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Feature: Why Being a Computer Game Developer Sucks 238

Posted by Hemos
from the but-it-sounds-so-fun dept.
Talin has written one of the more interesting pieces that I've seen in a while, piercing the bubble of idyllic life that many people, and giving insight into what is, for all intents and purposes an industry. His synopsis: "I've been in the computer games industry since about 1983...I've come to the conclusion that the industry has gradually, imperceptibly, transformed from a cozy industry full of creative freedom and fun into a rather unpleasant place to work." Click below for more.

My name is Talin, and I've been in the computer games industry since about 1983. I've had a lot of fun, as well as a few "hits". I'm best known for the 1986 Amiga game "The Faery Tale Adventure", for which I still get occasional fan mail. I've worked on about a dozen projects all told, the most recent being a massively multiplayer game for SegaSoft's HEAT network.

I'm always amused be people's reactions when I tell them that I work in the computer games industry. "Computer games!" they say, "Gee, that must be fun!" At such times I usually pause, thinking "How do I break it to them?"

I've been in the industry a long time (since around 1983), and I've watched carefully the changing nature of the business. I remember the busts and booms, the changing platforms, the rise and fall of many companies. And I've come to the conclusion that the industry has gradually, imperceptibly, transformed from a cozy industry full of creative freedom and fun into a rather unpleasant place to work.

Computer game developers work in an industry where 90% of the profit is made from 10% of the products. Or to put it another way, 90% of the products simply die in the marketplace. Sometimes this is because the products themselves are dreck; There certainly is a lot of poorly designed, poorly debugged, formulaic, or simply content free products out there. In other cases, good products wither on the vine because they are inadequately marketed, or because they can't get through all of the noise and fluff that's clogging up the distribution chain.

When the games industry started, distributors were begging for product, but now you have to bribe Fry's or CompUSA a couple of hundred thousand to get your product placed somewhere where customers will actually see it.

And this doesn't even include the large number of products that never make it to market. In some cases, a publisher or development company runs out of money before it can finish a game, or is eaten by a larger company which immediately develops a case of indigestion and dies. (This has happened to my own projects twice.)

Having been involved in a number of large, multi-million dollar projects that never got released, or were pathetically marketed, I sometimes wonder whether the computer games industry isn't perhaps a net loss to the Gross National Product. I'm not even talking about the amount of lost productivity from people playing games (which I don't consider "lost"). Rather, what I mean is that it sometimes seems like more investment money is actually wasted developing and marketing failed games than is made in profits from successful ones.

Most of my industry colleagues that I've talked to about this have expressed similar feelings. One person said that the games industry is "a transfer of funds from the rich to the lucky". In my opinion, one would be foolish to invest in a game company.

Perhaps it's different in the big game publishers, where they crank out the same formulaic sports action game or first-person shooter over and over again. But in the smaller companies where I've spent my career, the vast majority of projects either never make it to market, or completely tank once they get there.

The economic realities of developing games induces what I call "The Lottery Mentality". Lotteries are based on the idea that we tend not to be able to think very rationally about small differences in probability. The California State Lottery has been called, for example, "a tax on people who can't do math". In the games industry, this takes the form of lying to ourselves about the potential chances of creating a "hit" game. We all know that our game has only a small chance of becoming a "hit" and thereby making a profit, yet we fool ourselves into thinking: "Yes, but MY game is going to be the ONE". As one producer put it: "You don't think anyone _intentionally_ tries to make a mediocre game?" (Well, there are some in fact who do, but that's beside the point.) But the fact is that your game is almost certainly going to be mediocre, in sales if not in quality, whether you like it or not.

The lottery mentality is what keeps investors pumping large amounts of money into the sinkhole of games development. After all, it's a very exciting, fast-paced, high-tech and "cool" sinkhole. It's "the wave of the future". I've watched how games get funded, and it's usually less a matter of the technical feasibility and artistic merits of the game, than it is the personal charm of the CEO of the development company. To paraphrase Alexis de Tocqueville: "What a fragile thing is human reason."

I should point out that my argument only applies to games written for computers, not game consoles. The economics of the console market are very different, primarily because the console manufacturers maintain a strict editorial control over what games can be published. As a result, the distribution chain for console-based software is far more consistent in quality. On the other hand, there's far less opportunity for innovation in the console market, and this is only partly explained by the strong 'parental' influence of the console manufacturers. Because consoles don't have keyboards, console games are extremely limited in the kinds of social interaction that they can support, which means that console-based games tend to be focused around kicking, jumping, hitting, running, and other brute force physical activities. This in turn limits the console market to a fairly narrow demographic, one that isn't interested in complex social interaction. Similarly, because consoles don't have hard drives, they are limited to games which are mostly "stateless", meaning that the player can only affect a small number of selected variables in the game environment.

