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A Guilty Truth
by Andrew Grapsas on 09/07/11 12:11:00 pm   Expert 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.



At the end of the day, when the final computer monitor goes to screen saver and the office is quiet save for the whir of desktop fans and buzz of power supplies, there’s one leering truth about the creation of video games that is inescapable.
Around this truth layers of abstraction have been applied, sparingly or in heaping mounds, in an effort to justify how and why our industry is the way it is. We talk about mechanics and design. Others focus on monetization, revenue, and retention. Still, more focus on exactly how pieces fit together or go from phase 0 to shippable.
Yet, at the core, this truth remains untarnished, unwavering. If you’re in a studio right now, look to your left and right. Take a moment and watch as the person next to you goes about his or her day. You’ve just witnessed the ultimate truth of software and game development:

Development is a human effort.

That is, our companies and teams are composed of people. Without these people, there would be no product, no vision, and no work achieved. Fundamentally, the ability of these individuals to work as a coherent collective with unified purpose is what furnishes a final, polished product. Business deals, development processes and methodologies, and the best hardware and software in the world do not ship or deliver products that engage an audience and generate sustainable businesses. Rather, humans do.

“The team that became great didn’t start off great--it learned how to produce extraordinary results.” Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline.

I’ve heard every excuse. For some reason, the resounding one that echoes from the lips of nay sayers is, “There would be no money to hire people if we didn’t get products out the door. We can worry about quality of life afterwards.”

Short term thinking is reactionary. Being reactionary allows no forethought, it inhibits progress and protects sameness. In essence, it causes stagnation and inhibits evolution. As such, a company that never adapts, never evaluates its own thoughts, will always be forced to perceive the new world with an old mindset and, in doing so, will set itself up for failure.

In the past several months, we’ve seen a lot of studio closures. These closures, in the long run, hurt the publishers AND the developers. Is this reactionary? Could forethought and introspection have been leveraged to predict failures before they happened and to course correct? To inflect from one way of doing and thinking to another?

Again, from The Fifth Discipline: “Like failing organizations, most of those inside the empire sense that all is not quite right, but their instincts are to more strongly defend their traditional ways of doing things rather than to question them...”

We must harness the ultimate resource of our companies: people. We can only do this by setting them free. That is, providing them with the resources and support to achieve greatness. No developer wants to be mediocre. Mediocrity happens when the system is setup to fail, when the individual and collective can do nothing other than fail due to circumstances purposely crafted beyond their control.

As Rollo May said in The Courage to Create: “Mechanization requires uniformity, predictability, and orderliness; and the very fact that unconscious phenomena are original and irrational is already an inevitable threat to bourgeois order and uniformity.”

We must push away the old uniformity, the old concepts of how things are done. We must embrace the new. Otherwise, we are only giving in to failure.

About the Author 

Andrew Andreas Grapsas is a game programmer in NYC. He previously worked at Arkadium as a core technology and gameplay engineer on casual and social games and 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

Follow Andrew on twitter!

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Clinton Keith
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Great article Andrew. I completely agree.

At the heart of agile/lean principles is "respect for people":

A part of this is investing in people, helping them to improve their craft and knowledge. I'll sometimes ask a team to do this thought experiment:

"Imagine you are days away from shipping your game and somehow all your code and assets are utterly lost. There are no backups or anything left but the team. Ask yourself: given the same people and their knowledge, would it take the same amount of time to create the game? Would it be the same or better on the second attempt?"

Obviously it would take far less time and be much better the second time around. This demonstrates the value of knowledge and why we should be continually building that capital value.

Andrew Grapsas
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Hey, Clinton! Thanks!

Respect for people is hugely important and is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons lean and agile CAN work. That being said, I think it's often overlooked :( Additionally, the idea of "respect" is pretty vague -- the agile manifesto was developed by a collection of people who knew what it meant; but, new companies adopting the methodology often are in a rush and skip over the thought process involved in respect.

I love your example. I'm not sure the game would be better :) And the team would probably be dead; but, it definitely serves to illustrate that the people are the most important aspect.

Clinton Keith
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Right. "Respect" is vague, just as a lot of the language in your post is....for good reason!

We can't "implement process rules" to create a great organization. That's the problem you highlight with lean, agile, waterfall....any process. We're dealing with humans, which are complex, adaptive and not subject to a fixed set of "non-vague" rules.

A challenging problem, for sure, but one I eventually found more interesting that coding (though I still code ;)

Brian DeWolf
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Has the sense of respect been lost due to the "nose to the grind" mentality because of the need to hit deadlines that are unreasonable? I feel like all the issues in the industry come back to that same notion every time. That once there is a balance achieved in employees' lives then it solves a lot of other corollary issues.

I'm not saying that it is an easy fix, nor that I have a solution for it. It might even just be me and from my experience and what I have seen, which is very limited. So how can that respect be built back up once it begins to falter within a company between the employees and the company.

How do you get back to having fun at your job, making it seem like a hobby again instead of something that you begin to resent?

Clinton Keith
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Hi Brian,

I think respect can be reestablished, but it takes time. Trust takes a lot to build up and not much to destroy. The barrier is often with management changing behaviors because some managers have years of experience using people the wrong way, but shipping games and calling it success.