[The recent Warhammer Online crediting controversy has raised the profile of how games credit developers -- Gamasutra talks to Mythic's Mark Jacobs, the IGDA, Valve's Doug Lombardi and others about what matters in game credits.]
Practically everyone agrees that giving "proper credit" to developers for their contributions to a game is important -- but what is "proper"? Should the game list everyone involved no matter how miniscule their input?
Perhaps only names should be included, not titles? Maybe credit should go to only those hearty enough to have survived until the game shipped? It all depends on which studio you ask.
Which is why discussions within the IGDA -- which began back in 2003 when its Credit Standards Committee was first formed -- continue without final resolution. Clearly, developing one single standard that pleases everyone is problematic.
Just as the open letter from "EA_Spouse" got the industry buzzing about quality-of-life issues, it was a single incident last November that accelerated the chatter about crediting. Jurie Horneman, a producer on Manhunt 2, criticized Rockstar for ignoring over 55 Rockstar Vienna employees in the game’s credits.
And, in his blog, he posted those missing credits, adding that he was "disappointed and outraged that Rockstar Games tried to pretend that Rockstar Vienna and the work we did on Manhunt 2 never happened -- the work of over 50 people who put years of their lives into the project, trying to make the best game they could."
Today, Horneman -- still a game producer -- recalls having received quite a few reactions "from people who told me stories that were similar or worse, many of which are posted on my blog page. Two things seem quite prevalent: not crediting people who leave before the end of the project and not crediting freelance employees."
Indeed, a 2006 survey by the IGDA’s Game Writers SIG revealed that 35% of respondents either "don’t ever" or "only sometimes" receive official credit for their efforts.
Horneman says he supports what he calls "accurate, complete, and fair credits" for two reasons mainly. "They play a role in hiring decisions; the game you last worked on is something that employers use to decide whether to hire you or not. And credits are also important for developer motivation. The bottom line is that they are just the right thing to do."
He hopes that "the more enlightened developers will see that it is in their interest to adopt the IGDA suggestions on crediting and to be seen doing so," Horneman adds.
"I know of some companies that are including them as a clause in their employment contract, which I think is very smart. They are able to use it to entice developers to come work for them instead of the competition."
Capcom/Clover Studio's Okami
But, despite industry reaction to the Manhunt 2 episode, incidents of non-crediting continue.
Six months later, in May of this year, acclaimed Okami designer Hideki Kamiya expressed frustration with publisher Capcom’s decision to omit the original development team credits from the U.S. version of Ready At Dawn’s Okami Wii port. The designer posted a lengthy message regarding the absent credits in a Facebook blog.
And just two months ago, Electronic Arts’ Mythic Entertainment studio got slammed in the press for choosing to credit only those developers who were still on staff when MMOG Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning was released.
Mythic VP and general manager Mark Jacobs was quoted as saying: "Over the years, we’ve had hundreds of people work on the game, and we thank everyone who helped us bring our Warhammer passion to life, but only current employees that have continued until the end will be credited in the final game."
Reaction was swift, including that of Jennifer MacLean, who is both chair of the IGDA board and VP of business development at Maynard, MA-based 38 Studios. In her commentary in the IGDA newsletter, she called Mythic’s policy "disrespectful of the effort of the game developers who worked on the game," and misleading to "both consumers and game industry peers."
But Mythic’s Jacobs says that his crediting policy had nothing to do with disrespect and everything to do with consistency.
"An MMO requires 3-4 years of crazy work," he explains, "and people come and go and the list of names gets ridiculously long. So we’ve always had a standard policy -- we credit the people who are here at the game’s launch. That’s it. We make no other distinction. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for a day, a week, or all four years. If you’re not here at launch, you don’t get credit."
But while Mythic’s policy was consistent right up to the time the story about that policy broke, it has since been "modified," Jacobs reveals.
"The in-game credits are going to continue to list the guys who were here at launch," he says, "but now we’re building a tool so that everybody who ever worked on the game will be credited online so that future employers or anybody can see it. That will be the case with Warhammer and all of our other games going forward. I believe that’s going far beyond even the IGDA’s suggestions."
EA Mythic's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
The modification, he explains, is the result of a suggestion made to him, one he had never considered previously. "I wish somebody had suggested that to me years ago; it’s so simple and yet so brilliant. The more glorious credits go to those who were here at launch because they saw the product through to the end, and the online credits are for everybody."
