"Once morale starts to crumble it's real tough to get it back on track. It's a poison that's really infectious."
- Artist Steven Ashley, recalling what it's like to work on a game that's not doing so well.
Remember Infinite Crisis, the free-to-play MOBA featuring DC superheroes that Turbine launched last year and then abruptly canned, two months in?
Steven Ashley does. He served as a lead artist on the project, and in a new Vice feature he joins fellow dev Colin Day (who worked on Hellgate: London, among other things) in opening up about what it feels like to work on a game that looks like it's going to fail -- and how you can deal with it if you find yourself in a similar situation.
"We had a lot of guys who were straight out of college and had never experienced this before," Ashley told Vice. He speaks to how Infinite Crisis wasn't doing well out of the gate, but even so, when word got around that the project was being shut down those college graduates "were freaked out. I had to tell them that unfortunately this is a reality in this business. It's happened to me four times."
Ashley speaks with the weight of experience -- Vice points out that he spent five years working on Infinite Crisis -- and his thoughts (along with Day's) are worth reading because if you work in game development it's only a matter of time before you have a project that flops. When that happens, it's probably better to think of it as an ultimately constructive experience.
"I tried to make it as constructive as possible, because a dour manager doesn't help anything," Ashley said, recalling how he tried to manage his team's expectations around the Infinite Crisis shutdown. "I don't want to say you need to 'spin' [the state of the game], but you do want to be encouraging. When it's appropriate, be a meat shield. Keep them insulated. When the hammer does come down some people will cry or react, but your team will be prepared for it."
Now, both Ashley and Day are working with indie teams (Proletariat and Spellbind Studios, respectively), though Ashley says he still meets up regularly with some of his Infinite Crisis teammates and is open to taking a lead role on another project some day.
"it comes back to the core of why I'm in this industry. You're with a really creative group of people, and no matter if a game survives or it fails, nothing can really replace that experience," he told Vice. "It makes me want to keep going. I'll enter the next game with the same degree of wonder."
The full article, which includes further comments from Ashley and Day, is worth reading over on Vice.