Failed products and harsh economics aren't the only reason why the games industry has become a miserable place.

Part of the reason why I fled from Hollywood in the early 80's was because I realized that Hollywood, with it's creativity-stifling unions, bureaucratized studios, and disreputable agents, was not the way to a happy life. Not everyone gets to be a Spielberg or a Lucas, and in fact the vast majority of workers toil away at one narrowly-defined job with no creative freedom whatsoever. The few truly inspired creators, the ones with the really unique ideas, are targets for exploitation and fraud. When I realized, a few years ago, that the whole "Siliwood" thing was a bust, and that Hollywood was not going to take over, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Now I find the games industry is becoming more and more like Hollywood itself, where each person has his or her little job compartment or specialty, and must never stray outside of it for fear of stepping on someone's territory. "I don't understand," says the manager, "I thought you said you wanted a position as a programmer. Now you're telling me you want a position as an artist?" Even when they know and accept you as a multi-talented, multi-skilled person, they still have trouble figuring out ways to apply your skills in anything but a single narrowly-defined capacity.

I should also mention that the games industry has little respect for experience. What the games industry runs on is youthful energy. It loves to exploit 19 year old programmers who work 10-12 hours a day, get paid less than the standard wage for programmers in other industries, and don't know squat about software engineering principles. There are very few 40-year-old game programmers; I'm one of few who hasn't been "burnt out" by the murderous pace. But more and more I feel like I don't "fit in". I find myself less and less interested in doing the same games over and over again, targeted at an audience of 14-year old males who have been programmed by evolution to enjoy the thrill of combat and the hunt. Quake and Unreal are _great_ games from a design and technical standpoint, but frankly they bore me. (In case you are wondering, my two favorite games are Might and Magic II, and Civilization II).

Despite the fact that the games industry has aged tremendously in both it's bureaucratic structure and the sophistication of the technology, the software engineering practices it uses are still juvenile. It amazes me to find managers who have copies of classic works like Rapid Development_, _Writing Solid Code_, and _Peopleware_ on their bookshelves, yet somehow fail to actually apply the principles in those books. The culture of the industry is simply too strong, and trying to take the time to do things right (so that it saves time later) is like slogging through mud. The whole process by which games are budgeted and scheduled, for example, is something that I find amazing that anyone could take seriously.

Anybody who's studied software engineering knows that a schedule which underestimates the time needed to develop a project actually makes the project take _longer_. Countless case studies have shown this to be true. Yet we insist on shipping projects "by Christmas season" so that programmers are forced to waste their time, trying to "hurry up" to meet an arbitrary deadline. We continue to throw budgets and schedules together quickly, so that we can have them ready for a meeting with the publisher, without ever consulting the people who will actually work on the project (most of whom haven't been hired yet.)

The result is completely predictable: programmers that are under extreme stress who in turn create code full of bugs and defects. Project that end up a year later than they were scheduled. Isn't it interesting that some of the most successful game companies have adopted a "it will be done when it's done" policy?

Part of the problem is that our industry labors under the illusion that it is "like Hollywood". Film producers are usually able to turn out a film on time and within budgetary limits. But there's a difference -- film producers don't have to re-invent the camera each time they do a production. There are no "stable" technologies in the computer games industry, and the average useful life of a game "engine" is about two years.

The games industry is primarily an engineering industry, which means that what we do is solve problems. But solving problems, especially highly complex ones, knows no timetable. No one can predict how long it will take to invent a particular thing, because every invention is an accident, albeit a fortuitous one. The best you can do is increase the probability of such an accident occuring, a process which I have dubbed "accident husbandry."

Despite the fact that constant invention is critical to the industry, game companies still refuse, as far as I can tell, to fund any kind of research. Instead, each new game is itself a "research prototype", full of risks and unknowns. You might as well write "and here a miracle occurs" right on the PERT chart and be done with it.

Job stability is another thing that is lacking in the computer games field. It seems to be a common practice in small development companies to lay off the entire development team upon completion of a project. Usually this is because a small development company can only afford to pay salaries while a project is actually being funded by an outside source. It takes a long time to negotiate such a contract, and often the previous product finishes before the negotiations are complete. As a result, the development company has no choice but to unburden itself of workers who aren't producing any revenue. As a result of this high turnover rate, development companies are unable to maintain a solid body of institutional knowledge. Worse, it inclucates a sense of futility in the engineering staff. As one worker put it: "If you ship, you'll be fired." Don't get me wrong. I still like games. But the games industry isn't games.

I'm not advocating that the sources of funding should simply dry up. But I wish that investors and project planners would be more careful. Firstly, because I'm ethically offended by the idea of wasting other people's money. And secondly, because I'm sick of spending a year of my life working on a beautiful project, only to watch it go down in flames (And yes, I admit that there were times when the fault was my own...but not most of the time.)

