games industry

Tim Langdell infringes trademark on Apple Store: play it now

Cheap, crap, shoddy re-hash of Tim Langdell’s only game (Bobby Bearing) – with *considerably* fewer features and *worse* graphics than the original from 20 years ago:

EDGEBobby2 –

How stupid can you get? You lose a trademark case (re: “EDGE”), the judge repeatedly accuses you of blatant lies in court, the defendant gets awarded the trademark … and then you launch a game where you’ve inserted the trademark pointlessly in the title.

What do people think of the game? Well … what do you expect:

Along with a screengrab someone got of the initial reviews:

advocacy games industry

How to schedule like an idiot: Vicky Lord, Team Bondi

Let’s play a game! What’s wrong with the following two sentences:

“So we are going to change to the way we have completed milestones in the past. It’s no longer going be about just completing your schedule for the milestone.”

(from the goldmine of info about the abuses at Team Bondi / LA Noire – NB: original link (which I don’t recommend using) is – but they have a stupid and offensive policy that means no-one is able to view it)

Need some help? How about the lines that followed:

“As many of you have families or weekend commitments, we are giving you notice of this to allow you to make alternative arrangements to enable you to be in the office. If we can be of any assistance, please see myself or Denise. During the last week of the milestone you will be required to work through your tasks for N10 and if they finish before N10 ships to keep going on your sub-alpha tasks until the milestone ships. That means that everyone is required to keep going until the milestone ships or your lead informs you that you have done all that you can for N10 and sub-alpha. Specifically this means in the last two weeks of the milestone you can expect pretty long days. It’s “one in all in” until we get the Milestone shipped and get the game ready for testing. We need teamwork to get the game finished to the quality that we are after and that means being here to help a tester, a designer, an artist or programmer who needs your support to get their work finished.”

Hey, Vicky, let me help you with that (rambling, waffling) email!

(my version): “In most companies, you have a job to do, and you do it. However, I’m so stunningly incompetent, and my boss is such an idiotic bully, that we’ve got lots of people with too much work. The only way we can bully them into working masses of unpaid (in some countries, probably illegal) overtime – and STEALING their lives, their family time, their work (we’re not paying for these hours, remember?) – is to show them that we’re being equally evil to ALL employees.

If you did your work on time: HA HA! YOU IDIOT! Here at Team Bondi, we don’t believe in “getting things done”, we believe in “looking like we’re doing stuff, even if we’re not”, and “making the management look good at all costs. Especially if that can be achieved over the gasping corpses of our staff”.”

I think that about summarizes it.

Add Vicky to the blacklist: never work for her, or any studio she is part of, ever.

advocacy games industry recruiting startup advice

Rockstar’s LA Noire, McNamara, Team Bondi, Crunch, and Advocacy


A month ago, PC Gamer reported that “The idea that crunch wasn’t all that productive was raised, but there was enough experience in the room to shoot it down. “. I found that unacceptable, both as a concept, and as something for the media to report without challenging it.

Last week, it became public that LA Noire was built on the living corpses of hundreds of developers, approx 100 of whom have been stripped of their hard-earned professional Credits (take with a pinch of salt – but the allegations are compelling).

The guy in charge – right at the top, where the buck stops – went on record to document some of his abusive behaviour, and to argue that his behaviour was perfectly acceptable. He implied that anyone who refused to be abused by him was … unprofessional or naive.

(aside: never, ever, EVER work for Brendan McNamara. Read the IGN article to see why. If you wonder: “but maybe this is ‘normal’ for the games industry?”, here’s the answer: No, it absolutely is NOT normal, it is NOT acceptable, and I believe many professionals would agree it has reduced the quality of the game that was produced. LA Noire could have been a better, more profitable game)

IGDA – a 10,000-member organization for game developers – refused to censure this behaviour. Despite having an entire (mostly useless) committee devoted to “Quality of Life”.

(UPDATE: IGDA’s now responded properly: “Brian Robbins, chair of the IGDA Board of Directors, said the association would fully investigate the issue. … ‘reports of 12-hour a day, lengthy crunch time, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and harmful to the individuals involved, the final product, and the industry as a whole,’ Robbins told Develop.”. Yay!)

Erin Hoffman – famously EA_Spouse, who campaigned hard for fair treatment of employees back when her husband was a victim – could only say (according to the IGN article):

“Ultimately, all the developers can do is work their hardest to get hired at better companies. It is every developer’s responsibility to know their rights, and be willing to fight for them,”

i.e. there’s no help for you. Executives, Management, Industry Organizations – have zero responsibility. It’s the problem – and the fault? – of the lowest people on the foodchain.

(“basically, … you’re fucked”).

The biggest issue in the professional games industry today

A conversation I had recently, someone posed the reasonable-sounding idea:

“[you can] provide advocacy on the benefits of eliminating crunch, or information about the crunch and overtime pay policies of various companies, historical crunch duration on past projects, etc.

But at the end of the day it’s up to everyone to make their own individual, informed decisions about how they want to conduct their professional lives.

My response, which I feel is too important to keep private (bear in mind I’m quoting myself slightly out of context here)

Society is based on contract: we sacrifice some things, and we take on extra responsibilities, in return for the benefits and the assurances.

