Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
September 3, 2014
arrowPress Releases
September 3, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Develop: WB Games' Fryer Calls Slash And Burn Management 'Unsustainable'
Develop: WB Games' Fryer Calls Slash And Burn Management 'Unsustainable'
July 20, 2011 | By Simon Parkin

July 20, 2011 | By Simon Parkin
Comments
    22 comments
More: Console/PC, Production



Laura Fryer, VP and General Manager of WB Games and former executive producer on the Gears of War franchise, said today that "slash and burn" management styles are harming the industry.

Speaking at a Gamasutra-attended session at the Develop conference Brighton today, Fryer likened management of creative studios to farming styles, saying that studios too oftenfollow a "slash and burn" agriculture style -- hiring a team, then burning them out, then hiring in a replacement team for the next project.

"This is like ploughing a piece of land incessantly until, after three-or-so years, the plot of land becomes unusable. I believe this is an unsustainable model for the games industry," she said.

Fryer instead urged developers to find a way to create a "Permaculture," that can be a self-sustaining ecosystem. "Manage this, and you as a 'gardener' have very little to do. As such, I believe the key is to find a way to create a permaculture in game development, to foster creativity in such a way that it becomes entirely sustainable."

One of the ways in which studios can achieve this is by "accepting that game development is a dynamic, fluid process," she argued. "There is no one way to ship a game, period. Every game is different and every team is different."

"As such, it's best to give people a toolbox full of tools with which to solve issues. That way, when the team next runs into a problem, they choose the right tool from the toolbox," she continued. "And if they donít have the right tool to solve the issue? Then they make a new tool: which is how we gain new tools for the box."

"Itís very important that you do not become a slave to dogma," she said. "Sometimes the processes we have donít make sense in terms of our ultimate goal, namely to ship a good game."

Fryer gave the example of a 170-page design document, which may be satisfying to write but isn't worthwhile if it's not going to be used.

"The question any creative on a game project needs to ask whenever they are asked to do something is ask: 'What problem are you trying to solve?'" she said. "Maintaining design documents is no good if nobody reads them. It becomes a solution that simply doesn't work."

Fryer urged developers to hold a postmortem not only at the end of the project, but after every milestone in a game's production. Mini-postmortems can be extremely helpful to development, because the team on the ground knows exactly what is working well and what is working poorly during the development of a game.

"Inviting this structured feedback after each milestone can allow you to tweak and manage the process," she added. "This allows you to keep fostering creativity over the course of a project, rather than squashing it."

At the same time, it's important to treat the core team like adults. "Too often you can have a parent/child relationship between management and creatives," she said.

"It's important to hold people accountable to the dates and deadlines they have set for themselves. Combine this with honesty, where you are free to talk about where and, most importantly, why a game is falling behind, and you will inject positivity into the team."


Related Jobs

Big Fish Games
Big Fish Games — Seattle, Washington, United States
[09.02.14]

Engineering Manager- Studios
DoubleDown Interactive
DoubleDown Interactive — Seattle, Washington, United States
[09.02.14]

Principal Game Designer
Big Fish Games
Big Fish Games — Seattle, Washington, United States
[09.02.14]

Senior Game Developer
DoubleDown Interactive
DoubleDown Interactive — Seattle, Washington, United States
[09.02.14]

Senior Product Manager










Comments


Andrew Grapsas
profile image
All generally good advice that people should already know and hold in their hearts. I don't question this advice. I question why more developers and managers aren't following it and being mindful of it -- that's what I'd really be interested in reading about.

Glenn Storm
profile image
Agreed. To some, working this way, if one doesn't already, can be a) a change, b) more work than not being mindful, and c) counter to the development culture, or at least different. Just to hazard a guess, these aspects probably increase inertia. For some, it may take crisis to encourage folks to take the kinds of long-view opportunity this philosophy offers, but it sure sounds smart.

Gil Salvado
profile image
There's certainly no great deal behind why companies are burning their staff. It's simple but cruel: cost-efficiency. They don't think of staff salaries as a form of investment into knowledge and know-how of an employee, but as the one major cost factor to increase profit.

Tonya Payne
profile image
"Fryer urged developers to hold a postmortem not only at the end of the project, but after every milestone in a game's production."



