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'This model of game making is so fundamentally broken.'
'This model of game making is so fundamentally broken.'
May 22, 2013 | By Kris Ligman




Following recent layoffs at RIFT developer Trion, departed studio GM and CCO Scott Hartsman responded on social media, saying "This model of game making is so fundamentally broken."

In an interview with Massively, Hartsman expanded on his comments, clarifying that he wasn't condemning individuals but an overall system.

I don't know of anyone who's hired with the intent of treating people disposably. No one ever wants that, even the companies frequently perceived as "evil." The industry is generally full of good, smart people trying to create the best entertainment they can. I think what's become broken is the traditional AAA style of development and distribution, MMO or otherwise.

Hartsman pointed to rising triple-A development costs as a key factor in recent studio meltdowns and layoffs. "We're approaching the point at which AAA projects need to be blockbusters just to sustain everyone in the ecosystem," he says. "The movie model worked when companies could absorb missteps and teams could hopefully learn from their mistakes to fight another day. As the absolute costs go up, fewer and fewer companies are capable of doing so. That's what's broken."

Hartsman also hailed developers such as Riot and Mojang for forging new paths outside of the triple-A ecosystem. "With any luck, we'll see more endeavors where the balance of power returns to the product creators and the audiences they're trying to serve in the most direct relationship possible," he says. "That's powerful and exciting."

You can read the entire interview here.


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Comments


Aaron San Filippo
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+1

Paul Tozour
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> I don't know of anyone who's hired with the intent of treating people disposably.

I wish that were the case; I'm afraid I've met several!

Over the years I've spoken with two different studio heads at two different studios who casually explained to me that they regarded people as a completely disposable asset, and that they were all replaceable and it all basically all comes down to money. I'm not going to name any names, but there are people like that out there.

I disagree with that point of view and I take care to avoid working with such individuals.

Carlo Delallana
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Too bad we can't name names. Knowing if a studio sees employees as disposable could save someone's career. Losing a job abruptly can be devastating.

Bryce Walton
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What about contract workers and the proliferation of temporary work at certain companies?

Ramin Shokrizade
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Having been in well over a dozen studios in the last year (as a consultant) I think it is fair to say that there is a very wide range of how labor assets are treated from studio to studio and manager to manager. As a consultant, in all cases I felt disposable, even though I had the luxury of knowing my skill set was irreplaceable. So it is not my skills that are replaceable, it is me that is replaceable. I assume I am not unique in this regard, that this is how companies treat all employees now. I'm a bit new to the corporate culture so this lack of loyalty is new to me. It affects my entire life and even my relationships, this lack of stability.

Since stability in life has value, especially in regard to relationships, this lack of stability lowers the value of most of my business dealings.

James Yee
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What's scary is that this attitude by upper and even middle management types about labor isn't just in the game industry. I mean programers and artists have lots of competition with lots of people with those skills so I can "kinda" see how management might think of them as "interchangeable."

Yet I work with satellites. While there is a good number of folks like me out there the pool is MUCH smaller than programers or even decent artists. Yet we're still considered disposable. We had one upper manger (who is still here BTW) who literally said, "all I need are 7 people to push buttons and one trained guy to tell them what to do." :|

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Wylie Garvin
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@Dave Smith:
"We ARE disposable."

Yes, but at what cost? In dollars and in studio morale, it seems like a better bet to treat your employees well and try to retain them. Especially after they've worked for you for a few years and gained lots of valuable experience--flushing them and hiring cheaper newbies might make the bean counters happy but its not the way to build the kind of high-quality team that can build you best-selling games.

Amir Barak
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soylent green is made out of game devs...

Ramin Shokrizade
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You are dating yourself Amir :)

The worst of it is that any time there is high unemployment employers feel justified in treating employees poorly because they know there is always another resume in the pile to replace an outgoing employee. This causes our top talent to move to allied industries once the dream of making games fades and real life sets in.

What is left is a relatively inexperienced labor pool that can barely emulate. Innovation is pretty much off the table.

Paul Tozour
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> [Dave Smith]
> We ARE disposable.

OK, two things about this.

First, imagine you have John Carmack or Will Wright on your team. Are you going to tell me that (arguably) the world's best engineer and (arguably) the world's best designer are disposable? And you can hire people THAT good anytime you like?

Hell no. Good luck trying to replace developers like that, and for your own sake I hope you never have to.

So even if you'd like to believe that some people in our industry are disposable, it's unreasonable to deny that there are some people who aren't.

Second, even if people WERE disposable, which they absolutely are not, does it EVER make sense to treat them that way?

Broadly speaking, there are two things that motivate developers. One is the tangible kind of reward -- things like salary, bonuses, and royalties. The other category includes things like respect, decent working conditions and a positive working environment. Everyone needs a lot of both.

It already costs an incredible amount to hire good developers and pay them competitive wages. While you're doing that, why wouldn't you also treat them with a deep respect for their talents and the passion they bring to your studio? Especially when they deserve that respect, and giving it to them doesn't cost you a damned thing.

Richard Black
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I don't think you'll ever get the best work out of someone who feels disposable or easily replacable. Being a cog in a machine that's ticking down to your impending unemployment seems a good way to depress any creative thinking or particular enthusiasm.

Daniel Burke
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Hell yeah, power back to the developers instead of the corporate a-holes whos only focus is on share price, their bonus and what company they can run into the ground next.

What the games industry has lost is it's heart and soul.

The sooner we toss this plague known as directors and vice presidents from our industry the better!

Merc Hoffner
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"As the absolute costs go up, fewer and fewer companies are capable of doing so. That's what's broken"

I think this is the most critical aspect. Yeah, worker relations and practices are bad, and in this industry they've never been great, but the current difficulties (with the likes of EA shaving 10% of their staff every 2 years) are symptomatic of a much more horrific problem: costs are rising exponentially but revenues aren't. Doi! Every prior generation saw exponential rises in costs (around 4-fold a gen) against a strong growth in sales, but in those early days those costs were infinitesimal and dwarfed by the return. In the seventh generation we saw the compounding effect of the size of the traditional business shrinking for the first time (that's consoles minus Wii) and more importantly the costs finally catch up. And as the generation has progressed the situation has become unimaginably worse, with budgets growing over the gen much faster than previous generations. $15 million budgets became $30 million became $50 million. We were already in an untenable loss making zone. Now we're on the precipice of another round of detail inflation and an unsustainable situation is about to become ridiculous. I envisage $200 million productions (we've already seen one) and the death of all but two or three players still in the power game, subsisting on alternative businesses and Call of Duty. How many employees can that leave?

But perhaps we should ask ourselves WHY these costs spiral? The answer for me was in yesterday's COD presentation. It was in the hair on a guys forearm. THE HAIR ON A GUY"S FOREARM. WHO CARES? WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? But an artist had to paint it, or model it, or shade it or whatever. And then they had to do every zipper, every shirt button, every paint fleck. An army of artists have been beavering away, trying to fill an ever growing canvas with ever finer brushes, and no one has the time to look at the ugly Napoleonic picture they're painting. Surely none of them got into the business to paint tattoos on dog ears? It's killing us, it's killing them, it's killing the industry. Firing workers because there's too much work to do is evolution's way of saying we can we must do something more interesting.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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Cost are rising because tools haven't caught up with ambitions yet. Winners are the ones who invest in their tools.

Merc Hoffner
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Tools have improved exponentially with every generation yet costs still quadrupled, and still does not explain the massive rise in costs seen WITHIN the generation. If anything tool development is slowing relative to prior generations, exacerbating the situation. Unless we're on the precipice of AI artists, (which would have the short term effect of creating artists redundancies anyway), AAA development costs will increase from unaffordable to more unaffordable. The only thing slowing this progression is that this generation's power leap is the smallest in history. We're at the point where 'Winners' are the ones who are losing least.

Lance Thornblad
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Both are solid points.

Yes, tools have improved, but they have not even come close to keeping pace with ambitions. In my own experience, tools have always taken a backseat to everything else in production. Projects ramp up before goals have even been decided. Large amounts of work are thrown away quite casually.

It is also true that the source of heightening ambitions needs to be further scrutinized. Certainly, customers respond to great visuals. Fine details like arm hairs are quite unlikely to affect sales. Just look at WOW - I hear that one did pretty well...

