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Is better always better?
by Catalin Marcu on 07/23/14 03:57:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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

 

We as game developers are constantly trying to make the best game we can. You'll rarely find a developer saying "I just want to make a mediocre game" - poor work environments can lead to this, but that's for another talk. We all try to make something we're proud of and surely all of us have a list of things we wanted to do better in past projects.

The problem

The problem is that sometimes people forget about the "we can" part in "the best game we can". Somehow, wanting to make the best game leads them to think they or others should never stop improving their code / art / writing / music etc. And the worse part is that they don't think or care about the consequences. If they can't make the best game, it's because their bosses are stupid. It's because their colleagues are lazy. It's because the world doesn't understand their genius. In fact, it's only because they're selfish and they've found an expression to hide behind to pursue their own goals seemingly in the best interest of the game.

The best game is the one you finish making and rejoice with your team for this accomplishment. The best game is the one where you haven't destroyed the workplace atmosphere with your attitude, the one where you didn't almost bankrupt the company, the one where others didn't have to pick up work that you should've done just so you can improve what you've done so far.

Very important

There are 2 opposite school of thoughts in the industry regarding when you should release a game. One is to release fast then improve, another one is to release only when you feel you have a masterpiece or something close. The most important things both these lines of thought have in common is that you have to release. If you don't release, nobody will ever know what you worked on. They'll maybe hear of the potential, but that's it. You were just a possibility and they've forgotten already. So most importantly, make sure that your improvement attitude doesn't work against releasing something, either by burning out your team, spending all the funds, delaying repeatedly or just by convincing everyone around you that nothing they do is good enough.

But what I think is most important about releasing is to release when relevant. It's vital. Sure, you can work 5 more years to make it better, but will it still be relevant? Not only for the market, but for you, your company and/or your team? Set the release to a time when it's still relevant and try to stick with it. You're getting close to it and you feel you need more time? A month or two would make it better? Perfect, if you and the people around you feel that it will still be relevant, go for it. This isn't a talk against improving and delaying when necessary, it's about still being relevant.

Better attitude

If you suffer from the "always make it better" syndrome, then try to stop and think of the impact before trying to improve something. If you improve that, who will pick up the work that you were supposed to do? Do the people around you feel that it helps to improve that particular thing? Does it affect the schedule? And so on. Just think of the consequences first.

If someone else should improve something, can they? Do they want to? Can you motivate them? Because just telling them that they need to make it better and making them feel bad about themselves doesn't help. Always being the guy that says "You know what would be better/awesome?" will make people defensive and not wanting to show their work anymore. Nothing will ever be good enough for you, so why should they bother. Surely you're not the only person in the room who has awesome ideas, so why do you feel the need to always talk about them when others just congratulate that person on the good job they've done? When you think you're doing a great service to the project with your constant amazing ideas, you might in fact just put people down and make them work with less enthusiasm and care less about the game.

Game development is a collaborative work. So we all have to think as a team, as hard as that can sometimes be. If decisions are taken as a team, with more people accepting it than those rejecting it, it's a great step forward. And make sure you take into consideration the reasons why there were some rejections, especially the psychological ones. It's very important to remember that your teammates are people. Not assets, not robots, not your clones. People that can be tired, bored, sick, depressed and so on. The game can only be made by the team and if your team suffers, so will your game.

Possible solution

I call it the X iterations solution. Choose your own number to replace X, because it depends on the dynamic of your current team. Let's say it's 3 - 3 is always a good number.

If you or someone else iterated 3 times over something, it's enough. Depending on the complexity, it can be enough even after 2 or maybe after 5. But the idea is that sometimes enough is enough. He tried. He did his best. He's starting to hate you. Leave him alone. If you're a lead or more experienced and you're not happy, help him if you can and if he wants. Or let someone else have a go at it. Choose the best result. But don't keep pounding on that same person over and over.

Conclusions

  • Always trying to make something better is an issue
  • Releasing is important, doing it while still relevant is vital
  • Think about the consequences of your attitude
  • Think as a team because you're part of one
  • Limit the number of iterations to a reasonable amount
  • Improve your work, but know when to stop and move on

I didn't cover the last point so far, because I wanted to leave it for last. Don't be mediocre, try to be at least good. But if you can't, sometimes mediocre is better than nothing. 


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Comments


Sebastian Rasch
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Very nice article. Itís really hard to confine your perfectionism sometimes but it sure can be very destructive so itís better to not strive for perfectionism if it keeps you from delivering.

Catalin Marcu
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You just took my thoughts, wrote them in a few sentences and probably made more sense than I did! Thank you!

keith burgun
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Let's say you had some bad experience where someone wanted you (or someone you observed) to do something that they thought made the game better, but you (or that person) didn't agree, and you felt like it was destructive to the team, because that person just pulled rank and actually made the game worse.

How about this, instead? You, as a team member, either convince the person out of the change, convince them that it is indeed bad. Or if you can't convince them that it's bad, accept that you can't convince them of it. You got into the team with the understanding that this person has the ability to pull rank on you if you can't convince them of something, so it seems unfair to whine about such a situation afterward.

It's not OK to suggest that, because the whole team can't agree on something, that you should just stop improving the game. The game designer's reputation hangs in the balance of how this game's quality is perceived.

>If you or someone else iterated 3 times over something, it's enough.

This is ridiculous. No matter what number you put there, it's ridiculous. It's like setting a hard fixed number of pages for your book, or something. No one knows how many revisions it will take to make a game great.

