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Game Over
by Andrew Grapsas on 07/13/11 01:23:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I live in New York City. I've always loved the area and its potential. For me, being able to build games in NYC has been a dream come true. I've worked for some great companies and with dedicated, talented, brilliant individuals.

At Kaos, I really learned to be an engineer, to think deeply about issues and resolve them honestly and with good code. I had a handful of amazing mentors each with more than a decade of game experience and a surprisingly well-known assortment of credits (including iconic first person shooters).

The past few months, weeks, and days have seen these gurus leave games, more than likely for the rest of their lives. Three of the brightest engineers I've known are no longer building games. I've witnessed a bleeding out of talent as people have scattered across the wind, vanishing to different countries and states grabbing a variety of new jobs.

So, when I say in my blog posts that our industry needs to change, that we need to find new philosophies, alter our mental models, and generally move towards solving these issues, I am speaking out of immediate experience.

There are those that say, "suck it up." To them, I can only smile. I have a fiancee and most of my friends that have left the industry are married. When it comes down to a question of happiness and security, that will always win out over the frustration of working for a company that is not providing an adequate means of living a fruitful, fulfilled life.

The entire concept of telling employees to “suck it up” is damaging to our industry and our organizations. Without respect for employees, how can we expect them to craft great products? I blame the vast mediocrity I’ve been observing in our industry on soulless work environments without compassion for the developers.

An artist works passionately and fervently on her own painting because she owns it, it embodies her, and it is her life.

That sounds poetic and beautiful, right? But, can it not also be destructive? We often apply this artist mentality to our developers--even though they usually do not have direct control over the product or end result. Yet, have we considered the danger of art? Artists often have self-destructive lives and neurotic anxieties.

The hallmark of the future of our industry will be built on not the games we craft, but the people we cultivate.

So, let’s learn to be compassionate. Let’s learn to respect our people so that they may generate works that are meaningful, engaging, and resonant.

That’s my appeal, let me know what you think!

About the Author

Andrew Andreas Grapsas is a game programmer at Arkadium, Inc. developing casual and social games. He previously worked at THQ and EA as a systems and gameplay programmer on triple-A shooters.

Andrew is actively writing and programming for various projects. You can read more articles exclusively at his blog aagrapsas.com.

Follow Andrew on twitter!


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Comments


G Irish
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Well said. Who knows how big this problem is, but there are a lot of people who leave the gaming development industry because of the work conditions, and probably a large portion more who never come to the industry because of the work conditions. By and large people who choose to work in games are passionate, but it's a tragedy that the industry ends up consuming and extinguishing peoples' passion and sometimes destroys their home life.

John McMahon
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I got into computer programming because of my interest in gaming. But as I continued my education I saw a horrible working situation in the industry. I prefer my job to support my outside activities not swallow them up.



I know now every studio is like that, but for someone interested in joining it is a very big turnoff.

Glenn Storm
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Hear, hear!

Gustavo Samour
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I definitely agree that the industry needs to change, and that people will define its future. I would very much like to stay in the industry for as long as possible. That being said, one scenario comes to mind...



"Game Company A" starts working on a zombie game. "Game Company B" knows this and also starts working on a zombie game at the same time. "A" keeps working hours at 40 per week and treats their employees very well during development. "B" on the other hand, treats their employees just okay during development. They also plan around a more aggressive schedule in which they work 60 hours per week and some weekends but are in a position to release two months ahead of "A". Both products are just as good, but "B" sells a lot more than "A" because it got players hooked first. "B" offers its employees bonuses and a lot of paid time off after the project. "A" cannot offer this, and its employees must begin work on the next project immediately.



I personally prefer "A", but I bet some people would take the risk of "B" and enjoy some compensation at the end. Maybe the difference is as simple as you put it. Being engaged/married can mean you are less inclined to take such risks.



I guess what I'm saying is, competition plays its part too. Is it okay for a company to make an aggressive schedule to try and outsell a competitor? Maybe it is, as long as it is said up front, and perhaps compensated in some other way like studio culture.

Andrew Grapsas
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Speed to market is a myth.



I'm going to say that again: speed to market is a myth.