One of those responsibilities is to look after each other. This has nothing to do with “personal choice”. It’s to do with dragging everyone up to a high standard of living. Without it, society functions poorly, and ultimately fails. Once society fails, people who had a high standard of living suddenly lose everything: you can never sleep safe at night. Nothing you own is yours. Everything can be taken from you, and there is *no* comeback.

The “payment” part of the social contract isn’t optional. It’s a binary thing, you have to take the whole package, or none at all.

What is the IGDA doing about this? What is Erin doing? What are you doing?

There was another part of my answer, relating to the idea that people were disseminating knowledge, and that was enough:


[but…] They could also grow a pair and say: “crunch fucking sucks. The only people who don’t know this are the ones at the top of the food chain exploiting everyone else. *OF COURSE* it doesn’t suck when you’re not the person doing it.”

They could say: “if you’ve never crunched, and you’re about to join a company that does crunch, DON’T DO IT. Find somewhere else unless you really have no choice.”

They could say: “here’s a list of companies that have publically admitted (or been outed) as using crunch regularly (or even permanently), or as a project-management tool.”

See how fast companies change in the face of that.

But it doesn’t work, fighting the employers. They won’t change

Yes, it does work. You just need a big enough lever.

[UPDATE: there’s a lot more details now on’s bad website that requires login – use the email “” and password “fuckgi” if you want to read it. See what effect this has. Personally, I’ve now also added Vicky Lord to my list of “never work with this person ever”]

(an aside: is 10,000 members enough? Well, allegedly it was enough to scare one of the abusive employers – Mike Capps – into joining the IGDA board just to stop it from fighting for reforms that would have coerced him to change. There’s some reading between the lines there, but most of it comes from his own public statements)

Personally, I was treated extremely badly by one company (Codemasters). Weeks after hiring me, they fired me. They did it illegally, so it’s hard to be sure, but it seems I was intended as an object lesson to bully a large AAA team into bowing into submission. Perhaps: “we can fire him for no reason, we can fire the rest of you. STFU and work harder, SCUM!”.

Within weeks, something like 20 people had resigned from the team.

Within months, I was getting cold calls from people who’d told me they’d been offered good jobs at this company, but had turned them down *purely because of* hearing about what was done to me. I’d never heard of, spoken to, or met these people.

Within a few years, I was hearing stories of how the company had changed – had been forced to change – its practices.

In a way, all I did was what Erin describes: individuals fighting for themselves.

In practice, I had to lose my job to achieve it. As an individual developer, I was fucked. This is what’s wrong with Erin’s view of the world: it is NOT ENOUGH to tell everyone to sort their own problems, unaided. It’s our collective – and individual – responsibility to help each other.

entrepreneurship games industry investors startup advice

Notes of interest from NESTA games-funding event

This (“NESTA: Investing in Video Games”) was last month, but I’ve been too busy to write it up till now.

The most interesting things that I noticed at the event:

  • Index is interested in spending SEED money on games companies [Ben Holmes]
  • Index can now “write cheques” up to $1m in the UK “in 1.5 weeks”; typically they’re writing them for $200k-$500k – they’ve done 20 of those in past 18 months [Ben Holmes]
  • Tony Pearce won-over Turner as an investor by saying he’d be bringing them detailed analytics on the social gaming industry [Tony Pearce]
  • None of the panel mentioned VentureHacks, even when it was the obvious answer to some of the questions from the audience. I had to grab the microphone and do it myself.

I felt a bit mean, hijacking their Q&A session. But, really … startups *need to know* about VH. It’s wrong for investment/government events to ignore it, or pretend it doesn’t exist; in the long run, everyone benefits from the existence and spread of VentureHacks.

entrepreneurship games industry startup advice

UK games studios and basic business failures

Recently I had reason to contact a bunch of UK games studios. I thought the hard bit would be to find the names of all those out there. Actually, the hardest part was navigating their websites to do the outrageous thing of daring to send them an email…

Here’s a question for anyone lamenting the unlucky business lives of games companies: If your business cannot be easily contacted, how many opportunities do you miss before you even get a chance at them?

Plenty of failures, but some particularly amusing(ly bad) examples I’ve cherry-picked:


You can *phone* them on a pay-per-minute number (nice!), but you cannot email them. Brings new meaning to the phrase “(their) time is (your) money”.


The contact page shows up as the “games” page.

Wow. Great QA on your website there, guys. Did *no-one* check it before going live? Do you visit it yourselves?

(and the only things you’re allowed to talk about are jobs and PR. What does this tell you about their priorities, I wonder?)


You can download PHOTOS OF THEIR OFFICES 11!!!!!!1111 (featured not just once, but twice, on that page) … but you cannot speak to them.


Apparently, the only two possible reasons anyone would contact them is because there’s a bug in their games (support@), or they want a job (jobs@). Hmm. Again: does this reflect studio priorities?


No contact address, link, or form anywhere. Nice!


When you click the “contact” button, you get this monstrosity:


(hackers trying to cross-site-script attack your browser? Or just a deeply incompetent web-designer? I’ll let you decide…)

HINT to Full Fat: webmail. Yeah. Think about it. Over 1 billion people use webmail as their primary mail client these days. Hmm.


Their email is a Flash app.

A FLASH APP. To display 40 characters of text. Ya, Rlly.