I think that we'd all be happier if fewer games were actually produced. In my opinion, the primary result of this would be a higher percentage of good games on the market. Of course, there wouldn't be quite as many jobs, but I can tell you that there are a lot of fun, exciting jobs out there that have nothing to do with the games industry. For example, I recently I took a job at an e-commerce company. Now, I have absolutely no interest in e-commerce per se. But I found to my surprise that there are a lot of things about this job that are really fun:

  • I get to do real research, to tinker around with new concepts
  • I'm living on "internet time": Product cycles are in weeks, not years
  • My experience and knowledge are highly respected.
  • People look to me for help and answers, not to grind away code in silence
  • Schedules are reasonable and flexible
  • I'm learning a lot of new technologies
  • I'm getting a chance to do something different for a change.
  • The gender balance is a lot closer to 50%
  • They appreciate and exploit my multiple skills and game-designer sensibilities.
  • I get to think about social issues as well as technical ones
  • The people are excited and enthusiastic rather than feeling burnt out.
  • The pay is better
Of course, I still have a lot of game ideas I want to do...I'm not going to follow the example of Chris Crawford, and say "Farewell forever, games industry!" This isn't the first time I've taken a break away from games to do other work (for example, in 1987 I wrote a professional music sequencer, Music-X.)

But these days I'm far less interested in broadcasting my own ideas and stories (the "Death From Above" content distribution model), than I am in empowering the end-users to be able to realize their own ideas and fantasies. If I chose to do another game, it would have to be on very specific terms: An R&D project up front to eliminate the major risks, solid commitment to sound engineering principles, a rational schedule (or better yet, no schedule at all), and a project premise that involved a high level of social consciousness. "Community is King" is my motto now.

Alternatively, I think I'd enjoy just develop games as a hobby, completely open-sourced, and make money some other way. I've found that being an amateur game creator is more emotionally rewarding than being a After all, I'm in this for the fun, and for the chance to express myself creatively. If I wasn't, I'd be selling insurance or something.

Talin (Talin@ACM.org)
www.sylvantech.com/~talin
www.hackertourist.com/talin

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Feature: Why Being a Computer Game Developer Sucks

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Perhaps it's different in the big game publishers, where they crank out the same formulaic sports action game or first-person shooter over and over again. " That is your problem right there. The same formulaic sports action game and first-person shooter over and over again is what people want. Go look at all the Halflife, Quake I+II+arena, Unreal, etc... servers out there and tell me that the people don't enjoy a better looking first-person shooter. Maybe you need to play the games some. Unreal was a good jump in graphics over the competition at the time, Halflife changed the face of Multi-Player, and Quake Arena has amassed quite a following with the BETA test! While you think up 'creative' new games that you 'think' are interesting, other companies will produce what I want to play. Sorry, it's called supply and demand, it is business.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Its axiomatic that most software projects fail, whether they be games or other more generic business ventures. I work for a company that repeatedly sets projection completion dates before
    1) they have ironed out the requirements 2) they have investigated what that entails. So what happens is you get behind the proverbial 8-ball before the project even starts. I work in a group where the full time permament employees frequently work 80-100 hour weeks. Thankfully, I'm a contractor. Early on, I worked for a game company. In my (very limited) experience, game software projects fail for the same reason other software projects fail: poor management, poor handling of personalities involved. Game development is more sensitive, because you get more of the geek coder type where pride (as in "I'm right and you're not") comes before project. Its not the real world. But then, neither is business. Sometimes I wonder how software companies make money at all.
  • He may not like half-life + quake like the rest of you 'masses', but his experience is real. I've been a mere follower of the industry for several years but those on the inside consistently tell how tough it is. It's simply not fair to be expected to work 60+ hour weeks at low wages and have no security that when the project is over you'll still have a job (reality is, the question of making more money afterwords is very slight-- i hear).

    Here is another guy from the inside who is very eloquent on the subject.... here's his page:
    http://pages.infinit.net/idjy/

    Here's a bit of one article...

    The Game Industry and the Economics of
    Failure

    For the past two years, the game industry has been mired in what the financial press calls a
    "consolidation phase". Despite growing sales for the industry as a whole, not a month
    goes by without some once-proud publisher announcing drastic cutbacks to its release
    schedule or being bought out by a more successful one. Countless start-up development
    studios set up shop, barely manage to survive until the release of their first title (when they
    manage to do it at all), and disappear without a whimper. Meanwhile, the cost of
    developing a top-tier title keeps growing, and the marketing budget required to support its
    release skyrockets even faster.

    No matter which way we look at it, one glaring fact remains: not very many people make
    money in the game industry. Especially not the people who create the product.

