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Dissecting The Postmortem: Lessons Learned From Two Years Of Game Development Self-Reportage
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Dissecting The Postmortem: Lessons Learned From Two Years Of Game Development Self-Reportage


July 8, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Results Part 3: Common Themes

Are Small Teams Important?

Seven, or just under a third of postmortems, reported a "small team" as a positive aspect of the project. Interestingly, three of those projects actually consisted of 30 to 40 member teams, with the other four being reported from the smallest teams.

Developer-Publisher Relationships

Fifteen out of the 24 projects were developed under a typical developer-publisher system, where the entity publishing the end product is not the same as the entity developing it. Projects that were developed at a separate studio entity, even if owned by the publisher, were included in the count of 15.

Of those postmortems, we found that 40 percent, or 6 out of 15, reported a positive developer-publisher relationship. Three out of 15, or 20 percent, reported problems with their relationship with the publisher, while the remaining 40 percent did not report anything good or bad about their publisher.

Planning For the Team

Five out of 24, or 21 percent, reported deliberately planning their game with respect to the capability or expertise of the team. All of the projects that were in this category completed their development in under 2 years, and the majority of development cycles were completed in a year or less. These teams were not all "small," however -- two of the projects had 37- and 50-person teams respectively.

Crunch, Time Extensions, and Scope

Nine projects, or 38 percent, reported receiving a time extension to finish their project. A few also reported the length of the time extension, which was anywhere from "a few extra weeks" to a whopping total extension of 17 months (Brütal Legend).

The same number also reported some manner of a crunch period during their project, although few actually reported the duration of the crunch, which varied anywhere from six months to "almost a full year" to "always in crunch mode" (My Life as a King).

Most interestingly, 17 postmortems, or 71 percent, reported scope problems where there was either not enough time or resources to complete the game, or there was too much design that had to be cut, often repeatedly throughout the project.

This is the most obvious trend across the postmortems: teams are consistently underestimating the required amount of time and resources needed to create their titles. However, it's unclear how many of these scope problems are due to pressure to complete the game under a convenient timeframe for the publisher, and how many are the result of poor estimating from the developer.

Along similar lines, half of all projects reported making last-minute or exceptionally late feature additions or changes.

Development Agility

Five projects, or 21 percent, reported using some flavor of scrum or other explicitly agile development process.

Nine projects reported using a deliberately flexible design approach to at least one of the game elements they described.

Eighteen, or 75 percent of projects, reported iteration or rapid prototyping as a valuable component to development.

Conversely, a surprising 29 percent, (7 postmortems) actually reported that they committed to an inflexible design or plan partway through development. Five of those projects were 2.5 year-long cycles or longer.

Management and Communication

Eleven projects, or roughly half, made mention of some variety of team management problems, which included problems like overwork (separate of crunch mentions), lack of focus, problems with staffing, and morale issues.

Nine projects, or 38 percent, reported some kind of significant problem with communication across teammates, which included deliberate refusal of team members to communicate with each other, confusion about game vision and direction, and the ineffectiveness of leaders to adequately convey changes to the rest of the team.

Pipeline Problems

Nine postmortems also mentioned explicit problems with asset pipelines. These include pipelines making work unusually time-consuming or painful, not coming online early enough in the project, or otherwise not adequately supporting the actual work process of team members.

So How Did the Outsourcing Go?

Of the seven postmortems that reported outsourcing some of their work, three reported an overall successful experience, and four reported problems of some kind. The variety of problems included a lack of preparation, starting the process too early with respect to the overall cycle, underestimating the amount of management involved, and hiring a company to perform work that they did not have sufficient expertise in.


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