Can Trent Reznor Reinvent The Video Game Business, Too?

from the expand-your-horizons dept

By now, plenty of people have understood the details of how Trent Reznor embraced new business models and has thrived online by doing so. But could he do the same thing in an entirely different industry as well? A few folks have sent in an interview with Reznor and long-time collaborator Rob Sheridan on Joystiq, discussing how they wanted to create a video game. While Reznor admits that he hasn’t done enough research to fully understand the video game ecosystem, something did strike him in his first few meetings:

And as first time people in a pitch meeting, it was kind of depressing. Depressing to see that the people in control of those studios and publishers are much the same as the people sitting at record companies.

In a record company, they aren’t musicians or people who love music, they’re people who want to sell plastic discs. They think they have a formula where if they can eliminate the artist from that equation, even better. You see that in the case of the Pussycat Dolls and some of the other fabricated crap that’s out there. What we tended to notice in the video game meetings was that it didn’t seem that there were gamers there. It’s business guys who want to turn the company into a profit making machine. They look at it in terms of numbers, like a Hollywood studio. If it costs “X” amount to make a game, to compete, then it has to be a proven franchise or it has to be similar enough to something they know is going to sell. They don’t want to take the risk.

It certainly sounds like they’re still just tossing around ideas — not heavily committed to making a video game (so don’t start rumors!) — but they do appear interested in experimenting with a variety of different concepts once Reznor is finally done touring. It would be neat to see if Reznor can take his success and experiences with the music industry, and translate it to video games. There have been some companies that have started to figure this out, such as Stardock, who takes a very pro-gamer stance that focuses on providing more value, rather than trying to stop people from doing bad stuff. And not surprisingly, Stardock has seen quite a lot of success in doing so. In the meantime, for you Reznor fans, apparently the trick to getting him to hang out with you is to have an old time arcade set up with Robotron.

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Comments on “Can Trent Reznor Reinvent The Video Game Business, Too?”

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Richard (profile) says:

Locked up consoles

The videogame business has been going down a bad road lately. The big console manufacturers lock up the consoles against user programming and then charge a huge fee to get inside the fence.

Each generation of Playstation has been more locked up than the one before. We replaced our game programming PS2 lab with PS3’s last year – only to find that the “good” bits of the new hardware are not accessible – so for writing user programmed games the PS3 is no better than the PS2 was – and slightly more awkward to use.

Then they complain about a shortage of game programmers!

The business model of selling the console at a loss and taxing the games has got to change.

Someone needs to create a freeconsole!

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Locked up consoles

The problem with video games is escalation of costs. PS1 games cost $100K to develop, PS2 games cost $1M, and PS3 games cost $10M. It is following a very similar path to movies, turning into a blockbuster driven industry. It is terrible; I can wait months before a game comes out on the PS3 that I want to buy.

The big advantage video game systems have is they have a distribution method for cheaper games (all systems have online stores). Movies have no comparable alternative, as all theater screens are taken up with blockbusters. Direct-to-video releases fill this somewhat. Also, another advantage is video games are difficult to pirate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Locked up consoles

I get the impression the consoles are dev-locked to (futile) prevent competitor discovery and “copying”. This is ridiculous of course as their competitors will reverse engineer the system functions (or systemS in the case of PS) from the marquee games.

While it does take a massive coordinated effort of artists and engineers to produce a modern high media-quality game, I think budgets get over-inflated to justify hoarding of profits and underpayment of developers, especially staff devs and artists.

Whatever the reason, I too think its pretty stupid to exclude open innovation and exploitation of a system’s capabilities. In the end we’re stuck with a glut of beautiful, but uninspired FPS.

Anonymous Coward says:

No need to reinvent but...

…it is always good to improve.
I used to play a lot, not so much these days but still enjoy playing some.

– FlightGear
– Glest
– Ultrastar deluxe
– Frets on fire.

All of them opensource and free by the way.

If Mr. Reznor would like to dip his feet into gaming maybe he should take one of the open source ones first for a spin like UltraStar Deluxe that is a karaoke game, or Frets on Fire that is a Guitar Hero copy and see what he can do with those.

Give a CD with the game in it with his songs to everybody to play along that could be cool.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:


Trent has some limited experience in contributing to gaming anyway, doesn’t he? I seem to remember him doing soundtracks for a couple of games, and maybe even being part of the inspiration behind the graphicical artwork in some of them (less sure about that one)?

The Quake series specifically comes to mind, as I’m fairly certain he did soundtracks for at least one of the games.

DocMenach (profile) says:


Yes, Trent did the entire soundtrack for the original Quake (he may have done the soundtracks for the subsequent ones too). There was also a weapon in the game called the “Nine Inch Nailgun” which fired nine-inch nails, and had the NIN logo on the ammo boxes. So he does have some experience working in video game production, but it sounds like in this case he actually wants to be involved in the Production and Distribution as well.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: IIRC

He did Quake 1, Quake 2 and I believe at least a few songs for Quake 4. I can’t find any info on who did create the soundtrack for 4 so I’m not sure.

One cool thing about Quake 1 and 2 (PC), If you put them in a standard CD player it would play the soundtrack. I don’t have the PC versions of 3 or 4 so I don’t know if that’s still true.

SteveD (profile) says:

Is risk aversion a bad thing?

There is a good reason publishers are so nervous about investing in original titles; it is very difficult to turn a profit on them. The gaming landscape is littered with the corpses of brilliant and original titles like Phyconaughts, which while critically acclaimed never made any money.

You see, the problem really isn’t with the suits, annoying as they may be. Its that the vast majority of gamers are hype-monkeys, flocking to the latest Halo game like…flying hype-monkeys, but rarely spending a penny on anything that can’t be easily classified for their ADD-addled minds.

So the artistic developers tend to release indie titles, like World of Goo. But making the transition from indie-devs to development studio is no easy thing, despite how successful your indie games are (see Introversion).

But gaming has its rockstars already, people like Gabe Newell and Eskil Steenberg. They might not look quite so good on TV, but they have a lot of influence in their own way.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Is risk aversion a bad thing?

“But gaming has its rockstars already, people like Gabe Newell and Eskil Steenberg. They might not look quite so good on TV, but they have a lot of influence in their own way.”

I remember when the big names were Sid Miers and Warren Spector.

Which I only remember because to this day I still play Civ III and Deus Ex.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is risk aversion a bad thing?

“I’ve got Civ Rev and isn’t Deus Ex 2 coming out?”

Deus Ex 2: Invisible War has been out for some time, but there were huge problems. The only platform it was available on was the Xbox, and the PC version required a super-specific type of video card that most folks at the time didn’t have, rendering it unplayable for many.

The Xbox version was pretty sweet, though, just not nearly as good as the un-freaking-believable original.

FYI, best and funniest Deus Ex fan page ever:

seamonkey420 (profile) says:

the video game industry does not need reinventing, its thriving... newspapers need the help

you need to understand the ecosystem that is video games and i don’t think he does.

plus, the video game industry is not one that needs saving or reinventing at the moment. of all industries, video games are thriving and selling without any problems.

he should try helping the newspapers and music industries first. music for a game does not mean you know how the industry works.

MCS says:

Re: the video game industry does not need reinventing, its thriving... newspapers need the help

I agree with this statement.

Especially in the PC world, The problem is not piracy or distribution. Trent is way too late to the ball game to reinvent anything in gaming distribution. The only thing the gaming industry is suffering from is the same thing the movie industry is suffering. Overly produced games/movies cost too much money to risk changing the status quo. While yes the music industry suffers that as well, that is not what techdirt has consistently debated as its problem. PC gaming has a thriving indie community thanks to Steam and modding communities. Not much more can be improved.