Also: it doesn’t work. When you run it, it displays the text, but won’t allow you to copy it. Huh? I have to manually transcribe the letters. Why? Why, for the love of all that is good?

(and if your spam-protection is really so outdated (and FAIL: you really don’t understand where spam comes from, do you, guys?), then why didn’t you just put a static image in there instead?)

games industry

UK Games Studios: want more contracts? Contact me…

…fill out this form, please (it’s auto-filling a spreadsheet for me that has everyone’s contact details + key info):

NB: I won’t be making this form public, although it might be interesting just to list-out all the names + websites at the end. I’m gathering this info to help with consulting engagements where several of our clients have recently asked something along the lines:

“Do you know any good game developers? We need someone to make X for us”

A few guidance notes:

  1. Respondents must be UK-based (if there’s enough demand from the comissioners, I’ll expand to other countries later – but I’m starting locally)
  2. Respondents must be game-studios with a background in making games. Very young companies can count if e.g. most of your staff are from mainstream games industry, with plenty of titles/credits.
  3. Web companies who “would like to branch into games” don’t count: these are projects specifically for people with detailed game-experience (mostly: game-design, game-asset creation / asset-pipelines, and games-specific production process)
  4. “Clients” here are usually big-name brands, or their retained advertising agencies/marketing agencies
  5. “Incumbents” are marketing-agencies / web-agencies with no games-industry background who are being called-upon to write games; they do their best, but for some projects they’re just not the right fit

Right now, no promises for new work – this is an experiment to see what the landscape of *current* UK studios is like – but I expect to make at least a few successful matchups in the coming months.

advocacy conferences games industry

A brief aside: Speakers at UnConferences can sometimes be very wrong

Great writeup in PCGamer about GameCamp4, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the feel of an unconference (and google the term if you want to know more).

The first unconference I went to, the very first session … the speaker clearly didn’t know what he/she was talking about. They mouthed a bunch of nice-sounding soundbites, but way out of touch with reality. Worked out OK – the audience took over, collectively, and turned it into a great session, with lots of people providing their own knowledge.

That’s when an unconference works great – weak speakers displaced by a more knowledgeable audience.

And then we have GameCamp4. I missed the session on “crunch”. If I’d been there, I’d have cried bloody murder before letting them settle on this:

“The general consensus at the end of the half hour seemed to be that, while a lovely idea, games needed a crunch time, otherwise they’d never be finished on time. The idea that crunch wasn’t all that productive was raised, but there was enough experience in the room to shoot it down. Turns out games developers are quite happy with their battery farm conditions. Or at least, the ones in the room.”

“enough experience … to shoot it down” … WTF? Bullshit.

Let me be absolutely clear, as someone with 10+ years experience, having run teams at multiple studios, and having worked on multi-million-selling titles:

Crunch is *abuse*. Crunch is never “necessary” to finish a game, it’s something the management requires or allows, when morally they ought to be preventing it.

Anyone who says differently, first ask their job role; If they say “producer”, “manager”, or worst of all “director” bear in mind these are the roles where people directly benefit through the abuse of others; be very suspicious. It’s akin to asking a Slave-Trader whether slavery is “a Bad Thing”.

I wrote a lot more, but it came across as a rant against Mike Capps (who’s infamous for implying that only 2nd-rate developers don’t crunch) and Erin Hoffman (who’s infamous for railing against crunch, and then doing a volte face and implying that all the abusive corporates are just poor, misunderstood humans who are lovely really).

games industry recruiting

Games Industry Art Jobs –

Relatively new. I had a brief look, seems to be a fair number of “entry-level” art jobs, as well as standard full-time roles:

games industry

It seems, Mr. Outsourcer, that you’ve been living -two- lives…

IMHO, there are two types of outsourcing in the games industry; one type is much easier for the outsource company to get off the ground, and is therefore much much more common.

Two types…

Type 1: lowest-hanging fruit

…”we delivered EXACTLY your spec – including the bits we knew were typos”
… managers (but none of the staff) are ex-industry people with lots of management experience
… very low-cost (often: 20% or less of the cost of doing it in-house from scratch)
… professionally managed by account directors (may be *called* project managers)
… very VERY large number of clients and portfolio pieces
… always able to fit you in (they work very fast / efficiently, and churn stuff out fast; they can “scale up” relatively easily / quickly)
… terminology is usually about “booking you in”, etc – words from assembly-line companies

Type 2: specialists

… less interested in the spec, more interested in the overall goals
… the staff (not the managers) are typically ex-industry people with lots of experience
… you might have to wait 3-9 months for them to become avaialble for your project
… terminology is usually about “product development”, etc – words from development studios

It’s all in the Aspiration…

Type 1 companies are either making a fast (but small) buck, or are very smart. The smart ones are growing as fast as they can, and building up a cash pile. Sooner or later they setup internal, wholly-owned studios, and build their own product – which has a much higher profit margin. They offset the risks / costs by using their own (now huge) outsource teams to do lots of the work.

Type 2 companies often drift back and forth between being outsourced dev, and being paid-by-the-hour Consultants. These companies survive or fail a lot more on their pure skill and unique abilities/experience; their profit margins are much higher, but they have way fewer contracts and growth / scaling up their team is much harder.

How should you deal with them?

