove of game plays, music, art and stage plays.

Indeed, I know this first-hand when I was mandated, as part of my polytechnic education, to take part in a game jam. As a matter of fact, the game we had developed (named DDR, revolving around street-racing Trabbi's) even won a student's choice prize, although the game itself seems to have been lost since. However, in hindsight, the whole affair seemed pretty forced. Indeed, unless it is your artistic modus operandi to make small-length games, like Kenneth Anger makes short movies, game jams seem to be a consequence of the limitations/difficulties capitalism imposes on the game development of nearly any game. It also constrains the assortment of games: It is easy enough to imagine Fortnite in a capitalist society, because E-Sports sell. What if doesn't sell, or at least not right away?

Narrative game development has since suffered with the availability of broadband internet, since E-Sports are simply more profitable. Even longstanding narrative-driven titles (or game plays), such as Grand Theft Auto and the Longest Journey have seen their developers selling out to cater to multiplayer audiences. Capitalism is seriously threatening game plays (i.e. the single-player game) as an art form, because roughly the same skill sets that go into game plays can also be used to develop E-Sports, which have been crowding out the former in terms of investment. Given Total Rendition's politically sensitive nature, it is fairly unlikely it will receive public funds either, given the degree of "curation" (i.e. government scrutiny) art subsidies have been receiving nowadays.

What about CD Projekt RED, with Cyberpunk 2077? We should perhaps note that CD Projekt RED started out as a publisher and translator to Polish of video games, which helped them to attract investment. Even today they sell a lot of multiplayer games along the way. Both the Witcher series and Cyberpunk 2077, were made by cutting corners (i.e. exploiting workers and in Cyberpunk 2077's case, rushing stuff to premature release) and using licenced material, the latter helping the games to market themselves. Total Rendition cannot wait for any of that, since it would undercut its message, both in terms of ethics as well as timing. Even upon Trump leaving office, the spectre of his ideology and policies will remain for a long-time, at least as long as these were in the making well before he gained power. I sincerely believe Total Rendition is part of mankind's recovery process from that, which cannot happen soon enough. So, fuck capitalism, especially when it gets in the way of this healing process we so desperately need!

Luckily, I have been inspired by an unlikely source; namely, the great filmmaker Werner Herzog (and btw, that Tzipora Herzog shares a surname and even an alma mater was actually not intentional although certainly a nice coincidence, and if you haven't seen any of Werner Herzog's movies, you definitely should). To avoid getting into detail: He got where he is at, not only with talent and ambition, as plenty of people who have both of that don't get very far despite of it, and indeed, they got where they were at by cutting corners. Now, it's not exactly the cutting corners the CD Projekt RED way, exploiting workers and rushing things to release, quite the opposite in fact; He cut corners primarily by offending petite bourgeois sensibilities. Werner Herzog insisted that it was "natural right" to do so and indeed, his natural right it is!

This is the Nietzschean ethos of the superman to whom all is permitted in the pursuit of artistic ventures, in spite of capitalism and government-funded cultural institutions with their narrow, constrained morality. In the musical world, there are countless examples of this ethos: Jim Morrison and Lana Del Rey may come to mind. Yet, I can't recall of any examples within the "games industry" who have followed the same ethic, although I might hazard saying Warren Spector (of Deus Ex fame) has come closest to it, evident when he during convention talk he mentioned that in order to make an ambitious title, you will have to find an investor "stupid enough" to pour money into your project.

Total Rendition has been developed in squats and despite the discouragement it has received from the faithful in the so-called Protestant Work Ethic, which can kiss my ass as far as I'm concerned! Total Rendition is developed undermining capitalism, although sometimes, the development process pretends to take part in it instead and in certain cases, it actually does, although only insofar it facilitates its development. This earned me and Total Rendition a lot of misunderstanding (particularly from the Forest Edinburgh) although it's worth it: Because it's my natural right to develop games, because I want it and it's yours as well, if that's what you wanna do!

-Mordechai Gabai

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