    It is my contention that the current economics of the industry, as supported (actively or
    tacitly) by publishers, retailers, the gaming press and most developers, is completely and
    utterly inadequate. This article presents some of my observations, and attempts to identify
    a few potential solutions which might help improve our lot as a community.



    The Distribution Bug

    In the early days of interactive gaming (say, until 1988 or so), the "lone wolf"
    basement-dweller who developed an entire game (code, art and music) by himself in a few
    months was, if not the rule, at least a common phenomenon. Virtually all software was
    sold to and by hobbyists, whether in the city's single mom-and-pop computer shop or by
    answering adds in specialized magazines. The computer-enthusiast shop owner enjoyed
    nothing more than to see the local game publisher (often the developer himself) drop by
    once a month with his Ziplock bags full of floppies, which he had copied himself all night
    long. They'd talk for thirty minutes or an hour, playing the new releases while the
    customers, all of whom knew each other by their first names and proudly showed their
    own clever bits of BASIC code to "the professional". In such conditions, a developer could
    write 2-3 titles a year, make a comfortable living off of 1,000 copies of each, and then,
    after a few years, go out and get his driver's license. A game could sell for years. Taking
    a risk with an innovative title didn't require nerves of steel, as not much money went into it
    anyway. This was the Golden Age.

    However, as computers gained popularity, the hobbyist retailers were gradually replaced
    by large, nation-wide chains, which have themselves lost a tasty chunk of the software
    market to generalists like Price Costco and Wal-Mart. Now, it is estimated that the top 8-10
    retail chains (i.e., Circuit City, CompUSA and Toys R Us) control approximately 85% of all
    game sales in North America.

    This changes everything.

    First Law of the Game Industry: Channel to Market is Everything.

    On the one hand, the professional buyer who is in charge of acquiring PC games may very
    well never play them at all. He is a businessman, with responsibility for a huge budget, of
    which games may not even be the most important item. His job is to acquire product that
    will move off his shelves as soon as it hits them. Shelf space it precious, and there are so
    many products out there that if one doesn't sell through fast, he'll find another one that
    will. Besides, the buyer is a busy man, with lots of salesmen competing for his time.
    Unless you happen to be hawking NHL '99, chances are he doesn't even want to see you.
    It is not uncommon for a game publisher's salesman to have less than fifteen minutes to
    pitch his entire quarterly lineup to a man who can make or break 10% of his company's
    channel to market. You, Joe Salesman, had better make an impression right now if you
    want to see your big Christmas release in this guy's 2,000 outlets.

    That being said, please tell me, what is easier to push in 90 seconds: a weird, wildly
    innovative game unlike anything anyone has ever played before, or the sequel to last
    spring's 500,000-unit seller with better graphics?

    On the other hand, if you know that the only product you can get on the shelves is
    something that the buyer feels comfortable with, chances are your competitors do, too.
    So, if all of you are coming out with first-person shooters and real-time strategy war
    games, which are all essentially the same game, how do you make sure yours is the one
    that will sell the most? Why, you advertise more, of course. If you shout louder than
    everyone else, people will hear you. This is why game marketing costs have become so
    staggering. Ten years ago, a standard of one dollar of marketing for each dollar of
    production (back when games cost a few hundred thousand dollars to make) was about
    right. These days, with network broadcast spots becoming almost commonplace, a 2-to-1
    or 3-to-1 ratio is not all that uncommon. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter reportedly came out with
    a $7 million marketing budget; I don't even want to know how much Sony spent to push
    Final Fantasy VII.

    On the gripping hand, with so few people controlling so much of your livelihood, you
    absolutely can not afford to pass on their business. So, you do whatever they tell you to.
    You spend $25,000 a week for a two square-inch add on page 14 of their flyer, which will
    net you about as many sales as if you spent the money on Great Aunt Edna's Senior Girl
    Scout cookies. You invest fortunes in snazzy in-store displays. You promise to take back
    (and refund, in full) every item that fails to sell through, whenever the retailer decides to
    return it, even if it comes back in the original packaging, meaning that it never left the
    customer's warehouse. You promise that your release will be backed by a million-dollar
    print media campaign, and maybe 8 weeks of rotation on MTV. Next quarter, when your
    big competitor spends seven to ten million on his big game, you'll have to do the same.

    And what does that buy you? Four weeks, maybe six. If your product hasn't sold by then,
    it is out of there, and don't expect a second chance, either. Even if the product sells
    reasonably well, it probably won't stay on the shelves for more than 2-3 months, because
    there will be other, newer games available by then that could sell even better. Only big
    hits (i.e., Tomb Raider or Starcraft) get more generous treatment.