Most of what you hear about “working with outsourcers” really only applies to the first group, e.g.:

  1. write an AWESOMELY accurate + detailed spec. Triple the amount of time you normally spend speccing stuff, to make sure this one is perfect. (PS: as a side-effect, you’ll end up answering lots of design qestions you probably had been avoiding or weren’t aware of yet – that’s often hard work but helpful to you in long run)
  2. be damn sure they’re profitable and stable – these companies often operate on tiny profit margins until they’ve scaled up. The less-smart ones never manage to increase their profit margins
  3. don’t be afraid to hurt the business-relationship: in their business, they have to accept every project that comes along. These companies are ever-hungry for work (to fuel their growth). Bear in mind they have aggressive, skilled salespeople, and probably love to play hardball negotiation
  4. think of them as vendors, “selling” you a pre-packaged product that you specced 6 months earlier

For type 2 companies, I feel the rules of engagement are different:

  1. don’t waste time on detailed specs: much of these guys value is that they can and will (re-)write your specs for you to be closer to what you wanted/needed
  2. be very careful of the relationship – you’re dealing directly with high-skilled experts, and there’s relatively few direct-alternative companies. Don’t piss them off, or underpay them, or they might not work for you again – you’re not “negotiating with a salesperson”, you’re “distracting an expert who’d much rather be off working than sitting around arguing over price / service / SLA”
  3. think of them as freelancers (although they’re obviously a different beast – you’re paying them to do a lot more than just freelance, much more than just follow orders), working with you to build something day by day

One of these lives has a future, and one of them … does not

In my experience, the first group often have a clear goal of success and riches, and a specific business plan to take them there. Whereas the second group often operate more as a “lifestyle business” – i.e. the individuals a making a decent annual wage, they’re doing something they enjoy, and it’s low-stress. They like the work, they get enough profit per project that they can survive through “lean times” when the market goes into recession, etc.

So, in most cases, there’s a high rate of “successful” type-1 companies (high turnover, employing 50…100…or several hundred…staff, lots of cash flowing around). Successful in sales terms, but … typically struggle to make anything beyond a low profit margin.

And a very low rate of “successful” type-2 companies (most of them are just pootling along, happy in their own little world, but neither growing nor shrinking – from an investor perspective, that’s a dismal failure: you’ll never get to sell your stake for $$$).

On the other hand, it’s usually the second group that contains the really huge successes (albeit a very small minority): the companies that pivot, the teams that come up with a huge money-making idea “unexpectedly”. There’s few better ways for a group of experts to “invent” the Next Big Thing, than to service dozens of clients a year for a couple of years and bide their time till they spot a gap in the market. By that point, they’re in a perfect position to capitalize on it…

games industry web 2.0

GameStop Network: (possibly) the World’s worst Advertising proposition

(a.k.a.: “how not to advertise on the internet, lesson 101 for Advertising Agencies who have no idea how “advertising” works, or what it exists for”)

Tonight, as I tried to show someone a game, it took 12 – twelve! – refreshes of this page
before Gamestop would stop replacing a URL with a flash advert for something unrelated.

The advert was for cat food. !. !!. !!!111!!!!!!!11. Some stupid crap that I don’t want, and which Gamestop *should know without doubt* that I’ve seen 50+ times before; they know this because every time I view that page, I’m logged-in to the Kongregate badge-tracking system (via cookies and auth).

(they also know that I have *never* clicked on the ad; it doesn’t take genius to work out that I have zero interest in the product, and that every time they show it to me, they are almost certainly damaging the client – what kind of ad-agency is so stupid as to *not* realise how bad this is?)

Maybe … they are very, very stupid – and deliberately pissing-off players with adverts they’ve already seen – or, perhaps, they are charging advertisers 50 times (or more) to show adverts to the same individuals over and over again. It damages the website’s reputation, so presumably (educated guess) reduces the usage of the Kongregate domain; I’d be surprised if they’re doing it without some kind of remuneration…

(NB: this new take on ads did not exist until GameStop purchased Kong; I feel reasonably confident in guessing that neither of the Greer siblings had anything to do with this insanity)

If I worked for the advertising agency that had an employee who was stupid enough to sign this deal with GameStop, I’d be suing for breach of contract, fraud, or negligence right now; this is *not* how advertising works. Not even the most basic level of 1990’s-era checks have been put in place: IMHO either GameStop is screwing their clients, or they’re just really, really stupid (I’m betting on the latter).

games industry recruiting

UK: J2EE/Web developer for games backends (Blitz)

“We are looking for a passionate and experienced individual to help with the design construction and maintenance of a variety of web-based entertainment and social media game service”

This being Blitz, the job is of course in Leamington Spa, which rules it out for most people :(.

But if you’re a web/server/java developer looking to get into a mainstream games company, could be a good start.

entrepreneurship games industry recruiting

“if you train your staff, there’s a risk they’ll leave; if you don’t, there’s a risk they’ll stay”

On twitter the other day (but Twitter’s crashing at the moment, so I can’t find the original author).

Coincidentally, came up in a private games-industry forum today too, where someone was actually trying to argue it’s a *good thing* that their employer pays below-standard wages for all engineering staff. WTF?

