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‘Press Reset’ goes behind the scenes of video game development

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Video games are big business.

Now, anyone with any sort of cultural awareness understands that the video game industry is a big one, but when you stop to really look, the numbers are staggering.

We’re talking a LOT of zeroes here, to the tune of some $180 billion (yes, with a B) just last year. That number outstrips the global movie industry. It outstrips the North American sports industry. And oh yeah – it’s more than those two COMBINED.

So yeah – big money.

But with big money comes big pressure. The companies that make these games, whether we’re talking about the major-name studios doing the distribution at the top or the multitude of smaller shops that tend to the lion’s share of the developmental work to bring these games to life, are faced with massive expectations. When those expectations are not met, there are of course consequences, but even success is no guarantee.

Jason Schreier’s “Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry” (Grand Central Publishing, $17.99) takes a look behind the scenes at the video game industry, digging deep and investigating the stories that spring from every game development experience. Some of them are good, some not-so-good, all populated by designers and developers who want nothing more than to make great games – even if the success of those games doesn’t always trickle down to them.

Through first-rate reporting and dozens of first-hand interviews, Schreier walks us through the process of making games through the eyes of the people who make them. We also get to explore the business side of things, watching as executives insert themselves into the process regardless of whether they actually know anything about video games.

As they say – mo’ money, mo’ problems.

“Press Reset” is a book driven by failure; even the successes wind up defined by the downfalls that followed or bookended them. And we’re talking major successes – games like “BioShock Infinite” and “Dead Space” that were legitimate hits. Even these big wins often lead to major losses, up to and including the shuttering of entire studios.

We meet a number of the people involved in the creation of these games, even as we’re shown just how transient and ultimately unreliable the industry is when it comes to the boots-on-the-ground talent that actually makes the games. We meet the people who pour years of their lives into creating something, only to be shown the door. People whose creative visions are corrupted in order to make a more profitable product. People whose games are changed for the worse before release or even never seeing release at all.

There’s a lot of upper-level cluelessness in the mix as well, with the suits upstairs often willing to sacrifice quality and quirkiness for the chance at making a few more bucks. And speaking of upper-level cluelessness …

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me personally was the incredibly detailed account of the sordid saga of 38 Studios. I love baseball, dig video games and live in New England – of course this story was going to speak to me. But while I had heard a fair amount about the rapid rise and even more rapid fall of former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling’s efforts to enter the MMORPG space and usurp the “World of Warcraft” throne, Schreier goes into far finer detail with the story. From the early promise to the questionable planning to the political and financial fallout, “Press Reset” gives you as thorough a picture of the whole mess as you could ever want.

There’s a lot of that here, honestly. No one is going to mistake this for a cheery book, though Schreier’s love for games is readily apparent. But to write an honest portrayal of the industry, one must be unafraid to delve into the negative. And the truth is that there are a LOT of negatives that come with the territory. It’s a book that makes one question why anyone would get involved in making video games in the first place.

And yet, so many of the people to whom Schreier speaks clearly love what they do. Their passion for video games outweighs the myriad pitfalls. The insecurity, the opacity, the constant moving and the rising costs of living – none of it matters to these people, who even when in the midst of a months-long crunch or an unexpected studio closure are fully invested in what they do.

Schreier is one of the best video game reporters out there, with a long history of quality work for an assortment of outlets. If there was a big story regarding the industry, chances are good that he was the one to break it. His sterling reputation and years of source cultivation makes him one of the few people with the juice to even attempt writing a book like this, let alone the skill to bring it to completion.

Punchy and thoughtful, informative and entertaining, “Press Reset” will make an excellent read for anyone with even the slightest interest in the inner workings of the video game scene. Schreier’s wealth of experience and army of sources make him one of the few writers – hell, perhaps the only writer – capable of crafting such an insightful and intimate portrait from within a traditionally opaque and relatively secretive industry. Game on.

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 June 2021 06:02

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