Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: what it’s like in the games industry, plus the way of the Japanese development company.
Solid Risk Assessment
There’s plenty of games-related hoo-ha over on LiveJournal, but not much of it consists of extended and honest ruminations on what it’s like to live and work in the games industry. This long and thoughtful LiveJournal post by Radical Entertainment’s Ian Christy
changes all that with a discussion that covers lots of ground
, including the nature of ‘The Muse’ in games design.
“Processing what explodes, or doesn’t, upon your senses is equally important. Coders often take up hobbies that allow them to process their impressions, congeal them into thoughts, or simply to mull through existing problems that they might arrive upon some brilliant, or at least practical and feasible, solution. Hobbies like hiking, sports, playing mind numbing games laden with repetition or games heavy on twitch reflexes rather than mental exertion. I’ve known a few coders, though, that try to engage hobbies that exercise the other sides of their brains, like painting or writing or meditation. Guess all these hobbies are forms of meditation, means to process information and notions and impressions into practical product of some sort.”
Christy offers plenty of observations about his own career, and offers advice to those thinking of making games for a living.
“Remembering what people do, what their skills are, essential. Remembering their names, a bonus. Remembering their handles if they play on line, you’re set! Another thing is to understand that while the gig can require long hours and obviously commitment and dedication, the perception that you have to pound long hours to be making great games is an utter fallacy. Long hours really is a testament to poor planning, scheduling, and scoping practices. Long hours will happen, and often near big, important dates that can’t be slipped or missed, sure. However, good time management, solid risk assessment, aggressive scoping, and maintaining an accurate sense of where everyone else is at with their own work towards meeting their commitments, as well as how their work can affect your work now or down the line, all that is essential for maintaining productivity, sanity, and to reduce stress.”
If only all of you games bloggers were so chatty! The benefits of sharing this kind of experience, and of simply starting conversations about life in the games industry is far more important than any ‘how to get into the industry’ guide. We need games designers to talk about their experiences and to provide examples for others to follow. It’s particularly gratifying to see Christy telling folks to expand their horizons by having interests outside games – diversity of interests a vital lesson for all walks of life.
Hollywood Model, Tokyo Style
Finally there’s this post
from the Japanmanship blog
, which might well have been written specifically for the Blogged Out readership. The post discusses how Japanese games studios would be ripe for change along the lines of “the Hollywood model”, that has recently been making waves in Western development structures. It also tries to illustrate why such change is so unlikely for the Japanese.
Anyway, blogger JC Barnett explains that the Hollywood model works as follows: "The publisher pays an agency to oversee and put together the development of a title. Agency, publisher and a small core of senior developers work together closely on a prototype, design document and schedule. If these all pass muster the final go-ahead is given and the agency contracts freelance developers or teams to create assets according to the agreed design, standards and schedules. Once the work has been delivered the developers’ contract ends successfully and they are free to move on to the next project."
This, as you can see, is rather like films are made – with a small production unit doing most of the work on making sure the film will succeed well before the expensive set-building and actor-wooing takes place. As Barnett points out, this model allows low-cost exploration of games ideas, just as it allows Hollywood studios to explore the potential of lots of different scripts. “Failures are easier to spot during this period so projects can be canned without too much of a loss which in turn can open the door to more original and experimental game ideas and IPs.”
This kind of model has increasingly been used in the US games industry – Stubbs The Zombie
was largely created by freelance contractors, for example, and plenty of large studios now outsource some element of the development process. Japan would benefit from this for all kinds of reasons, says Barnett, but particularly because the studios are now so large, and relatively inflexible as a result.
In Japan however it seems less likely that such a model could be deployed with any speed, since the industry has already become an unwieldy behemoth that is highly resistant to change. (Perhaps the Japanese ‘job for life’ culture counts against the concept of freelancing too?) Finally, JC mentions that extensive unionization would be required to protect the interests of freelancing games contractors if this model is to become successful – and as things stand this is probably a lesson that both Japan and the US need to take heed of.
[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]