James Barnette
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I think a lot of this has to do with schedule and bad management practices. Yes modern games take way more artist on staff than previous generations. But Often there are large amount of work that are done without a clear plan or the design for the game is made up as the game is made. That couple with the then tight budgets means that you have to hire and insanely larger staff than you could ever support. which means after crunch all of them are getting fired. To be honest there are also to many over paid producers and management. both at the developer and the publishing levels. I mean instead of giving the producers a bonus of a couple hundred million why not keep the team that has learned to work together real well all 2 year contracts so they know where their next mean is coming from.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I think the biggest problem is that our industry no longer serves our customers, it serves itself. Let me explain. The industry is trending VERY rapidly towards women being the majority gender in games. Our increasing mobility also means our play preferences are trending towards LOW immersion games.

AAA is almost synonymous with high immersion games for men/boys. The industry MUST contract until what we produce matches what consumers are seeking. What they are seeking is AAA *low* immersion games that are female-friendly or at least gender neutral. I can't think of one game that matches this description, and thus the majority of potential consumer spending is left unrealized.

The result is very high failure rates and lots of unemployment in our industry at a time when consumer demand for games is unprecedented. It is not the fault of the consumer, and we can't blame the programmers or the artists either.

Jonathon Green
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I'd be careful jumping on one end of the Gender seesaw. But you're spot on with de-gendering though to some extent.

Also, almost in tandem a major issue is the inability of most AAA games to broaden the intellectual horizons of their players, thereby limiting the available avenues for further development to a market that has become increasingly devoid of expectations and dependent on the franchises they've been told to love through multi million dollar advertising campaigns, the same franchises that less and less hold their attention with every release. Which then leads heavily into the over cost, over refined refinement of well worn genres with their marketed yet unattainable expectations, bleeding the money consumers put into the industry, with our only way of counting the losses in units of Jobs lost and dreams broken.

Most AAA budgets are just purely irresponsible and gluttonous, and will continue to be for years to come until the industry has the talent, "vision" and management potential to make games that are anywhere near as valuable to consumers as they cost to make, instead of $ for $ cost versus profit.

Short of a gaming messiah stepping in and shining a light forward through colossal success, we're doomed to this dreary ever slowing up hill climb of milked games, until times are hard/desperate enough or bars are set comparatively low enough for those in question to have something necessary or comparatively safe enough to aim for.

And in all honesty, Scott standing up and saying something meant a lot. But then I read his entire interview and felt dejected; we have so far to go, and in my opinion it's a harder, longer road than even Scott seems to know.

Duvelle Jones
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I would not say that is the only issue, but between what you are suggesting and what Merc pointed out... that is a lot of money being over looked and just plain wasted.

Christopher J
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This is such a great topic. One of the things that kills me the most about working at a AAA machine. Is the amount of wasted money! You see no efforts in regards to making sure that the money is spent wisely during production. NONE! I've seen multiple engineers working on the same tasks and not even know it and artists creating assets that are already in game. I’ve seen money thrown away time after time on “improving” art only to find that by the time it gets into game it looks exactly the same. Then, very little improvements invested in tools to speed up production and better pipelines. The bigger the company the less efficient it is. Then I see people getting laid off and or getting re hired year after year as contractors. If it was really about the money, you think they wouldn't be so careless with it.

Christian Nutt
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I think Animal Crossing meets this description. And has sold over 3m copies in Japan on the 3DS. =)

Matt Walker
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Ramin, just want to say I've read several comments from you on the site today that have all been RIGHT on the money. Cheers to you man.

Mario Kummer
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Why can't they make AAA games without increasing the costs? For me personally graphic improvements used to be a selling point, but I think the Xbox360/PS3 generation is already at a "good enough" point. There is no need to go beyond Red Dead Redemption, Assassins Creed, Gears of War or Skyrim, they look great, and a lot what can be done in addition is unnecessary. I laught during the COD Xbox One presentation when I saw the body hair, this details don't make a difference. Yes I look at them and say "wow" but I will not notice it during the game.
When this is the reason the budgets are multiplied by 4-10 again and the studios are killing them self its their fault, and its unnecessary. How many people do you know that buy games due to graphics anymore? Actually the development costs could decrease, because the hardware gets more powerful and you need to invest less in optimization. Just deliver good games with 360/PS3 level graphics and you will be fine.

