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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript: Interview with IGDA Executive Director Jason Della Rocca
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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript: Interview with IGDA Executive Director Jason Della Rocca


February 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Tom: Back to the point of positive potential of being recognized for one's work in this field. You were saying that some of the games that are recognized can't easily be found in retail anymore. It seems that one thing the industry would benefit from is some kind of aftermarket. Especially one that is partially contributory to the developers, as opposed to used game sales, where all the money goes to the reseller. There is no compensation at all to the developer.

Jason: You want a sort of perpetual market. That once something is released, that it's always available. And, that based on buzz or hype or word of mouth, the sales kind of go up and down. But that the content of the game is always there to those that want it. And, that plays into Chris Anderson's whole Long Tail theory that with everything being on line; with the bomb being as accessible as the hit, that you get the long tail effect. Things can move up and down that tail. But, you can't do that when you're bound by the physical world.

So, if the game is online, then it gets nominated and wins. Then everyone goes to that website and says wow, are we going to check it out now? Being that it is right there and available, a click away, you just sort of put in your credit card and you pay the five, ten, twenty bucks to grab it. That is usually powerful. With everything on line it changes everything dramatically. Awards can have a greater impact in terms of accessing content.

Tom: So, let's transition again to our last topic. I'd like to ask you about a subject which is relevant to your work toward fulfilling the IGDA's mandate and mission. Let's talk about the maturation of production processes in game development.

Jason: This is kind of a trial by fire time. We, as an industry, need to work for more mature production methodologies. The rooting of the industry, the history of the industry, has really been from a hacker mentality; open up your compiler and start coding and see what comes out the back end and just kind iterate like that. That approach has served the industry well for many years. Once you hit projects that require 100, 200 people on staff, that are super complex, that span the globe in terms of interactions of different teams, are millions of dollars in terms of budget and resources, this kind of hacker mode of creation doesn't scale to that level.

What we're starting to see is that smart studios are looking towards whether there's sort of a proprietary methodology. We're adopting other methodologies like Scrum or different Agile approaches. Or even the Carnegie Mellon Software Institute, they have the different software processes. They're called the TSP and PSP, team software process and personal software process. They really provides a formalized and rigorous approach to scheduling and time estimation and project management. Some of these might not be applicable to the iterative and kind of creative nature of game development. Whereas others do seem quite adaptable and have lent a great deal of success to those who have adopted them.

That's kind of what we're looking at now, is that folks are saying, wait a second, we have serious logistical and managerial issues ahead of us. Rather than just come up with some ideas and how to handle it, let's look towards other industries that have been around much longer than us and have developed approaches and methodologies and processes to handle large scale production projects. While this is not yet pervasive in the industry, where you still have many companies that are kind of taking the hacker approach to things, we are seeing progress being made by many studios in this direction. Which is absolutely encouraging.

Tom: I think that adopting more efficient production processes has to move outside the realm of theoretical approaches to more practical application. Especially with the increasing complexity of production for today's games.

Jason: This really is a survival thing. It is related to the whole quality of life agenda that we have, that if you're taking a more formalized approach to project management, your schedules will be more sane, you won't get as much crunch, you won't burn out your staff. And so there's a positive angle there just from the whole quality of life, humanitarian perspective.

The reality is that this is cold hard cash we're talking about. This is a business, this is bottom line. If you're a studio executive it doesn't matter how cold blooded you are, taking this approach in terms of a more formalized approach to production will make you produce better games in a more efficient manner, retain human capital, all that good stuff, and make your company a more profitable company. It's not a touchy feely thing. It's not just a, you know, I want my people to have lives outside of the company thing. Those are byproducts of having a more efficient production process.

The reality is that this is a business decision. This is something that affects your bottom line and actually improves the profitability of your company. There's no doubt there's some initial headache in terms of getting people trained and maybe buying some new tools and learning ramp up. But ultimately we're talking about massive returns on investment.

Tom: You touched on an essential side effect of adopting more efficient production processes. An issue that I find particularly alarming is the potential loss of human capital. Personally I was shocked when I read the IGDA quality of life white paper, particularly the committee's findings thats less than 4% of the developers surveyed said that their coworkers averaged ten or more years of experience. That's just a staggering figure. So what does that come out to? Something like one out of every 25 people in the business are still working after 10 years?

Jason: I mean this is a whole conversation unto itself. We bring in these super passionate people, and if we're lucky we get two projects out of them and then they're gone. Physically they're burned out, the rewards were not what they were expecting or don't match the amount of effort that goes in. Things change, projects get cancelled and they just check out. And that's just horrible and speaks to the much larger issue of the medium of games. That if everyone working on games only gets to work on them for five or six years and then leaves, how are we supposed to evolve the art form? How are we supposed to advance the craft? All the new people coming in, they kind of make all the same mistakes and do all the same things.

Everyone complains about innovation and lack of originality and so on, this is one of the contributing factors. I know there's business issues and market issues and all that kind of stuff. This is one of them, imagine if you were in the industry for 30 years. I would sure hope that what you are working on from year one versus year thirty has evolved dramatically, just sort of as a necessity to keep yourself entertained and challenged. Whereas if you bail after five years, where's the chance to evolve there if you're only on one or two projects? That's a part of it. Never mind the business issues with what you might call friction costs of losing staff.

So you lose staff, lost production time, you have to spend time to find someone new, cost of interviews, cost of bringing those people in, ramp up time and training on the internal tool sets. You're looking at friction costs at $50,000 to $100,000 per head. If you consider then, in some cases after a project, you lose like half your team and then you have to re-ramp up for the next project, that's a lot of wasted resources. If we were just a bit more sane during the initial process, we would be able to keep our staff and move them on smoothly to another project.

Tom: Let's wrap up with your assessment of what you see as the most timely challenges facing the IGDA.

Jason: The problems and the challenges that the IGDA are working on are evergreen. Stuff like censorship and acceptance of games as a valid form of expression, recognition, and credit within the industry...that's not going to stop. We're not going to say, well, we're done giving recognition, let's go home. That's kind of an ongoing effort. Similarly with our agenda on the quality of life and workforce improvement, that's sort of a never ending crusade.

It's degrees of improvement. You know, year by year of course operational tactics might change depending on what's going on in the community and such. Overall that's what we're doing. We're here to advance the careers of the game industry workers, we're here to advance the industry. That's what we're about.

Tom: Great Jason, thanks so much for your time. I'm looking forward to this new year of gaming because I think we're on the cusp of some pretty significant changes. There's still a lot of important issues that have yet to be resolved and equally a lot of promise for absolutely stunning game experiences and exciting industry developments that are right around the corner. So I'm sure that you as well as myself are looking forward to seeing how this will all play out.

Jason: Indeed, well thank you very much Tom.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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