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Letters To The Editor: 'Free Gamecock Agents'

Letters To The Editor: 'Free Gamecock Agents'

March 15, 2007 | By Brandon Boyer

March 15, 2007 | By Brandon Boyer
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Gamasutra has recently had further interesting feedback to some of our notable features and opinion pieces, as collected through our Letters to the Editor, so here's the newest weekly roundup, with some of the reactions you might have missed. Click through on each link (free reg. req.) for the full Letter.

It's been some time since we last dug through the letter box, so our first set of comments comes from early February, with the announced launch of independent publisher Gamecock.

In our first letter, longtime contributor Ernest Adams has some personal feedback about the company and their promotional practices as the former Gathering of Developers:

"If Gamecock is G.O.D. retreaded, forget it.
Gathering of Developers (G.O.D) began life as an inspiration and ended as an embarrassment. They put a brilliant manifesto on the web promising to do right by developers, which was all to the good. Then they took a booth to E3 that was so outrageously sexist and exploitive that even the E3 management (which at the time was pretty damn tolerant of barely-clad booth babes) wouldn't let it in the door, so G.O.D. had to set up their pole dancers in a parking lot across the street. Female indies who might have been attracted to G.O.D. by the manifesto were firmly told that it was a boy's club.

[...]

So now we have Gamecock, founded by the same people. That choice of name may be intended to suggest the fun of watching chickens peck each others' eyes out, but it was obviously selected for its other connotations as well, and once again, females are clearly not part of the vision. If Gamecock is just G.O.D. all over again, skip it. Why should anyone do business with someone whose judgment is that poor?"


And on the same subject, the anonymous blogger Grassroots Gamemaster, also covered on sister site GameSetWatch with followup comments, writes in with a lengthy screed questioning more than the publisher's propensity for chicken suits, but the very fundamental model it's built on:

"How is this Gamecock business model coming to terms with the reality of outsourcing and the complexity of game development and production today? You honestly think an indie game developer can do all and be all like it could in the 8-bit days? You need to come to terms with the reality on the ground now; and that is outsourcing.

People don't understand outsourcing. They think it's primarily about sending work to China to get it done cheaper. Wrong! It's about growing up. It's about being professional. It's about deepening your view of design, and that means going off and pursuing a thing to its farthest ends, even if that means we must leave others behind.

[...]

Games are too complex now, the game audience too sophisticted, the possibilities of the medium fracturing into too many complex offshoots. Design needs to follow suit. (Why do you think they complain about how dreary games have become?) People who make games need to specialize because the challenge of making the individual parts simply requires too much expertise. And the challenge of doing something new needs the fire, dedication and evangelizing that only individuals can bring. That's what outsourcing is about. I mean do you honestly think you can support both game developer stability and innovation. Come on? Innovation has always been financially risky. If you want to be part of a company that is stable and lives forever make a service company and hire yourself out to others. If you want to design innovative new games, design them - but don't expect a smooth ride of it. Any team will always want stability. If you want to explore, you have to strike out for the wilderness - in very small, agile groups, or even on your own. That is what the next generation of designers must be prepared to do."


And following on many of the same ideas, the Gamesmaster also wrote in to praise Michael John for his recent feature calling for the destruction of full-time employment, and the beginning of per-project contracting:

"Michael John has to remember to include this one thing: the notion that breaking the industry up into its more essential pieces provides stability, not instability. Yes, if you have a vision for a new game, free agency gives you the freedom and creative peace of mind to try to pursue it. But if you want less risk and so don't want to be a free agent, you can focus instead on providing development services to the game projects that are initiated by the free agents. (And no one says you can't contribute creatively.)

Now, because you are focused only on providing services to these free agent-based projects you can move rapidly from project to project, client to client. This will actually give you MORE stability than if you were inside a traditional studio, where your fortunes were always tied to the success or failure of your most recent titles."


But not all readers were as convinced. Andrew Sega says that, while the idea has some merit, working on a Hollywood model is risky when the industry lacks, well, a Hollywood:

"While I agree that there would be many benefits in adopting this paradigm, one of the biggest issues would simply be the issue of locality. The movie industry centralizes the vast majority of its production around Los Angeles. We don't have a similar hub. Thus, developers would be forced to constantly travel to wherever their next studio (and paycheck) would be coming from. Even in cities which have a fair amount of game studios, the amount of work "in town" may be sparse enough that they're essentially forced to take whatever project is available -- at which point they might as well just be an employee. One benefit of the studio approach is that they often will pay you during the "down time" between projects, whereas contractors are left out in the cold."

Ian Schreiber also takes particular note of the challenge of spreading the idea outside California borders, and adds a few more troubling downsides:

"Downside 1: loss of job stability. Going freelance is fine if you're living in Mom's basement eating ramen, but it's much harder if you've got a family to feed. The reality of the industry is that more people want to work there than actually do; if you have to compete for every project, the length of downtime between projects (with no pay at all) hurts the individual.

Downside 2: much harder to change roles. I started out as a programmer but I had solid game design skills. As a free agent with a programming resume, there's no chance I'd ever get a chance as a designer. As a full-time employee, I can convince management to give me a chance to prove myself on the next project.

Downside 3: sharply increased overhead. A studio may save some money by not having to pay its staff between projects, but it loses money by having to hire everyone from scratch on every new project. I've seen the cost of a new hire estimated as 3 to 6 months' worth of salary, as they get up to speed with your project. Between that and the HR cost of hiring in the first place, any cost savings from studio downtime could be wiped out by higher turnover costs."


Benjamin Quintero takes the idea and runs it through the scope of another industry running on free agency, the sports world, to show similar weaknesses in the model:

"Many talented free agents may go unnoticed for an entire season because they are lost in an ocean of other agents looking to fill the same position. This is vicious cycle where that agent may now be considered less valuable because he is "out of practice" after taking the year off.

This is worsened by the fact that when someone does notice him, he will need to ask for an unreasonably large pay check to offset the fact that he's been out of work and doesn't know if more work will come when the season is over. Team owners are now faced with this ocean of free agents, all which are looking to score the one big pay check that will let them retire sooner than later.

Before you know it we may likely have programmers and artists making short term salaries that are equivalent to those we find in Hollywood, professional baseball, football or even a certain soccer player who will remain nameless. There will always be the unfortunate many that will ask for "just let me play the game" money, but the real talent will be unreachable by smaller development studios. With the lack of a salary cap, we will quickly see a small handful of individuals making ungodly income that only the major publishing houses can afford, while smaller studios are forced to take risks with young "up and coming" talent."


And finally, Eric Gilbert looks at the idea of free agency from that of an intimate relationship, and wonders if employers and employees should really consider keeping that relationship open:

"Now let me define what a love relationship is and is not. Love is not a feeling, it's a choice. You can choose to love someone or you can choose not to. There are plenty of times when I don't like my wife, but I choose to love her and stay with her. How would my life be if every time my wife does something that I don't like, I jump ship and go find another wife? No, I choose to ride out those tough times and by doing so, I strengthen our relationship. I choose to be loyal to her and she feels peace that I will be there and that she can depend on me.

It's similar in our employment relationships. People shouldn't just be at a company only when it's convenient for them and jump ship when they get put on a project that's "just not your cup of tea." And in turn, the employee should feel safe that their employer does everything possible to keep them employed."


For more reactions to these issues, as well as more on our recent features on Warren Spector and the Columbine RPG, to be read and responded to, visit our letters page.


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