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Be The Rebellion
by Andrew Grapsas on 07/25/11 01:03:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

We burn developers out, lashing each to a computer until their personal relationships, inner passion, and will to build games are all destitute.

We use anxiety and destructive emotional attachment to keep our players coming back again and again.

We promote action without insight and keep our players hooked to a material world bereft of self-awareness.

We shackle our developers and force them to hide their opinions and ideas for the fiscal betterment of our organizations, without thought or heed to the human factory of neurotic tendencies and defunct relationships we're fashioning.

We hide it all in a delicious wrapper made of chocolaty, "We make games! And have fun doing it!" sentiment that coats the rebellion, unease, and anxiety of our workforce.

We make false promises to players and employees and say it's for their own good and this is just how it's done.

We lie to ourselves. Day in. Day out.

That definitely reads dramatic and extreme. I know a lot of individuals that would take offense. "This is the way it is!" "This is games, not manufacturing!" Various war chants ring from the mouths of the industry's defenders. Yet, where is the rebellious uprising calling for change?

I see a few meditations on how our industry is; yet, there isn't a resounding thump, a heavy thwack as the weight of visionaries cuts through the dishonesty bleeding from our peers.

So, this is my call to action.

The extirpation of our industry's rebellious nature is the concern of every game developer. We started as outcasts, skilled individuals laboring in tiny groups, carefully putting together our ideas for a sole cause: expression and recognition.

Yet, now we find ourselves breaking the natural organization limits of 10 or so individuals, forming into strict regiments of hundreds. We've become pieces working towards an oft shapeless goal.

We are to blame for our industry's splendors and horrors.

We've become well versed in building games. We know what parts go where and how they fit together. We've blue printed. We've engineered.

And we've lost the human element in the mix.

Why do our games ship late? Humans.

Why do our games fall short? Humans.

We need more leaders, more rebellious visionaries willing to do it "the right way." We need more empathy and more compassion, a better understanding of psychology, of destructive and constructive emotions.

What ships games? Humans.

Let's make humans and humankind the primary concern of game development. 

About the Author 

Andrew Andreas Grapsas is a game programmer at Arkadium, Inc. developing casual and social games. He previously worked at THQ and EA as a systems and gameplay programmer on triple-A shooters.

Andrew is actively writing and programming for various projects. You can read more articles exclusively at his blog aagrapsas.com.

Follow Andrew on twitter!

 


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Comments


Paul Culp
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I'm drinking what you're mixin.

Alan Arias
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Hey Andrew,



After reading your post, I have to say that it seems part of a larger trend across all sectors of the game industry. I see developers in various disciplines crying out against what seem be increasingly crunched, cut throat, and dehumanizing conditions that stifle creativity and encourage burn out. I have been looking at the game industry as a career destination recently, and the trends are problematic. It seems that the industry has risen to a point where the sustainment of creativity within large scale projects is a real point of concern, and where people at the bottom of the totem pole want more from their work. How much would you ascribe to reporting bias, and how much do you feel is endemic across the industry? And who do you think is doing a great job in production? Who would you call the success stories? Thanks for posting and thinking about this, I'm sure the topic of motivation for workers in the industry will only increase in importance as time goes on.



-Alan

Megan Fox
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The industry today is better, crunch-wise, than the industry has been for ages. That doesn't mean it's great, just that it is improving. What is suffering is individual creativity, given the increasing scope of projects necessitating increased budgets and reduced risks.



... which is why it's quite nice that Steam, XBLA/PSN and iOS/Android all came onto the scene. Now you're starting to see AAA developers return to the industry's small-studio roots, and coming with it is another explosion of creativity.



Which isn't to say that AAA dev is dead or any such thing - it's just contracting, as budgets necessitate team sizes too large to be sustained at most studios. Something will have to change there, but it's still a viable career path if you desperately want to work on the latest AAA offering.



Casual and social gaming has also entered the picture in a big way, and provides yet another decent employment option - and probably the most stable / least crunchy one of the bunch.

