An otherwise slow period for gaming (or at least new video game releases) was recently interrupted by reports that controversial streamer Dr. DisRespect may be helping to start a new video game studio that will focus on influencer-driven/supported projects.
Much of what we know about this story at the moment comes from this job posting on Dr. DisRespect’s website that reveals the streamer is looking for a “Gaming Studio Head.” Described as a “life-changing opportunity,” the job listing says that “Dr. DisRespect in partnership with BoomTV” is looking for someone to lead a studio that “plans to forge a partnership with a select list of mega influencers and then work closely with them to launch their dream gaming title.” The listing claims those titles will “either be incubated and developed OR partner/co-develop with existing indie game developers and launched as mega titles.”
The responsibilities/experience sections of the listing are about what you’d expect for such a position, but it certainly feels noteworthy that this listing emphasizes working with influencers in a way that similar job listings typically do not. For instance, one of the job’s responsibilities involves working “with the marketing team to have a go-to market strategy including influencer marketing.” The most noteworthy line, though, might be this note that the studio head will be asked to “work within a fast-paced environment spearheading design, art, core gaming loops, meta, viral and retention loops and iterate monetization, go to market, integrated esports and influencer marketing.”
The truth of the matter is that there is a lot we don’t know about this studio at the moment. For that matter, it’s entirely possible that nothing will come of this and “that time Dr. DisRespect thought about starting a video game studio” will just be a piece of trivia shared by the streamer’s fans. You also can’t overlook the obvious possibility that this studio could eventually release games that are worth playing. Stranger things have happened.
However, based on what we know about this studio’s mission and how the core components of this concept fit into the state of the modern video game development industry, it certainly seems like this has the potential to be a very bad idea.
First off, it must be said that Dr. DisRespect (real name Herschel “Guy” Beahm) has experience in the video game industry. Along with obviously being an incredibly popular video game streamer who rose to fame by developing an almost “pro wrestling-like” persona, Beahm previously worked for Call of Duty developer Sledgehammer Games and even helped design many of the multiplayer maps for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. More recently, he helped design a map for the competitive third-person shooter, Rogue Company. Furthermore, Beahm has previously shared video game concepts he’s thought of in the past, including one for a kind of vertical battle royale title that’s partially based on his considerable experience streaming games from that genre.
However, you may better know Dr. DisRespect for the various controversies he’s been involved in over the years that include accusations of racism and using his platform to spread Covid-19 conspiracy theories. While it’s still not clear why Dr. DisRespect was permanently banned from Twitch last year, he was previously suspended from the platform for live streaming from a men’s restroom at E3 2019.
It is impossible to ignore the ways that Dr. DisRespect’s toxically masculine character and “Un-pc” attitude/actions feel like a kind of unintentional parody of the personas and attitudes that contributed to the dangerous cultures of harassment and abuse that have impacted employees at major studios like Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Riot Games. At a time when a recent Bloomberg report suggests that some of Activision Blizzard’s biggest culture problems can be attributed to high-ranking members adopting rock star personalities and using their positions to fuel their egos at the expense of people just trying to do their jobs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use gaming’s embodiment of that very personality as the mascot for a studio. If it does make sense to those involved, then that may tell you quite a bit about what the studio is hoping to achieve and who they’re hoping to appeal to.
Even if you believe that Dr. DisRespect’s persona is an “act” (which is always shaky ground to stand on given how committed to the bit some “performers” seem to be), then there’s still the matter of whether or not Dr. DisRespect is in this position because of some unique vision and incredible structural ideas or whether it’s because he’s able to use his fame, wealth, and “brand” to justify such an endeavor.
We’re currently watching Amazon and Google struggle to make an impact in the game development industry largely because they too seemed to believe they could use their wealth and power to fill studios with industry veterans and hungry upstarts who would also focus on those same kinds of games built around monetization, gameplay loops, and influencers. There are reasons to be cynical about the greed of modern Triple-A studios, but as these major companies are learning, it’s harder to be greedy if you don’t at least have a solid idea made by the right team to charge people for in the first place.
The bluntness of this hypothetical studio’s influencer plans is also fascinating to see. Like it or not, there’s no denying that streamers and influencers play a major role in the video game industry at this time. From helping to shift the balance of power in the MMORPG genre to playing games that are at least partially designed to appeal to their unique positions and massive audiences, it’s pretty clear at this point that there’s no way to suddenly stop the industry’s focus on streamers, content creators, and influencers. That being the case, it’s only a matter of time until we see studios start to work more with streamers during even the earliest stages of the game development process.
Putting aside the quality of the average product designed around a celebrity (with due respect to the George Foreman Grill), it’s strange to think that you’d practically build a studio around the hypothetical input of influencers. Even if Dr. DisRespect has this great idea for a game that’s more than an elaborate version of the “we should buy a bar” conversation we’ve all had at one point, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a significant number of influencers out there that have put that much thought into their ideal video game projects. The more likely explanation is that influencers will be used as part of the branding/promotion for a game, which is, at best, putting the cart before the horse and, at worst, another example of exploiting celebrity obsession and cult of personality.
The video game industry is always in need of new voices, new studios, new ideas, and, now more than ever at a time when some truly incredible circumstances have led to multiple delays, new game releases. However, it’s clear that what the human beings in the video game industry need most right now are studios created to break the industry’s worst cultural habits and not embrace them in the way that this studio is seemingly interested in doing. What may have once been a curious case of the growth of gaming celebrities now feels like a reminder that the road towards a healthier video game industry is a long one indeed.