The specter of monopoly haunts the video game world | Culture

'Rise of the Tomb Raider', published in 2015, is the second part of the new saga of the adventurer Lara Croft, who arrives in Siberia in search of the mythical city of Kitezh.‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’, published in 2015, is the second part of the new saga of the adventurer Lara Croft, who arrives in Siberia in search of the mythical city of Kitezh.

At the beginning of the year it was Take-Two, distributor of Grand Theft Auto, the one that announced the acquisition of the development studio Zynga for 11,000 million euros; Soon after, Microsoft bought Activision Blizzard, another video game giant in charge of Call Of Duty either world of warcraft, for about 60,000 million. This week it has been Embracer Group that has acquired several studios from the Japanese Square Enix (Crystal Dynamics, Eidos-Montréal, Square Enix Montréal), as well as several of its franchises (tomb Raider, god ex, Legacy of Kain) for 285 million euros. Although the price is much lower in comparison, it is still a reflection of a global dynamic. It has already happened in the cinema, in the publishing sector, in music. Business accumulation lies in wait for medium and small companies in the world of videogames while the large ones absorb their competitors to form huge conglomerates.

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The figures for this 2020 are the replica of the movements of recent years, something that is not surprising since video games are the cultural sector that moves the most money. The Chinese giant Tencent already took control of Supercell – studio of the mobile game Clash Royale— in 2016 for 8,100 million euros; Microsoft already bought in 2020 ZeniMax Media (developer of doom either The Elder Scrolls) for 7,700 million; o Activision acquired King (candy crush) for €5.3 billion in 2015.

For Víctor Navarro, Professor at the Pompeu Fabra TecnoCampus specializing in cultural companies, these monopolistic movements, due to their economic scale, the need for sales and the massive impact they generate, are detrimental on three fronts. In the first place, the economic one, since the development studios will move their economy towards the business model that the company prefers: “In the world of video games, this translates into games that are monetized in ways that make sense with the game itself: NFTs, microtransactions, expansions or multiplayer modes. Many times games must include them only because the company requires it, not because the game benefits from them. Uncharted (the saga of exploration and adventures for one player) in the end it had a multiplayer mode. I don’t know of anyone who bought the game for that add-on.”

Second, there are the issues of creative content itself, which are at risk of being modified by the dynamics of a large company. “Let’s think”, reflects Navarro, “on Twitter, for example. Video games, although less and less, carry the stigma of cultural legitimation. In that insecure position, it is not good to put them in the daily dynamics of scandals in social networks, of controversies and constant noises that can change the creative course of a game. How many times have we seen that a movie, or a series, changes completely due to the fear of the reactions of the networks. A monopoly has room for risk, but does not want to take it.

Finally, Navarro talks about legislative issues. And he gives China as an example, which is not that in video games it has a recommendation system by age, but that it has three censorship bodies that supervise content negatively (to eliminate them) or positively (to force them to be included). “What will a game that aspires to sell all over the world, including China, be like?” Navarro wonders. “Obviously, it will sacrifice creativity to adapt to that regulatory framework. And if it is not just China, but it has to adapt to various restrictive legal frameworks, it will only create products that do not bother anyone.”

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“This in Spain has already happened,” explains Emanuele Carisio, technical secretary of DEV, the Spanish Association of Video Game Production and Development Companies. “In the last three years, the studios with the most potential have all been acquired,” says Carisio. “We’ve seen the purchase of Digital Legends, we’ve seen Tencent’s entry into Tequila Works and into Novarama, we’ve seen the 2020 purchase of Genera Games by Scopely.” “Large international companies know perfectly well the value of Spanish companies and have been focusing on Spain for acquisitions and investments for many years. It is a trend that is here to stay”, he analyzes.

For Navarro, looking to the future, the solution is just the opposite: fragmentation. “With the overabundance of content that we experience in all cultural spheres,” he explains, “we have to find a way for each product to go to the ideal consumer, instead of homogenizing everything. Monopolies get along badly with diversity and polyphony. In other words, everything has to be refragmented for the sake of creativity, creating niches where each player can find what they are looking for”.

The video game in Spain

The Spanish Association of Video Game Production and Development Companies (DEV) presented on Wednesday, May 4, the ‘2021 Video Game White Paper’, a study with which it intends to show and explain in depth the panorama of the video game sector in our country. With respect to the last year, it highlights how companies that develop video games have continued to be created in Spain, 435 compared to the 415 in the previous report. Billing also increased by 20% between 2020 and 2021 —the latest data known— reaching 1,100 million, and it is estimated that in the last year it could grow another 20%. The negative side is that 4% of the companies invoice 64% of the total, that is to say, that the general results depend on a few large companies. “There are a lot of rich people, a lot of poor people, and little in the middle range,” says Carisio, DEV’s technical secretary. But in general terms, employment continues to grow and so do women within the sector, who already account for 23% within the industry at the national level. As a curiosity, half of the turnover is produced in Catalonia.

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