Free Capitalist says:

Re: the video game industry does not need reinventing, its thriving... newspapers need the help

you need to understand the ecosystem that is video games and i don’t think he does.

I can’t speak for Trent, but his statement about the meeting with game execs makes it sounds like he understands well-enough the mechanations driving “major-release” games to market.

His issue seems to be with the suits who have no interest or appreciation of games that decide what get’s made with a large budget. In my mind there certainly are a a lot more xcopied rehashes on an old formula than there are artistic, innovative games reaching the market.

The mass “consumer” market reality seems a hell of a lot like the music industry. Vanilla, bullshit “me-too” crap fills the shelves.

Not that making money is a bad thing, its just that when the budget approvals are portioned out only to projects that look like “something that made money before”, we end up with a lot of the same.

The popularization of gaming, unfortunately, probably also had a lot to do with the dumbing down of the gameplay.

Anyway… I’ve no major concerns for the future, as the niche markets are re-opening a little thanks to Valve and Stardock and the like. It would just be nice to see more high-budget creative works on market.

Looking for the next great non-FPS.

Xander C (profile) says:

This makes me happy. While it may not be anything “new”, getting a name like Reznor can bring-in alot of the great ideas to make the great Indy games become even more well known.

It’s not about the content, since there’s alot of stuff out there that’s waiting to shine. It’s about making a plan that can finally get those gems the recongzation they deserve, (and funding as well if things go right.)

TW Burger (profile) says:

New Blood is Welcome

Trent Reznor has impressed me with his music marketing efforts and it would be a positive influence for the gaming industry if he became involved. I’m going to see what he is doing and follow his lead.

The control of the gaming companies are a concern of mine too. I am thinking of creating a game based on HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

I feel the lack of imagination in the games (as someone said – most look great but are not interesting) has got to end and so has the business model. Gaming died when shooting hookers in the face in GTF was the best the industry had to offer. Misogyny is not clever.

Raptor85 (profile) says:

Re: Re: New Blood is Welcome

well…call of Cthulhu, alone in the dark, eternal darkness, and quite a few others are at least loosely based, Cthulhu mythos is actually quite common in video games.

Back to the article though, I have to wholeheartedly agree with his views, I’ve noticed the same for a while. Maybe he should look to a smaller, independent developer to work with? I can think of quite a few talented groups that would jump at the chance… If you want creativity you can’t really go to the big guys anymore.

Matt L. says:

I find it weird how many people take an exjunkie’s words as holy. I also think it is funny how he hates on Madden/Halo then jumps right on Nintendo’s dick. I am pretty sure Nintendo invented franchise exploitation.

I think the thing that most people forget is 99.9% of indie stuff is total shit. Sure some gems pop up now and again but most of it just sucks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And I really like how you completely avoided any anti-Nintendo sentiment in this post, and kept everything so professional.

So what if Nintendo exploits franchises? The company has also innovated the entire market since Donkey Kong.

The point is that most companies will exploit franchises until they’ve been bled dry, and then drop them. Nintendo, at the very least, isn’t afraid to reboot franchises with something new – and for the most part, it’s usually worked.

mertz says:

wow this sounds familiar

this seems like the exact observartions people were making when we were discussing vivek wardwah’s post on VC’s and Innovation, and when Seth from seth sternberg from meebo posted a how to get started without vc’s. people mentioned the same thing from tech blogs all over to just regular programming formus about how the business people and the creative people just can see the same things. their goals are different. i hope he can get something like this done because it would be neat to see him branch out into something that isn’t his norm, but (and i don’t know if it’s because they aren’t meeting the right people) artists are very much involved in the video game ecosystem. some of them even own their companies and do all th work in house. i hope he’s meeting the right people, but then again i can completely be naive about how i know things work in how video games get created. he might be talking to the top person who might be a shill, but not all the people working at these companies are, although they too have an agenda (some of them atleast) to sell sell sell, despite the consequences.

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