Kyle McBain
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I understand what you are saying and even agree with it some, but I think with better hardware you can achieve more than just graphics.

The one good thing about having one system to work on for so long is that it's full potential can be realized. Something Tod Howard said about Skyrim is that they had a better understanding of the software this time around and were able to work efficiently and make the game more fluid than before when they made Oblivion. I think back to my days when I played N64 all the time and if you play Goldeneye then play Perfect Dark you see a huge difference. Not only were the graphics better but the gameplay was solid.

But, for immersive games like Skyrim better hardware would allow for less stiff movement and better levels/dungeons/caves or whatever as far as diversification go. Even though the hardware's potential was realized, there is so much more they could have done with that game. I sometimes say I wish the game was half as big with more focus on the mechanics, gameplay, and graphics. That coupled in with a better system would have made for an awesome game.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
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"The movie model worked when companies could absorb missteps and teams could hopefully learn from their mistakes to fight another day. As the absolute costs go up, fewer and fewer companies are capable of doing so. That's what's broken."

But isn't that exactly how the movie industry works? The small art house movie studio isn't cranking out $200M budget titles. I don't think the issue is that only the biggest can make the biggest games. That just makes sense to me, at least compared to other mediums. I think the problem is that in games you have all these little guys (or maybe smaller guys is a better word) thinking they can out Hollywood Hollywood and taking ridiculous financial risks rather than making titles that they can actually afford to and not be on their death bed if one flops.

E Zachary Knight
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The games industry operates nothing like Hollywood. Movie studios will release 1 or 2 big budget ($200million+) films a year as well as 7-10 small budget ($20 million or less) films in the same year. Even if those one or two blockbusters don't break even, the profit made on the small budget films more than make up for it.

The AAA games industry on the other hand has moved to a system where every game needs o be a blockbuster and make a profit. If it doesn't the studio that made it is canned and the cycle repeats itself. That is not a sustainable system.

While it is great that independent game makers are producing those lower budget and often profitable games, that doesn't mean that the industry as a whole will remain healthy.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Dave: This is the appeal of Games as a Service, which we can do while the movie industry cannot. If a product is designed for this, you can continue to add content to a good game that invested players will continue to purchase. This is much more profitable than scrapping what you have and starting all over again on a sequel. More importantly, it keeps the SAME team employed for a much longer period of time. As that team matures their productivity will soar.

Paul Peak
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@Ramin & Zachary: Exactly, its become ever more evident that the game industry is stuck in an outdated and restrictive business model inextricably linked to retail, namely the $60 one-fits-all pricing. CoD gets a new iteration every year but the part gamers play the most, the MP, doesn't undergo significant changes. The same applies to EA Sports. Both of these, and other MP focused games, would do well to separate from their single-player counterparts and become services that work more like MMO's with similar monetization schemes. The often smaller single-player experiences could be developed independently and sold for less, something I think we've seen with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

This does of course require a focus on games being developed on the same engines, which it seems EA is doing with Ignite and Frostbite and even CD Projekt Red is making its next slate of games using the same toolset in spite of their vast difference in content.


Jay Anne
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@Ramin Shokrizade
The strange thing is that Trion was part of the "Games as a Service" model. Except the model changed on them.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Jay: The problem here with RIFT as a GaaS game was that they used the unlimited subscription model, which encourages players to gorge themselves on content in the first month then quit. That combined with incomplete end game content on release caused a high rate of churn before subscription revenue could reach a healthy level. I considered that model dead in 2005, and RIFT was still using it years later.

Jay Anne
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@Ramin Shokrizade
Yes, which brings up the sad dynamic where things are changing faster than projects can take off. This has almost been the case on mobile, even though projects there can be finished in less than a year. How can a 3-5 year project even hope to establish any foothold?

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Jay: They need access to predictive business intelligence, not reactive business intelligence (the latter being what we call analytics).

Jay Anne
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@Ramin
Very true, but I don't know how accurate anyone can really be 5 years from now in the tech industry. It seems like that is just a fatal flaw that needs fixing. Regardless of cost or development structure overhauls, launching a project 5 years from now is probably a very bad bet to take.

James Barnette
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CCP games... model for the future!

Paul Peak
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I liked what I saw of World of Darkenss coming from EveFest this year with the simplified world building tool set and randomized art assets. That setup allows for so much variation with a limited amount of unique work involved, great for an MMO.

