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Opinion: Let's Talk About Things We Can't

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Jagex's lead designer Claire Blackshaw reflects on the secrecy of game developers, and how it's prevented them from learning from their mistakes.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Jagex's lead designer Claire Blackshaw reflects on the secrecy of game developers, and how it's prevented them from learning from their mistakes.] The forbidden knowledge of the game industry is mostly acquired over a smoke or drink in the pub, parking lot, and corridors of conferences. Though the personal scars slowly form our own tales over the years, which are then shared in similar back alley fashion. I can safely say 80 percent of my knowledge about the industry, the stuff that matters, I should have never been told. This is the absurd construct under which we work in the modern corporate creative world. The dark NDA, the culture of secrecy, and the allergic reaction to inquiry or unionization are complex a subject matter about which books could be written. We are not an open industry by our nature, which I find absurd because most of the people I've met in the industry are open and friendly. When our skeletons are exposed, they are outdated and mostly surrounded by such drama and media circus that little intelligent discussion and dissection occur. Often one or more parties say nothing by choice or court order, leading to wide speculation or mudslinging. I'm convinced the reason we are seeing so much success among indies is because they make games free from our industry's black cloud of secrets. Often the most valuable thing the veterans bring to the table is the knowledge of a secret war fought, and battles won, which allow them to avoid old hidden pitfalls. Yet there are very few who would ever, or could ever share such knowledge in the open space for others to learn from. Our crunch culture is not all top-down, for instance; many insane death marches are started by the team or some other factor. Though because we often don't discuss or document these situations honestly, our peers repeat the mistakes we have made. I've heard several friends working on big titles bemoan the run-away visionary, or narrative designer who shipwrecked their projects in similar fashions. In my own short time in the industry, I've seen one or two tropes repeat themselves on different projects. I'm not advocating the spilling of company secrets on the newest hottest title, the kind of thing our consumers would lap up eagerly. I'm saying we need to push forward the tale from that project four years ago. The time when the entire company was moved continent for one coder, or a project was canned because of a personal war between two managers, or the tale of how enums were banned. The last year has given me a lot to write about, and I have been recording it all. As the glitter and crunch clear, I find myself looking at the year thinking about which of those stories I could share. If you can do one thing in the coming new year, try find that one story or two that you can share. Not over a pint in the pub but in public for the greater discussion and improvement of our industry. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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