[Production consultant Keith Fuller surveys the industry to find out what producers really think about their studios -- both their strengths and what's holding them back -- and shares the results with Gamaustra, drawing compelling conclusions.]
I'm Keith Fuller, a production consultant for video game developers. After 14 years in the industry as a programmer, manager, and producer, I decided to start my own business to help as many teams as possible get better at making games -- with the goal being to hit your deadlines without resorting to overtime.
Obviously, it's in my best professional interest to learn more about where studios need to improve. But from a personal perspective, I've also wondered for years why there isn't more public knowledge sharing in the realm of production practices.
There are all sorts of venues available for programmers to better themselves and for artists to improve their craft in skill-specific workshops and online forums. Why has the project management aspect of game development been neglected by comparison?
As a first step toward addressing all of the above, I decided to offer a brief, anonymous survey to production personnel throughout the industry and find out from them what their company processes are like and what steps could be taken to improve them.
I advertised on my company website, my personal blog, Twitter, Gamasutra, Facebook and on the IGDA production mailing list, inviting anyone and everyone to take part, from production coordinator up to studio leadership.
No restrictions were made or implied regarding genre, publisher affiliation, geographic location, or any other distinguishing factor. As an incentive to garner more participation I even offered a free studio consultation to one lucky respondent. (See the Postlude for more on this.)
The results of most of the survey questions are presented herein for public review, as I promised in my advertising. I make no claims at any level of expertise in the realm of survey analysis, so feel free to ignore my conclusions and draw your own. But I think many of the findings are fairly clear and I hope that they generate meaningful discussion, preferably leading to industry-wide improvement in how games are made.
To help people get into the right mindset I prefaced this section with the following:
For this question, consider "process improvement" to mean any single act or recurring practice designed to increase quality, reduce delivery time, reduce waste, or lower costs.
Basically I was trying to find out how many people are out there purposefully improving how they do what they do. I then asked:
Question #1: Do you actively engage in process improvement for a particular project, for the company as a whole, and/or routinely?
More than 83 percent of the participants said they actively engage in improving processes for a particular project. Of those, about half also improve processes for the whole company while about two-thirds also engage in improvement routinely. Further, of the 17 percent who don't seek improvement on a per-project basis, almost all of them try to improve things in some way at their company.
To restate those findings, more than four out of every five people in production are trying to make their current project work more efficiently in some way. Half of those same people are working on something to make the whole company operate better. And most of them are doing so on a regular basis.
The definition of "process improvement" was pretty broad here, but the results still indicate a very healthy number of people involved in production are routinely trying to improve their project and, to a lesser extent, their company. So these folks are out there not just performing standard project management -- checking that the designers are getting their art and the tools programmers are helping the animators -- but these producers are also looking for ways to improve how the people at their company do what they do.