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Top 10 Pitfalls Using Scrum Methodology for Video Game Development
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Top 10 Pitfalls Using Scrum Methodology for Video Game Development

July 15, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

2. "Sprint Zero" is pre-production time.

Start the pre-production by putting all stories into the Scrum backlog spreadsheet. Pre-production only lasts two weeks. Ignore any concern that there still isn't concept art before Sprint 1.

Lesson Learned: "Sprint Zero" is not pre-production. Creativity and innovation cannot be managed. Team brainstorming might be visible while sitting in a conference room buzzed on energy drinks but sometimes the best ideas come to mind while stuck in traffic during the car ride home from work. You cannot demand that someone comes up with the best creative game idea instantaneously. It doesn't help to manage and track game ideas in a backlog spreadsheet, either.

Best Practice: Pre-production for any great product involves lots and lots of prototyping. Think on the magnitude of hundreds of prototypes. You would like to be able to mass produce these prototypes. Some ideas may never be more than a scribble on a little yellow piece of paper. Some prototypes might be full-featured software demos with hundreds of tuning knobs and ways to adjust content on the fly while the game is playing.

You need powerful prototyping tools that allow non-technical people to do lots of iterations every day. Pre-production does take time. The more prototypes that the team can create and demonstrate quickly will result in a better product.

1. Start managing the project by prioritizing tasks and asking for time estimates even before any GDD is written.

In every two-week sprint planning meeting, repeat the same behavior of prioritizing tasks before there is any design. This is about as dysfunctional as signing a production contract with a licensor before there is any design document or concept document. The worst case is then giving the licensor the freedom to make any change to the design at any time during full production with no regard for the cost of the team implementing the change.

Lesson Learned: The project management cart does not go before the game design horse.

Best Practice: Write a draft of the game design document and get feedback from engineers, content creators as well as the publisher and licensor. Do this before making a commitment to full production. Make sure that engineers and content creators understand the product design before you start prioritizing tasks and asking for time estimates.

Best Practice: You may have a mental checklist for sanity sake, and doing things in the correct order during a development cycle is important. Many developers have a gut feeling about death march projects. If your gut feeling says this is going to be bad unless the proper actions are taken, then it probably will be. Trust your gut feeling about game development over the Scrum consultant's advice. Scrum consultants don't make games; they get paid to give an all day Scrum Master certification training class.


Scrum and Agile methods are just tools in the project management toolbox. Suppose you had a crescent wrench, a vice grips, a channel wrench, and a pliers in your toolbox. If you just use the crescent wrench for everything without thinking about what it actually takes to get the project done, you are going to end up stripping a lot of your nuts.

During many game development projects, some lessons are learned the hard way. The hard lesson learned is that Scrum is not a silver bullet that makes video game product development more successful. There are many technical details, know-how and best practices that have been gained by years of experience developing games, one development cycle after another, analyzing what went right and what went wrong.

Employing Scrum as a complete replacement for already well-established process and methods that existed before there was Scrum is a sure way to make a project miserable punishment. When Scrum is added to the project to solve problems and ensure success, it can easily become the cause of more problems than it solves if the pitfalls are not remedied with appropriate timing.

This article has provided some contrasting insights about Scrum. Certainly before making the executive decision to mandate Scrum, it should help to hear from both camps: those who advocate Scrum religiously and those who approach cautiously and play devil's advocate.


Title photo by royskeane, used under Creative Commons license.
Additional photos by star5112, Tom Hughes-Croucher, and Paul Downey, used under Creative Commons license.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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