30 games a day
February 3, 2022 10:32 AM   Subscribe

There Are Too Many Video Games "There are too many indie games. If my country was healthy, stable, and on a sustainable path, most of them would not exist, including mine. That they do exist is a symptom of misplaced priorities, crappy opportunities for ambitious youth, and ongoing damage to our society." (previously) posted by simmering octagon (72 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Please tell me if this paraphrasing of the argument is being unfair:

"There is too much art. Creating art for its own sake is a waste of your life, and creating art that others actually consume is worse, because it's wasting their lives as well! Maybe our society is broken if it allows this many people to waste time making and consuming art. People should live fulfilling lives by spending their time filling potholes."
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2022 [44 favorites]

Dear Mr. President,
There are too many games nowadays.
Please eliminate three.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:59 AM on February 3, 2022 [16 favorites]

I think he's trying to say that indie creatives are fiddling while Rome burns. But because he's a fish living in capitalism, it's coming out like, "every moment of your existence must be productive."

Replace the making of indie games with some other hobby. Gardening for example, but not a calorie producing kind, maybe rose bushes or orchids. Then say something like, "Only ten of my friends will ever enjoy my rose bushes, was it really worth it?" Or, "Only a limited span on this earth and I spend it pruning!?"
posted by Horkus at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2022 [25 favorites]

Number one, games aren't fungible and there's no single unitary subject picking which games to play, meaning that "nobody wants all those games" is oversimplified. Number two, there's not really any reliable way to identify which indie games will get an audience and which won't, which means that any given indie developer doesn't know whether, per Vogel, they should keep working or quit. Number three, "Stop competing with me and get out there and do real work while I stay here and keep doing the implicitly worthless work that we both want to do" is never going to be a popular message."

(Number four, using the language of social justice and progressivism to argue that the market in which you are selling products should be less competitive is, well, gross.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 AM on February 3, 2022 [21 favorites]

Don't blame capitalism for these problems. Capitalism is the instrument that made the surpluses that made it possible for you to write art nobody wants in the first place.

(buzzer noise)
Explains the dearth of art in non-industrial societies. Art comes from time.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:02 AM on February 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

There's too many movies. There's too many books. There's too many albums. There's too many plays, tv shows, podcasts, long-form articles, YouTube videos, social media posts, commentaries, meta-commentaries, meta-meta-commentaries, and every other form of culture and media you can think of.

The sad, beautiful fact is that we're all going to miss almost everything. Why would video games be any different?

Why, yes, I did make this same comment about four years ago.
posted by SansPoint at 11:02 AM on February 3, 2022 [13 favorites]

Hey kid, I'm a computer, stop all the downloadin'.
posted by mhoye at 11:06 AM on February 3, 2022 [8 favorites]

There's too many kids in this tub
There's too many elbows to scrub
I just washed a behind that I'm sure wasn't mine
There's too many kids in this tub.
posted by nushustu at 11:08 AM on February 3, 2022 [19 favorites]

People should live fulfilling lives by spending their time filling potholes.

I'm agnostic about this guy's overall thesis, not being a gamer myself. However, I actually do think one can live a fulfilling life by filling potholes.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:08 AM on February 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

Plus, my city of Seattle doesn't have a road without a big pothole in it. Fixing potholes is actual work. It's tiring, and it's dirty, and how could doing something that actually benefits people ever compete with Living! A! Life! In! Art! (tm)

If you want a job with actual meaning, that ACTUALLY makes peoples lives better, there is plenty that needs doing. The problem, of course, is that jobs that actually have meaning involve actual work and thus SUCK.

Clearly, he is unaware of the social milieu in which I operate, specifically, #transit is always the best #trans* channel. Which is to say, queer/trans/nerdy/creative types are still enthusiastic about infrastructure, it's just that most of us are wildly unqualified to work in infrastructure and we know it. Also, my US city's public transit system has lately had service cuts because they can't hire/retain enough people who aren't in quarantine for COVID exposures, whoops.

You can value art and also infra, those aren't mutually exclusive.

But if your ONLY or PRIMARY infrastructure complaint is "too many potholes," I invite you to visit your nearest bike path, walk or ride down it until you find a wet, muddy ditch on the side of the path, and then throw yourself into that ditch. Drivers are overwhelmingly richer, less disabled, and more fortunate than people who cannot own or drive cars. Personal automobiles are bad, actually, and I don't know anybody at all who a) is hyped about car culture and b) has moral values worth a damn. You can take your bike path and/or your streetcar and you'll like it.
posted by All Might Be Well at 11:10 AM on February 3, 2022 [15 favorites]

Not every moment moment of our lives needs to be productive, but too many of us - myself included - are not spending enough time on things that are necessary to ensure there will be a future worth living in.
posted by spudsilo at 11:12 AM on February 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Wait - the least popular Pony is Applejack? I love Applejack!

Wrong on so many levels.
posted by Mchelly at 11:12 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Please tell me if this paraphrasing of the argument is being unfair:

"There is too much art. Creating art for its own sake is a waste of your life, and creating art that others actually consume is worse, because it's wasting their lives as well! Maybe our society is broken if it allows this many people to waste time making and consuming art. People should live fulfilling lives by spending their time filling potholes."

A little bit unfair, I think! I would try “Our society excessively fetishizes creating art, especially creating individual art, and the notion that you can make a profit from it. It would be better if we valued laboring for the collective good more, and laboring in a group for the collective good has a higher expected value of making you happy than does being a solo artist.”

