I assume many people who are reading this have read David Kushner’s article “The Road to Ruin: How Grand Theft Auto Hit the Skids” in Wired magazine. Although this is exactly the kind of gaming news I have trouble getting excited about, I figured I should write about it.
To be honest, the article bored me.
Nothing against Mr. Kushner, who contacted me in October 2006 for an interview about Rockstar Games for New York Magazine (the interview never happened). It’s a nice enough article, and as far as I can tell it’s all true, as one would expect.
The thing is, I just happen to not be a fan of the ‘journalistic’ approach to certain subjects, specifically subjects I know something about (unless it’s in The New Yorker maybe). Typically, facts are taken and carefully arranged to conform to a story, and that story is about the rise and/or fall of something: a person, an organization, etc. A couple of years back we had rise-of-Google-the-plucky-underdog stories, now we have Google-is-too-big-they-are-bound-to-fall stories. A classic from the games industry is Christine Biederman’s article about Ion Storm for the Dallas Observer. We’ve had stories about working conditions at EA, recently we’ve had stories about trouble at Sony. It gets schizophrenic when you have plucky underdog stories about the Xbox 360 at the same time as negative stories about the DRM in Vista. But all of this is hardly new. You build em up, you tear em down. I don’t know if it’s Western civilization or something more universal.
The ‘Road To Ruin’ article is a good example of this. Rockstar Games was insanely successful, now they’ve run into some trouble. Or have they? The thing is, this article contains little new information. Financial trouble at Take-Two? I honestly cannot remember a six month period in the last five years without stories like that. Hot Coffee? Hardly news. The origins of Rockstar Games? Public knowledge, despite the tight control on information (read this article if you want to know more about how Rockstar Games came to be). The article doesn’t even reference the recent upheavals at Take-Two. The timing of the article seems entirely arbitrary. Except for the suspense regarding GTA IV it could have been written 6 months ago.
The ‘Perhaps Fall of Rockstar’ narrative, on it’s own, is of no interest to me. I don’t have entirely neutral feelings towards Rockstar Games, but I have better things to do than indulge in Schadenfreude. The issues I saw while there are not the issues that are brought up in articles like this one. Of course the article might be of great interest to others, nothing wrong with that. Let them read Wired (I don’t… but that’s another story). What does interest me is analyzing the successes and failures of Rockstar Games through the lens of design, game development processes, business strategy. But that kind of article is much, much harder to find in a mainstream magazine.