MS Word was not the first word processor, Amazon was not the first website to sell books online, Zynga did not have the first mob game, Adobe Photoshop wasn't the first image editing software, Half-Life wasn't the first shooter, Ben & Jerry's wasn't the first ice cream.



Often times, version 1.0 of software (especially games) isn't all that great. That's the reality of it. With the first version, you're finding your feet. We see this with games, in many cases.



Now, if, in your scenario, company B has to rebuild its core tech because it was rushed, rehire part of its team because they left, and deal with individuals that have lost productivity and respect because they weren't shown compassion, how do you think they'll turn out?



We've seen exceptions to this, of course. Rockstar, right? Rockstar is well known for its horrible quality of life and lack of respect. Yet, it puts out hit after hit. My question: is that going to work for everyone else? How are you, as a new company, going to attract the best people and keep them?



Rockstar doesn't keep people. It sheds talent. Yet, its IP momentum and recognition as a brand feeds it new blood time and time again. General Motors might be a prime example, or many of the banks that were recently bailed out.



And, bringing it all back to the root of the issue:



Why do you have to crunch to release software earlier? Software can be released in a timely fashion without crunch, it's just easier to be lazy and crunch. Not crunching requires planning, knowledge, and an ability to utilize executive functioning. Crunching just involves ignoring compassion.



Haha, sorry for the long response, there's a lot to be said here.

Gustavo Samour
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No worries, I enjoyed your response :)



You're right, speed to market alone doesn't guarantee success. This is why I picked a genre that's been done a lot. Now, let's say the extra time "B" put in to the game means they will have some innovative features that "A" won't have, and they're both on track to release at the same time. What do you do if you're "A"? Do you:



1. Deliver the game with the current feature set?

2. Delay the project and add more/better features?

3. Crunch to deliver the features for the current release date?

4. Plan D



Under 1, if the nice features "B" added translate well into sales, then "A" may have a losing game on their hands (in terms of $).



Under 2, this can mean you go over budget. If the game doesn't sell enough, even with the new features, then this may be the end of "A". Meanwhile, "B" has lost some employees but is still alive. I don't like this, because I do care for the individual, but is a "bad" company worse than a "dead" company?



Under 3, you're now following in the footsteps of "B".



Plan D is the ideal choice. I wish I knew what Plan D was, but I'm confident we'll get there at some point.





Sorry for the long reply to your response...



There IS a lot to be said here, I'm happy developers are speaking up :)

Dan Felder
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Speed to market is very much a myth. First mover advantage is nonexistant for an industry with so few barriers to moving your money around. The exception is when you have a new and innovative concept and it is SO polished that it blows everyone away. Example: Portal. Mostly though it's better to let other companies explore new territory first and then once they have shown the water is fine to commit resources only then.



We're not laying railroad tracks anymore. Speed to Market does almost nothing.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I pretty much agree with Andrew. I also think it is harmful to view game development as competition. I mean, it's not that it's not -- just like there is competition in dating. But you don't just focus on "beating the other guys" when trying to impress a girl (or insert whatever genders fit the template for your situation). If you do, you're kind of missing the fun of dating and probably not acting very politely around your date, which can only hurt your chances if you look at the big picture. Game development, and business in general, is flawed by legitimizing any unethical tactic under the blanket excuse of competition. Is it ok for company C to come along and work 120 hour weeks and put company A and B out of business? What if they do it for minimum wage? What if we get rid of that pesky minimum wage law that interrupts the infallible "free market" and work their employees for no pay with some sort of royalty promises, then is it ok? Is it then ok to lay off these employees after the project, removing them from ever receiving bonuses (since only current employees can receive bonuses), because that lets the stockholders (which did nothing but wait on the sidelines for the game to finish so they can get money without contributing) become a few cents richer each. Is it still ok when you realize that while the lower and middle class are struggling with these issues, the upper class are getting richer and richer off of their work? Is this ok because "hey, you chose to work at a horrible company", even though the economy is so bad you have to take whatever job you can get? Is there a limit to any of this madness?