I do think the essay goes in a few directions at once - there are too many games, getting a degree in game dev costs a lot of money for something that won’t likely pay off, our society depends on cheap foreign labor, we’d all rather fiddle than help keep Rome from burning - but there’s a nut of truth in that graph.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:14 AM on February 3, 2022 [16 favorites]

You personally quitting your job to become a construction worker will not actually result in a single additional pothole being filled. US infrastructure isn't crumbling because nobody is willing to do the work but because nobody is willing to pay for it.
posted by Pyry at 11:14 AM on February 3, 2022 [47 favorites]

I think the idea is interesting but there were no data supporting the argument that I found convincing.

> All I want to point out is that if there is a problem here, it's way bigger than video games. But I know video games. So I'll talk about that for now.

I was skimming the article but I didn't find any special insights into the video game industry by the author. I would love to hear a more in depth analysis of the economics and growth of the indie video game industry, if anyone has links.
posted by dragonfruit at 11:15 AM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Honestly, filling potholes and watching cars drive on the fixed road can be a lot more fulfilling than spending months or years developing a game that no one plays.

I can't tell if the author is arguing that indie games are being developed by the rich, for their own ego, or (as in the previously linked post) they are get-rich-quick schemes that will surely collapse (in 2014) as people run out of attention and money.
posted by meowzilla at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2022

You personally quitting your job to become a construction worker will not actually result in a single additional pothole being filled. US infrastructure isn't crumbling because nobody is willing to do the work but because nobody is willing to pay for it.

Coincidentally, we just passed a BIF!
posted by Going To Maine at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2022

I almost can't believe the words "and while you're at it, get off my lawn..." weren't in the actual essay.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:21 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

The "average person develops 3 games a year" factoid is actually just statistical error. The average person develops 0 games per year. Asset Flip Georg, who lives in cave & develops over 10,000 games each day, is an outlier and should not have been counted.
posted by genpfault at 11:22 AM on February 3, 2022 [32 favorites]

Not exactly statistical error, I'd rather call it statistical folly. The Average person develops 3 games a year, but the Average is the Mean, and the Mean is not a robust estimator. So, we shouldn't care about the Average person, we should care about the Median person, who develops 0 games a year. Good ol' Median, you can never go wrong betting on Median.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:28 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

It never seems to occur to him that it's possible for people to make video games and fix potholes, or make video games and volunteer at a food bank, which is . . . weird? He's surely familiar with the idea of having day jobs, hobbies, and volunteer activities, but it somehow never comes up.

I would also question whether the proportion of people engaged in unsuccessful creative activities overall has changed meaningfully. It sure seems possible that there are more people making unsuccessful video games now, but maybe that's offset by fewer people making bad poetry / novels / screenplays / music / paintings, and the total percentage of people frittering their lives away on art they hope will pay off for them is more or less unchanged.

As the author is himself a creator of video games, I wonder if maybe the concern is less, there are too many people wasting their time on making unsuccessful art and we should stop them so they won't be sad / impoverished, so much as, there are too many people making art that competes with my art; how can I stop them so I won't be sad / impoverished?
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:29 AM on February 3, 2022 [13 favorites]

Going To Maine, I kind of see that, I was TRYING to charitably take that as the argument while reading, but this stuck out to me:

Writing a game nobody plays discharges your energy and creates the feeling of achievement, but it's all empty calories and then your car falls into a sinkhole. If your game succeeds, it’s even worse. Your customers are now also expending all of their energy too, playing your game alone in a room. Meanwhile, sinkholes.

To me, this says there's no moral way to create art. Either you're wasting your time if no one else participates, or you're also wasting the time of others if they do. I can't reconcile that statement with saying there's any value in art.

In the author's mind, the only moral ways to participate in society are to "help others", but the only examples given are helping people to meet basic needs - church, charity, food banks, potholes. Helping others by giving them creative experiences that could be life-changing (and I would definitely argue that there are books and albums and video games that have changed my life) is not considered to be helping.

If the author didn't want to write such a reductive way of looking at things, they could have discussed how art actually is valuable, both in its creation and as an experience for others. They specifically claimed the opposite. They could have mentioned how maybe right now we need to rebalance our allocation of time and resources, but instead we just hear how indie video games are a waste of time. Every time the author DOES caution that they can't tell us not to be creative anyway, it comes off as a chiding"well I'm not the boss of you, but" rather than "there is still value in art in spite of these pragmatic issues I'm trying to discuss"
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 11:33 AM on February 3, 2022 [10 favorites]

He’s definitely a little bit all over the place/turning a personal crisis into a thesis about the world. In the comments (if you make it past the guy spamming racial slurs) there’s an exchange in which he says this

I think you are assuming that the choice between art and work-work will stay, just that, a choice. I know, I know, it's easy to be pessimistic and economists predict 50 out of every 5 recessions. But ... I think the option to make art is something I am going to lose.

But of course it’s already not “just a choice.” He won a lottery, and he just spent a bunch of paragraphs describing how that works! The core truth of what he’s getting at is that people are more willing to make video games for no money than to fix potholes for no money, because it’s more fun and because there’s a dream of winning that lottery and becoming a noted professional video game person. But he’s got his personal anxiety about the video game market all tangled up with his anxiety about the state of the world in general. And he’s got some variety of “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” syndrome, such that he can say in passing that, of course, people should get paid a living wage to fix potholes - and then go right back to talking about the moral value of fixing potholes versus making video games. It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than a world in which people get paid to fix potholes and make video games in their spare time, I guess.
posted by atoxyl at 11:33 AM on February 3, 2022 [8 favorites]

30 games a day? Boy, I wonder what this guy is gonna think when he hears about books.
posted by mhum at 11:37 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh wait. I posted too soon, he has heard of books (and music) too. Seems like he's not a fan.
posted by mhum at 11:38 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

People who make video games have bills to pay, just like the rest of us. I thought this was common knowledge but apparently not.

