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Need For Speed: Shift Developed Largely Remotely

Simon Tomlinson, a contracted worker for Need for Speed: Shift developer Slightly Mad, reveals how the racing game was developed mainly by a remote staff, and how

November 10, 2009

3 Min Read

Author: by Staff

Simon Tomlinson has worked with Need for Speed: Shift developer Slightly Mad for over a year -- but he's only met the UK-based studio's technical and developer manager once for beer and go-karting. That's because he's a remote contracted worker, and he argued that for Slightly Mad Studios, creating a triple-A game within a largely remote team is certainly possible, and the setup actually has a lot of advantages. "Before joining SMS I had tried and failed to persuade a number of companies that remote contracting was a workable proposition," he said in a new Gamasutra feature. "The primary barrier to remote working quoted by most companies is communication. How could I possibly participate in the team if I wasn't physically present on the development floor?" "Face-to-face meetings still occur at SMS, hosted either at the London office or some other mutually convenient location, but the primary day-to-day channels of communication are electronic. SMS uses two very simple systems -- instant messaging, and a well-structured online forum." Many companies may be wary of a primarily remote team because of management worries -- how can someone lead and organize a team that is in multiple time zones spread across the globe? "The fact is the games industry is already a global endeavor with developers, publishers, outsourcing providers and testing centers often separated by multiple time zones," said Tomlinson. "Time lags are already present in your working processes; they are simply between groups rather than individuals, so in practice this leap is short." He added, "Instead of prowling the development floor, the SMS development manager prowls the forum discussions, responding to issues, making decisions and defining goals that all can see. Furthermore, with the full scope of information at his fingertips, he can operate much more efficiently than a manager in a non-virtual office might." Tomlinson admitted that a lot of trust must be placed in workers in a remote environment -- there won't be somebody looking over peoples' shoulders during the day. But by empowering the employees and holding them accountable for their work, there can be quality results. "The company must trust its staff perhaps a little more than normal, but anyone failing to deliver the work they have committed to can be quickly spotted and dealt with," Tomlinson said. "The only true metric of staff efficiency is in what they produce and how quickly they do it; I have worked with several individuals who warm their office seats for long hours but fail to deliver very much in concrete terms. Is it realistic to claim that having staff where you can see them somehow nullifies the impact of lazy or underperforming individuals?" In all, he made the argument that a lot of the problems that game makers have with remote working are either remediable or also present in traditional on-site setups. For more from Tomlinson and creating a game within a remote team, read the full Gamasutra feature, published today.

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