Anyway, I think it’s a great quote. Just remember that “train” can be replaced with “pay” and “treat humanely”; a lot of weak company directors (and managers) talk themselves into the idea:

“If I keep my staff downtrodden, lean and mean, and low self-esteem … they’ll be forced to carry on working here, no matter how bad it gets. They won’t have the self-belief needed to leave!”

…but are too scared/panicked/stupid/lazy to think of the obvious immediate side-effect: what kind of product is going to be produced by people in that state of mind? Definitely not “quality”, or anything that will increase the success of the business…

games industry recruiting

2011 Games Salary/Contractor rates survey

If you’re working in web/games/etc, please fill out the short survey on salary, contractor rates, project size, etc

Once the survey is closed, the writeup will appear here – feel free to bookmark this page!

Until this, this is a HOLDING PAGE POST to workaround a design flaw (and some bugs?) in Google Docs.

Interim results: 150 responses so far, but if you know people who are NOT programmers, get them to fill out the survey!

games industry

Space flight: like jumping, just it’s a really long way

And for another useful and not-at-all ridiculous comparison, we have a new studio called People Pilot:

Each project team at People Pilot will be comprised of contractors: “It works well for audio, so I’m betting it will work for art and technology too,” says founder Roland Peddie.

EDIT: I just an image that perfectly captures Roland Peddie’s statement here:

Following Peddie’s excellent logic, I expect we’ll soon be seeing:

  • 80% of the industry made redundant (after all, audio teams do fine with only a handful of staff)
  • …along with most of the Project Managers and Producers (small teams don’t need all that “management” stuff)
  • This silly concept of “fun” will be ditched entirely
  • And this obsession with “game engines” will also vanish. Really, it’s pretty simple, guys: just look at the audio frameworks. That’s how it should be done!

Incidentally, there’s a huge difference between audio contractors and normal contractors. Audio contractors are:

  1. desperate for work (short supply, long demand)
  2. relatively constant quality (see above: survival of the fittest)
  3. non-critical to a project (as in “critical path”)
  4. don’t live each day with the option of doubling their salary tomorrow by taking a job in mainstream IT

…so it’s a hell of a lot easier working with them. I fear that Mr. Peddie is going to have a rude awakening when he starts hiring code and art contractors. It’s essential with contractors, but “reliability” isn’t a word usually associated with artistic personalities. Good luck to him, but … I suspect it’ll just end up as another notch on the board for “this “Hollywood” model is inappropriate for the games industry, and overall a pretty dumb idea”.

advocacy entrepreneurship games industry recruiting

How Valve runs a successful game business, hires people, and more

Here’s a long (long!) video interview with Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve (one of the biggest / most successful games companies).

(incidentally: this post is shorter than intended. Someone at WordPress considered it acceptable to DELETE your post if your login cookie timesout before you hit the save button. Completely the wrong way to build a blogging platform)

Listening to the long interview, I found him saying some very concise, pithy things about the games industry, and the roles of us working within it. Some of them are clearly at odds with the “corporate” messaging that typically comes out of the larger games companies. Personally, I have often railed against those corporate statements and shouted “don’t believe a word of it! read between the lines – this is a person with their own hidden agenda!”, so I was delighted to hear Gabe providing much more rational and intelligent messages.

I transcribed a few as I listened, as they resonated with a lot of the concepts I’ve tried to hilight on this blog and elsewhere.

Employer responsibility, and a culture of humanism

“You cant ruin people’s home lives to benefit the business

we’re not telling them to work on the weekends, but people are working on the weekends

those really are the things we worry about”

Contrast this with the issue that made me quit the IGDA:

Mike Capps (CEO of Epic Games) who claimed that: “working 60+ hours was expected at Epic, that they purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours, that this had nothing to do with exploitation of talent by management but was instead a part of “corporate culture,” and implied that the idea that people would work a mere 40 hours was kind of absurd.”

Even when doing a PR-interview to try and un-fuck the issue – supposedly on his best behaviour, trying to sound like a good guy – Mike Capps felt this excused his behaviour:

“My guys ask to crunch. They say, “Hey, we’re not crunching yet. What’s going on? Why isn’t everybody crunching? This is really serious!” That kind of stuff.”

No. Doesn’t stand. You can’t abrogate responsibilty – especially not when you’re an at-will employer in a country with employment law that gives employers many rights, but employees almost no rights at all.

Gabe’s language (whether or not Valve actually does this) is in the opposite, humane direction: at Valve they “worry about” this, and supposedly seek to stop the behaviour, not to work with it.

A real games “business” is self-funding, always

“we fund our own projects so I dont have to worry about how the bank or whoever feels about our business decisions … it makes it a lot simpler to run the business that way”

This is the most common recurring issue I see with good indie games companies that fail – they cannot (or “will not”) grasp the importance of the above statement.

(EDIT’d this section to be clearer; and, of course, this is all IMHO – I have no idea what Gabe/Valve thinks on this)

Read that carefully: it’s “a lot simpler to run the business”. That should be a wakeup call to all the studios that say “I’d love to work that way, but I can’t afford to”; I’d say: you can’t afford *not* to.

It’s generally accepted that *if* you get to that point in your studio lifecycle, you’ve got it “made”. In practice, that should be turned on its head: until you get to that point in your lifecycle, you’re heading towards failure.

Often they make excuses to themselves that it’s “not possible” to run this way, and accept it won’t happen, and then blithely go about their business.