TC Weidner
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Great article I agree 100%.
Too many suits who's whole purpose it seems is to distract the conversation from ever focusing on them. They shuck, jive, bullshit, extract and leave. They bring nothing creative into the environment, yet they are well paid, its incredible really.

I mean what do MBA's bring to the table? nothing but a toolset of how to extract and squeeze wealth out of mature businesses. Do these people grow, expand, nurture businesses and communities? of course not, that's for suckers.

sure there are always the rare exceptions to this but suits and their worthless degrees are all about extraction of wealth. Gaming got to big this last decade, and the lil vampire squid wannabees pounced.

The system is to top heavy, the highest paid often bring the least to the table.

Erin OConnor
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I think the point that Dave Smith is trying to make is that rather that create a brand new game engine from scratch every time use more "off the shelf" technology.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_game_engines

I mean the list is ridiculous when you think about it. Think about how much money is spent on reinventing the wheel (game engine) ever time a new game comes around.

How many times do we need to create a human male/female mesh?
How many run animations do we need for those meshes?
How many times do we need to re-record a gun shot?

There are some middleware packages that get used quite often like havoc and scaleform. Why are there not more?


(login to reply or like not working ...again...)

Zirani Jean-Sylvestre
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Interestingly enough, Havok (as a company) offers solution for AI, script and even its own engine. In fact, there are a lot of middleware and for a lot of things, the problem is that it's very hard to cover everybody's needs.

Take into consideration that often, developers feel comfortable with the technology they have developed themselves. There's nothing wrong in that if you can reasonably afford it.

If you don't have the time/money/human resources to achieve your goal, you can consider licensing a middleware , but there's no guarantee that there exists a solution for your problems.

Honestly, I have seen fifty-fifty in my career and it's a tie. I can't say "off the shelf" technology is a better solution or not, it all depends on what you can afford.

Jay Anne
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@Erin OConnor
By your logic, it should be incredibly cheap to make a sequel. And yet it's still incredibly expensive. Something else is going on.

Mario Kummer
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@Jay I think the XBox One Call of Duty presentation showed whats wrong. Impressing, yes. But worth 4-10 times the money? Sure not. It should be possible that good sequels get cheaper. I don't think the Lego games get more and more expensive with each iteration.

Kujel s
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@Mario Kummer: The lego games aren't constantly pushing new graphics, they can reuse a lot of gaphics plus the textures and polygons for those game's graphics are far less labour intensive.

max bowman
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Regarding the pipeline, isn't there a huge amount of redundancy among the art assets? You keep remodeling every jacket, every seem and every button for every new character you're really wasting resources with this approach. Wouldn't an archive of high level detail assets that get reused in games a better approach. This happens all the time in film. Sets and costumes get reused all the time, not to mention actors and movies themselves. Wouldn't the same approach benefit the gaming industry or is there something I'm missing here.

Rachel Presser
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I think the extremely high development costs are maybe the primary factor into why AAA is flawed, but there are other things to take into account. The following is coming from my years in the financial industry, and a perspective very few within it agreed with...but found many outside of it agreed wholeheartedly.

Ever notice virtually all the AAA players are publicly-traded companies, or subsidiaries of public companies? A public company is going to be kinda big, with lots of capital from both individual and institutional shareholders behind it, and is subject to a great deal of legal constraints and oversight/regulations so they have inherently have more upkeep expenses than an indie developer who is a private entity. Public companies must answer to their shareholders, who elect a Board of Directors...the decentralized management of the company. Their financial performance must be disclosed to the general public, and if the shareholders believe the corporation is not fulfilling its duty to maximize profits as written out in the Uniform Commercial Code, then they can sue the corporation.

So money must be constantly spent on an army of CPAs, lawyers, and analysts then at the behest of the BOD, consultants instead of you know...the actual games being made! As TC puts it, the MBAs who hold the C-level positions and other positions that always end up being artificially created as a result of the public company model, don't add any actual value. Yes, there need to be some people to run the actual business who are able to analyze what kind of return you got on the dev costs and if your ending positive cash flow justifies your burn rate-- but ideally those people need to know something about games and be passionate about them. (That's why this accountant and escapee from the financial industry is rare. :P)

It's evident the public company model is just not working for both this industry and many others given the relentless pursuit of profit, but nonsensical decisions and massive corporate waste STILL happening anyway-- look at how many key dev team members get shoved through revolving doors, but how many useless positions get created just as a result of the public company model and the network nepotism MBAs take with them.

Ha, when I had corporate finance years ago, my professor said many companies failed for refusing to look at long-term. But look at how many companies just don't look at the long-term consequences of their actions-- like the external and internal consequences of constant layoffs at AAA companies-- and focus only on the short-run results when those public financial reports are due and they want the company's stock to go up half a point to get more public investors. The Board wants those layoffs to happen just at the right time to artificially inflate earnings per share so they can issue a nice "performance-based bonus" to the C execs because you know they sit on each others' Boards and have to pander to each other...oh, and hiring those disposable workers as employees not only gives the workers a false sense of security, but 100% of their pay qualifies for the R&D Credit at tax time when the credit is active while you can't use the full amount for the credit that you pay a contractor. Duty to the shareholders to minimize tax liability, remember?

But despite the pursuit of profit, AAA makes development teams rush the product to get it out NOW NOW NOW when testing is such a dire value-added process, to throw MBA jargon right back at them. Customers get stuck with broken games HOW often?

The other problem with public AAA is that they essentially put all their eggs in one basket. Take a company like Double Fine for instance, where they diversify their risk by having a few small teams working on 3-5 titles at a time so that it doesn't kill them if a title tanks. The general public also doesn't know how they're doing financially-- whether the team is 2 people or 30, only the dev really knows. There are usually no external investors to be betrothed to, who are expecting a financial return and don't care if the product suffers.

Sorry, but having a private fiefdom free from the must-please-shareholders-at-all-costs vicissitude is really often the only way to have any creative freedom-- AND concentrate on the business entity's financial health without this die-hard emphasis on "performance" which is from a GAAP point of view. Sure, a public company has FAR more access to capital than a private entity indie dev has-- but at what cost and at what risk assessment? What's the point of having that money if it's going to be wasted on reinventing the wheel?

Jay Anne
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Here's another funny dynamic for public companies:
They have a large revenue target that used to be met by releasing many products. In the past, a lot more genres and types of products worked. Now, only a few genres sell and only very well established brands sell. It is very difficult to succeed with a new brand. This essentially means they have to make a lot of money on a few products. This may be one reason why they pour so much money into the development of a single game...what other choice do they have? You spend $10 more million on a product because the market does seem to reward it, but also because you're only launching a handful of products anyway. It's not like you're spending that money to develop new products.

Rachel Presser
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Excellent point Jay-- ironically, the big public players have the resources to really diversify their risk across several different products but they just won't, lest the shareholders have their heads. Even though they already commit many wasteful actions that the shareholders should be shaking their heads at (I'm looking at a certain AAA company sitting on hundreds of great IPs fans WANT to see continued that were obtained through M&A plundering but generates 98% of their revenue from just 2 of them...!) So they stick with the same old same old and just repeat the cycles over again.

Indeed, it's likely at the behest of a C-level exec who wants that Board member to stay elected so they'll get their bonus, who then gives the memo to the 200-someodd middle managers below, that producers are forced to spend $2 million on digital eyelash rendering here, $800K for a SAG voice actor to voice a 2-line part there...all so the shareholders can be happy and re-elect that Board member so the cycle repeats itself after Bob's Firings That Go Really Well before those 10-Qs are due.

But with all the different modes of distribution today and interests to be catered to, I think that the risk-taking and creation of new IPs is ultimately left to smaller, private studios. It's not that new brands and new products aren't selling. It's that the risks aside, they're not selling enough to justify AAA money and there's a bit of a canyon here: the amount of money that Activision or EA would consider insignificant would be more than enough to do a kickass IP justice and create a couple jobs (even if they're just extremely well-paying contracts) with a smaller dev not betrothed to shareholders and a BOD watching their every move.

Eric Salmon
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I'd take the $10 million an invest it in an independent arm to make game prototypes with a short development cycle and very low budget. It's working pretty well for the movie industry. Yeah, a lot of it doesn't sell (and a lot of projects won't make it far before being cancelled), but one hit and you make back everything you invested in every title and then some.

