Second Life: A Review of Press Reset, by Jason Schreier

The video game industry is one of the largest in the world, but it can be hard to imagine just how much money these companies make.  In 2020 alone, the global market for video games generated over 150 billion dollars in revenue, with predictions for 2021 set to increase that number even more.  Despite a measure of success which cannot be denied, the video game industry remains one of the most volatile industries of the modern day.  Few other fields rely on creating products that also need to serve as a piece of art, from the gameplay to the design to the story being told.  Even films do not suffer from the same demands or risks as games do.  One flop is all it takes for an entire company to fold in itself, and even the most successful ones perform mass layoffs without warning.  For many gamers out there, working in the video industry seems like a dream come true.  Get paid to make games?  But the reality, as in many instances, is much harsher.

Journalist Jason Schreier has made a name for himself as a trust-worthy source of information in the world of the video game industry, and has maintained a remarkable talent for maintain an impartial view.  For years, his articles and reporting have provided clear cut, well researched information while understanding that storytelling is still an integral part of reporting.  Reporting straight facts is not interesting, but providing context, comparisons, and focusing on the humanity behind the facts will always keep a reader engaged.  In an industry where coverage usually consists of writing articles about press releases or writing reviews, Schreier was able to convince developers to talk to him about what it’s like working on the inside, and has push back against the shroud of fog that usually obfuscates what occurs behind the scenes.  Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry is only Schreier’s second book, but it continues his tradition of presenting well-researched, thoughtful, and engaging stories about what it’s really like to create games.

Schreier’s first book—Blood, Sweat, and Pixels—was a fascinating, and somewhat depressing, read about what it was like to actually create a video game.  Focusing on a few high-profile stories, the consistent thread in that book was the pervasive culture of crunch, a cycle of working endless hours and sacrificing any semblance of a personal life to work.  Press Reset, however, focuses on what happens to the people who create these games in the aftermath of the industry’s signature volatility.  Again keeping each chapter contained and streamlined, Schreier focuses on one company at a time, writing from the perspective of the developers who worked there.  As he warns early in the book, he is not concerned with sales numbers of dollar amounts, but the human element.  When layoffs are reported about in the news, it always appears very clinical.  These articles focus on the companies and executives, but what about the testers?  Schreier answers that question.  The result is an endlessly engaging series of stories featuring memorable developers, with the focus never leaving the impact on their lives and how a closure looks to their point of view.

One aspect of the book that cannot escape notice is the scale of the stories told.  The companies that create games are located all over the United States, and a key aspect is how developers must often uproot their lives and move to another state at a moment’s notice.  At first glance, it appears like a large-scale affair.  So many companies, constantly closing and opening again and tossing people around in the meantime.  But, the more you read, the more you start to see a handful of entities mentioned over and over again.  EA is mentioned in several chapters, with a direct influence in more than one.  Others, such as Disney, are the focus of a single chapter, but remain lurking in the background, buying up more and more studios.  Most of the stories involve companies that started independent, and were later bought by large conglomerates, only to be closed years later to serve the conglomerate.  It becomes increasingly clear that, for as much money is involved in this industry, the number of companies making that money is small.  For a long time, that number seemed to shrink every year as well.  However, there is a silver lining.  With the advent of online distribution, it has become easier than ever to get your game out into the world.  Within the last few years, we have seen the advent of a brand-new indie generation, operating outside the large publishers, able to reach new audiences and keep an ever-loyal fanbase.

Non-fiction books can often become an ordeal to read as many writers focus on providing a factual account of what happened, sometimes forgetting that a story still needs to be told.  But true events can be endlessly fascinating, if told correctly.  Luckily, Schreier’s writing style leaves very little to criticize.  While he does provide factual and well-researched information, the presentation is sure to draw readers in easily as Schreier understands that these stories can still be interesting, despite being non-fiction.  While he also understands that his main audience is likely gamers, he has done a great job ensuring that the writing is clear enough so that non-gamers can still read and enjoy his book.  He also takes the time to explain some things in simple terms, while skillfully avoiding any feelings of being talked down to, so that it is always very clear what the book is talking about.  Like any good non-fiction book, Schreier also includes the occasionally footnote, sometimes to provide an explanation which would not fit in the paragraph, and other times to add a funny commentary or aside.  However, he spaces these out well enough that they never feel overwhelming, but instead are always a welcome addition to a page.

Despite how honestly great of a read Press Reset is, there is one area to criticize.  The book is too short!  Schreier’s second novel is just shy of three hundred pages, and honestly feels like it could have kept going for hundreds more.  Every chapter is satisfying and interesting, but Schreier’s unique subject matter and brand of storytelling just leave you wanting more as you turn each page.  He wisely keeps each chapter focused on just a few people and companies, but, every once in a while, he drops a hint or illusion to something not covered in this book, such as the former giants THQ or Telltale games.  Each of those would be an incredibly interesting story on their own, but Schreier keeps us moving forward.  I was almost disappointed when I reached the epilogue, although the epilogue covers a certain subject which also deserves its own book.  There are so many stories about the video game industry, and every story is unique.  As much as the shortness of the book is my criticism, it is also the ultimate triumph of Press Reset.  It leaves you wanting more.

With Press Reset, Jason Schreier has once again proven that he has a gifted hand for storytelling, paired with an eye for getting to the truth behind the marketing.  In a field where most journalism has historically been passing on press releases provided by companies or writing fluff pieces, it is important to see a trend towards real reporting.  Journalists, such as Schreier, are oftentimes willing to risk the online harassment that comes with negative press to present the truth of the video game industry and how it actually operates.  While Press Reset makes it very clear how difficult the industry is for those working in it, it does so in a way that keeps readers interesting and engaged from page to page.  Those who read the book are already eagerly awaiting a third entry into what is becoming a series, but meanwhile we will have to sustain ourselves with Schreier’s reporting.  Hopefully we will see many more stories to come as Schreier continues his excellent reporting into the stories behind the games.

Press Reset can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 5 days

Next on the List: Lazarus, by Lars Kepler

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