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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 aagrapsas.com.