No, instead of thinking of competition and worrying about what the "bad" guys are doing that we need to defensively mimic, we should just focus on making players happy and keeping our team healthy. To take any other perspective is to become the "bad" guys ourselves. And if there are systemic constraints that prevent this from happening, then we need to change the system. Business is not a natural force, it was put there by us and we can tear it down if it fails us. And with unemployment not improving and the divide between the haves and the have nots only getting wider, I'm feeling it's time to tear it down...

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Sorry if I double post, but you posted this as I posted mine :)



"but is a "bad" company worse than a "dead" company?"



I say yes, most definitely.



I think Plan D is that company B is not going to make the same game as company A just to put them out of business. Company B is going to make whatever game they feel will bring the most joy to its fans, and if there happens to be overlap, company B and company A are part of a superstructure (not really a union, not for profit; maybe a guild?) and care about each other and will help each other out in times of need. So if company A tried really hard and failed and company B tried really hard and succeeded, company B will give company A enough money to stay afloat. This is how we treat other humans, and companies are just groups of humans. But for some reason we want to give corporations human rights without expecting human civility from them :(. I don't get it, the ideal situation is so clear to me but how do we get there when everyone believes cutthroat capitalism is how things _have_ to be?



Edit: I want to clarify. When I say company B and A care about each other, I mean as collectives of human beings, not merely as strategic business partners. They care about each other like you (hopefully) care about your neighbors.

William Collins
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You're on point, Jeff! I'm sure the many readers who've read your posts to this article agree. I do believe the tide is turning with the success of more and more indies and "shed talent" leaving to start their own companies. I wonder, too about the Zynga IPO situation. It seems like they're well on their way to adopting the same ideologies you've spoken out against.

Andrew Grapsas
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I think there's an issue here :)



Features do not necessitate a good game.



Toyota focused on quality of cars instead of the output of their factories, whereas GM focused on output. The end result? It cost GM more to build their cars and they were less reliable (and, indeed, had an 'actual' lower output -- once you excluded defective cars that couldn't even be sold).



Also, in this scenario, maybe studio A should have better evaluated what they were bringing to the table in the beginning?



As "The Fifth Discipline" says, we can only succeed in so far as the system we have around us allows -- meaning that if the system is built for failure, then we will fail (a failing idea is a failing idea, no matter how much effort we put into making it not a failing idea).



That's one of the reasons agile calls for failing early! It's cheaper to fail up front and discover the game just isn't that good.



Working 40 hour weeks religiously isn't going to make a mediocre company not be mediocre, it's important to recognize that. But, if they are religious about not overburdening their employees, there's a good chance they have better introspection than most other companies.



I hope that makes sense :)

Gustavo Samour
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I agree that features don't make a good game. However, the argument might as well have been "company B ends up with a better game than company A", because they put in the extra time towards quality.



You could argue that if "B" knew they were bringing a good/better game to the table, then they wouldn't need to release at the same time as "A". Let's forget competition against similar products for a moment. What about the holidays? Manager "Tom" wants to release in time for the holidays because he thinks it'll be more lucrative. If he's right, he plans on investing in his employees with bbq/parties, gifts, vacation time, training, bonuses, maybe improving benefits, etc. If he's wrong, he will probably have some people leave and will be left with several unhappy employees. Manager "Jerry" religiously avoids crunch, so he knows he won't make it for a holiday deadline. His game could still sell well and he'll do the same as "Tom" in terms of investing in his employees. If the game doesn't sell well, then there won't be any post-project goodies, but at least production was enjoyable due to no crunch.



Is it wrong for "Tom" to want to take a risk, hoping for more money? Is it wrong for employees to follow along, motivated by the possibility of getting some goodies at the end? Will there always be a "Tom and Jerry" or will we reach a point where we'll have a "Jerry" everywhere? Do we want a "Jerry" everywhere?



Personally, I vote for "Terry". (notice I used more of Jerry). But I'm sure there are some "Tom"-lovers out there. If "Tom" is wrong, they are wrong too. If "Tom" must be fixed, then "Tom"-loving employees must be fixed too.



Sorry to keep ranting :)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Another good question is: is it Tom's right to pick the fate of his employees all by himself?