You seem to be forgetting, overall, that if someone else has given your game their precious time and attention, then you owe it to them to give them the BEST possible product. Not the best product in 3 revisions or some arbitrary limit - the best product you can give them, period. Of course, there are *natural* limitations on that, like budget or personal circumstances sometimes. But beyond that, you have an obligation to all of your fans to give them the best game you can.

Telling us "Know when to stop" doesn't help us. Giving us some fixed number of revisions is not a solution.

Catalin Marcu
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Hi Keith, thanks for commenting.

This doesn't have to do with someone pulling rank, which is something I agree with - it's his call and his responsibility. I've seen seen this behaviour starting from leads and ending with juniors.

Stating that the designer's reputation is at stake is, while somewhat true, a bit incomplete. The team's reputation is at stake. The company's reputation. Game development isn't about one person, it's about a team. And a place where one person's reputation is more important than the team isn't a place I'd like to work at.

I'm sorry you find that sticking to a decent amount of iterations is ridiculous, but maybe you didn't understand what I was referring to exactly. I'm not talking about the entire game or the entire art. I'm talking about a button. Or a method. Or a piece of dialogue. You can always make a prettier button, but at some point you should just stop making that button prettier and move on to the next button. It's definitely not like limiting the amount of pages in a book, because I didn't suggest to limit the amount of features in a game, or the amount of content. It's more like if you've rewritten a page of that book 3 times already, maybe it's time to move on to the next page, so you can have a chance to finish writing the entire book.

I disagree with this BEST game philosophy. You never have to give the user the BEST game because there is no such thing. You give them a good, great, amazing, memorable game. But you can never make the best game, anything can be improved on. Take The Last of Us for example, there are plenty of areas of improvement there, but that didn't stop it from becoming a memorable experience for millions of players out there. And it's all because those guys improved it constantly, until they stopped. They knew they had to launch it while still relevant and everybody loved it. There sure wasn't any programmer there that kept improving on the same piece of code over and over and over. They were people with vision who knew when they had a good thing in their hands.

Maybe telling you "Know when to stop" doesn't help you. But maybe it helps others. Maybe it helps you a bit also because at least for a moment you've pondered how good is it to be on a constant chase for the best. In no way did I want to offend anyone and I am sorry if you felt that. I'm just stating my thoughts and my possible solutions and whoever feels there is value in them can pick them up, process them through their own mind and apply them however they see fit in their lives.

Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment!

Brandon Binkley
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My goal is simply to release something that feels complete and stable. In the time it takes to hit those two goalposts is the time the team has to make additional polish and quality passes.

Catalin Marcu
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Yes, that sounds like a pretty good plan!

Daniel Pang
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I have been on and worked with teams where issues like these constantly crop up. I've since learned to accept that this is part of working in a creative field.

I'd go so far to say that my experiences in the field both as a sprog and as a leader have taught me to drown my babies, both in terms of writing and in terms of ideas.

People working in the creative field get attached to things. They do - and it's great that they do. That passion is what drove them to work on it in the first place, because it's sure as hell isn't about the money. If we wanted money we'd be doing something else. Many people in creative fields work because they believe in the work - and they don't mind pulling ninety-hour weeks or barely scraping rent to do it.

However, whenever you're working for someone else, whether on contract or as a full-time employee, these people need to understand what that means. Especially when they're making the creative decisions. They are being paid and employed to essentially make creative gambles with someone else's money. It sounds far less inspiring when it's spelled out like that, but it's exactly what it means, especially as everyone knows these days that there is no sure path to success and everyone's merely scratching their heads wondering what to do or placing bets they think are safe.

If you are on or are involved in a team, you need to think about not what idea you think is best, but what's best for the team. This goes double for those in a position of responsibility. You need to think about where they'll be in five to ten years. Their careers could depend on what decisions you choose to make. Having been on both sides of the fence, I have a greater appreciation for those who lead and take the responsibility and the flak on themselves, as well as the young designers who want to change the world and damn the consequences.

An argument can be made for how "real artists never compromise", under some narrow and misguided definition of what a "real artist" is supposedly, but that's simply not the reality of games development today. Unless you're, you know, making a game alone, spending your own time and money for resources. As soon as more than one head is in the idea tank there will be compromise. You will come to disagreements over some creative choices. (And in one case I've seen, blows.)

It's all well and good to follow your own ideas and things you strongly believe in, but if you believed that strongly about it you wouldn't sign up to do it under someone else, and leave that idea up to the whims of others. You'd go off and start your own company. Maybe do a startup and look for investors. Maybe do a kickstarter.

The reality of developing anything in a creative team means push and pull, give and take. And at the end of the day you need to be clear about what your goals are, and be honest with your team and others. I've compromised on many things I believed and knew to be flat-out wrong decisions. But I've learned to roll with those punches and not rub it in when I turned out to be right, the same way I've willingly admitted when I've been wrong.

If a man wants to make a submarine out of bread and he's paying you to do it, you do it. But if you want to make your dream submarine, you keep that locked inside you and you go away and you make it just the way you imagined. Far away from that guy.

Catalin Marcu
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Thank you for the read! But more importantly thank you for this amazing sharing. You've put it in better words than I did: in the end it's about compromise.

What I'm most impressed with is this: "But I've learned to roll with those punches and not rub it in when I turned out to be right, the same way I've willingly admitted when I've been wrong."

That is the kind of attitude that goes a long way in any team and gains you much more respect than knowing the most or being the most talented.

Daniel Pang
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double post


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