Dec 20 2010

Game Development sucks, right?

In reply to http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2010-12-20-rockstar-dev-recalls-deception-and-abuse

If the game development industry could play a song, it would be in the key of pain.

It’s not hard to find lots of blogs written by game developers or programmers who are dissatisfied with their jobs.  These kinds of blogs get lots of attention because video game fans are just as obsessed with dirt and rumor as movie fans, and considering they’re both branches of the “entertainment” industry, it’s easy to see the connection.

This attention gives the video game development industry a lot of bad press.  It’s (evidently) fun to read a long, disorganized rant about “sweatshop” conditions and unchecked egos and wasted millions.  But there are a few important lessons to take from these kinds of temper tantrums: the game industry can produce burnt-out, jaded former fans.  But it’s not alone.

People who got involved with an industry because they love the product frequently end up disappointed.  It’s like getting into politics because you love freedom: like sausages, laws are disgusting when you find out how they’re getting made.  Frequently it’s often infuriating when people find out how much real, hard work has to get done to produce something fun.  There’s really very little fun involved.  What I’m saying is that many of these industry whiners are complaining because they’ve discovered that great products require real effort, and when you’re young and inexperienced that can be quite a startling realization.

The reality of triple-A titles like Red Dead Revolver and Grand Theft Auto Anything or even World of Warcraft is that they are motivated by money and not creativity or entertainment.  These games are products, and they are created for the sole purpose of getting people to pay for them.  People will pay for them because the games are fun to play, not because they were fun to make.

Making a video game is hard work.  If you want the creation process to be fun, you’ve got to either have a lot of money or a lot of development time, and if you want a lot of money and time you’re going to have a long history of being able to make serious money for your investors.

When a production company is creating a triple-A title they want it released at a strategically viable time and that window of opportunity is often set in stone well before the game’s development has gotten past the “notes on paper” mode.  When game developers come into the picture, whether they are programmers or asset creators, they are working towards a release date that may or may not move forward, but it almost never gets pushed back.

Is it possible to create an expensive title quickly, but without grinding your employees to dust in the process, you’ve got to have highly effective project planning and fantastic managers.  Your project planning will enable you to avoid the dreaded crunch time, and your managers can help to set reasonable expectations and help keep your people from becoming burnt out.

It’s really not hard to do, but if the game industry shares nothing else in common with the movie industry, it’s that both have a huge number of very poorly-qualified people in positions of influence and power who have no idea what they’re doing.

Don’t like it?  Wanna complain?  Go ahead.  Then quit and start your own company, your own project, whatever.  There are very few creative visions that can’t be realized with current content creation tools.  And if you still can’t manage to be happy doing that, then maybe you need to put yourself into a different industry.  Don’t feel bad: like the movie industry, the video game industry is already filled to the brim with people who don’t belong there, they don’t need one more.