    So, where does that leave you? With a product that costs you millions of dollars to market
    and with 60 days to recuperate that investment, assuming you manage to get a decent
    channel to market. In all likelihood, it won't work. As a publisher, your strategy is to put
    a good selection of products out there, hoping that a few will catch fire and more than
    make up for the money you will lose on the others. Risky business. Given the fact that the
    safest way to conduct risky business is to minimize costs, and knowing that ever-increasing
    sales and marketing budgets are a fact of like, where do you cut?

    Why, in developer advances, of course.



    The Development Cost Bug

    Which brings us to the second part of this equation for catastrophe.

    Second Law of the Game Industry: Whoever stands between you and the customer holds
    you by the balls.

    You are Joe Developer, and you just barely managed to write a cool little demo and a
    design document, while working a day job coding credit card databases and surviving on a
    diet of macaroni and cheese because all of your money went into computer hardware. You
    finally have a meeting with a publisher. He probably won't want to sign you up, but if he
    does, he'll pay you enough money to finish your product, right?

    Probably not.

    The last figures I saw placed the average cost of developing a PC game at approximately
    $2 million. (That figure, by the way, was double what it had been two years earlier, and
    more than forty times what it had been a decade before.) Unless your name is Sid Meier or
    Lara Croft, you won't see that much money before you ship your finished product. In fact,
    chances are you won't even see it after, either.

    The game industry works pretty much like the book publishing industry: the publisher buys
    the developer's product for a cut of gross sales (typically $6 to $10 per unit for PC games,
    a bit more for console titles). Most publishing contracts also stipulate an advance against
    royalties which the publisher agrees to pay before the game ships. Most, but not all:
    desperate developers have been known to sign with dubious publishers for no advance,
    maybe getting a bigger royalty per copy in exchange. Still, advances are the norm.
    Advance money is usually non-refundable, no matter how poorly the game performs on
    the market (although if the developer fails to deliver the product at all, the case may end
    up in court.) Some of that money may be paid upon signature, or upon meeting certain
    development milestones.

    However, advances are supposed to represent an early payment of royalties, so of course
    they depend on expected sales. Since most PC games sell between 15,000 and 50,000
    units, few publishers will pay advances based on bigger numbers than these, unless you
    happen to have a fantastic track record or a great license to build your product upon.
    Therefore, assuming that you negotiate a contract for $8 per copy, with a guaranteed
    advance covering the first 50,000 copies, your advance check in going to amount to
    $400,000. That is, twenty percent of the average cost of developing a game.

    So, how will you finance the rest? Venture capital, maybe. Bank loans, if your banker is a
    very optimistic man or if you can get him drunk. Sweat-equity, probably; that $2 million
    figure can be misleading, because it estimates the value of the work performed, and the
    principals in a start-up game studio often work for little or no pay. Or maybe your
    publisher or another bigger company will buy you out and fund the rest of the production.
    Or maybe you won't finish the project at all, and go bankrupt. It happens. Often.

    Now, assume that you manage to finish your game and to get it published. Further
    assume that it sells three times the expected amount, or 150,000 units, which would make
    it a minor hit. You are still $800,000 short of the average budget, but that's OK, because
    most of your staff have been working for a cut of the profits, so your out-of-pocket
    expenses were much less than $2 million. Now what? Unless you want to keep writing
    games after business hours, you'll want to start paying your people regular salaries. And
    now, you're in trouble, because you have to start the process all over again, and this time,
    you'll really have to spend that $2,000,000.

    It is estimated that between 1,200 and 1,800 PC games are released every year. Less than
    10% of them break even; fewer still earn significant profits. Not surprisingly, very few
    independent start-ups remain independent for very long. They either collapse, or get
    bought out by bigger companies with more cash flow. (Companies founded by industry
    legends who have publishers at their feet begging for the rights to their products are the
    obvious exception, but how many Peter Molyneux's and Sid Meier's are there?)

    It should be noted that the situation is different for console developers. Sony, Nintendo
    and Sega regulate who develops for their platforms, and who published what, so the
    number of titles on the market at any given time is much smaller. Furthermore, console
    owners buy more games than PC owners, and rental outlets buy large numbers of console
    games. Therefore, it is easier to break even with a console game than with a PC title.
    However, writing games for the PlayStation (tm) is not a license to print money, as some
    people believe. If anything, console games cost more to develop.



    The Press Bug

    The so-called "Game Press" is a misnomer.

    Third Law of the Game Industry: Style is at least as important as substance.

    Over the years, I have met quite a few people who write in game magazines, and they are
    not "journalists". They are gamers, mostly in their early twenties (or late teens), who grew
    up on a steady diet of Doom and Super Mario. Most of them have very definite ideas about
    what makes a good game, and they stick to them. They are not objective, they are not
    investigators, and they are not supposed to be. Game magazines are basically written by
    fans of a specific type of game, for fans of the same.

    Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with that, until you realize what it entails for the
    industry's economics. For the gaming press, Risk on CD-ROM is not a game. Neither is
    Barbie's Fashion Designer, no matter how many trillions of copies it may sell. You Don't
    Know Jack barely qualifies, because it is funny, but a dead-serious trivia game might not.
    In fact, a good game, in the eyes of the press, has to have the following:

    More and better graphics than was thought possible six months ago;
    Lots of fast action;
    Stuff like secret levels, bonus characters and moves that are hidden so well that only
    Real Gamers (tm) will ever find them.

    So, basically, anything simple to play is not a game, unless it achieves 60 frames per
    second with 10,000 Phong-shaded and/or texture-mapped polygons per frame. And most
    of all, anything that could have been made with the technology available two years ago
    sucks. Which means that if you ever try to develop a game that would cost you
    significantly less than the above-mentioned millions, the gaming press will kill you.

    Therefore, either you saddle up and work on the next framefest, or you find a completely
    different way to get people talking about your game. Not many people have achieved
    this. If you know a sure-fire way to do it, please tell me.



    The Vaccine?

    So, it seems that given the current channel to market situation, publishers can not survive
    while paying developers enough to allow them to survive as well. We are stuck in an
    economy where someone, somewhere has to fail on a regular basis to let the industry as a
    whole survive. This doesn't sound right. Besides pushing salaries down (and we all know
    that salaries in games are typically quite a bit lower than in the rest of the software
    industry), it wastes a tremendous amount of talent and effort.

    What to do?

    First, since success in the retail market, which depends on the press and on a few major
    retailers, is so difficult to achieve, we might want to look at the alternatives. Online
    distribution, via high-speed networks, might be an interesting avenue. Virtual shelf space
    is basically unlimited, so a game's life cycle could be multiplied by a factor of 10 easily.
    Unit prices might also go down (or, alternatively, more of the unit price could go to
    publishers and developers, reducing the sales volume required to break even.) Bundling
    can be extremely lucrative as well, and you don't have to spend on advertising.

    Second, it is high time to stop sneering at low-cost game development, and the mostly
    untapped markets they represent. Face it: your grandma will never play Quake or Total
    Annihilation, but many, many older people would love to play simple, social, relaxing
    family games with their friends, children and grandchildren. And guess what: you can
    write them for a pittance, and make money with them. Low-cost games can also be
    distributed as part of multi-genre packages, along with magazines, web sites, books, etc.,
    and publishers may be able to carry more of them for longer, giving developers a chance
    to produce titles somewhat out of the ordinary.

    Third, realize that games do not have to be hard. Deer Hunter is not complicated, it is not
    difficult to play, and it is not overly flashy, but despite (or thanks to?) this, it appealed to
    far many more people than most big-budget titles.

    Fourth, we need more games that appeal to a general audience, so that the regular
    computer press (and even the mainstream media) start paying us more attention. The
    gaming press is good at promoting a certain type of product destined to a certain audience,
    but if we want to reach mass-market penetration, we must generate awareness in the mass
    market! If games with a broad appeal become common instead of being oddities, access to
    the pages of high-circulation press will be ours. This is why I welcome traditional
    board-game publishers and media companies, like Hasbro or MGM, into our fold; if they
    can associate their market savvy to our talents, everyone will be better off.


    Maybe, by implementing some of these ideas, we can increase the market profile of
    interactive entertainment as a whole, and allow more people to make a better living in this
    great business. Who knows, maybe by increasing the appeal of games in general, we
    might generate more demand, and even gain access to more of that elusive retail shelf
    space!


    Francois Dominic Laramee
  • Toward the end of the article, he mentions that he works for an E-commerce company now. Did you see that part?

    -lee
  • I really thought that I was going to get a lot more flames than this, but I find that almost all of the comments are quite thoughtful and reasonable.

    I'm sorry if the article sounds whiny. I consider myself to have been quite fortunate in my career and in the success of my products. Part of what I was trying to get across is that the industry has changed quite a bit from the 1980s. If you really want to be a game programmer, go for it...but I want you to know what it is you are getting into. If you can find the right company, it can make all the difference in the world. But the glamour that surrounds the games industry is a bubble which I feel is badly in need of popping.

    I apologize for not supplying as many real-world examples as people would like. I did forward this article to about a dozen people in the games industry (including two former chairmen of game development conventions) and they "mostly" agreed with my conclusions. (The part about the profitability of the industry was the most contraversial.) Other data can be found in back issues of the CGDA report. I don't want to name specific individuals or companies for obvious reasons.

    As far as starting my own company: "Been there, done that." It was a fun five years, but we never actually made a profit. During the last year of the company, I got maybe half of my paychecks. I managed to avoid personal bankruptcy...barely. Words of advice: Don't reallocate power during a company crisis, no matter how attractive a solution it seems. Don't let an adversarial manager drive away good talent. And learn the business side yourself, don't hire an outsider to do it for you.