I have to admit to being a little more coop-oriented in my ethical decisions, a stance that I reached at an accelerated rate due to the horrible management in this industry (you can only watch dumb decisions be made by other people that cause you to lose your job while they keep theirs so many times...). Why shouldn't crunch be democratic? Not just "will it happen" but "how bad, for how long, what features do we _need_ to keep". I think people take the stance that the person who starts a company or the people they hire as managers deserve to make all kinds of decisions that affect their employees because they "own" the place, but this is just as silly to me as saying that early American citizens get to deport newborn citizens they don't like because of seniority. And I don't buy the "hey, they're creating jobs" line. Jobs exist where there is a need; at best they are merely claiming these jobs like imperialistic expansion claims land, making it harder for those who came a little later to claim any without going through them. It really is a mild form of slavery, not made much better because of at will employment (so you can pick your slave master? I'd rather not be a slave at all...) The sooner everyone realizes and remedies this the happier we can make this world by respecting ourselves more (as employees).



Sorry for the tangent, I guess I feel that it's not Tom's decision alone to make. Even though people can quit, and maybe before the economic crash when it was reasonably easy to get another job this would be fine, I don't feel that is a good excuse now. When unemployment (in America at least) is at 9.2% and it takes on average 40 weeks to find a new job, quitting is not a real option just like taking a bullet to the chest is not a real option against an armed thief (just give him the wallet).

Andrew Grapsas
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I think a lot of the thought process being applied is at fault.



Why didn't we know the deadline sooner? Why do we have to crunch to get to the required features?



There are failures that are underlying in the described system. This is why you can't just use examples, examples are, too often, shaded.



I like that you're challenging the idea, Gustavo, but you're presenting purposely counter-favored systems. We have to fix the system, in these cases. There's more wrong here than simply working longer than 40 hours a week.

Gustavo Samour
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I realize these "what-if" situations are counter-favored. But they happen.



I support the idea, and I only challenge it to delve deeper into it ;)

Gustavo Samour
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I also feel Tom shouldn't pick the fate of his employees all by himself. He should at least get their input. However, his job is to make the final decision, and it's hard to make everyone happy. After all, just like there are difficult managers, there are difficult employees. This is the real challenge for managers, finding the "sweet spot" choice that works best for everyone.



As for people being able or not being able to quit... it's a tough one. If an employee disagrees with "Tom" and some co-workers, it could be time to "fail early" and look for something else. If you do, management will learn why you left, and you may find a better quality of life elsewhere. If you don't quit, management may not learn anything, and you'll be stuck in a situation you were warned about.



Unfortunately, there's also the ugly case of not even getting a warning.



And you're right, Jeff, we need to respect ourselves more. But I feel this needs to start way earlier. Perhaps from childhood.



EDIT: this was meant as a reply to Jeffrey, I just took a long time to post.

Ben Sullivan
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Perhaps I'm missing what you mean by "speed to market", but if commenters here are suggesting that your game's release proximity to other titles of the same genre doesn't matter you're crazy. Sure, being "first" doesn't matter, but positioning your product against competitors is critical.



When a new Final Fantasy comes out you'd be insane to release your own JRPG of a similar style within the same month. People only have so much money to spend on games each month and its unlikely they'll pick the unproven and unrecognized title (and likely one with lower production values) when the price points are the same.



It's likely true that choosing to sell your similar game 6 months after Final Fantasy (perhaps even 3 months later) will net you the same sales, but that's 6 months where your investment is sitting idle instead of making money (and interest). This is an untenable business strategy unless you're sitting on a huge war chest.



Sales today are worth significantly more than sales tomorrow - most studios need the influx of cash to start their next game and can't afford to delay that.

Clinton Keith
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This "crunch to get to market faster" argument is a bit off. When do studios *plan* to do this? Usually projects crunch in an effort to mitigate project slips and budget shortages. Whenever I read about products that shipped early, they did it by strictly managing scope.



There is long-standing proof (over 100 year old) that show that crunch beyond several weeks loses any benefits of "more done in less time".

http://tinyurl.com/3j2cf7v

james sadler
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There are a lot of great posts here and this is a work place dispute that has been going on for decades, not only in the gaming industry. Some say that the consumer will change things, but I really think at least in our case that it comes down to the individual employees. There are tons that have either left or been "left go" of that have decided, whether because of choice or a lack of options, to become an independent developer. It is a huge risk, but I think right now more consumers are tired of the sequel madness going on by the big boys, as well as just how monotonous AAA game shave become. I think there is a lot more comfort in being an indie dev, even though it is a lot more risky. Big companies will take notice eventually when some small indie team is able to really challenge AAA quality games.