Jay Anne
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@Rachel and Eric
I think there are several reasons why launching new IP is just not as feasible in this level. The money required to market and support it and the audience's appetite for it, these two don't mix well anymore. I hope to be proven wrong during this year's E3, but after the tepid unveilings and quiet GDC's and Spike VGA's of this past year, it doesn't look so rosy.

On a smaller indie level, there is the occasional Angry Birds and Minecraft, but those are even more rare than successful AAA launches when you compare the numbers. For example, for as much flak that EA gets, they launch hundreds of new mobile IP through Chillingo. And none of them have even come remotely close to a fraction of Angry Bird's success.

I think the concept of taking a risk on a new game concept is mostly obsolete. It is the inevitable consequence of the maturation of game design and hardware. The concept of hitting it big by releasing a new innovative game is a relic of a time when new accessible game designs were unexplored and technology was enabling new mechanics that weren't possible due to resource constraints. This is not to say that it's not possible. It's just doesn't make sense for public companies to do anymore.

I will add that this is probably very different with Games as a Service, particularly when cross promotion comes into play. It will be interesting to see how core developers handle IP launches in this new world.

Steven 'lazalong' Gay
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I don't agree that the industry is broken at all : the game industry is simply maturing!

Check any other industry. At first small group/inventors could build their car/plane/house/etc.
Now only with big pockets can you build a new car industry from scratch. IMO the good part is that we are only beginning to enter the maturity place so solo/small group can still make an entrance.
But broken no.

marty howe
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the game industry is simply maturing!

It's taking a long time...

Ryan Christensen
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Developers/artists need to understand game development is a project based industry. Having said that...

Consoles creating entirely new or tweaked platforms are much of the problem. The costs haven't gone up in mobile, and PC/unix architecture is known. Why are we still making top down ivory tower consoles with horrid software (or incomplete) for their adjustments in hardware that aren't even more power? When you ask a game company making an engine why they did something it is well the PS3 this (SPUs, modded OpenGL, etc), the XBox (dx9 lock) that, can't do that on the Wii, widely different networking libs even though pthreads work for most things, etc. Mobile and PC architecture works and mobile has created an overpowering market due to standards, regular expected libraries and allow portability. Web gaming is going to blow up with asm.js and emscripten. OpenGL/WebGL make for more portable games.

Movie making and mobile gaming are getting cheaper and platforms are more accesible and allow indies to break in, allowing many more small companies to exist. Consoles need to step up big time (open up and bring costs down) or else we should forget them for the new consoles like OUYA, Steambox, maybe Apple TV etc. Companies like Unity and Epic/UDK will push us forward. Consoles are still going for platform lock in and costs go up killing innovation and gameplay for unnecessary tech which result in locking out indies/smaller/medium companies that sell hardware while cutting out loads of profits. The costs and investment in tech you need on consoles is directly making games less fun. I like mobile and PC games mainly because it still has that fun arcade like feel of the 80's where people pay for what they like and lots of experiments can be tried, leading to some great companies and fun games. Active console markets really aren't that big 200m maybe and less accessible, mobile (billion) and PC gaming (billion) is still immense.

Jonathan Jennings
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I don't think developers have a hard tie acknowledging that our industry is a project based industry , I have only been working for a year and that is clear even to me ! However i do think the error is that project planning shoud b managed a little better by executives. of course if you hire 200 people just to work on bioshock infinite and bioshock infinite has to come out soon those people have completed the work they were asked to perform .

I think what Devs would enjoy however is management that braces for the end of one project by slowly ramping up for the next one or multiple ones instead of just dropping those who gave a lot for the project. the game development process hiring is basically an ebb and flow type situation you load up on personnel at the start of a project, power through development, and once you have a product the layoffs start coming. but why can't it be that mid-project planning fr new projects begins and hopefully you can approach employees about moving to these new projects after the current is over?

not to mention it often times seems like these layoff are complete surprises to the developers how fair is that ? if it's project based treat it that way let the developers know that you need their services for the next 9 months and around the end of the 8th month just be up front with them about how their skills will no loner be necessary in a few months.

At the end of the day it just seems like we as developers give a lot to the studios we work for and a lot o work in ur industry so it just seems like it would be nice if the studios acknowledged that by treating us like human beings and not cattle .