There is a glut of video games. As consumers this is great, but for people looking to start a career making video games, it really isn't.
posted by swr at 11:41 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Do you know an ambitious, fresh-faced, hard-working youngster who has a dream of writing the next great computer game? Take this chart and shove it in the kid's face.

Happily, Josh Wardle has never seen this chart.
posted by SPrintF at 11:42 AM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

If I am a performance artist who fills potholes to make a statement about society, can I keep doing my art?
posted by snofoam at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

I felt like this essay was saying a bunch of things I agree with, even though it's a bit all-over-the-place. Generalizing from myself, a geriatric millennial artist with a day job:

1. people want to meet their own basic needs (including their families etc.)
2. people want to feel as if they are a meaningful part of a functioning society
3. artists want to make their work and have it affect others

It is vanishingly rare for a person to achieve these things in 3-2-1 order: make the art, feel like a part of society, get needs met. Most of us with day jobs settle for 1, then 2 (if we're lucky), and then usually half of 3 (you make the art but nobody ever sees it).

The disconnect between 2 and 3 is what has been gnawing at me for years.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:47 AM on February 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

I'm agnostic about this guy's overall thesis, not being a gamer myself. However, I actually do think one can live a fulfilling life by filling potholes.
“I could try composing wonderful musical works, or day-long entertainment epics, but what would that do? Give people pleasure? My wiping this table gives me pleasure. And people come to a clean table, which gives them pleasure. And anyway" - the man laughed - "people die; stars die; universes die. What is any achievement, however great it was, once time itself is dead? Of course, if all I did was wipe tables, then of course it would seem a mean and despicable waste of my huge intellectual potential. But because I choose to do it, it gives me pleasure. And," the man said with a smile, "it's a good way of meeting people. So where are you from, anyway?”

― Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons
I myself have never filled a pothole. The summer I was twenty I was driving a crane in a steel mill and it was consistently more fulfilling than the decades of office work and employment in the arts has been.

There were clear and obvious things to do, and I did them, and then they were done. The next day, more things needed to be done, so I did those. I had plenty of free time and money to indulge other pursuits and it gave me an opportunity to put into practice Buddhist views on mindfulness and non-duality: my crane was designed to hoist four-ton rolls of steel onto tractor-trailers and I was able to consider it an extension of my own body to the degree that I would use slack time to pick up empty and discarded pop cans of the coil floor, three stories below me, the use these grasping claws as thick as telephone poles to drop the cans into a garbage bin.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:47 AM on February 3, 2022 [32 favorites]

Clearly, he is unaware of the social milieu in which I operate, specifically, #transit is always the best #trans* channel. Which is to say, queer/trans/nerdy/creative types are still enthusiastic about infrastructure, it's just that most of us are wildly unqualified to work in infrastructure and we know it. Also, my US city's public transit system has lately had service cuts because they can't hire/retain enough people who aren't in quarantine for COVID exposures, whoops.

I'm a queer in civil/transportation engineering. I assure you that ya'll are absolutely qualified to do this work. The problem is that infrastructure of all kinds is badly, badly underfunded. My city could double the amount of maintenance staff (just maintenance! we are not even talking about new/updated design!) and equipment and would only then begin to make a dent in our backlog. This inevitably boils down to who is, or is not, getting taxed, and how much, and where that money goes.

There's.. a lot wrong with the linked article. Like, yes, late stage capitalism is a problem, but not in the way that you think.

Also, there was a front page promotion for a game on Steam earlier this week called Sex with Hitler, which is apparently a very hardcore porno game of you - as Hitler, I think? - having sex with various Nazi women? I did not look at it too closely. I'm definitely okay with skipping a lot of the games on Steam.
posted by curious nu at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2022 [14 favorites]

I think my read on this is about the same as the general sentiments already expressed, but this is so clearly some middle class Fucking Blogger projecting his anxiety about the uselessness of his take-crafting. Most artists have day jobs. People who fill potholes also put music no one pays attention to on Soundcloud. That our economy doesn't prioritize socially necessary labor (which, despite his proud philistinism, includes art) and is rife with what David Graeber termed bullshit jobs isn't the fault of art or artists, nor is it a precondition for people to have the free time to fulfill their own creative needs.
posted by jy4m at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2022 [14 favorites]

Disney will never, ever make a movie about a musician who dreams of making shoes. Even though, well, try going a week without music and then a week without shoes and see which is more necessary.
posted by mecran01 at 12:01 PM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I agree there are a lot more games on Steam today. I don't think it has anything to do with too many "affluent children of empire."

The reason there are so many is that it has gotten much, much easier to make a PC game due to the number of incredibly powerful and (relatively) easy-to-use engines: Unity, Unreal, GameMaker, Godot, etc. I would say it is only slightly harder to create a PC game and get it on Steam than it was to get a Flash game on Kongregate ten years ago.

Kongregate had over 120,000 Flash games at its peak, twice as many as there are on Steam now.
posted by justkevin at 12:05 PM on February 3, 2022 [8 favorites]

Armchair editor note: the bit about Imagining trying to go a week without shoes pause for jury murmur and judge gavel doesn't quite have the rhetorical punch for online-enabled audiences two years into a pandemic that it might have had before it.
posted by Drastic at 12:23 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

I cried because I had no shoes, until one day I met a man who had no Gamertag.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:28 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Disney will never, ever make a movie about a musician who dreams of making shoes. Even though, well, try going a week without music and then a week without shoes and see which is more necessary.

