‘Press Reset’ is a brilliant book that shines light on game developers’ struggles

Journalist Jason Schreier offers a disheartening but crucial examination of the human casualties of the video game studio closures

Press Reset

Video game companies are notoriously secretive, especially when compared to other entertainment industries like film or television.

While studios’ film slates are often publicly mapped out for years, and reports will usually come out to shed light on Hollywood‘s behind-the-scenes production turmoil, you’ll be hard-pressed to know much about a given game outside of the marketing plan its publisher has meticulously crafted.

That’s why the work of journalists like Jason Schreier — a Kotaku veteran and current Bloomberg reporter — is so invaluable. Whether it’s reporting on what led to the failure of BioWare Edmonton’s Anthem or the prolonged overtime (“crunch”) that was undertaken by Rockstar developers on Red Dead Redemption 2, Schreier has done a commendable job exposing the less glamorous aspects of the video game industry.

“Press Reset‘s first chapter focuses on Deus Ex creator Warren Spector’s battles with Disney, the publisher on his Epic Mickey duology, which ultimately hampered his creative efforts and resulted in his Junction Point studio shutting down.”

Schreier carried over his excellent reporting to his first book, 2017’s Blood, Sweat and Pixels, which looked at the “triumphant and turbulent” stories of how video games like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Stardew Valley get made or, in the case of Star Wars 1313, how they don’t get made.

Now, Schreier is back with a new book titled Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, which offers even more of his outstanding reporting on how various game studios fall apart, and the resilience of those who worked at them.

Right off the bat, Press Reset is focused more on individuals than Blood, Sweat and Pixels, which Schreier himself has noted was the intention. While his first book was more about the litany of issues that plagued the games in question, Press Reset offers a deeper dive into the journeys of specific developers to help ground the broader themes of industry volatility that Schreier is addressing.

For example, Press Reset‘s first chapter focuses on Deus Ex creator Warren Spector’s battles with Disney, the publisher of his Epic Mickey duology, which ultimately hampered his creative efforts and resulted in his Junction Point studio shutting down. Showing that even a well-respected and influential designer like Spector faced these struggles is staggeringly effective at illustrating the game’s industry’s woes. And Spector, given his stature, at least benefited from comparatively greater stability than the average lower-ranking developer.

But what about the lesser-known everyday people whose lives are even more upended due to the industry? These are also admirably given a spotlight in Press Reset. Through the perspective of former Electronics Arts developer Zach Mumbach, Schreier explores how the company’s push for — among other targets — all of its games to have FIFA-levels of profitability contributed to its decision to close its acclaimed Dead Space developer Visceral Games, which had been working on a promising Star Wars game led by Uncharted creator Amy Hennig.

Meanwhile, there’s a chapter dedicated to the failed gaming efforts of former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, whose inexperience and decisions resulted in the shuttering of 38 Studios after releasing one game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Even an experienced game creator like Ken Levine, the “auteur” behind BioShock and BioShock: Infinite, is scrutinized in Press Reset due to poor leadership skills which led to the closure of Irrational Games.

“All in all, Press Reset offers even more of the much-needed reporting that Schreier has built a name for.”

Whether big or small, console/PC-focused or mobile-centric, Schreier shines a light on the various ways that developers have been harmed by the businessmen and systemic issues of the industry. It’s a remarkably riveting reminder that there are human beings who make the games we all love, told through stunning interviews conducted by Schreier’s wealth of credible sources.

That said, Press Reset isn’t wholly bleak. In the book’s final chapter, Schreier offers up several solutions to the problems he presents. These include the push for unionization and the option to work remotely, which would, ideally, provide developers with greater protection after they move cross-country — or even around the world — to a studio that ultimately collapses. There’s a gratifying sense of optimism here, especially as we’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic force companies to be more flexible with respect to remote work.

All in all, Press Reset offers even more of the much-needed reporting that Schreier has built a name for. Given its heavy subject matter, it’s rarely uplifting, but it’s nonetheless a collection of stories that had to be told. At the same time, it actually proposes ways in which the game industry can learn from these mistakes and improve going forward. If you’re someone who has any interest in video games, Press Reset is absolutely worth reading.

Press Reset is now available in Canada and can be purchased for $22.99 from retailers like Chapters and Amazon.

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