Dex Smither
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There seems to be an overall problem in the industry that we are burning out our talent at an average of 5 years. Even the "old-timers" in the industry seem to share war wounds of divorce and a gypsy-like lifestyle. Everyone enters this industry with a great passion. Sometimes that passion helps keep folks, but that passion has to compete against quite a bit.



Other entertainment businesses suffer a lot of the same issues we have. They lose quite a bit of talent after a few years, but once you make it past that tipping point, you tend to stay in for life. There's a lot of benefits in those industries to staying on. We don't really have those benefits.



Walk onto any film set, and roles and process are crystal clear to everyone, almost to the point of absurdity. Every person working in that environment is treated as the premiere expert. No one touches the camera except camera crew. Try lifting a 5-lb sandbag if your title isn't Grip. It's just not done.



It wasn't always like this. These industries have had at least a century to refine methods and retain people. They identified what was wrong and took measures to protect talent. We're suffering teh same growing pains Hollywood had when it was in it's infancy (which ironically, also started in the NYC area).



We can get through this, but no one is going to change it for us.

David Paris
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I find it interesting that you mentioned Kaos specifically. My first producer, who I have a lot of respect for, similarly burned out at Kaos and left the industry. Sounds like that's a location that has been harder than most on senior talent.



The industry really seems to be oriented around a young, bright, and exploitable work force right now. Guys fresh out of school and burning with ambition, who don't yet have families to help remind them that you need to take time for other things in life than merely work.



Perhaps much of this comes from unempowered dev studios agreeing to unrealistic schedules and results after being bludgeoned into submission by lopsided publisher contracts. I can say from having worked for both a large publisher, and small dev studios, it was pretty clear who always ends up getting the raw deal.



I think we as an industry, need to mature. We need reasonable default contract expectations. We need reasonable default employee working conditions. We need reasonable default software life cycle practices. I don't know what its going to take to get us there - scandal, unionization, social growth, beats me. But the evolution has to come.

Mark Kreitler
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Another good article, Andrew. You're right that working conditions are burning many of us out. That's been true as long as I've been in the industry (16 years or so), but there's another issue that's increasingly a factor, and it's relatively new: the death of design.



Those of us who stay in the industry *despite* crunch do so because we love making games, but increasingly, we're not allowed to do this. In the past few years, I've watched mechanics take a back seat to monetization models, Skinner-box models, and slavish dedication to formula.



I understand why we're seeing this, but it doesn't change the fact that it's killing the industry for many of us. I can barely drag myself to work when I'm cranking out another soul-less shooter cynically designed to keep "players" chained to the keyboard and micro-transing for an extra 15 minutes of play time. Forget about asking me to crunch.



When did games stop being about fun?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Thanks for bringing this up. I fully agree. I am a programmer, and I know my role is not to design the game so I don't expect that, but it feels more and more like I don't even get to decide when or how I do my tasks. I keep getting a new task or having another task reprioritized each day (including crunch weekends), often when I am in the middle of trying to implement another task. I am not about to say this is bad for the game, I don't know, but it makes me feel more like a reflex than a respected expert in my field. It really feels like something should be said for letting employees feel like part of the big picture instead of just cogs to recalibrate every day. Heck just last year I was being given a list of tasks and asked for my expert opinion on how long it would take to complete the tasks, then told to lower those estimates to fit a preordained schedule (Then why did you ask in the first place?!?!? >_<)



There's too much fear and trying to please corporate overlords or appease some arbitrary schedule that wasn't made with reason in the first place and not enough ... you know, joy. For developers or for players.

Andrew Grapsas
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@Mark



Thanks! The environment is grueling and inhumane, and there are definitely fewer and fewer veterans in the industry. The most veteran guys I knew were when I was at EA, and most of them have moved on to alternative studios.



@Jeffrey



Fear is definitely an element. Honestly, I think education is an aspect we're gravely missing out on. Education isn't just for producers or directors, either. The way to build robust, self-learning, self-aware organizations is through an intimate knowledge of how and why things work.