His new policy pertains to Mythic only, says Jacobs, not necessarily to parent company EA.
"Now it’s up to EA to talk about it and their studios can make up their own mind," he says. "What I think is really crucial is that studios need to each have their own policies. I don’t want somebody dictating to me how we credit."
"Guidelines are fine, but if the IGDA intends to come up with a standard that says every studio must credit identically, I’d be against that. Frankly, I think the market will sort itself out. If a studio is particularly mean-spirited and doesn’t want to credit its people, no one will want to work there."
In fact, the IGDA’s Credit Standards Committee has created one standard, its "Game Crediting Guide," the latest version of which is its "draft 8-5 beta." According to committee chair John Feil, several studios have agreed to experiment with the guide but, he says, because games take years to make, they can’t start thinking about the credits until the games are completed.
"So we may be waiting a few years until we get the feedback we want," he notes. "However, everyone seems generally satisfied with it. So far we haven’t had any complaints but there are always those people who want more specifics and those who think we’ve been too specific. We’re trying to please everybody all the time but, as you know, that isn’t always possible."
IGDA chair Jennifer MacLean describes the standard as "a living document" that, she suspects, will change as the nature of games change. "There are still a lot of sticky issues that need to be addressed, like how do you put credits on mobile games where space is limited and how do you recognize people who work on an MMOG on an ongoing basis after the initial launch?"
"We hope people will send in their suggestions so the document can reflect the needs and feelings of the design community instead of their just saying, ‘Hey, you got paid, didn’t you? Stop whining!’ "
She recommends that all suggestions be sent to the IGDA committee at [email protected].
Although completely voluntary, MacLean believes that studios should read the guidelines and consider adopting them.
"If you look at other entertainment industries, there are guilds and unions that mandate very, very specific crediting standards. We in the games industry don’t have that, but that doesn’t mean that crediting is any less important," she says.
"I talked to some of our younger developers here at 38 Studios, and they said that it was really tough for them to find jobs because they weren’t officially credited on some of the titles they worked on. I look at credits as a great way to make sure you are giving people rewards and recognition and to do so in a meaningful way that helps make up for some of the tough conditions that we in this industry sometimes work in. And, frankly, it doesn’t cost the studios a thing."
Similarly, developers from other countries hoping to work in the U.S. find that one of the best ways to secure an EB1 category "green card" -- one that takes "only" a year to obtain as opposed to 3-5 years for an EB3 category card -- is to have impressive game credits, according to Howard Shapiro.
Shapiro is an attorney at LA-based Mitchell Silberberg & Knuff LLP who specializes in immigration law for the games and films industries.
"It’s really important for a developer to get their name out there," he says, "which is why they need to get more credit for their contributions as opposed to being just a faceless part of a team."
But, at Valve, marketing VP Doug Lombardi explains that people move between projects and disciplines and wear so many hats that crediting individuals is difficult. Instead, Valve’s games -- in addition to other major developers' such as Neversoft and Insomniac -- list everyone alphabetically without regard for the nature of their input.
"In my case, for example, you’d need to list me as the guy who did the public relations, the advertising, a little play testing, and so on," explains Lombardi. "And so we have given our people space on our Web pages to talk about their contributions but, in the game itself, we list everyone alphabetically without job title."
But doesn’t that defeat one of the purposes of proper crediting, which is to support each developer’s career progression? Lombardi doesn’t believe that credits are the proper place to "do your CV-type messaging. To be honest, I don’t think this topic is something the folks around here feel is a real issue nor are they doing a lot of clamoring about it," he notes.
As for standardizing crediting within the industry, Lombardi is skeptical: "You know, in the movie industry, some people put credits at the beginning of their films, some at the end, it’s a creative call. I don’t understand why it needs to be standardized. It really feels to me like a big issue is being made of out … hey, we’re just talking about credits. I mean, if we didn’t list anybody, then I’d say, okay, that’s a little weird. But I don’t think we’ve ever lost a single employee because they were frustrated over the way our credits are done."
Would he consider adopting the IGDA standards?
"I really think," Lombardi says, "I would need to understand why I’d need to spend the time to read such a thing."