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[Certified Scrum trainer and veteran developer Clinton Keith takes a look at the state of agile acceptance at game studios, using survey data to identify common stumbling blocks, and presents here comments from developers on the process at their companies.]
Over the past five years agile terms like "Scrum", "sprints" and "test-driven development" have pervaded every aspect of development. Is agile a fad being sold like snake-oil or the savior of the game development industry? Pundits have proclaimed it a "silver bullet", capable of solving all project problems. Others see it as an Orwellian micro-management of their creative freedom.
The truth is, Scrum's simple, iterative, and discipline agnostic practices make it an attractive framework for managers and teams trying to contain schedules and budgets ballooning out of control.
The hype has settled down a bit over these past five years. Many games developed using agile practices, mainly those in the Scrum framework, have shipped. There has been more than enough time to understand how much agile can really help a game team. It's time to look at what is emerging from agile game development teams.
This article starts with a short survey that asked people to spend a few minutes describing their experiences using agile. Read the stories and judge for yourself the challenges, successes and adaptations of agile from the industry.
Research for this article started with a brief informal survey taken in January 2010 of over 50 developers that have used Scrum for game development. The purpose of this survey was to collect a number of rated responses for how Scrum has impacted their studio in the following areas:
For each area, respondents chose one of the following ratings:
1 = Very negatively
2 = Somewhat negatively
3 = No impact
4 = Some benefit
5 = Major benefit
This was followed by a series of optional questions that would provide some background information to assist in understanding the results.
Overall the results of the survey indicate that there was typically "some benefit" in most of these areas. The bar chart below shows the percentages of responses for each category.
The greatest benefits reported appear in project management, programming practices, and game quality. Art practices, design practices and quality of life areas reportedly receive less benefit from Scrum.
The pool of respondents -- less than 100 -- isn't large enough to properly represent the entire industry. I suspect that many respondents were at either extreme of experience and that the "silent majority" are around the middle of range of responses.
The most valuable part of the survey comes from the written responses. The survey asked about the adaptations that studios have made to their agile process -- and their challenges with it and what they have learned. The responses that were not anonymous are credited.
I've organized some of the responses into three categories: challenges, successes, and adaptations. It's left to the reader to judge the merit and value of each response.