    With respect to Quake: As I mentioned, I think that Quake (and DOOM, Half-life, etc.) are great games. DOOM was revolutionary, not just in it's graphical presentation, but in everything about it. Even the way that DOOM used sound was subtly different than anything that had been done before. But what was revolutionary five years ago is now "the standard".

    I played multiplayer Quake with my co-workers very heavily for about two months while working at Dreamers Guild. After two months I said "OK, that was good, now I'm done with that." I enjoyed it for a short time, but I can't see myself playing it over and over again, even in multiplayer. To be honest, I find the customizability of Quake far more intriguing. Being able to create different games (like Team Fortress, Jailbreak, etc.) is what I really think games are about. When I was little, we "made up our own" games, and I think that's exactly how computer games should work too.

    With respect to the issue of game demographics, and supply and demand: One thing that has to be borne in mind is that every game has to be sold 4 times - once to the publisher, once to the distributor, once to the retailer, and once to the customer. (Obviously, direct internet sales are a different model.) Each of these organizations has a marketing staff that studies what it's current market is. So even if you came up with a game for 60-year-old golfers, or 12-year-old girls, you have to get it past all these people that say "we know what our market it, and this isn't it." Even if you could get it through all that, what 60-year-old golfer is ever going to visit the games section of CompUSA or Fry's? You'd have to invent a whole new distribution channel. This is what Purple Moon tried to do, and they failed. Chris Crawford predicted ten years ago that the computer games industry, by pursuing a single demographic, would create a "ghetto" for itself, so that adults would consider them to be "childish" and "for kids". Most adult Americans percieve comic books, animated movies and computer games as "kid stuff", despite that fact that we know that adult comics and anime exist.

    The comment about 14-year-old boys was perpetuating a stereotype, it's true. But I have noticed that almost all popular games are based on the exploitation of some well-defined primate behavior: Dominance hierarchies, grooming behavior, maternal instinct, fight or flight, etc. Even games like Minesweeper can be explained as nit-picking (popping the gnats on the skull.) (This also explains the popularity of bubble-wrap popping. :-) Although I've yet to see a good flirting (not porn!) game.

    I should note that companies like id are the exception rather than the rule. Working at Electronic Arts, for example, is a very different experience than working for id. Even Carmack paid his dues with the Commander Keen games and Wolfenstein before creating DOOM. Had Carmack started working at EA, Quake would not exist.

    To the people who suggest working on their particular open source game project: Actually, what I'm doing for fun at the moment is porting my game creation tools (animation sprite editor, for example) from the Amiga to KDE.

  • I used to play The Faery Tale on my friend's Amiga a decade ago!

    The problems with schedule, lack of software engineering (even when having read those classic books, it's true!), etc. are endemic. I just left such a company...

    ...for a new company doing data mining (www.molecularmining.com). Good development process, respect for ideas, decent hardware, opportunities... the list of advantages goes on.

    I just tinker with open source games on my own time (www.cgocable.net/~mlepage). I've never been in "the industry" and I suppose have no real need to.
  • I spent a year in the games industry. There was nothing in your article that I hadn't seen in that year.

    I call it my lost year. All I saw was the office until I dared to take a weekend off (to go to a convention and promote the company - at my own expense)

    We were working on two Super Nintendo games, which are just as "Christmas-driven" as the rest of the toy industry. The schedule was toast before I was involved, and it only got worse. One of the games I worked on finally shipped the following Christmas - I never saw the other one.

    During that year, the company churned through almost twenty people. Management was a joke, as was technical training. All for peanuts. I actually made better money the following year working for state government.

    About the only good that came out of that job was that it looked good on a resume. I'm currently an Oracle specialist, building database-backed Web sites on the side (for fun!!). A DBA looked at my resume at one point and told a hiring manager to hire me because if I could program 68k assembly AND Oracle, I could do anything. Must be true - I later got his job.

  • Give the guy a goddamned break will ya? Most of you nay-sayers are probably still in college anyway. The man was expressing his OPINIONS of the conditions in the game industry and a bit about the software industry as a whole.

    Being a software engineer myself for these past 3 years, I can sympathize. I've got a general idea of where he's coming from.

    You ultimately get forced into a position where you have to constantly battle between caring about doing the Right Thing[tm] in your code, and just going with what your PHB (or his) wants you to do.

    On the one hand you feel better when you do the Right Thing[tm], but it's an uphill battle and sometimes a mine-field of powerful egos to avoid stepping on (lest ye be fired).

    On the other hand you feel crummy for doing it the wrong way, and yet still take the flak when it does go wrong regardless of the fact that you were herded into it by your superiors. But initially there's no resistance, and no chance of bruised egos (unless you count your own).

