#39: Positive education

Last week, writing about Fullbright and the ongoing Activision-Blizzard misconduct scandal, I found a small crumb of comfort in the fact we were finally hearing the stories of people who had for years felt cowed into silence. It is the first painful step in a long, difficult, but vital process. We cannot fix a problem if we don’t know it exists; we will only arrive at a solution by talking about it. And only by talking about it often enough, and sufficiently loudly, will we attract the attention of the people with the power to implement the kinds of change we want, and need, to see.

As such I was truly heartened by what Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon, said on an investor call last week. He was pressed by analysts for release dates for two of Nexon’s upcoming games: the free-to-play racer Kartrider: Drift, and the as-yet-unnamed debut release from Embark Studios, the crew headed up by former EA studios chief Patrick Söderlund. Mahoney’s refusal to date either title was remarkable, refreshing, and left me feeling… what is this? Hope? I cannot be sure. It has been so long.

“Crunch mode is one of the most pernicious problems in our industry,” he said. “The charade of launch timing serves little purpose except this dance with equity analysts. Instead, the right thing to focus and push for is a game that blows people’s minds. If we achieve that, the game will last many years, and the revenues will dwarf what we would have made by launching a quarter or two earlier.

“I’m sorry nobody in my industry has explained this to you before. Within the industry, we all know it’s true, and yet few talk about it openly. Everyone should. So rather than giving you a date, this team is going to give our customers and employees a commitment to make the best game we can, as soon as we can.”

The crunch discussion is decades old: the first I remember hearing of it was the infamous EA Spouse blog post in 2004. (It is perhaps worth noting here that Mahoney was working for EA at the time.) Yet it is only over the last few years, thanks in no small part to committed reporting by the games press, telling the stories of people who finally felt empowered to speak out, that the wider industry has begun to acknowledge the problem, and work to resolve it. Now, a CEO is prioritising the safety of his employees over keeping the analysts on side. So many of the problems that blight the game industry are at their core failures of leadership. This, right here, is how it should be done.

And best of all? The day after Mahoney’s comments, Nexon’s share price leapt 8%. It works. I can only hope the rest of the industry’s power-brokers are paying attention to this as they consider what leadership looks like in the face of yet another existential scandal — and that this time, it takes less than 17 years for them to get their arses into gear, and put things right.


  • An enlightening, but rather troubling, thread here about the potential death of VR on PC. I can certainly see the logic: tethered VR was inevitable early on, but even when using the brilliant Valve Index I always found the cabling breaking the spell. I never really felt I was being transported to another world until Quest came along. VR’s endgame was always wireless and self-powered, and now it’s here I’m not sure there’s a viable way back for anything that requires a cable.
  • A couple of tidbits from Remedy’s financials: Control has now passed 10 million players, and the big project it’s doing for Epic — reportedly an Alan Wake sequel — is now in full swing.
  • I’ve written a fair bit about how rough it is for indies out there, but we should not overlook the success stories. No More Robots, publisher of the likes of Descenders and Yes, Your Grace, made $12 million in revenue last year — without releasing a single new game.
  • It appears Evo organisers read Hit Points’ withering assessment of this year’s online version of the world’s biggest fighting-game tournament: it’ll be in-person once again in Las Vegas in 2022. Hit Points meetup, anyone?
  • A quick shoutout for Soul Arts, a book from indie publisher Tune & Fairweather that launched on Kickstarter yesterday and blew through its funding target in a couple of hours. Revered Souls-series YouTuber VaatiVidya ran an art competition with his community, asking them to imagine new areas, enemies, bosses and weapons for From Software’s games; the book collects the very best of them, with layout from my dear friend, the Edge art editor and design demigod Andrew Hind.
  • Hades is on Game Pass and all is right with the world. I’m not sure I’ve got the stamina to do everything all over again — the progression is so gracefully implemented I didn’t really appreciate the first time round just how much there is to unlock — but we’ll see. I’m certainly enjoying it enough to see it through. What a game.

You’re all caught up. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this, please give it a share — or even consider a paying subscription! The graphs all continue to move in the right direction, which is a source of great comfort. See you Wednesday.