I think a truer point for his argument would be that Disney makes movies about the importance of being a shoe designer, not someone who works in a shoe factory.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:44 PM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

It feels like outside of game dev tools getting easier the bigger thing is that the distribution is easier. I'm not sure if people are actually making more art than we had previously, it's just that it didn't used to be as visible. I know I made games as a teen for fun, but those never lived anywhere but my own hard drive, but now it'd be fairly straightforward to throw them up on itch. If some people I knew in high school started a band they could play a few local shows and maybe make some CDs to sell, but now they can also just throw it up on Spotify or Bandcamp with not a lot of extra effort. If someone writes a book, it is so much easier to self-publish, especially since you don't even need to make physical copies.

I dunno, I think we see these numbers because we can actually count things now since we're putting things through these huge distributors with low barriers of entry, but we don't really know how to understand them.

(also yes, I have definitely spent a week without shoes more recently than one without music)
posted by tealNoise at 12:45 PM on February 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

The problem this guy identifies, "There are too many video games in general, and on Steam specifically, and a lot of them are bad" is a real problem. There is a lot of everything and almost all of it is not worth your time. But the conclusion he reaches, that people are creating and consuming too much art, is completely absurd.

I assure you people are not making substantially more art right now than at any other moment in history. People have always made art. What's different now is there's more people than there has ever been, and it's never been easier for people to share their art with the world. That is a feature, not a bug.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:49 PM on February 3, 2022 [13 favorites]

I will say one thing that struck me is missing from this essay is the idea of "folk art," broadly construed. I think for a lot of reasons of monetizing everything under capitalism, a hyper individualistic society, and the romanticization of artists in general, the US (and a lot of other Western countries) lack an appreciation for ways in which everyday people who are not "artists" can create and participate in art. For example, when all clothes had to be made from scratch, it was very common for the women in families who were producing household textiles to use the everyday functional tools and materials of the job to also make things beautiful, just for the pleasure of doing so. Quilting is probably the most famous American example, using leftover scraps of fabric, putting them in beautiful patterns, and then quilting elaborate designs. Candlewicking is another one I particularly like, it's undyed, relatively thick(/unfancy) fibers on undyed very plain cotton or linen, where using a of vocabulary of around six stitches, embroiderers make extremely elaborate patterns of embroidery for household goods like bedspreads and pillows.

The sort of folk art was seen as fulfilling to the person doing it, who got to make something beautiful; nice for the people using it who got to see something beautiful; and a relatively minor source of social approval as other people admired your handwork.

This is also true of many musicians, who might be only middling good, but who were still desired to play for community dances or festivals. They got to enjoy the beauty of creating music, and the community got to enjoy the beauty of hearing it, and being a relatively mediocre fiddle player who could nonetheless play jigs was something that was met with social approval, because it was good and useful for the community, and it was fulfilling for the person doing it.

Now that art needs to be monetized, generally has a nationwide or worldwide audience, and can be infinitely reproduced at the highest level of fidelity, there isn't nearly so much space for average everyday people to participate in community art life. Who wants to go listen to a mediocre jazz band when you can buy recordings of the greatest players of all time? Who wants to buy a quirky individual indie game that provides some amusement for a small tight-knit community, when the entire world can purchase huge AAA games? Who wants to go watch a third-tier production of Shakespeare live, when you can stream a movie version with the greatest Shakespearean actors in the world?

And on the one hand, this is wonderful, I get to see art by Monet and DaVinci, and listen to Louis Armstrong, and see acting performances on film that I never would have been able to see otherwise. But at the same time, it has dramatically reduced the community demand for local artists of slightly-above-average skill to produce art for their community's enjoyment and approval, without worrying about whether it measures up to DaVinci or earns money like a AAA game. You don't go to a local church and see one statue that the community fundraised for for 10 years to buy from a semi-expert in the nearest big city, surrounded by murals painted by local talented amateurs, with altar cloths and vestments embroidered by local women using locally made textiles. You see stuff that was made in factories, or produced by experts, and little reflection of the local community beautifying the space as best they knew how.

And I don't want to be all, "Artisanal handmade folk art is better!" It's absolutely amazing the incredible privilege that we have as modern people to see and read and hear and experience works of art by world-class artists at the peak of their craft. That's amazing!

But we also have driven out the myriad ways that everyday people of middling talent used to participate in creating art for their local communities, and I think there is a real psychological and community loss involved in that, both because all humans like to create art (and not that many of us have the chance anymore) and because our communities are enriched when they are beautified by local art that is deeply connected to the community and the people who live in it.

It makes me wonder if the underlying complaint is not actually, "there's too many games." But rather, "We have created a society where you either earn money from nationwide appeal of your art, or you don't get to create any that anybody ever sees or appreciates." That's kind of fucked up, because most of us would like to create our little low-key amateur art AND have our community appreciate it. Not that many of us either want to toil in complete obscurity where nobody appreciates the beauty of what we can create, or devote our lives to becoming a world-class artist and hoping we win the attention lottery. Most of us would get a lot of creative fulfillment from being the third guy to bang out some waltzes on the piano at a community dance!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:02 PM on February 3, 2022 [53 favorites]

I think it's interesting how the author accuses indie game developers for being under the influence of capitalism while not stopping to ask if their own Jordan Peterson and Asian Tiger Parenting mental gymnastics about the utility of doing art is also a consequence of a capitalist value system.

Now I'm going to play Wordl for 5 minutes of my precious time.
posted by polymodus at 1:21 PM on February 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

I am, broadly speaking, in support of pulling ideas out of your ass. Most comment sites on the internet and, indeed, most spontaneous conversations of any depth require a good deal of this to get along. It is even possible, when you are writing on an intensely personal topic or one in which you have doctoral-level knowledge, to pull an entire essay out of your ass and have it be worth the reader's time.