Well that's a fantastic idea, but only if what is suggested is actually acted upon. This is a problem not only in the game industry, but in other operations where management is involved in general. Your team/employees tells you what isn't working, but instead of finding a solution, it gets shoved under the rug and ignored. And that makes for unhappy workers.

s d
profile image
All game devs should read this - just in case they missed it. And i'm guessing they have or its just cheaper to do, because a lot of teams still practice slash and burn. I was at a studio that actually did a postmortem, and it ended with some leads loosing their jobs. This, of course, was the last time they did a true postmortem.

Philip Michael Norris
profile image
I would argue that it isn't necessarily the 'teams', but the upper management that carries out these practices, namely for greater short-term profit. The teams are simply at their mercy but I totally get your point.

Mark Rein
profile image
Laura Fryer = very smart!



We had the pleasure of working with her for many years while she was at Microsoft. Class act!

Ben Hopper
profile image
Except that WB Games has been doing nothing but laying people off at their Seattle-based studios off since she's been in charge.

I'd say "Laura Fryer = very hypocritical."

Christopher Enderle
profile image
Too bad games are business and reliable short term profits will beat out potential long term profits every time. You just can't stay as competitive if you aren't pushing your employees to their max (or past it, if it's cheaper to hire more).



What does management care if the field is spoiled when they can simply transfer to a more profitable industry?



The only solution is for employees to push back against being slashed and burned.

Ian Uniacke
profile image
I hear what you're saying Christopher, but I guess it comes down to do you want to be the company that's making small amounts of profit for ever or would you rather be the company (eg Blizzard) that has long term growing success. I believe generally we need to move past the "accounting" mentality and start thinking about our business economically. I believe this mind set (accounting mindset) has come about primarily due to the modern movement of rationalisation...although that might be stretching outside of the topic.

William Barnes
profile image
This accounting mindset affects everything. from the pencil you buy, the power that you use, and the car you drive, to the house/condo you think you own (and find out how much ownership the HOA still holds over your property if for some reason you fail to pay the dues and other assessments), your boss's positions, etc. It's not anything new in the IT world to see someone in IT only as an expense, it's not that uncommon that some other product you buy and use, could be better if they spent a few cents more on it, but the bean-counters refuse to allow the improvement because it doesn't meet an arbitrary price point for maximum profits.



UNTIL companies stop looking for that fast and easy short-term profit and look at the long term profits and sustainability, we will continue to have this problem of burning out employees, skimping on quality of product, and despising the employees (and tax) costs.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
profile image
""I believe this is an unsustainable model for the games industry," she said."



I believe so too, but more importantly it is an unethical model, and the main reason I no longer enjoy crunching (yes, at one point it made me feel like a badass and 'part of the gang', I apologize for my naivety but back then I didn't realize how easily I would keep getting laid off after my work). You work your ass off for several months or years just to have your experience punctuated with a layoff, after which no bonuses or royalties will be sent to you because those are saved for people who are still employed at a company. You might not even get your name in the credits, because hey, you don't work there any more and it's company policy not to credit people who don't work there when the game ships.



If this behavior was new, I would give management in this industry the benefit of the doubt that they tried their hardest and we are just victims of circumstance. But this has been going on for years; they have had plenty of time to improve, and it is obvious that this type of cycle is acceptable to the powers that be. I am literally amazed even to this day that this is legal; companies that do this should have their executives and management jailed for the average duration it takes their ex-employees to find jobs. I'm sure under those circumstances they'd mysteriously find ways to keep people employed ;)



Anyway, this sustainable vs ethical distinction is important to make because we need to stand up for our rights to stabile income and healthy QoL even if it was proven that "slash and burn" was the best economic model (it's not, I'm just saying). Profit is supposed to come after securing your livelihood and needs and the livelihood and needs of those that work for you, not before.



Well, I've been talking with a couple of other people about fixing this industry. Nothing set in stone yet, but I'm thinking it's time for another Scratchware Manifesto (although the original is still pretty applicable; sad how little we've evolved this decade -- http://www.homeoftheunderdogs.net/scratch.php). If anyone else wants to talk about things, feel free to message me at eiyukabe_at_gmail.

Philip Michael Norris
profile image
"at one point it made me feel like a badass and 'part of the gang"



I have never had the pleasure of pouring my heart into a given project during my four+ years in game development, which is the sole reason I worked so hard to break in. Though it seems staggeringly risky, I am contemplating 'breaking out' and trying my luck in the indie market.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
profile image
"Though it seems staggeringly risky, I am contemplating 'breaking out' and trying my luck in the indie market."



