Book Club: Press Reset: Ruin And Recovery In The Video Game Industry

Journalist Jason Schreier’s latest book is a must-read look at the pitfalls of corporate meddling, ineptitude, and outright greed within the video game industry.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/09/2021 23:34 Comment on this     ShareThis

Book Club is where we take a look at books about the video game industry and its creators, offering our impressions and insights regarding the writing within. Part review, part reflection, Book Club is a great way to find something new to read about all of our favorite pastime.

Order a copy of Press Reset here.

  • Written by Jason Schreier
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 11, 2021)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN-10‎ 1538735490

I want to avoid hyperbole as I type this, but I don’t think that I’m being overly dramatic by saying that Jason Schreier’s latest work, Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, is one of the most important books about the video game industry published in the past few years. Press Reset is a glimpse into the closures of several notable video game development studios in recent times. From Dead Space dev Visceral to BioShock masterminds Irrational, there have been many a notable shuttering of development houses that fans will undoubtedly have been curious about. As Schreier delves into the “why” behind what caused them to close he uncovers not just the nuts-and-bolts logistics of their stories, but also the brutal system of inefficiency and greed that is to blame.

The system in question is shocking in its ineptitude as well as its rapacity. As Schreier reveals, an entire studio can be wiped out in the blink of an eye if a single “celebrity” developer decides to leave, as was the case with Ken Levine and Irrational. Studios can also exactingly follow the design mandates of corporate overlords, mandates that sometimes don’t make sense, and still be closed down. Such was the situation for Mythic when its mobile rejuvenation of Dungeon Keeper was met with animosity and weak sales—the very design choices lambasted by the masses were the ones that EA insisted be in the game. Just as devastating are the cases where management bereft of overseers, like 38 Studios, become the victim of inexperience and recklessness. The stories in Press Reset are fascinating to read but also simultaneously frustrating. As Schreir demonstrates, an overwhelming number of jobs in the industry exist in a perpetual state of flux and instability. It would be more understandable if the industry itself existed in a similar state, but with profits in the billions and corporate executives raking in lucrative salaries and bonuses, this is not the case.

Journalist Jason Schreier

Press Reset unabashedly communicates how the endless series of layoffs and studio closures are more a construct of overzealous accountants appeasing shareholders than anything else. Shuffle the bodies of devs around just enough and suddenly the company’s quarterly growth looks more exponential—those bodies and their livelihoods be damned. What’s more, studios operating under the purview of corporations like EA or 2K are at the mercy of administrative oversight. A feature or mechanic will frequently be chucked out the window or changed if it’s felt that it won’t generate enough profits (as is especially characteristic of mobile game development).

As an investigative piece of writing, Press Reset is something that fans and consumers really should take the time to read if they’re unfamiliar with the inner workings of game development. The studios portrayed in Press Reset aren’t necessarily a wholesale representation of the industry at large, but they nonetheless illustrate situations that are quite common. Issues like crunch, which is also highlighted in Press Reset, go hand-in-hand with some of the other systemic problems that the book highlights and are similarly in need of addressing by the industry as a whole. In fairness, corporations that own IPs and studios certainly have the right to manage how they see fit, but the situation for so many devs and studios is so clearly unfair and volatile that books like Press Reset are integral to make these entities (hopefully) be more accountable for questionable managerial decisions.

Press Reset is a breezy read; it only took me a couple of days to get through it thanks to Schreier’s smooth prose and affable wit. I did feel at times that the book could be a tad redundant, repeating points sometimes more than necessary. Even if the aim was to refresh the reader’s memory, some passages (small though they were) became needless retreads. I also felt that the handful of references to Donald Trump were jarring and didn’t seem to serve any sort of purpose within the context of the narrative. At one juncture a developer is said to have spent time worrying about what Trump was tweeting and I was at a loss trying to ascertain the relevance of pointing this out. If it was meant to be a wink-and-nudge moment of relatability or just meant to be funny, it fell entirely flat.

Dead Space Extraction Screenshot

I was similarly confused by Schreier’s writing about Curt Schilling. The former MLB pitcher was the founder of the now-defunct 38 Studios. As Schreier began wrapping up the section of the book that discussed 38 Studios’ fate, he strayed into commentary about Schilling’s political leanings, a topic that held no perceptible tether to the tale conveyed in Press Reset. Public information about the closure of that development house is also bereft of any connection to Schilling’s politics, so the inclusion of it here felt out of place. Perhaps this was another moment where Schreier expected some kind of rise or knowing reaction from the reader, but I once again was left nonplused. Politics have certainly been a prominent part of the national discourse, but their interjection, even in a small way, into Press Reset didn’t work.

As Schreier wraps Press Reset, one topic that he takes an admirable stab at is unionization. There have been a growing number of voices from pundits and members of the development community calling for unionization as an attempt to guarantee fair wages and to battle against the violent cycle of studio closures. Schreier admits that he doesn’t know if it’s the solution to the problem, but it certainly is a possible one. I think it’s admirable when a writer is able to be honest about their ideas and not being a hundred percent sure if they’re right or wrong. I honestly don’t know where I stand on unionization in the video game industry, but Press Reset made it clear that there are forces within that don’t want to see any such arrangement come to fruition. What that ultimately means is a topic I would love to see explored further, and would support Shreier being the one to do so.

Press Reset is the sort of investigative journalism that the industry needs more of. After so many decades of stellar profits and major inroads made to becoming a so-called legitimate part of entertainment and art both here and abroad, it seems outlandish that impermanence is the norm for countless video game developers. Schreier takes a complicated topic and detangles it for anyone to ingest and form an opinion about. I was left discouraged by the obvious greed and foolishness that caused so many of the studio closures described in the book, but I was also left with some hope that by bringing attention to it, Schreier is hopefully helping to push the industry in the right direction. Feel free to order a copy of Press Reset at the above link or from a bookseller of your choice.

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