This is not one of those essays. He begins with a fact, which I accept on good faith -- there is an explosion in indie games. The next assertion is that this is too many games, that the market is glutted, which, sure, that seems reasonable. Everything else is the purest extrapolation from a combination of his deep personal anxieties and America's crumbling infrastructure, which is an enormous problem, to be certain, but can't be fixed by -- what? Kids these days getting more serious-minded? Going out and fixing potholes en masse for free?* I can't see this ending in anything but a friendly visit from the gentlemen of the local union.

I think, as he pretty much admits, that the whole thing is driven by his worries for his children and the world they have to live in, which I sympathize with. I just hope he's not really giving them this Mike Rowe crap at home.

* This does actually happen from time to time -- a local vigilante fixes a terrible pothole, which the municipality is forced to tear up because it's a liability if the work wasn't up to code, and then they have to fix the road anyway.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:26 PM on February 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

Despite the title, I don't think the number or indeed value of videogames in the world is the point of the article or relevant to its actual thesis. The thesis I get is that as a society the rich world devotes too much of its resources to the capacity to make videogames*, which affects individual choices, which is bad for both society and individuals.

Which I would have said is the mainstream Mefite position, possibly with different examples.
posted by clew at 1:36 PM on February 3, 2022

The author is ignoring that there are multiple instances of well-meaning artists fixing potholes with their art.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 1:40 PM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Sturgeon's Law - that 90% of science fiction is crap - also applies to a great many other areas of creative endeavor. Here, I turn to the teachings of Kurt Vonnegut, that the purpose of art is to make your soul grow
posted by nubs at 2:02 PM on February 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

The thesis I get is that as a society the rich world devotes too much of its resources to the capacity to make videogames*, which affects individual choices, which is bad for both society and individuals.

Which I would have said is the mainstream Mefite position, possibly with different examples.

I think the mainstream Mefite position would be along the lines of "the market does a shit job of allocating labor to actually useful endeavors", but when I think of labor misallocations what comes to mind is "programmers working to optimize ad delivery" and "the entire finance sector" and "everything cryptocurrency related" rather than indie games.
posted by Pyry at 2:02 PM on February 3, 2022 [11 favorites]

Yes-and. Online ads and cryptocurrency flourish on the same physical-and-software capacity that makes it about as easy to make an indie videogame as to write a novel -- we don't get one without the other -- possibly videogaming potentiated cryptobros the way bicycling clubs potentiated car culture.
posted by clew at 2:26 PM on February 3, 2022

Despite the title, I don't think the number or indeed value of videogames in the world is the point of the article or relevant to its actual thesis. The thesis I get is that as a society the rich world devotes too much of its resources to the capacity to make videogames*, which affects individual choices, which is bad for both society and individuals.

That’s a sentiment that clearly underlies what he’s trying to say but he’s too conflicted to argue it straightforwardly. He’s not comparing municipal infrastructure budgets to AAA game budgets - he’s a veteran indie developer and as such he’s leading with his concerns about the oversaturation of the indie games market. But the implication of this is that the world does not, actually, value your video game project as much as you do. Is it really bread and circuses, if nobody is showing up for the circus? Of course, being an indie game developer, he knows why people make games, if not for the money, and discusses those reasons at length, sympathetically. I’d say he comes close to finding a point to drive home here - consider volunteering instead of making games for your personal fulfillment, I guess. But he’s got, the way I read him, anxiety about the future of his career, guilt about his good fortune in that career, and anxiety about the future of the country/world all pulling in slightly different directions.
posted by atoxyl at 2:31 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think there's a question here about for whom we make our art. If we're doing it just for ourselves, great, any external appreciation is a bonus. I have a hobby like that.

If we do it for our community, or for the accolades, it gets a little harder. As has been mentioned up-thread, the mass market means there's a lot of really good art widely distributed, and unless there's something specific to a differentiated community or differentiated people, the product, of, say, the little bit of time I spend singing arpeggios at my garage walls, is unlikely to find a broad market. No matter how much my wife appreciates it.

But there's this middle-ground where there might be a community, and might not, and then we have to start to weigh off how much of that artistic endeavor we want to put into our own projects, how much we want to put into building some sort of group, and how much energy we want to expend to appreciate the art of others.

I'm the sort of person who quickly gets pushed to front and center of any thing I get interested in, but I'm not super good at building group relationships and dynamics, so I have two things where I and a few other people have built small communities and put on small events. By "small" I mean events with from, say, ten-ish to 60-ish people.

As we've talked about growing those two groups (on wildly different topics) more, we come into the problem of too damned many things to be involved in. The larger of those groups is focused on civic engagement, and we do about two presentations a month, but we're trying to get people involved in the larger community, and suddenly that's two or three City meetings a month, plus whatever sort of unofficial meetings with other groups we want to be chatting with, and...

A couple of months ago I went to a picnic organized by a local Pride organization and it was like "oh, maybe we don't need more organizers and leaders, maybe we just need more people coming to picnics".

Maybe I don't need to be the community organizer, maybe I need to be knocking on doors for candidates. Maybe I don't need to be calling the square dances and trying to build a square dance club, maybe I need to be taking swing lessons, or doing something else that roughly interchanges. Maybe I don't need to be performing, maybe I just need to be the audience.

I think a lot of us are finding that we don't have the sorts of community connections and strength that we'd really like, and we'd love for our art to be the focus of those community connections, but the sorts of people that we really want to connect with also want their art to be the focus, and we haven't figured out how to collaborate on that art.

And that's the real struggle, because, of course, the wider we collaborate, the more like bland mass-market that art becomes, and the more we're competing with the people at the top of their game who've dedicated their lives to something that replicates easily.

I mean, I've got a few friends who are making games, or writing, or whatever. I love their work, but part of why I love their work is my connection with them, their work doesn't have that thing that'd make it mass market. Do I have time to consume everything they're putting out and work on my own stuff?