Richard Black
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I remember seeing a news piece once on the best place to work in America. I think it was a lumber company or something which had a waiting list to even interview and didn't really even have a human resources department because they didn't need one. The owner believed in keeping his employees and treating them well and turnover was practiclynon existent. There was even a fire a fire at one of their factores one year, as an example, and rather than laying off the workers there he kept them on full salary for a few monthes till it was ready to produce again - just to keep people who knew their jobs and each other and wouldn't have to be retrained. They were still profitable that year and were proven to be remarkably efficient because you had workers who had less worries and were more productive and you didn't have to constantly rehire and retrain because you treated people as disposable. It was completely against the established corporate mind set but makes a lot of sense if you look at it. You have better, happier, more productive workers and don't have to waste money looking for new people all the time and training them for posistions only to have to do the same thing over and over again with continuous turnover and waste.

I'd like to think games are slightly more artistic, though indeed many are formulaic as well, but it would seem to me to only benefit a developer to keep the same teams working together. They'd be more creative I imagine, and more free with ideas amoungst people who already get them and who have perhaps a shared language through experience and learning on other projects. Working with strangers is hardly condusive to developing a conversational short hand after all.

Gearing up for a big project and then letting it go only to gear up for the next big project later on seems only to lose all of the shared experience built up in a team. There's a loss of ideas and the developmental short hand you establish between co workers who have experience with each other. A lot of time is wasted as well interviewing and fiding the right people and many likely wind up being the wrong people. Finding and keeping the right people over time and building them up seems a far better way to make better, more innovative games - faster - and with a lot less wasted time and effort.

But games are big business now and big business seems to like the idea of a faceless disposable work force whether that's actually a hindrance or not.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Richard, I've been thinking so much about exactly what you point out here for the last four years. When I first started coming up with my proprietary virtual economy techs in 2009 I was afraid to share them because I was afraid they would be "stolen". By 2011 I realized that what I do was complex enough to others that they really didn't care to know how I did it, as long as I did it. Kind of like me with programmers or artists. They impress the heck out of me, but I don't really have an urge to learn what they do.

But the flip side of this is that with every studio I enter the efficiency of interaction starts off really low because I have to start teaching their designers what I do, why it works, and why it is necessary to change some of the things they do. So many hours are lost on every project during this time. If I just stayed on one project, or at least with one team, productivity could literally be three or four times higher, at least in design systems. To me design seems like the limiting factor in our products, not programming or artistry, and this is the reason you see so much more emulation than innovation.

The same sort of interactions have to be occurring in all departments, especially if innovative work is being done. I also think that if there is some assurance that a person will be sticking around, they will be much more likely to put out their best work, instead of just the minimum that is being asked of them.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I just had the most creepy and enlightening conversation with my GF, who has been a CEO in the garment industry for 20 years. She says what we are experiencing is happening in every industry. In her case, her company used to make the whole garment. Globalization meant that all of that was sent overseas except for just the creative elements in her company. 90% of her workforce is GONE. It now happens in 3rd world countries. Her company is now just paid to design and develop, and all production occurs someplace cheaper.

I recently worked with a USA company that wanted me to spend the next two years training a studio in Korea all of my technology so that they could then operate without me. They wanted me as a consultant, and with no credit in the final game whatsoever. If I had agreed (and I really wanted to work on that product) then I could have made myself obsolete in two years. They did not even want me to step foot in the studio I was training. They wanted me to be maximally disposable.

This may work in the garment industry, but in the creative process it takes months or years just to figure out what the guy sitting next to you does, how good he (usually he not she...) is and what they can be depended on to do. I would suggest that on the most complex projects up to 80% of the total development time is just this "friction". Once you have a good team that knows how to make a good product, you can just pump out more of that and the result is hyper productivity. Companies like CCP, RIOT, VALVE, SuperCell, Wargaming.net. These are not big companies, but they are dominating our industry. Why? Maybe it is because of this very reason.

It does not take thousands of people to make a game. During the creative process, I am of the opinion that splintering your studio across 5 countries just to save 50% of your overhead is a huge waste of money when a simple conversation over lunch could create an idea that could be worth millions of dollars. I know it is hard to quantify this on an Excel spreadsheet.


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