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November 29, 2004

Game Developer Choice Awards

The IGDA has invited me to participate on the board of the Game Developer Choice Awards, and since I'm no fool I've gratefully accepted the invitation. I hope I can do a good job along side some of the greats of the industry.

On another topic, Crunch time, I've been pointed to a short article by Jamie Fristrom called "Manager in a strange land: Crunch" which I recommend for anyone interested in the topic of crunch time - especially the bit about recognizing the 'death march'.

Posted by Zaph at 05:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 25, 2004

Zero tolerance for bugs ?

Back to game development:
I've seen a great change in the way programming teams approach game development during the past ten years, there's still a long way to go but it's getting a lot better.
One of the things thats still a difficult choice is whether or not to take a 'zero tolerance' approach to bugs.

If you are working on an 18 month project then it's easy to leave the bugs until later, but is that the best thing to do ?
I believe that there should be a zero tolerance approach to certain types of bugs - the bugs which block development/QA.

The list is short, but important.

Fatal Crashes:
If the game crashes, fix it NOW, or supply an easy workaround (e.g. disable an effect) that does not drastically change gameplay.

Game Flow blockers:
If a bug prevents progress through the game (e.g. impassable geometry, win conditions broken) then it needs to be fixed immediately.

Presentation blockers:
The first two were 'obvious' - this one is not so obvious. These are the bugs that distract new observers from appreciating your game (even in the early stages). Developers are great at looking past little things that are annoying and seeing the bigger picture, but it's not the same for other people. CEO's, Press, etc can be totally distracted by a small insignificant problem which you don't even care about. Fixing these can totally change their view of the game in the first 5 minutes, which is a very important period of time.
Performance issues can fall under this banner. If the game is running at half framerate then most people will not be able to judge the game on it's merits.

I'm sure there are other things that I've missed that belong on the list, and I'll bet there's a huge number of people who totally disagree with what I've said, but I hope it gets you thinking.

Posted by Zaph at 08:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 17, 2004

Steaming pile of ...

Consider this:

I purchased Halflife2 on the way in to work this morning.

I install the game (5 CD's - wow)

The game requires an internet connection, if you read the small print on the box. Thats OK, I've got one.

Steam starts up:


Thats it, I can't play "The Best Game Ever Made" because I don't have control of the company firewall (and it's not like we're about to let Steam through our firewall either!)

No webpage activation option. No phone activation option (eg. WinXP)

Now I'm not actually against the activation idea - I understand where they are coming from, but I've just bought a SINGLE-PLAYER game which can NEVER be played on my work maching because of the firewall. (remember, I make games, playing Halflife2 is part of my job :-)

It's not like playing City of Heroes which is a MMORPG that needs to be played across the internet, this is simply an activation step.

Not happy Jan!

Note: I was pretty sure this was going to happen, I just needed to prove it.

Posted by Zaph at 10:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 13, 2004

Employee class action against EA ?

I've just been reading about a possible Class Action against EA by some of their employees seeking unpaid overtime. There is also an article by a 'disgruntled spouse' about the way EA treated her Significant Other with a good personal account of one persons hell. The EA Spouse article is also reprinted at IGDA where there is a discussion about it in their Quality of Life forum

I find myself torn on this issue. I truly believe that some crunch-time is a benefit to games development (as opposed to slipping the ship date) and should be planned for and used. I'm yet to see a game that wouldn't benefit from a little more attention to detail in the final days (*cough* Tiger Woods 2005 *cough*). I feel that in general this crunch time is somewhat balanced out with the slacker constraints during the rest of the project (flexible start times, no clock-on mentality, etc). However some companies abuse this (significantly) because people 'want to work in gaming' and if the articles above are true then some places are turning the entire project into 'crunch time'.

So what happens to the games industry if paying all overtime became mandatory ?

Lets think about this:
Game production costs would increase - but by how much ? Lets say the staffing cost of your development team went up by a factor of 2 (unlikely, but lets just pretend for now) due to overtime.

The thing is that the development team wage cost on most projects is a small proportion of the total cost of the game. I don't know exact figures but it would probably sit somewhere between 10% and 25% of most AAA games total budgets (including marketing). Doubling that cost still only makes it 18-40% of the total cost.

Perhaps game developer wages are too high, I hear you thinking... in which case you don't work in the industry :-) Wages are OK, usually slightly lower than a traditional job for the same employee - only a few earn the megabucks (kind of like the Acting industry). Even so, if compulsory paid overtime starts then you can bet that base wages will drop to cover it.

Logic tells me that paid overtime wouldn't be impossible, as long as you budget for it. The catch is (for me) that if I were to pay people overtime then I'd sure-as-hell want to make sure they worked a full 40-hour week every week of the year, we'd need to clock-on and clock-off every single day. No long lunches, no late arrivals, no playing games during work hours (unless you clocked off)

Why so strict ? If you leave work 15 minutes early each day, then over the course of a year that adds up to over 60 hours, or four extra hours a workday for a month! You can't ask an employer to pay you for every overtime minute you work while expecting to also get paid for the time you don't work.

I enjoy the easy lifestyle working in the games industry. I have plenty of friends who do not enjoy their work and I know that enjoying work is worth a lot of money, but that doesn't give someone the right to exploit me.

Watching with interest...

Posted by Zaph at 12:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack