Choose Your Enemies Wisely
Honestly, I don’t want to have enemies. I like being liked too much to want enemies. But I suspect this is going to make some. I’m going to provide you with two quotes and I would like someone to reconcile them for me. Someone authoritative, mind you…not the good people who will likely respond in the comments section with amens and words of encouragement. God bless you, though, Comments Section People. Write your comments anyway. Our industry needs the support.
Here’s a quote from develop-online.net. Dateline today, January 12th, 2011:
“The development team at New York outfit Kaos has been subjected to a seven-day crunch phase for two months, the studio’s owning publisher THQ has said.
The Kaos workforce has been thrown into the brutal crunch phase in order to finish work on its current project, Homefront, before the scheduled US release of March 8th.
THQ has no intention of delaying the game past its release date.
The publisher’s executive vice president of Core Games, Danny Bilson, said on Twitter that he was yesterday in New York to visit the studio.
His message read: “At Kaos studios in New York sitting with a team that's finaling on 7-day weeks for a couple of months. Talk about that ‘thousand yard stare’.” ”
Now here’s a quote from the website for Kaos Studios, the company at which developers have allegedly been working seven days a week for months:
“Quality (of Life) Assurance
Above all, we are driven to ensure that our employees have a high quality of life and a good work/life balance. While game development – like any entertainment business – is a profession that lives on deadlines and overtime, Kaos places a high premium on our employees coming to work refreshed, relaxed, and ready to make industry-leading games. Key to that is our deployment of Scrum and Agile methodologies, our commitment to an 8-hour workday, and our refusal to burn out our employees. While we may not be able to eliminate overtime and crunch completely, we’re constantly evolving our business to better meet the needs of both the project and the long-term health and happiness of our workforce.”
Reiterating: Explanation, good. Enemies, bad.
All I’m after is an explanation as to how these two things can be true. Kaos has allegedly had some people working every day for 60+ days. Kaos also claims that they are “driven to ensure that [their] employees have a high quality of life.”
Now, I’m no simpleminded idealist. I’ve been in the industry for 13 years. I’ve worked with publishers. I've worked with irrational leaders. And I know you have to make tough decisions some times. But I’m here to say it does not have to be this way.
Mike Acton of Insomniac recently posted an enormously eloquent blog entry explaining what they do at his studio to prevent disasters such as the one befalling Kaos. The IGDA published a Quality of Life paper seven years ago explaining “how studios can adopt best practices to help alleviate some of the stress and allow for a more balanced life.” (source: IGDA Quality of Life White Paper Info) The problems aren’t new and they haven’t stopped. The solutions aren’t new either, but only a few studios seem to be implementing them.
Why Are You So Upset, Keith?
I’m upset because I’ve seen too many projects – worked on many of them – paid for with the currency of developers’ lives. Artists working overtime to bring the framerate up instead of being at home with their newborn child. Designers fitting maps into memory at the last minute instead of planning their wedding with their fiancées. I started my own consulting business because a big part of the solution involves better planning and better project management. And I happen to be pretty good at both. I’ve helped salvage woefully late titles. But I was also on a team that, when allowed control of its own destiny, turned out the most successful game (AAA, cross-platform) our company has ever shipped. And we did it in little more than 1 year, and without overtime. So if you don’t think it can be done or don’t know how, call me. I would be abundantly happy to help ensure debilitating overtime never happens again, at Kaos or anywhere.