Lorne Lanning’s Anticapitalism

Lorne Lanning developed the Oddworld games many Mudokon-hand moons ago, and they’ve been running through my head since the first time I played Abe’s Oddysee. That game hasn’t really left me, either, and I can trace a lot of my youth-then-adult feelings about capitalism’s excesses and the industry of animal murder that lives within it.


Lanning just did a longform interview with James Brightman at Gamesindustry that has gotten some attention, and I’m wholly in agreement with him: videogames exist at the edge of speculative economics combined with good old fashioned investment, and the excesses of the industry itself has meant that deals for workers (and the development companies that are made up of workers) get a raw deal when it comes to the development of larger prestige titles (there’s a reason why vertical integration is so widespread in the industry).

A section from the middle of the interview stuck out to me:

The growth model that drives most companies in a capitalistic society is not going to do game makers any favors. For Lanning, what developers and game companies need to be focused on is simply having sustainability. “So what is a sustainable model? Well, don’t have investors. Don’t have an IPO. Don’t go public. Then maybe there might be a sustainable model. But can you focus on niches instead of blockbusters? If you’re going to continue focusing on blockbusters, then you’re going to be competing against the big boys. Now you’re half a billion dollars into development… just like the movies. So who can afford to play? But when we talk to indies today, I used to be like, well, if I sell a million and a half units, we’re going to be a loser. But today, if we sell 150,000 units we’re in the black,” he said.

Lanning is pitching sustainability as keeping a low overhead, keeping it personal, and making sure that a vision (in this case his and his company’s) can continue and have a life over time.

But I also wonder about metasustainability. In a world where sustaining, where creating companies that will not perish, is of the highest importance, it makes just as much sense to “become the man.” That means that there has to be some kind of value beyond that, beyond mere persistence, that would drive the creation of the company. There’s a world where Lorne Lanning could release the Oddworld games continually for new platforms and make some kind of living through the rest of his life. However, there’s something more, some community-mindedness or job-creator-drive that ensures his participation in the game development industry as a corporation.

Anyway, the interview is excellent and draws on a lot of tensions between participating in the demon heart of the capitalist games industry while despising the system itself, and so it is worth reading for that alone.

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