Net result: their games get worse and worse, as their competitors pull away from them, and sooner or later they drop below the standard it takes to keep getting new projects, and BANG! studio goes under.

All digital products these days are an order of magnitude easier/cheaper to make than they were 15 years ago, ignoring the staff costs; service prices have plummeted (web hosting costs, software suite costs, etc). They’re at least an order cheaper/easier to launch and sell in the marketplace. If you’re a startup, you should find it trivial to get to self-funded project status – ignoring the staffing costs.

So. Compared to 15 years ago, you have two obvious routes to self-funding: get someone else to pay your staff costs, but move *very* quickly to where you don’t need their money (because otherwise you’ll have a hard time forever), or do what you can with the people you have (you, your co-founders, the goodwill you can get from ex-colleagues, etc). It’s not excusable to say “self-funding our projects is out of our reach” – this is simply not true. It may require some ingenuity – or it may simply prove that your business is non-viable (if your business plan is to out-do Zynga at their own game, for instance, you’ll probably find it’s just not possible. In that case, declaring “we’re starting off non-self-funding, and when we get our first hit game (like Zynga did), it’ll be easy from there” is just papering-over your hopeless business plan).

How to get a *good* job in the games industry

“the main characteristic we look for is the ability

  • to create something
  • develop an audience about it
  • measure the reations to something you’ve created
  • and then change what you’ve built to reflect that
  • and measure again how much of a difference you made

Sound familiar?

If you’re serious about startups, it should do – it’s the path that et al have been pushing startups along for the past 5 years. The best of the entrepreneurs are expected to live and breath this approach by now.

It’s not even rocket-science – a big part of it is nothing more or less than the Scientific Method, over a century old now, which has driven most of the world’s research. It works. It’s a pity that so many people ignore it.

If you want to be a game maker, then … make games

Partly responding to the oft-quoted fear “but how can I get experience making games, if the pre-requisite to joinging a game team is that I already have experience making games??”:

“iteration cycle with Customer Feedback is the most important characteristic for somebody to be successful right now, and ability to demonstrate that through a portfolio, through a website, through a mod

If you have learnt anything at all, if you have achieved anything, if you have any skill – then you can *always* demonstrate that, somehow. If not, then implicitly your achievement doesn’t exist – if you can’t show it, it’s not there. c.f. the section Marketing is a science, not an art, and read Sergio Zyman’s book if you need inspiration here.

Which matters more: credentials, or mindset?

Atttitude and approach wins, apparently:

“you have to actually act almost like a CEO yourself, in terms of understanding an audience, understanding a market, building a product, taking feedbakc about the product evolving the product communicating about the product

more than whether or not you go to an Ivy League school … or take CS classes … or drawing classes … that for us is the key indicator of future success

an awareness of what’s actually going on right now tends to trump a lot of previous experiences … I think it’s going to be harder and harder for people to stay current as the pace of things accelerates … get in front of instead of get behind any structural changes of an industry you’re going into

Don’t take a job you don’t want, to sneak into the one you were too crap to get

And, so important (and lied about so many times by journalists, HR departments, recruiters, et al): the worst thing to do if you want to get into a game development job is to join QA expecting it to be an “easy route in”:

“each person that we hire has to be able to do that, even if they’re just going to be in marketing … or support … or QA”

i.e. QA is no “easy path” – you’re still held to the same criteria.

But also, as *so few* execs from EA etc are willing to admit (and I pick EA, because I’ve seen their senior people HR blatantly lie (IMHO) about this on multiple occasions, following their own agenda):

“at most companies they put in all these barriers to keep people from moving out of QA or support … in some companies you can actually get fired for trying to get out of support positions into the development organization …[so instead] build a flash game; ship it; make it better … and you’ll get everybody’s attention if you’ve got talent”

games industry programming

GameDev.StackExchange: don’t use it for game-dev info

I’ve given that site two serious attempts – I had nothing to gain from it, I was just trying to share best practice and info from within the commercial side of the industry. I wanted it to work. StackOverflow (which it’s cloned from) has been a huge success, and the nearest equivalent for games industry – the forums – is very weak by comparison; lots of people doing their best, but often dominated by those who have time, rather than those who know what they’re talking about. And very few professional members.

Attempt 2 has crashed and burned. And there I’d walk away silently. But … while I was there, I noticed how much misinformation flows around that site, and I can’t keep quiet about that. It’s doubly depressing that it trades off the reputation of StackOverflow – a site that works many times better, and has a many times higher signal:noise ratio.

Here’s a favour to anyone tempted by that site: don’t. If you need answers to the questions you might ask there, there are much better places to get them (if this is tl;dr – just scroll to the bottom).

What’s so bad?

