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Where's My Name?

An old blog about credit standards with a brief detour into crunch time practices. The fundamental problem remains the same - it's preaching to the converted.

Phil Chu, Blogger

January 11, 2013

7 Min Read

This blog I wrote in 2008 after reading the IGDA draft credit guidelines (got a nice comment from Jason Della Rocca on it) devolved into something about crunch time, so I've been waiting for the next big credit or crunch controversy to recycle it here. Hasn't happened, yet (problem solved? or we just got used to it?), but prompted by the latest quality of life feature on gamasutra (Are Game Developers Standing Up for Their Rights?) and a colleague who recently tweeted his kid was asking if Daddy's only going to be having dinner with them on weekends.

(rewind to 2008)

The latest email newsletter from the Independent Game Developers Association includes a mention of theEA Mythic credit controversy and a request to review the beta draft of the IGDA Game Credit Standards.

While I’ve found the IGDA papers and reports valuable enough to sign Fugu Games up as a studio affiliateto show support, and the credit guidelines are better than nothing (as far as I know, there really is nothing else out there), and I’ve just taken one quick pass at it, I’ll weigh in with a few criticisms (hey, they did ask). 

First, the report doesn’t distinguish between a game that has no credits and a game that is incompletely credited. Software outside of games sometimes includes credits, but it is hardly standard practice (and one of my friends who was credited on a commercial document editor thought it was a silly practice). So, if only to avoid blog comments by software developers outside the game industry in the nature of “why are you game developers whining about credits, I don’t get any”, I think the IGDA should focus clearly on the fairness issue of incompletely credited games.

Next a nitpick about definitions (but then again, a document like this is largely about definitions), in this case the definition of contributing to “production” – the guidelines take pains to define the minimum number of days (or fraction of a project term) that requires crediting but doesn’t say what exactly constitutes production. You could say it’s like the definition of obscenity (“I know it when I see it”), but I surmise it’s left vague to avoid confronting publishers over putting the marketing, legal and accounting staff on the credit list, not to mention executives who might have just attended a few meetings. And then there are producers. Like the Hollywood joke that no one knows what producers do, I like to say (hah, hah) that producers are the only ones on a game project who don’t actually produce anything. But seriously, there’s a spectrum ranging from those who just trot task lists around and hold meetings to those who really know game production and can solve problems. From what I’ve seen, the contribution level tends to be inverse to the pay grade. As an example, an assistant producer at a publisher I consulted for told me one of their senior producers made a point of spending just enough time on several different games to get a credit on each. (See Joel Spolsky’s discussion of hit-and-run management)

And the guidelines say third-party materials are to be fully credited. That sounds great, but I just bought a $50 commercial font library from MacXWare off the shelf at Staples for use in my games, and the packaging doesn’t list the individual font designers. Or maybe I contracted with an audio designer for sound effects, and he has a bunch of flunkies but only requires in his contract with you that he or his company name be credited.

The standard states that fictitious and joke names are now allowed. But what happens if a developer doesn’t want to be credited at all? I took my name off a game once because I got so annoyed at the studio head screeching at me during crunch time (righteousness isn’t always the smart way to go), and I know a producer who took his name off when he felt a game wasn’t credited fairly. Maybe that shouldn’t be allowed, but I think the display of each individual’s name should at least be approved by that individual. That would avoid cases I’ve seen where only a developer’s last name was missing (and he wasn’t a supermodel), a credit list where the state or country of origin was listed with each name (a producer’s idea), and a credit list annotated with items like “And ladies, he’s single!” (all written by the studio head, who gave herself a description stating how she worked really, really hard)

Another issue is the length of the document. I know I just said it could use some additional definitions, but pass around copies to a typical game development team, and maybe one or two will read it. Programmers typically read a number of game development books and some overlapping writings on game design, game artists read comic books (you’ll find them all at Comic-Con), a handful of game designers will read serous game design books like A Theory of Fun, and publishers, forget about it, they don’t read anything except their own press clippings. So if anyone is going to read it, and especially if anyone is going to use it as a reference for creating credits, the guidelines need a concise summary, like:

  1. Developer credits come before publisher credits.

  2. Anyone working on the project at least x days or y percent of the project must be credited.

  3. Third-party materials must be credited as fully as possible.

  4. No joke credits or fictitious names.

and maybe more, but at least that will fit on the back of a business card.

But by far the biggest problem is the same as with the Quality of Life document, which came to the fore during the EA Spouse controversy – the IGDA is preaching to the converted and the uninterested. You can raise all the common sense objections to crunch time practices all you want – publishers don’t feel they’re getting the full effort and their money’s worth if developers aren’t putting in crunch time, and it is common practice for them to send producers on-site at developer studios to sit there and make sure that’s happening. And independent studios aren’t any better – crunch time is invariably the result of bad management, but as long as the people running studios feel better seeing their staff working nights and weekends (“must be willing to put in the necessary hours to make a great game…”), they’re actually encouraged to continue making bad decisions. There are a few individuals who will self-inflict crunch time but more often you have studio management mandating it after waffling and taking wrong turns (I’ve even seen one studio head repeatedly promise an earlier-than-requested delivery date every time it looked like we might be on schedule, resulting in three successive crunch times instead of just the usual one)

And the same goes for credits – there is no incentive for publishers to decide they must make sure all individual developers to be fairly credited and placed above their own names. The owner of an independent studio is not going to make place his or her name in itty bitty print below the staff and make sure everyone who wasn’t “loyal” enough to stay through to the end is fully credited. If these guidelines are really appealing to the people who matter, you’ll see studios and publishers voluntarily sign up and proclaim their adherence, but I haven’t seen such a list. More likely, you’ll see the big publishers and studios tread more carefully around crunch time practices (possibly resort to more offshore outsourcing, and by offshore, I include Canada) due to attention from the press and class action lawyers, and perhaps eventually adopt standard credit guidelines when the industry is unionized (I expect this may happen as the big-budget games get more Hollywood-ized and involve more actor, writer, musician and production unions), and independent developers will be the last to reform.

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