Me too. I've been in the industry for just over four years as well, and have no more hopes that it's going to get better. It's not the crunch so much as the cookie-cutter games we have to make (I wouldn't mind working weekends if I felt empowered and if I felt the game I was working on was going to be something meaningful), and then getting laid off (I've been laid off twice, as part of large layoffs both times) so you can't build up a name for yourself and move up the ranks and have to start over in the vicious job hunt - great reward for all that crunch :/.



The truth of the matter is that, in the industry proper, the creatives have been domesticated into cattle. I don't mind if people want to be cattle, but I do mind if said cattle are worked 100 hour weeks (like with Team Bondi) and left out of the credits. Even though I am not going through that right now, I am going to fight it as hard as I can so I have allies the day that I am the one put through such BS.



But yeah, indie is definitely the way to go. I've been trying to become a part of that community, and the passion for making quality games instead of just making money is very refreshing.

William Barnes
profile image
But you see, The executive culture has been running with this model for decades now. Most have the attitude of "Ethics are for the weak, unemployed, and the poor." They only care about the bonus check and keeping the shareholders happy enough to keep themselves on the gravy-train.



I am glad that not ALL are that way, but it is just sad how many exist in any corporate environment. My hats off to Laura Fryer and everyone else who sees the current model's future for what it is: an Epic Fail waiting to catch up.

Michael Joseph
profile image
Slash and burn management just leads to the creation of future competitors with a lot of expertise.



In the macro scheme of things, it hurts profits.

Craig Jensen
profile image
I know "union" is an evil word in the current tea-party-Republican sort of environment, but the games industry is similar enough to the film industry that they really should take a look.



Like films, games are somewhat episodic and discrete by their very nature. It is possible that a union system is the only real protection/solution to this sort of problem.

John Woznack
profile image
No, the answer is not to unionize. Unions were necessary when people had no other option. Today we've got lots of options, the most powerful being the option to find another job.



The real answer is to compete. Start a new company! Take the opportunity to put into practice all of those "this is the way it should be done" ideas. If others like your management approach, your company will grow.

William Barnes
profile image
I almost have to agree with you.



Most Unions now days are just political powers, some with no teeth within their own realm of coverage, some that have their industries by the gonads.



I don't think a union is necessary IF employees who have enough experience and have been slash and burned one too many times decides to open up the shop you describe, AND are open to helping others experience and flourish within it.

John Woznack
profile image
IMHO, I believe there are two possible reasons why VG management typically falls into the "Slash and Burn" philosophy: 1. Greed/cruelty, 2. Running out of money.



For the former, the only option for employees is to find another job. Face it, you're not going to change people who are blinded by greed, or who wish to inflict pain on others.



For the latter (which I believe is the dominant reason here), I think the only way for a VG development company to sustain itself is to NOT rely on game revenue for funding. Unless you're very lucky and manage to crank out some major hits right off the bat, your development costs are probably going to be more than your profit on any released game. Also, whatever profit you do manage to make on a single game probably won't be enough to continue paying lots of employees for years while they work on the next game. (Quick math: 20 employees at $50k/year each = $1 million/yr!)



I think the best way for a VG development company to be "sustainable" is to have the main revenue stream derived from something more predictable, consistent, and reliable outside the VG industry. (e.g. Sell pizzas next door. Run a hotel across the street. Let the artists do freelance work while the programmers build websites online.) As long as that outside revenue pays for the employees' salaries, creating new games can then be at a leisurely pace, mostly free of uncontrollable outside pressure.

Anna Tito
profile image
An awesome article. As someone who wants to enter the industry very soon, facing the slash and burn employment behavior is a little intimidating to say the least, particularly when you are looking at working overseas. I would also like to point out that working effectively as a team takes time, if you are firing everyone and hiring new people the team strengths and weaknesses need to be relearnt taking more time and reducing productivity.



Any way, thanks again for the article hopefully company owners/managers will start to listen.

William Barnes
profile image
Ah, an angle that the greedy, or desperate to survive don't or won't see... I have to agree. New teams need to learn the strengths and weaknesses with in and cater to the individual strengths whenever possible. That can take some time... and time is money to them.


none
 
Comment: