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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 4 of 5 Next

That was going to be my next question. Could you fire up a consulting business teaching the American McGee way to do process, and get blue sky days?

AM: I don't know. I really don't know. EA has talked about trying to figure out how it is we're doing what we're doing, because clearly they're looking at what we're doing and they're seeing us hit all the milestones and come in ahead of time, and come in high quality, and everything that they could ask for from a development team.

I don't know if you could export it. I really think that another big part of it is that things are so figuratively blue sky here, that people don't bring with them... I don't know. I think there's a sort of taint in the expectation that older Western developers bring as a virtue of the development culture, of a distrust of management, a distrust of process.

That's why I was saying, "Burn it down." I mean, for me, I burned my life down and moved to China. I just washed it all away; I started over from scratch.

And I think that to try to go back to the West and say, "here's a new way of doing games," you're always going to be dragging along with you all the history that those guys brought. One of the great things about our team is that so many people have never made games in our company. Their first game ever was Grimm.

I mean, think about that. We build a company in China, build a team, and half the guys that were on our team had never made a game before, and we still got the thing done. So I think that freshness and the attitudes have a large part to play in all that.

I have an American friend who was in Japan for some time working on games and then he moved. He's now in North America working on a title. And he said that one thing he really liked about Japan was that he would go to people who were below him on the food chain and tell them, "This is what has to get done, please do it." And they would do it.

But in the West, people have to weigh in before they'll do anything. And while he appreciates that creative tension that you get out of the weighing process, that sometimes he would just like people to just do it.

AM: I totally agree. We don't get that automatic resistance here. The team, they've really bought into the process; they trust the process. They saw it work the first time around. I mean, honestly we had a couple times where during Grimm there were people who kind of doubted, and they worried, was it going to work or not?

Once we nailed that, now everybody in the company is like, "Yeah, this fucking works." And like this [national] holiday, we just gave them off a day on each end of the holiday as testament to that. They see it; they go home and tell their families, "This is great, I work eight hours a day, five days a week. I never work on the weekends."

That means that they're actually invested in the process because they know so long as they continue to work with it, they don't have to crunch. So they're all really bought in.

Is there a lot of crunch in Chinese studios typically, the way there is in the West?

AM: Oh yeah. That's the thing is we hear people coming from -- I won't name their names -- but the other big Western studios and publishers out here, the other Chinese big operation houses where they're building MMOs and stuff like that.

They're all working ridiculous hours, just like you do in the West. They're all working crunch, overtime, weekends, you name it. And in the West, before, in California, before there was that ea_spouse situation. I mean, the employers here take advantage of it.

They hire somebody for 40- or whatever-hour work week and then they get 60 to 80 hours out of them and they don't compensate them any more for it. Actually China, they're trying to crack down on labor laws and that stuff now. But it's a similar abuse. You get people who are passionate of games and then you take advantage of them.

So that's one of the reasons why I had on that slide "development paradise". You literally had people come to the studios for interviews and say, "I don't care if you pay me more money. I don't care if you give me a higher title. I just want to come because all of my friends that work here tell me this is development paradise." And that's just awesome.

Do you want to integrate more Western talent in the studio? How do you see it?

AM: There's no plan. I mean it's not like we think there's a magic... it's not about the ratio. It's about the individuals, right? We entertain the idea of hiring anybody, but if you're a Westerner who's coming to work in China for us, we immediately set the expectation that we're a Chinese company.

We pay a Chinese salary. I tell a lot of these guys coming in that they should understand that there are some guys in the company that are really senior Chinese guys that I pay more money then I pay myself on a monthly basis. These Westerners are coming in and saying, "Well I worked on Call of Duty, you should pay me a huge amount of money every month because I'm worth it." And I say to them, "Dude, you're in China!"

I'm in China too. I actually see the importance in keeping the balance, to the degree that I'm willing to sacrifice of my own salary so those Chinese employees in the company know we're not out here just to take advantage of them. It's a really big deal. Actually, when we were inside just now, one guy walked up to me and said, "How do you do it?"

Because he was saying he does what all the other Western companies do: they keep two separate pay scales. They get ex-pats out here they pay some exorbitant amount of money, because this is considered a hardship post by most Western big corporations. Then they keep their Chinese salaries down here. [gestures low] Of course the Chinese guys find out. And what happens? They go, "Fuck you! You're getting paid all the money. You do all the work!" So it doesn't work.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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