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CrowdStar: Big Studio Console Development 'Kind Of Insane'
CrowdStar: Big Studio Console Development 'Kind Of Insane'
November 15, 2010 | By Staff

November 15, 2010 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

Pete Hawley has worked at major "traditional" game developers such as Criterion, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Lionhead and GT Interactive. Now he's VP of product development with 90-person startup social game maker CrowdStar, and it's given him some perspective on the console game development business.

"When I look back at my time at the big studios on the console side, I've seen so many mistakes," he told Gamsutra in a new feature interview. He previously worked on core gamer titles such as Burnout and Black, while social games like CrowdStar's It Girl and Happy Pets aim for a decidedly different audience.

"When Electronic Arts grows a studio or Sony grows a studio to 200 people or more on one game, you just get to see what breaks socially within a group," he said. "It becomes really dysfunctional and hard to control 200 people to a three-year schedule and 50 million bucks. It's kind of insane."

"What I was determined to do ... was that if I was going to come from a sort of EA and Sony background, I wasn't going to come in and build some sort of hierarchical studio model by default, like stamp an EA sort of executive-produced pyramid on top of the studio," said Hawley.

Instead, the studio, founded by Jeff Tseng and Suren Markosian and chaired by Peter Relan, adopts a "flat" hierarchy, maintaining a lightweight development process with a singular mission reached through short-term goals.

"EA called it the X statement, where you just have that one defining mission statement," said Hawley. "So, there's some definite things that I've introduced with the help of others to bring process, but make sure we don't break the process by just adding hierarchy and middle management levels, which would destroy the culture of CrowdStar and the speed and the agility of the staff."

For more about CrowdStar's development process and Hawley's views on creating compelling social games using virality and data, read the full Gamasutra feature, available now.

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Tim Carter
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This is why instead of a huge bucket of people, you just do what films do: outsource (not offshore) to production companies to complete components of production, as per directions from the core team.

This, however, requires an authored central vision (game design), a disciplined production environment, and an efficient system to put together these component companies (which, in film, is handled largely through the guilds).

If you don't want to do this - if you want to keep the typical "everyone is a designer" ethos - you can never do a large team (at least not without having huge headaches). It's too inefficient.

Ian Uniacke
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I don't feel this would really work in games tbh. In film it's easier because all anyone has to do is create a shot, or even part of a shot to be composited. Each individual can use any hack they wish to creat that shot because all that matters is the final frames. In games it's not so simple because everything has to work together so intimately. Maybe in the distant future if we standardise certain things it might become possible but I can't see it happening for a while yet.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, such as you may be able to outsource small parts of art, although I'm yet to see this work out successfully in practice.

Patrick Dugan
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Yeah I second that. I used to believe in Tim's model because it worked for me producing casual games back in the day, but that was a ship-once kind of model, I've recently had a lot of headaches trying to make that work for social game development. When you're running the game as a service you've got to get vertical about somethings, content production included.