Toyota makes certain that each employee understands their methodologies and why they're enacted. Why do we spend so little time explaining things in our industry? Too frequently, I encounter "scrum experts" that know nothing of scrum! So, why are we even talking about scrum? The team doesn't know it, the producer doesn't know it, scrap it!



Anyway, lots more blog topics here :)



Thanks for the comments!

Mark Kreitler
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@Jeffery: You hit the nail on the head. I started out as a programmer and switched to design a few years ago for exactly the reasons you mentioned.



As a programmer, I found I was increasingly pigeonholed ("Oh, you're a camera programmer -- can you do that for another 5 years?") while simultaneously becoming a cog (creative director telling me what algorithms to write instead of giving me a flexible design and trusting me to meet its requirements).



As a designer, I have watched the industry shift from "how can we make a cohesive game" to "just copy an existing game but figure out how to monetize and/or socialize it."



At this point, your employees are drones, your product is bland, and the most important departments are production and marketing. That's a valid business model, but it's a "fast food" mentality, and you can expect commensurate worker turnover -- especially when you demand 80-hour weeks.





@Andrew: so many studios fly by the seat of the pants, I'm not sure they could educate if they wanted to. My studio did a pretty good job of explaining production decisions through our last dev cycle, which lasted 5 years. We still had almost a year of crunch and shipped a buggy game that lacked critical features at launch. We had some brain drain after launch, then lost 1/2 the studio to layoffs.



I'm not disagreeing with the need for education, but that probably isn't the biggest wedge in the "pie graph of employee disgruntlement." That honor -- as you've said before -- belongs to more fundamental management issues: failure to properly scope projects, poor understanding of technical requirements, and naive or non-existent risk-assessment during development. Often, these issues result from owners not listening to the warnings from the team.

Andrew Grapsas
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@Mark



Oh, definitely! I'm saying we need to educate everyone to prevent the fundamental management issues that exist! How does this occur and what exactly do we teach? Well, that would require some deep thinking; but, my goal is to allow us to start having these dialogues so we can better understand the issues.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"I have watched the industry shift from "how can we make a cohesive game" to "just copy an existing game but figure out how to monetize and/or socialize it.""



Yes, this! Just the other day I was interrupted from a task to implement something seen in another game. I was even shown a video of what to implement. Now I won't say the game doesn't need it (and I won't say that it does), but it would be better to have a cohesive design from the start instead of just having us cogs chug away at development while producers and managers look at things popular games do to mimic them and give us more feature-bloat busy work. It just feels so *shudder* amateurish, you know? Like the people who should be driving things should be lead designers (or creative directors, whichever title you prefer) who can envision good design up front, not just producers that simply copy it and add features that they saw in Popular Game X when we're supposed to be polishing and wrapping up. In the latter, more common case, you've set your upper bounds to be just as good as the games that are already on the market, while gamer expectations have moved beyond it. I understand risk aversion, but this is like driving off a bridge to avoid a paper bag because the paper bag might have some glass in it O_o.



Well, the only answer I have is to just keep tolerating bland game projects and try to save up enough money (despite layoffs from those bland game projects "surprisingly" failing) to some day go indie.

Glenn Storm
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I can't tell you folks how valuable this comment thread is, on top of the blog post. Thank you! :)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Hey, does anyone know of a good game industry forum site? Like The Chaos Engine, except that seems to be invite only and hard to get into. There's also NeoGAF, but that seems a little... too NeoGAF to me.



Anyway, I'm just wondering if there is a better place to have discussions like this than Gamasutra that I'm not aware of.



EDIT: Not that Gamasutra is bad, it just seems like these blogs and articles are so short lived, which is of course by design for a news site.

Eric McQuiggan
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There is the IGDA Forums, there are a pile of Discipline specific forums as well. It seems to me that here on Gama is where most Game Developers talk, plus a couple hangers-on.

Evan Combs
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There is one thing I can think of that would quickly fix many of the working condition problems, and help with other problems like creativity. This is having studios that are not reliant on publishers for funding. If all a studio had to do was pay the publisher to just publish, and had the financial backing to fund their own projects I can almost guarantee the vast majority of studios would end the crunch, and move more to a it is done when it is done (or out of money) approach.



