By: Alex Karnopp
As production consolidates around a few key players, larger economic growth in the video game industry masks underlying corporate concerns of securities fraud. Last year, the video game industry reached an important milestone, earning the title of “world’s favorite form of entertainment.” In 2017, the video game industry generated $108.1 billion, more than TV, movies, and music. While other entertainment industries saw revenue decline, the game industry increased 10.7%. This drastic jump in revenue has made investors happy. In 2017, most companies producing hardware or software for the industry easily beat the broader market. NVIDIA, a popular graphic card producer, jumped up 80% over the year. Nintendo, similarly, saw an 86% increase. Even more drastically, Take-Two Interactive shot up 117%.
Red flags in the industry, however, indicate changes are needed to sustain growth. For one, production costs and technological innovations hinder profitability as games take longer and cost more to bring to market. Making matters worse, game fatigue remains high, meaning an audience remains focused on a game only for a small window. High development risk has led to a pattern of mergers and acquisitions – large, publicly traded companies either acquire publishing rights or development teams altogether to diversify holdings and increase profitability.
This consolidation has had interesting impacts on video game development. Publicly traded companies face tremendous pressure from investors to uphold profitability – to the frustration of developers. Developers are constantly faced with unrealistic deadlines from executives looking to maximize profit, ultimately leading to the release of low-quality games. As large game publishers learn to deal with the interplay between profit and content, they may also face legal consequences.
What may seem like “corporate optimism” to some, looks more like fraudulent misstatements to investors. In 2014, the “disastrous launch” of Battlefield 4 (which was rushed to hit the release of the PS4 and Xbox One) sent Electronic Art’s stock plummeting. As both executives and producers claimed the title would be a success, investors brought lawsuits, claiming they relied on these false statements. Similarly, the recent split between developer Bungie and Activision has led to rumors of lawsuits. Constant frustrations over sales and content finally led to a split, dropping Activision stock by more than 10%. Investors claim Activision committed federal securities law by failing to “disclose that the termination of Activision-Blizzard and Bungie Inc.’s partnership … was imminent.” As large, publicly traded publishers begin dealing with the effects of a consolidated market on content and profits, it will be interesting how courts interpret executive actions trying to mitigate missteps.