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American In China: McGee On Making It Work In Shanghai
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American In China: McGee On Making It Work In Shanghai

January 22, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

I would guess also, as younger Hollywood people are more conversant in the medium, they will probably get involved, and it's going to be a lot better fit.

AM: There's something I read, a Chinese saying: "You can make a pig run but it doesn't mean you know what one tastes like." Which is a way of saying anybody can make a pig run away but not everyone can eat one.

It's some weird Chinese way of saying that anybody can watch a movie and kind of think they get how it works but not everybody can sit down and make one. And that same thing goes with films and writing books and whatever. I mean, it's a disappointment.

You often hear developers complaining that management will step in and start making creative decisions, and they don't really get it, and that's a similar situation.

AM: It's true.

Well, one thing you talked about is that you don't crunch, which is exceedingly rare. And how did you arrive at that?

AM: Just process. It's crazy. I mean, I wish more people knew about Grimm, because for us it was a phenomenal success, but because of GameTap and their distribution and monetization model, no one really ever heard of it, and it never made a dime for them, or for us.

But what it did do was build us into a studio capable of really rock solid, on-time production, because we had such unbelievably short timelines. I mean, when I came to China, we signed the deal. The clock started ticking at 12 months from myself, the guy Adam that just walked by, and my art director. So we had three guys. We had to build a team, in China, and get our first episode of this game out 12 months from the day that everything started up.

And that was why I brought up Conway's Law. What it did was, the mandate was 24 episodes, each a half hour in length, going to be released this kind of boom, boom, boom fashion of one every eight weeks. So, I reversed the product requirement into that production structure.

And that's what I saying; it kind of ended up looking like, [what] I later learned, is called "Scrum". But I didn't know what Scrum was, because I was out here. I mean, everybody else was going nuts about Scrum back in the States. It wasn't until one of my Western friends came out mid-way through Grimm and said, "Oh, your production looks like Scrum." I'm like, "What the hell is Scrum?"

But it did something really strange -- again, because of the outsourcing as well -- it made us really break the whole project down into these little chunks. And that was one of the cool things about Grimm, was that we shipped 24 individual games. It wasn't one big game. Each episode was completely standalone, and disconnected from the rest.

So as a result we broke the production into 24 discreet timelines and we broke the team up in this way where these little pods were each attacking, and they were cycling. You would have one group doing the concept to Alpha and another group would take their work and do the Alpha to Beta and another group would take their work and do the Beta to final.

It was very much like a sort of TV production model, of you shoot it, and then you send it to editors, and you go to post. We were doing that exact same thing... and it just worked. And that combined with the outsourcing stuff, and how much planning had to go into that, it just emerged and it was really cool.

I think there's still some argument over how much process can help these situations.

AM: So that's the thing I knew from the States, was people, or really Westerners... I try really hard to avoid any kind of Western or Chinese things... because I don't want to sound like a shithead.

But I'll sound like shithead towards Westerns right now, because I think one of the big differences you get between a Chinese and a Western team is that the Western team, it's not holistic; you get a bunch of individuals. And the individuals have their own agendas, and they have their own ideas about what the game should be, and they're very prone to running off and trying to prove something on their own. The John Wayne way of getting something done.

And so for that type of a team, process is looked at like the enemy, right? People see process as a barrier to doing the John Wayne style of making games and owning something and just going off and doing it.

When you come to China, people latch onto process like nothing I've ever seen before. It's a requirement; it's like it's a necessity. They thirst for it. And so it's done this amazing thing where we've got so addicted to process that, like I said, we end up giving days off because we're so far ahead schedule. And then the sky is blue and I'm like, "Fuck it, go outside and play."

So, it's really worked out. And I've got to say, I'm not sure that if I went back to the States and we tried to apply a lot of what we're doing here there, it would necessarily work. So I think it's something very specific to this location.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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