I don't, and so I go on making things that, when my friends see them, say "this is really cool" and "I really appreciate that you're doing this", but that aren't really changing the world. And I deeply understand that frustration.
posted by straw at 3:05 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Dude is mistaking a feature for a bug. The long tail is great; tools and markets that allow ordinary schlubs to make games are great. Because of the long tail, we can have loads of games with queer content, or from other marginalized groups; we can have unexpected treasures like Townscaper or Untitled Goose Game; we can skip AAA games entirely if we want.

The incentive structure is fucked up, of course. This is really a problem a hundred years old: most art is scalable. Scalable jobs require no extra work to multiply distribution: if you write a book, it can be as easily read by a million people as by 100. By contrast, dentistry is non-scalable: if your city goes from 1000 to 1 million people, you need more dentists. Non-scalable jobs can become scalable: that's why, as Eyebrows points out, music used to be done by tens of thousands of people locally, and came to be done by a few hundred stars.

The solution isn't "get rid of the thousands of people who want to make games", it's redistribution.
posted by zompist at 3:25 PM on February 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

It's also odd given the niche he's found himself in. I'm not dissing his work, but the GeneForge series was considered a bit of a throwback/revival-of-an-old-genre when it first came out 20 years ago, if I remember right. And that was the up-and-comer for the studio.

I appreciate that he's been able to find his niche, and he's not off about the broader economics of video game development, but it also feels like he might be a bit disconnected from things like Ludum Dare or 7DRL, where people make games over the span of 2-3 days to a week, for the fun of it. In fact, Ludum Dare came out within a year of Geneforge 1, even.

He handwaves things aside with "Sure, I don't want to start filling potholes either", but if we're *really* going to take him up on his premise, "remakes of demoware old-Mac CRPGs" would probably be on the chopping block well before anything later.

Also, in the comments he goes "I want to avoid talking about politics", but a fair amount bleeds through.
Blanket dismissal of anything labeled as "socialism"
"Capitalism is the instrument that made this possible, so don't blame it"
"the delicious fruits of Empire" combined with "They do it because we have a powerful military (which is being weakened, so strengthening it is a good thing)" (I'm not against a critique of empire, but pairing it with "but we need to keep world order so this keeps going" suggests it's not the imperial wealth he has an issue with)
The final fear of 'unseen masses' rising up
The Seattle-local flavor of things, which is entirely in line with him buying a house decades back, being on the house-upgrade treadmill ever since & sinking into that particular reactionary bent many around here fall into where he's got a whole lot of paper assets as the city grew up around him but he detests what happened along the way to making that happen
"Church has been forgotten. Charity has been ineptly taken over by governments." That's painting a very specific picture, if he's seeing part of this as "social work needs to go back to churches & private charity"

Again, I'm not against what he points to as a main thesis, as a kid I looked at those DigiPen numbers (among other things) and decided game-dev wasn't for me.
But (going to his comments), stuff like
"Your only alternative system invariably ends with a mountain of skulls."
"Indie developers are too squishy a breed to put up any real opposition. To anything. Ever.
They are gentle folk, though they stab each others' backs very efficiently."
"I plan to get into politics as little as possible. Whenever I've shared my political opinions publicly, I have regretted it."

adds up to an unpleasant picture.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:30 PM on February 3, 2022 [11 favorites]

adds up to an unpleasant picture.

It looks like the dregs of the internet are showing up in the comments. Mods, I'm not sure what to do about this, but a lot of racist commenters have shown up in that guy's comments since we started this discussion.
posted by mhoye at 3:35 PM on February 3, 2022

Those are all quotes from the author, to be clear.
(also pulled from where he's responded to people on Twitter in lieu of his Substack comments being bombarded)
He seems to be having trouble with getting Substack to moderate, but they've reached out to him reportedly.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:38 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

“I want to avoid talking about politics”

This is a very “I want to talk about political problems but I don’t want to be all political about it” sort of essay.
posted by atoxyl at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Ah, I didn't realize this was Jeff Vogel. I've got mixed feelings about him.

He made games I really loved as a teenager. When I was maybe about 14 years old, back in the late '90s, I basically wanted to be him: make small, independent games, earning enough to support myself but not get rich. I idolized him a bit. I decided to take on learning C to program a computer game for a school project, and I wrote him an email asking if he could recommend any resources for learning. He wrote me back, which was nice! But was kind of weirdly dismissive of my question and basically didn't answer it, which wasn't. I was kind of hurt by his response, and went ahead and found my own resources to learn C and complete the project. He wasn't exactly mean or nasty, but it was still a good lesson for me in not meeting your heroes (or really in not heroizing people).

Anyway, he gave a talk at GDC a few years ago about the business of indie game development which was much more interesting and insightful than this essay, which I didn't really think was either.
posted by biogeo at 4:10 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

"We have created a society where you either earn money from nationwide appeal of your art, or you don't get to create any that anybody ever sees or appreciates."

...And yet people don't understand the appeal of fanfiction and fanart. If you want to feel your work is appreciated, write an even modestly successful story on AO3.
posted by praemunire at 5:14 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is pretty rich coming from the guy who pumped out the same low-res, cookie cutter RPGs every year back in the day.

(Maybe he still does. Was kinda surprised he was around still)
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 7:57 PM on February 3, 2022

The argument that we shouldn't waste energy making games because there are potholes is also an argument against watching TV, reading recreationally, playing chess, and so on. It's not automatically easy to dismiss; Brecht wrote more than one poem wailing and gnashing his teeth about it.

But I don't want to get into it now. Have to go do a crossword puzzle so my streak doesn't end.
posted by mark k at 7:59 PM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

One thing of note: when he wrote his original tweet with the 30 games a day argument, he did his math wrong, and thought it was three hundred games a day. He then corrected it in a reply, but also said 30 is too many as well. But, his first tweet was still off by an order of magnitude. I think there is more than a little bit of trying to save his faulty premise in this.
posted by JHarris at 8:18 PM on February 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

S'funny, but I just listened to a conference from the Nordisk Film Institute, that had representatives from all across the various bodies associated with filming/streaming production, while the report they were discussing was based on surveying the entire European film industry and they came to roughly the same conclusion. There are too many movies being made for audiences to support and that's dragging down their part of the global film industry. This glut of production allows the movies of broadest commonality of appeal, those from known companies like Disney or dealing with familiar stories to benefit by splintering all other audiences towards smaller niche appeal products that won't make back their budgets.

The European film market is concerned with public funding and maintaining a sense of their individual countries unique "aura" within this a marketplace that is dominated by a handful of corporate brands that fund works to fit corporate brand ideology. Their belief is this is harmful and they need to cut back on productions and invest more into fewer works to have a better chance of maintaining an audience, where that audience is not even being considered a competitor as such to the global brands, just trying to hold a small slice of the market.

Extending from that too is not just the game industry or movie industry itself but the vast networks of associated hangers on dependent on those industries for their attention. The hordes of critics, websites, magazines, social media networks and so on all are tied into this unending churn of constant entertainment and trying to support themselves by it. That this glut is, in part, coming from unsustainable models of financing, at least in the past sense of the concept, where companies like Netflix and Amazon are dumping tons of cash into shows/movies that have limited appeal, don't seem to have much shelf life, and often don't even find much audience to begin with just speaks to the same kind of waste the author is talking about in gaming.

There is a difference between doing something just because you want to, for the love of it or whatever, and trying to make a living off it or even just make back what you spent in time and materials. The first is of course up to the individual, art in that way is its own reward and can be shared as such, with any audience it finds that appreciates it making for a worthwhile expentiture of time and effort. But once a return is expected or money put in with the belief there's something more than appreciation coming back out, the whole thing becomes increasingly twisted and harder to justify or sustain. There may well be a world one can envision where this wouldn't be the case, but we don't have that world right now so there is, I think, some needed questioning about how we are aligning our priorities right now.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:15 AM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Like someone else said, it feels like he's having a personal crisis as a long-time indie game developer and extrapolating it into a big ball of anxiety about how society will fall apart if we don't all grab the nearest shovel and get arrested for trying to fill random pot holes without permission. That said, the only thing I knew the writer from previously was this GDC talk, which is great. It's absolutely hilarious and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in that kind of thing: https://youtu.be/stxVBJem3Rs
posted by Green Winnebago at 2:17 AM on February 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Heya, 28-year-veteran* of the games industry checking in.

Straight into the bin with their scorching hot take. Saying there are too many games is like saying there are too many TV shows, too many types of pizza, too many shoe designers, or whatever.

There is an increasing number of commercially-viable games the industry can support each year. As a percentage of the total number of games made each year, this is going down.

However: As the percentage of the population who games continues to rise there will be more people making more money through the creation, sales, and support of more games. (This will likely happen for at least the next 20 years, says this 70's kid.)

There are more ways now for games to get funded than ever before. Direct sales are viable in a way that they just weren't in 2006. Steam is a thing, as is Kickstarter, as are NFT's**, as are mobile games, as is Game Pass, as is the Epic Store and their fund, and on and on and on.

Too many games? No. Not enough games.

* Or 31-year-veteran, if you count the video game tournaments I ran and the gaming newsletter I sold while I was in high school. And in a related story, high school was 31 years ago and I need to take a minute.

** Someday I'll get into the pros and cons of NFTs as they exist now and as how they can exist in the future, but today is not that day and this is not that thread. I am merely listing the fact that games can and have been funded this way.
posted by andreaazure at 2:53 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

There are too many roads with potholes!
And too many paths less travelled!
Why can't we fill them, mend them like new?!
It leaves me quite, quite baffled!

These holes need filling after all!
It should have been done yesteryear!
Someone's to blame! Someone's to blame!
And I know just who, I fear.

It's the damn artists, those queers!
And the damn writers and authors too!
And the video game makers, yes, yes, them!
And, uh, the poets, yes, the poets, that's who!

There are too many books and too many songs!
And too many games, it's a flood!
How can we fill all these potholes,
When they keep making so many more duds?!

They need to get real jobs and stop making art!
The world has changed in a way I don't like!
Why do they make more games so few people play?
If sales don't reach ten million, drop the mic!

I can't hear all the songs, I can't read all the books!
My movie queue is packed to the brink
Of art that I'll never appreciate before I'm old and dead!
(But that won't happen for a while, I think.)

Philosophers, put up your books and start laying down brick!
If your treatise isn't a bestseller, I scoff it!
Do something more useful than thinking,
You're no wiseman if you don't turn prophet!

Oh, oh, I know what you'll retort,
But don't go and blame capitalism,
It's artists is why we can't fill the holes,
(Unless we can put them in work prisons!)

Do I sound bitter? Yes! Yes!
Am I angry? I assure you, quite!
But don't talk to me about city budgets,
The rich skipping taxes didn't cause this blight!

I'm worked up!
I can't take it anymore!
And I know just where to place the blame!
Just aim down, that's where to kick:
At books and art and poetry too,
And especially those damn video games!
posted by AlSweigart at 7:11 AM on February 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

So I had a short summer job when I was 18 filling potholes and widening a highway, we did both depending on the day. It was my first job out of the home, and my dad got me the interview, which was basically "it's hot in the summer - are you going to die? and can you pass a drug test?". And my answer was "NO" for the die thing, so at the end of the interview, I went in for the drug test. So I took the drug test, and went home and didn't hear anything else. 3 weeks later, my dad randomly saw the pothole manager guy at the grocery store and asked him, and he said I never showed up. Well, I didn't because I assumed he would call me back and tell me what time to show up, but getting the job and showing up at 8:00am on Monday morning was just expected of me. Apparently, low end jobs have unspoken cultural expectations too.

So I waited one more week playing video games, and then showed up on Monday at 8:00am and filled potholes for a summer (and built the highway).

It was the 2nd most horrible job I ever had (first was working for my dad pouring concrete) and I kiss the ground (figuratively) that I went to college and could sit inside writing code.

Mind numbingly boring, long hours, hot, and dangerous (with all the cars whizzing past - saw 2 minor wrecks in 3 months on a very empty road- obviously widening this road was somebody's slush fund, "bridge to nowhere" bribe money, so that aspect of it was fun too. And jerk-off bosses of course. Filling potholes was slightly better, since we did that in town, and didn't have to ride in the bed of pickup trucks (safety-first!) to get to the job site.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:36 AM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

That was always my problem with Office Space by the way. Tieing rebar and raking up rocks is way farther down the mentally draining scale towards Heck than TPS Reports.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:42 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you want a job with actual meaning, that ACTUALLY makes peoples lives better, there is plenty that needs doing. The problem, of course, is that jobs that actually have meaning involve actual work and thus SUCK.

Big old wrongo.

Those jobs suck because you have no control of your time or workplace conditions and you're systematically exploited and abused for a fraction of the compensation your labor is worth.

And, buddy, that is because of capitalism.
posted by Reyturner at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Related is this blog post from Zoe Blade that she recently tweeted that answers Jeff Vogel's post so perfectly I can't believe it's just a coincidence: Quantity Over Quality

There's a popular anecdote about a class of pot makers: the class is split into two groups. One is going to be judged by their pots' quality, the other by their quantity. Each of the people in the first group tries to make a single beautiful pot, while the people in the other group quickly churn them out. At the end of the class, the second group not only has the most pots, but also the best ones.

I have no idea whether this actually happened, but I've certainly seen people who have been "working on a novel" for years, and others who have in that time written a lot. If you were to write, say, a short story a month, then by the end of five years you'd have sixty of them, and by that point probably at least a few would have been published.

posted by AlSweigart at 10:01 AM on February 4, 2022

...And yet people don't understand the appeal of fanfiction and fanart. If you want to feel your work is appreciated, write an even modestly successful story on AO3.

The gift economy is where joy lives. I just read this essay at Granta by a person who tried to be an opera singer in her youth. At one point in the story, she ends up participating in a community opera project, and finds herself the only professionally-trained singer amongst a horde of folks who are there just because they love to sing. The difference between her own feelings at this point in her career, and theirs, is revelatory to her.

She also addresses the shame a person might feel when they take aim at a creative career and don't achieve it.

I love to sing, and my favorite kind of singing is Sacred Harp/Shape-note Singing. There are no rehearsals or performances; a bunch of people who love to sing come together in a square—they can see each other—and sing from a certain songbook. I love the singing, and the camaraderie in the room, the looks that pass between us when we've just finished singing something really well, or singers from other sections calling out, "The altos absolutely nailed it!" I have never experienced anything but support, and enthusiasm from more experienced singers.
posted by Well I never at 11:34 AM on February 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Here's my take:

Twenty five years ago, the typical career arc for an aspiring pop star was: learn the instrument and write some songs, do local gigs, cut a few demos that get completely ignored and quit. For a novelist, it was: write some stories and/or novels, submit them for publication, have them get rejected, repeat for a while and give up. Which is to say, there are far more aspiring creatives than there are publishing slots. What's changed is that now, they can self-publish. So instead of putting the failed demo or novel back in the trunk, it goes onto Bandcamp or Amazon or lulu because why not?

Games are the same thing, basically. There are lots of aspiring developers and it's always easier to self-publish than to try to get the attention of an established publisher so they do it.

(And this doesn't take the whole doing-it-for-fun aspect of the thing into account.)
posted by suetanvil at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2022

This whole "there are too many games" argument reminds me of the one which claims that humanity's troubles are caused by overpopulation.

The idea that there are too many games now can't really be separated from the question of *who* gets to make games, and who traditionally has been able to make games. As others have noted, it's not just a larger quantity of games we're seeing these days, it's a bigger variety of types of games, creators, and perspectives being represented.

Expanding the ability to create games to people who may not have had it before enriches the medium overall.
posted by subocoyne at 3:28 PM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Really, the only problem with the problem of "too many games" is that we live in a system where your subsistence is reliant on your productivity.

The answer to "what if the only people who play your games are your friends and family" should be "who cares??" The only thing large scale success brings (beyond money) is the attention of the worse, most annoying people on earth.

Nobody had ever said there's too much personal correspondence. Too many paintings.

But this dude is so enmeshed in capitalist realism that he treats the need to exchange your time or content to some boss (either some corporation or an audience or whoever) too be allowed to survive as an immutable law of nature.

And with that framing in mind, yeah, making games is a bad plan.
posted by Reyturner at 3:40 PM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

The author spent like a week saying this on Twitter in advance of writing this article. Many of these comments and criticisms were made during that time, and it's kind of frustrating that he didn't modify his opinion one iota or even address them in his article.

Hell, even his "smoking gun" study showing that most indie games are financial disasters says that about a third of them are making okay money. Compared to other small businesses, that isn't even all that bad. And yet, the sky is still following.

I had to unfollow, it was too frustrating.
posted by Imperfect at 8:02 PM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

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