Mark Kreitler
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You nailed it, Megan.



Given the state of the industry, one great way to encourage creativity and reasonable working conditions is to help "fringe developers" sell their products. These smaller commercial or indie studios have more freedom to innovate and have shorter product cycles, which usually means less crunch overall.



Unfortunately, the channels through which they can most easily distribute their titles have become saturated: the App Store, XBLA marketplace, etc. So, while thousands of great games are out there, only a tiny percent will see widespread distribution. Better rating and filtering systems for these distribution channels would help users find more games. Amazon and NetFlix have shown it can be done. Now it's a matter of getting Apple, Sony, and Microsoft to follow suit.

Jacek Wesolowski
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There is something you need to know, and it's something I'm telling you as someone who has had some experience with this stuff.



Writing manifestos and getting all excited about them will do you no good. You need to calm down.



The kind of "rebellion" you're talking about starts with and is run by people like you - the guys from the trenches. There is and there will be no one to lead you, or guide you, or support you. You're on your own. You need to think for yourself, and in order to think clearly you need to calm down.



For instance, no one will combat the [insert your pet peeve here] for you. The single best thing you can do to combat [pet peeve] is walk away from a job that tries to enforce the [pet peeve] upon you (and don't forget to tell them why you're leaving!). But you don't walk away from a job just like that. You need money so you can eat while you're looking for another job. You need a plan. You need to think three years in advance. You need to take a deep breath and calm down.



Rebellion is a career choice like any other. It can work. It can do you much good. It's very good at making you happier, if not wealthier. But you need to be practical about it. You need to make a good trade, i.e. trade things you don't care about for something you really want. That's not easy. It takes practice and discipline. It will test you for skills that no one has taught you. It requires you to be mature and realistic about your long term goals.



If you want to actually do it, and not just talk about it, then you need to calm down, like, right now.

Michael Joseph
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Are people allowed to talk about problems they perceive in the industry they work? If so, how would you describe (in a "calmer" manner than Andrew) the littany of problems?



Besides being presumptious and condescending, telling someone to calm down based on something they've written sounds almost too much like be quiet.



"Writing manifestos and getting all excited about them will do you no good."



Manifesto? Doesn't seem a very fair characterization. In any case it lead to some replies which may or may not benefit Andrew if he has indeed reached some sort of crossroads. And for all you know he isn't just talking the talk but in fact on the path of walking the walk. One can evangelize and chew bubble gum at the same time.



p.s You used the phrase "calm down" like 4 times... you need to calm down right away before you give yourself a heart attack.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I didn't mean to be condescending. Redundant speech is a rhetorical device, something I thought would be fitting in this particular context, but it's easy to overdo. I'm sorry.



Andrew is using very strong wording: rebellion, visionaries, humankind. He's issuing a call for action; requesting a shift of paradigm. The subtext I see here is a hope for some kind of popular movement. This is definitely not calm language, regardless of whether or not Andrew is actually calm (he probably is).



Another thing is that most of what Andrew is saying revolves around emotions. Andrew is describing a set of values he believes people should adopt. I tend to agree with him in that regard, by the way, but I know from experience that there is no obvious way to forge emotions into plans.



I also got the impression that Andrew isn't saying "I've got an idea, come with me", but "I'd like someone with an idea that I could follow, here's what I want, now someone please do it".



It's a very seductive way of thinking about large scale problems, but it just doesn't work. Been there, done that.



It doesn't work for three reasons. The first reason is that there are no simple answers for complex problems. Compassion is great, but it doesn't solve crunch issues, because it's not specific enough. Advanced scheduling practices solve crunch issues.



The second reason is that emotions are only good for setting a general direction. If you act on emotions alone, you're bound to make a lot of random decisions. If you want to actually do something, I mean - get something actually done, you need to be very consistent about your actions. You need to think, and not just feel.



