BioShock Creator Report Reveals Gaming Industry Trend That Must End
A new report from Bloomberg paints a picture of development hell at Ghost Story Games, the studio founded by BioShock creator Ken Levine.
Speaking with several former developers, the report examines in detail Levine’s flawed management style, poor communication, and erratic leadership. While Levine is a specific example, the issues with his studio highlight a larger problem within the industry, where excessive power is given to so-called “writers.”
Levine’s first big hit was the cult classic Shock system 2 in 1999. His studio Irrational Games really hit the nail on the head with the 2007 shooter BioShock, widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made. Ghost Story Games was founded in 2017, after Levine spoke about the stress of creating a huge AAA title like BioShock. Levine wanted to downsize the team, so he shut down Irrational Games to lead a smaller team at Ghost Story.
According to Bloomberg Report, this announcement came as a shock to Irrational staff, apart from the few people he had personally selected to move to the new studio. Mike Snight, a level designer at Irrational, said it was horrible to know the rest of their coworkers would be fired soon: âWe haven’t been in the studio for a while. There was a lot of guilt from the survivors.
While Snight and the other eleven have moved on to Ghost Story Games, he and half the team have since left the developer.
Due to his close relationship with the company, Levine was successful in signing a deal with Take-Two, which is also the publisher responsible for companies like 2K and Rockstar Games. According to Bloomberg, Take-Two basically gave Levine a blank check with little to no oversight. The studio originally planned to release a small game in 2017, but five years later it still has nothing to show. (Both Ghost Story Games and Take-Two declined to comment Bloomberg. )
The report alleges that this is in large part due to Levine’s controversial management style. Apparently Levine has a habit of constantly reworking hardware, throwing months of progress out the window, sometimes against the wishes of other developers.
Elsewhere, the Bloomberg The report claims that people initially followed Levine because of his charm and charisma. Giovanni Pasteris, an early employee of Ghost Story Games, explained that despite this initial appeal, Levine âcan get cranky and lash out at an individual, while berating them in front of his co-workers.
While the Levine report is important, it is not a one-time event. Game development, like Hollywood, emphasizes its âstarâ developers and building studios around visionary individuals. Not all author-run studios have reported abuse, but far too many do.
Last year, Fullbright founder Steve Gaynor resigned amid allegations of abuse and toxicity at the studio. the Gone home developer changed his structure, but Gaynor is still employed as one of the studio’s main writers.
December 2021 also saw a big comeback from fans with the announcement of Star Wars Eclipse, developed by Quantic Dream. The studio has been under fire for some time over reports of toxicity and sexual harassment, especially with regard to its founder and creative director David Cage. Fans are outraged that Cage has been given the reins of an incredibly diverse period of the Star Wars series, with one saying “David Cage feels diametrically opposed to the ethics of Star Wars.”
Video game writers consistently have power over all facets of a game’s development, and often, when a game is successful, they often reap the rewards the most. It’s a philosophy that runs counter to the fact that video games are collaborative efforts built by diverse teams of people. Directors and writers play a vital role, of course, but there is so much more talent and effort behind most games.
There are countless stories and examples of authorism, as with The Last of Us Part 2 developer Naughty Dog. Director and screenwriter Neil Druckmann is the name that almost always refers to the creative vision for the game, although it was co-written by Westworld writer Halley Gross and drawing on the efforts of over 2,000 developers. Much of the industry, including Sony itself, continues to ignore reports released in 2019 about the toxic crunch culture at Naughty Dog.
The successes of video games and developers absolutely must be celebrated. But as long as the industry puts so much emphasis on authors, others will suffer. Levine is a prime example of a man who has been entrusted with power over the work of more than a dozen other people, and many of those people now have absolutely nothing to show for the years of work he has done. ‘they accomplished.
The last few years have shown that a lot needs to change in the culture and working conditions of the video game industry. A small part of that puts an end to making “superstars” out of a single member of a development team.