Of course this really isn't practical, especially for AAA $60 games. As we move to a more digital download model this will become more and more practical. Also it is probably feasible for smaller studies who make smaller games. I hope we eventually get to the point where this is possible as I think it would only make the game industry stronger. Although I do think it would be more likely that you would see good studios go out of business because the people in charge are not good businessmen/women and don't have the presence of mind to hire a businessman/woman to run the business aspects. Overall though I think it would make the industry stronger, and help to keep talent who don't like to be abused or insulted by being given the same mundane task over and over again.

Mark Kreitler
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> having studios that are not reliant on publishers for funding.



You nailed it. It's not just limited to publishers. Any outside capital creates demand to overproduce. Companies with the capability to fund projects in-house have a much better chance to create a quality product without killing the team.



That's not to say that teams at Valve or Blizzard don't crunch, but I suspect there are fewer death marches. Also, the end product is usually a source of pride for all involved.



It's also not to say that externally-funded projects can't succeed, but these are generally risk-averse projects like porting existing games to new consoles or pumping out sports franchise titles.



Studios that use external funds to innovate are in for a bumpy ride. In that case, it takes strong directors to shield the team from outside forces and brilliant producers to assess project health at every point in the dev cycle.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I agree, but the difficulty is that your customers won't pay you until the game is finished, so you need money up front. I view publishers less as helping us overcome this need and more as abusing this need and corrupting and enslaving this industry, but I am a bit dramatic like that.



Anyway, maybe crowdfunding can alleviate some of the financial obstacles that tempt developers into continuing to feed the publishing demons.

Eric McQuiggan
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Crowd funding is a bit of a red herring with video-game funding, IMHO.

You can't really fund a multi-year project with typical crowd funding schemes. Even for the games that meet funding deadlines, I don't know how much money they are actually going to receive.



The other option is the mounting pre-order style, like Mount and Blade, or Overgrowth, but you really need something unique to get that ball rolling.

scott anderson
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I'm just past the 4 year mark now and honestly I can probably only do one more failed studiocanceled project before I'm done with games for life, and I'm not married and don't have any kids. Moving cross country every year or two and constantly being in fear of layoffs is just not good for your mental or physical health :).

Gustavo Samour
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Agreed. This can be exciting the first time or first few times because it's a new adventure. But moving is an exhausting activity and having to relocate often can take its toll. Unfortunately there seem to be game dev clusters in certain states/cities. Being someplace else means having to relocate whenever a studio/project fails.



That being said, I hope you've found (or find) a good studio/project that doesn't fail. We'd hate to lose another game developer :)

Aitor Roda
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Excellent article Andrew. I believe that many of the problems come from a lack of proper management and that is, in my opinion, because in this industry it is common to see people being promoted from their original role until they reach a managing position, something that sometimes they are not suited for.

This may not be true for all companies, but in my experience I have seen a great deal of this, someone is a great programmer, designer or artist or whatever and they pass from junior to senior to lead and eventually reach the management positions... for some people this is a natural transition but I think is a serious mistake. Of course, there can be some exceptional people who are capable of evolving that much and adapt to each of the roles and still make a positive impact, but not everybody.



I also think the day the industry starts to seriously care about proper management and adding real specialists to the task many things will change but for the moment they have no need to. Industry grows bigger and bigger each year and studios are capable of beating the precedent selling records without much hassle, from a business standpoint, what's the need to change anything if "it is working"?



Once the industry will be confronted with a serious crisis and recession that forces people in the top seats to think smarter to survive they will realize what is the appropriate approach. Let's just hope it doesn't take too long to reach that point.



After all, the debate this whole 'Team Bondi' thing brought is nothing but healthy for the industry.

Joshua Sterns
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When a game disc spins, if you listen closely, you can hear the cries of the abused!



Good article. I know I wanted to work in the industry, but ended up taking a more traditional career in finance. I didn't feel like working the long hours for little pay just to be laid off at the end of the project. I'd also like to point out that QA magnifies the abuses of the industry ten fold.



A plus side to a retched gaming industry is the world could use all these talented people to help solve real issues. :)


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