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Growing Up At Last?

An employee of Lionhead Studios taking Microsoft to court, is this a sign that the games industry finally needs to mature?

There's no doubt about it, for the most part working on games is fun. I've worked as a programmer for companies that had nothing to with games and while the jobs were fulfilling I could have hardly described them as 'fun'.

What makes them fun? For me it's the atmosphere. Being around many creative people coming up with a game that others will find fun brings with it a certain bonding that I just haven't seen in the non-game world. We constantly make fun of each other and it's not unknown to throw things at each other in jest.

I bought Mark Morris (Introversion's CEO) a plastic shotgun that fires foam darts for a christmas present so now when you go into Introversion's offices you can expect to be fired upon. It's all part of the fun and atmosphere of working for a very creative company and I must admit I like it.

Except it's not all fun is it? Sometimes the fun goes wrong and when it does it goes badly wrong. What one person interprets as a harmless jibe another can interpret it as a personal insult and in an environment where this goes on all the time it can easily be overlooked.

When this happens resentment builds until finally something blows, often with messy results. In a small company like Introversion this is not so much of an issue because it's not to difficult to notice when one of our ten employees is not engaging with the rest of us but in a team of 30 upwards its too easy for somebody to remain relatively anonymous and brooding. In my experience games companies are not very good at dealing with issues like this because it's not something that we factor into the day to day business of creating games, so leads don't tend to notice when somebody is falling off the rails other then when their productivity begins to falter. 

 Along with this fun culture we have also accidentally fostered a 'game at all costs' culture which means the individual doesn't really matter. You only have to look at the recent arguments created by the IGDA quality of life debacle for evidence of this.

The only company I have worked for that appears to put the individual first is Introversion. Last year we were all sent to Italy for a week to do a Myers-Briggs type indicator course. It was a very useful exercise and for those who have been through this particular course, my type was ENFP.I have yet to see how Myers-Briggs can be put to great practical use in the workplace but it does provide something of an insight into dealing with the other developers. I'm not suggesting that every workplace should out their employees through this type of course - I can imagine the cost would be too prohibitive but as an industry we can take more notice of the developers around us and cater to their needs. An example of this is that I can now tell when the lengthy silence one of our introverts descends into at a meeting is not just thinking about a reasoned response but really a silence that means they are unhappy but unable to voice their concerns.

This particular issue has come to a head over the last few weeks with an employee of Lionhead Studios suing Microsoft. I am not privy to the details of that case and I am not going to speculate about it here but I do wonder how many more employees are going to end up doing the same thing.

Is it a sign that we as an industry need to finally mature beyond the fun into a more corporate atmosphere where employee life and relations while at the workplace are far more regulated? Would this be a bad thing? Or perhaps game development companies are already trying to do this and it's us as developers who need to re-think how we interact with our fellow developers?

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