The third reason is that stable systems don't emerge without strong support. Simply put, the current system has very strong support, even from those who don't like it, for instance because it pays reasonable wages, and it pays on time most of the time. It may be flawed globally, but it does work on a personal level for thousands of people. Those people will not trade something that works for them personally for a dream of a better future that may or may not be able to offer them a job.



That's why encouraging people to form a rebellion (in other words: talking about a rebellion) doesn't work. If you want it to work, you need to do it yourself. And since you're on your own, you need to think and act more locally. You need to be self-reliant, rational, consistent, and think clearly enough to be able to create complex solutions for complex problems. And you need to scale down. In other words, you need to calm down, and then you need to calm down, and then you need to calm down some more. And then you need to stay calm.



Again, I apologise to everyone who found my words inappropriate.

Andrew Grapsas
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Hey, Jacket,



I definitely didn't find your words inappropriate :)



That being said, I humbly disagree with you. First, I'm using emotions as the true catalyst they are. Emotions are the mortar our actions are based upon, whether we like to admit it or not. This is why introspection and mindfulness are so critical to decision making. Additionally, without being mindful or our peers' emotions (empathy), we cannot properly run teams and establish relationships. Our industry still has major drain during a title's development and post ship. This is bad for our employees and bad for our companies!



Second, I walk my walk, ask anyone that knows me! Obviously, this singular blog post has a difficult time conveying my actions. Indeed, it is not meant to convey my actions, rather to stir the pot and get individuals thinking.



As for structure, support, etc.: it all needs to come from somewhere. Our established system is built on an old paradigm from the 90's. Since then, other software industries have evolved, as have non-software industries since the 30's, away from several of the mandates we hold so dear to our industry.



I promote self-learning, self-aware organizations that utilize lean and systems thinking to continually evolve and evaluate themselves and their impact.



I hope that makes sense! If you're in NYC, we can grab beers :)

Daniel Gooding
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The main thing is, there are thousands of people that are doing all of these things everyday in the indie space.



Some people don't have the option to work for these AAA salaried jobs because people who take them for granted aren't leaving them.



The only reason everyone in those terrible work conditions hasn't started doing indie work already is fear of not having a paycheck, or having a lesser paycheck.





So why not step down from your post? Why not let someone else have a go at the job, someone who appreciates having that job. I know dozens of college grads, who are desperate for work, fighting off loans, and living with their parents, because they can't get that job that you so hate.





The problem isn't us not doing all of these things you've mentioned.



The problem is you still doing the same old things, and complaining about it.

Andrew Grapsas
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Is that a "if you don't like it, leave America" type response?



My typical reply to that is: true patriotism and compassion come from trying to better the system you are in. Obviously, these are words. Words alone will not shift our mental models.



If you'd like our industry to be dominated by students, well, you're getting your wish. Veterans are leaving at a staggering rate. I should know, they're my close friends!

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I'm in.



So, who is interested in doing something about this and starting a union or guild? Or at least starting a "club" of some form to discuss further strategies?



Anyone who believes it is really time for a change, email me (eiyukabe_at_gmail). I am trying to form a communication nexus between like-minded individuals, since so many in this industry feel this way in their blogs but we don't seem to be coming together and fully using our strength in numbers. Andrew, I will be particularly disappointed if you don't get in touch with me :)

Andrew Grapsas
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I always love a good dailogue :) As soon as I'm not at work I'll shoot an e-mail your way and get the ball rolling. I have some other individuals I've been discussing this with for awhile that might want to join the conversation.

Ali Afshari
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Andrew, I've enjoyed each of your blog posts and it's good to know there are people actively involved in the industry that aren't afraid of pointing the spotlight on trouble areas. I know I'm passionate about making games and it's a shame that certain practices in this industry suck out all that passion one may have when they first start out. There is a lot of work to do, and the first step is to get enough people to stop and ask why the most important resource in game design (aside from funding) is continuously abused in the pursuit of the bottom line.


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