Bad enough that:

  1. many (more than half of the 50+ I read in the last week) of the answers are significantly or fully wrong, but casually upvoted or selected as correct (seems too few people on the site for the voting to “fix” this problem naturally)
  2. most of the community has no idea what they’re talking about (Vague questions, vaguer answers, and STUPID SHIT like “I was talking with one of my professor and we couldn’t figure out why all game engines (that I know of) convert to triangles.”. Really? You’re that dumb / lazy? Incidentally: “professor” of what? If it’s a course involving programming, that professor is a fraud. Personally, I think it’s a homework question. Should have been shutdown immediately.)
  3. many questions (around 20% of those I’ve read) would be solved trivially by typing them directly into google and clicking the first link

Worse that:

  1. without lots of reputation-whoring, you are “not allowed” to comment on a wrong answer (NB: I get the impression that the rep-limit for this is much higher than on SO; certainly, it’s unrealistically high). Your only option is to write a separate “answer” that explains why the first is wrong. This is sadly common on the site. Readers have to read EVERY answer (including the ones at bottom of screen) just to find the corrections to the “top-most” answers
  2. without even MORE reputation-whoring, you are “not allowed to answer more than 1 question every 3 minutes”. You’re a professional game developer, right? You’ve been doing this stuff for years? You see a couple of related questions you can answer quickly (stackexchange explicitly GIVES YOU the list of “related questions” and invites you to answer them) … well, so far as this site is concerned: “Oh no you don’t!”

Ask any game designer: the rep-limits on that side are somewhat FUBAR. They positively encourage people to reduce the quality of information / organization. Any sane designer would have *at the very least*, said:

“If this site is new, and small, with a small community, you need to set all limits low to start with – there’s just not a large enough pool of campable spawns / experience points (*ahem* reputation sources) to support those limits from day one”

Anyway. I tried it. It was disappointing. Unlike StackOverflow, it isn’t (currently) working well – many in the community are full of their own ignorance and don’t want to read anything that’s based on knowledge or experience – they want only things that support their private theorising. Actually trying this stuff in practice? “Whoa! That sounds like actual WORK! Don’t go there, man!”

IMHO, if equivalent questions to many you see on gamedev.stackexchange appeared on StackOverflow, they would get shutdown quickly with some variant of:

  • “this question is irrelevant and trivial”
  • ” this is not a website for getting your homework done for you”
  • “this is not a website for “tutorials””
  • “please just google it – the answer is the number 1 link”


Revisiting gamedev.stackexchange, Spring 2011

At the gentle urging of friends and ex-colleagues, all of them professional game devs, I tried again. Their winning argument? “Give them time, the community will improve; it’s better now – it’s getting there” and, most key: “if we don’t help, it’ll never go beyond blind leading the blind”.

I quickly found several trails of different people asking THE SAME QUESTIONS over and over again, and getting different incorrect answers. Zero effort to read what was already there. Zero effort from the community in marking duplicates. I found some related to entity systems, and thought “Oh, FFS, this is easy for me – I’ll answer these”.

SMACK! “You can only answer 1 question every 3 minutes”.

Annoyed, but undaunted, I kept going. Just to be clear: my answers were all different, but the questions themselves were close duplicates; obviously, they’d been asked without bothering to check if they’d already been asked. And then a few hours later, I started getting emails about my answers being downvoted. No explanation, just … someone didn’t like them. WTF?

At this point, I realised the futility: it’s actually quite *hard* to get down-rated on StackOverflow. The attitude of SO users is “help, explain, and educate” (shaped by the SO penalities for downvoting). By contrast, it appears easy on gamedev.stackeschange: and it comes with no explanation, no commentary. Drawing from my experience in MMO development, these are the characteristics of a negatively charged online community: it’s not heading towards a flourishing, happy family. Time to get out while the getting’s good.

So, I’ve killed the account. I want nothing to do with it. At least, not until a good community-moderator takes things in hand and changes the culture of the site. Hard job.

Want answers to game dev questions?

So, what are you to do instead?

My advice: send twitter messages @ game designers, artists, programmes, etc. Maybe half of them are on twitter these days, and generally very easy to find. Most of them (including all the non-twitter ones) have blogs, and are happy to help and give copious free advice.

As a secondary source, read a lot of blogs. Blogs are better than following people on twitter – game-dev is too deep and nuanced for twitter, and *nearly* all the good stuff is in blog posts. This may change, but for now it’s the case.

Finally, try emailing people who’s blogs and tweets you read. But this is a last-resort: most people are very busy, and will struggle to respond to your emails with the depth they would LIKE to. Most will – therefore – not answer at all. They’re not ignoring you, they’re just waiting until the get time. After years of doing that myself, these days I try to reply to people quickly, even if all I can say (in 99% of cases) is: “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to answer this properly.”. Where I can, I’ll add pointers to other people to ask – but usually they’re just as busy, so it doesn’t much help.

dev-process games industry massively multiplayer network programming networking programming recruiting server admin

The nature of a Tech Director in games … and the evils of DevOps

Spotted this (the notion “DevOps”) courtesy of Matthew Weigel, a term I’d fortunately missed-out on.

It seems to come down to: Software Developers (programmers who write apps that a company sells) and Ops people (sysadmins who manage servers) don’t talk enough and don’t respect each other; this cause problems when they need to work together. Good start.

But I was feeling a gut feel of “you’ve spotted a problem, but this is a real ugly way to solve it”, and feeling guilty for thinking that, when I got down to this line in Wikipedia’s article:

“Developers apply configuration changes manually to their workstations and do not document each necessary step”

WTF? What kind of amateur morons are you hiring as “developers”? Your problem here is *nothing* to do with “DevOps” – it’s that you have a hiring manager (maybe your CTO / Tech Director?) who’s been promoted way above their competency and is allowing people to do the kind of practices that would get them fired from many of the good programming teams.

Fix the right problem, guys :).

Incidentally – and this will be a long tangent about the nature of a TD / Tech Director – … my “gut feel” negativity about the whole thing came from my experience that any TD working in large-scale “online” games *must be* a qualified SysAdmin. If they’re not, they’re not a TD – they’re a technical developer who hasn’t (yet) enough experience to be elevated to a TD role; they are incapable (through no fault of their own – simply lack of training / experience) of fulfilling the essential needs of a TD. They cannot provide the over-arching technical caretaking, because they don’t understand one enormous chunk of the problem.

I say this from personal experience in MMO dev, where people with no sysadmin experience stuck out like a sore thumb. Many network programmers on game-teams had no sysadmin experience (which in the long term is unforgivable – any network coder should be urgently scrambling to learn + practice sysadmin as fast as they can, since it’s essential to so much of the code they write) – and it showed, every time. In the short term, of course, a network coder may be 4 months away from having practiced enough sysadmin. In the medium term, maybe they’ve done “some” but not enough to be an expert on it – normally they’re fine, but sometimes they make a stupid mistake (e.g. being unaware of just how much memcached can do for you).

And that’s where the TD-who-knows-sysadmin is needed. Just like the TD is supposed to do in all situations – be the shallow expert of many trades, able to hilight problems no-one else has noticed, or use their usually out-dated yet still useful experience to suggest old ways of solving new problems that current methods fail to fix. And at least be able to point people in the right direction.

…but, of course, I was once (long ago) trained in this at IBM, and later spent many years in hardcore sysadmin both paid and unpaid (at the most extreme, tracking and logging bugs against the linux kernel) so I’m biased. But I’ve found it enormously helpful in MMO development that I know exactly how these servers will *actually* run – and the many tricks available to shortcut weeks or months of code that you don’t have to write.

entrepreneurship games industry recruiting

How much money do game developers earn?

Another excellent post by Christer – a Direct of tech @ SCEA – on calculating independent, verfiable salaries for people in videogames industry:

“Unlike salary surveys, where people can claim arbitrary wages (and the submitted salaries are never posted), the H1-B data contains actual wages! In other words, it is a rare opportunity to get some objective data points on industry salaries.”

I’m a huge fan of these unbiased, fact-based analyses. c.f. my posts from a few years ago on predicting MMO subscriber numbers in similar fashion. These DO NOT invalidate other forms of estimation – but they provide an independent figure that “anyone” can re-calculate for themselves, at any time, and check the info / update it.

Christer’s mined some great data here – all the big names are represented. A tiny sampling (go to the original post for tonnes more):

Employer Job title Wage
Disney Online Director, Technology $157,500
Electronic Arts Technical Director $150,000
Blizzard Entertainment Senior Software Engineer II $150,000

I’ve been thinking of updating my old posts on salaries for startups – what can/should/would you pay to your first employees? I’m wondering now if I can shore that up with extra data from the VISA programmes; maybe not quite the same volume of data, but should be a substantial amount there. Unlike Christer’s set, it’s likely to be a lot more skewed :( – startups can rarely afford to recruit internationally, as compared to large corporates who do it as a matter of course.

games industry recruiting

Can my employer (game studio) make me work weekends?

In the UK, it’s probably illegal to make you work on a Sunday:

If [your employment contract] doesn’t [specifically say “you must work on Sundays”], then the only way of making you work on that day is by a change to your contract. This is something that must normally be agreed by both you and your employer, otherwise making you work on Sundays would amount to a breach of contract.

And even if your contract is paying you extra to work on Sundays, it’s still illegal to make you work both the Saturday and the Sunday back-to-back (modulo some very specific exceptions which are almost impossible in the games industry):

you have the right to a break of at least 11 hours between working days.

[and] you have the right to either:

* an uninterrupted 24 hours clear of work each week
* an uninterrupted 48 hours clear each fortnight

If you work for a UK games company, and you’re working more than 5 days a week (you’re “crunching”), send your manager a link to this page. You don’t need to threaten to sue them – they’re breaking the law already, and they know it, and they know perfectly well they’re screwed (by themselves).

Just gently point out that you hope your manager will fix it before someone reports it *their* manager – wouldn’t they rather look good (“I noticed this problem before we got sued”), than be the one to take the blame?

There’s no excuse for this kind of behaviour. Don’t let them do it to you.

games industry games publishing marketing and PR startup advice

Social Games are “evil” (a.k.a: Indie Marketing 301)

I reckon this is just a case of indie developers (finally) starting to
understand the concept of “marketing” in a bit more depth than the 101

With my PR hat on, this is great stuff: highly contentious (and
potentially dangerous) quotes – and yet, nowhere near as
career-damaging as declaring that a certain console is ****.

“Evil” is emotive, but just vague enough that you can get away with it in ways
that you can’t when you target billion-dollar brands. *ahem*.

I’d also add that – in true marketing style – this whole conversation
is about 6 months behind the curve. Which is about right for a
mass-market promotional piece – people at the coal face have moved on,
but Joe Public is still intrigued and yet to catch-up. Anyone who
still thinks Zynga is the company from “that SF Weekly article” is
living in dreamland. FB games moves much, much faster than that.