Friends of the blog will know that I have long been skeptical of historical video game projects. One of several critiques is that our budgets are just too small to compete in the cultural marketplace with the likes of EA and Activision. I understand that we’re not in direct and open competition with those companies for our students’ attention and that, if necessary, we have other means of compelling attention, especially in the context of the classroom. I’m also not saying anything about the pedagogical value of those games once students are made to play them, nor am I talking about casual games for Facebook and other platforms, which I’ll admit present a more level playing field for digital humanities. Caveats aside, I still see no getting around the fact that when students and others look at the video games and virtual environments we develop, they can’t help but compare the production values and game play to things they’re seeing on Xbox.
Consider these figures:
- The estimated production and launch budget for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (the industry’s current big hit) was $200 million.
- The total grants budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities (i.e. the total federal appropriation minus funds sent to the states, challenge grants, and administrative costs) was less than $90 million in 2010. That’s not for digital projects. That’s for all projects.
How can we possibly keep up?
Now consider that Foursquare, the wildly popular place-based social network has to date received a total of $1.35 million in venture funding. Again, Foursquare built a thriving social network, one of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies, for little more than what’s available to individual applicants through IMLS’s National Leadership Grants program. Try building a top video game for $1.35M.
That’s a number we can match, and the reason why, for my money, I’ll be sticking to the web and mobile space and giving history video games a pass.
[Thanks to Leslie Madsen-Brooks for the email that inspired this rant.]