The collapse of Atari as a creative force, and the collapse of the wider industry in the early 1980s, is inevitably a complex tangle of individual failures. If I could personally only draw one scarlet thread out of it, though, it would be this: the people who sold video games no longer respected them. They had no restraint, and they got to a point where they were shipping bad games in ridiculous quantities and expecting idiot punters to continue to buy them. A lack of respect only spreads, and that’s what happened. Those punters weren’t idiotic after all, and they tired of sorting the good stuff from the bad. Atari and its ilk treated games as a gold mine and eventually, as is often the case, as a strip mine. You can make decent money off a strip mine right up until the moment that you suddenly can’t chisel anything more from it at all. And, even at the best of times, nobody wants to actually live next door to a strip mine.
This, in a single paragraph, is what is going wrong with game companies right now. Wil Shipley’s analogy about running a software company was similar: mining vs. farming.
I have a friend who works in the industry. His company doesn’t even start working on a game before they have a monetization model. In other words, they don’t care about what kind of game it is, they start thinking about extracting money before anything else. It’s short-sighted and self-limiting, but it looks good if you’re only thinking about tomorrow.
The backlash is already starting. People who care about games are increasingly becoming soured on mobile platforms. It’s not that you can’t make good games there; the existence of games like Oceanhorn, The Walking Dead, Year Walk and Monument Valley show that it is possible to create good games on iOS (which is pretty much the only place anyone is actually making money, and where developers have more of a chance to make money from direct purchases instead of having to rely on a freemium model).
Cash grabs, like the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper, are destroying what little credibility mobile has left. If this trend doesn’t change, it won’t be long before anyone who actually likes games will give up on mobile completely.