Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Un-Doomed: Bethesda's healthy failure-acknowledgement and the cancelation of Doom 4

Doomed if you do, Doom-ed if you don't.

Bethesda, not just a town outside Washington D.C. where Boaty McBoatface's extended family lives and where you can possess one piece of spent shotgun ammunition without getting arrested, oh no it's so much more.  It's also a company that makes the video gameseses.  Not just teh video gamesezz, good vidjya games.  So it came as significant news when they announced that they were canceling the highly anticipated title they were working on, Doom 4.  Yes I know Id Software was making the game too, but it was Bethesda that made the announcement so that's why we're talking about them.

Unlike the sad death and inexplicable release of the lifeless corpse of Duke Nukem Forever, the construction and intended release of Doom 4 was undertaken by a team which not only had a clear goal they wanted to achieve, but a very strong understanding of the benchmarks they were setting out to meet said goal.  Additionally, there was obviously very effective communication during that process, and an important divestment of personal feelings and cognitive identity from the concept of Doom itself.

The professional detachment that allowed for this self-titled "right decision" is such a valuable asset for an entertainment media company.  This implies, healthy amounts of flexibility within management, abilities of setting realistic goals, and also the capacity for failure-acknowledgement. Now, failure-acknowledgement is a very important quality for just about any company to have.  It is not the same as sunk costs, but the two do go hand in hand in that they can and do cause poor decision making from people who's decisions are ones that impact projects and possibly the entire company in significant ways.  Sometimes those decisions are to delay an announced (and pre-ordered by retailers) release to fix quality issues that a later patch, to surrounding yourself with no one brave enough to say "no George, Jar Jar is a terrible idea and shouldn't be part of this," and the results are often so obviously apparent to everyone except the person with their hands on the wheel.

There are a number of well known disasters ranging from animated movies to full corporate  insolvency brought about by the lack of failure-acknowledgement.  Notice the term is not failure-recognition.  Recognition is what you do to a failure that you're not involved in.  Failure-acknowledgement is what you have to do when it's your own, and sooner rather than later is always good.  A CEO or other executive being able to say to themselves "well, swing and a miss" is so very important to the health of any company that has the intention of existing for more than 12 months (seriously the quick-buck investment bank mentality has really hurt knowledge assets in many countries and will probably continue to wreak havoc for years).

A look at what is happening to SEARS right now shows that a brand and entity can be around for over a century and still be destroyed by a dumb-ass who insists they're not driving the wrong-way down a one-way street, and powerful enough to make sure no one else questions his assertions even as that truck is barrelling straight towards them.  Here's a nice way to visualize the difference of what it probably is like between Bethesda and SEARS in therms of simple internal communication and environment:



I am using SEARS, but this could just as easily be Samsung, Toshiba, Sony, or Dentsu, but with so much being published in English language news media about the toxic Organizational Behavior at Sears, and how their CEO Eddie Lampert seems to be doing a flawless job of running it straight into the ground, it just seemed like the easiest example to use, even though they are not really an entertainment media company.  That is, unless you take into account their continued flaming death-spiral shenanigans because that's some pretty entertaining stuff.  Kmart and even Sears itself were once significant forces in packaged media retail, but even if they were doing great, but that's a dying industry all by itself unless you're (just ask Best Buy). 

Not being open in interdepartmental communication and further open to the ideas of others when it comes to whether or not the crow's nest can see something coming that the bridge can't, does not necessarily mean any media company is going to do poorly just because of that one fact.  Look at Disney, they have one way of doing things and probably a literal dungeon where they throw people who step out of line in there.

That works for some, so if you're a company that's found what works and can just use your money to buy more money, then you may not need failure-acknowledgement.  Very few entities fall into that category however, with Bethesda being smart enough to realize they are light-years away from it.  However they have generated some serious elements/assets during the development process.  Will they make it into something great, or simply ham-fist it into another existing property where it might not be helpful?  Only time will tell on that one.  I actually trust them not to fuck it up too bad, even though;

I'm actually still angry at Bethesda for their lack of action as a licensor in the whole Jones Soda Target exclusive disaster where Target managers and employees ended up purchasing all the bottles of Nuka Cola (a beverage product based on the popular Fallout franchise from Bethesda) before they were ever made available to the public.  This happened twice, and first time is understandable, but second time they could have been more involved.  But if anything it shows that Bethesda is smart enough to wisely pick its battles, and the majority of the responsibility and subsequent fault, lies with Jones Soda and Target,  So that's just more smart decision making.  And wage-slaves are going to take every chance they get to make extra money on the side, and if selling collectables to people willing to pay for them is what it takes, then just plan on them to do that).  Target isn't known as the nicest place to work, and Target customers aren't the nicest people to be around, so for some abused clock-puncher there's no incentive not to hoard the stuff.


It's never pleasing all of the people of the time, just remember that sometimes it about not pleasing all of your people all of the time either.

...fucking soup.

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