    It's a crazy, mixed up world. Just because you're not in this kind of situation now, doesn't mean you won't be some day. So give the guy a break and stop nitpicking him to death.

    And enough with the "So get another job." lines ok? Sometimes it just isn't that easy. Coding is my thing, in anything else I'd be much more miserable. But I have a right to complain about the conditions inside the machine just like everyone else, regardless of what I'm doing.
  • Talin is well known in the Games industry as one of the few people who have the multible talents to create an entire game single-handedly. Complex Role Playing Games built by one person take several years to complete. So we added artists, sound designers, and a Producer to manage it all. The people who became game producers are largely the ones who attempted to impose the Hollywood culture on to an engineering process. In Hollywood productions, _everyone_ gets laid off at the end of the production. However, engineering companies make every attempt to retain their talented engineers and re-use the technology they create. In my view, it is the Hollywood wannabees that have ruined the game industry. Most of Talin's complaints about the industry can be traced directly to the mentality of the Hollywood wannabees that become game producers. BTW, the last game company that I worked for (The Dreamer's Guild, co-founded by Talin) still owes me two months salary that I will never see because they filed for bankruptcy after bouncing paychecks. Hey Talin, Now that you are being paid better, could you _please_ send me that back-pay? Cheers, smithdog "Roll out the spaniel." "We'll have a spaniel of fun!"
  • Please! Sure the typical programmer demographic is a large one but there are other populations of users out there who might want to play computer games also. I think its important for programmers to take pride in their work but its more important for the intended audience to enjoy a game than for the programmer to enjoy the game.

    -ccm
  • Phone answerering people, legal, and accountaing are all already budgeted for and being handled - outsourced. legal firm and accountant on retainer to do the normal things such as handle payroll and look over contracts. We will need management once the project gets bigger, but the project will never get bigger unless it is sucsessfull...
    I will, however, take your advice and ask Talon for some advice and opinions... We've tried to think of everything, but thats just not possible... I more then appreciate the concern, thank you for the sugestions - hopefully with some advice we'll be able to work things out.
  • When the road gets rocky, when you see things being done wrong - in your workplace, in buisness, etc, there are 4 things you can do about it:
    1) accept it
    2) complain about it
    3) reject it (leave, have nothing to do with it),
    possibly find someplace else where things are done right.
    4) fix it

    The author doesnt do number 1, as many game developers have. He instead does 2 and 3.

    I'm doing number 4... several other developers and I, with great creative talent, etc, are founding our own game company. No CEO. No managers, ecept ourselves. We have artists, modlers, programmers, and more. Getting funding will not be easy because we dont have any non-technical staff, and our buisness model has been called 'crazy', and 'revolutionary' because of our staff structure, but at least we're trying #4...

    T, maybe if things pick up for us we'll give you a call...

    Also, with some open source projects going on now, engine design is being removed from game design...
    For example, our first product is utilizing the CrystalSpace 3d rendering engine, an open source quake/halflife type engine. We're adding things to it, yes, but with foundations like it in place, it will be easier to reuse tools just like producers and other industries do...

    Also, while I'm here, anyone in the audience know where some Free, or cheap, marketing analysis type stuff for the game industry exists? The buis plan we have needs more concrete numbers, and we dont want to pay 4k for a basic industry report...

  • Hey, why not check out the World Forge project. They could use some help from someone with good experience.

    http://www.worldforge.org
  • Finally, an article that addresses the ever-growing slush pile of pc video games visible at any computer or department store, with insight from the inside.

    The few games I buy, let alone play, are from companies (Id is the supreme example) who are soley devoted to the cause of pushing the gaming envelope, as opposed to countless others who look to see "what's hot" and then throw in some knockoff based on yesterday's technology. I like to feel that a given game (or ANY piece of software) was created by folks who intellectually and emotionally invested in its success.

    Like HolloWood, features created by corporate investment committe to address a percieved 'trend' ring false in the eyes and ears of the kind of dedicated gamers that must be appeased for a game to become a real 'hit'.


  • Which brings me to the question:

    Why did Infocom give up on text-based adventure games? Their switching to graphics was the kiss of death. They cornered the market on text adventure but lost faith. I'd LOVE to see someone bring back and then push the envelope of text-based gaming the same way Doom/Quake did with graphics based gaming. To do so would take at least the same level of engineering creativity as Id puts into 3d games.

    Hmmm...

  • He didn't write the article to complain as much as he did to WARN those who dream of such work to be on their toes. The Dream of being a Game Designer is a holy grail of sorts for a lot of kids these days, and this article is a good and insightful wake-up call.

    Your point about moving on instead of complaining is right on tho'. Brush the gravel off those buttocks and git busy!
  • Having worked in a game-development company (although telecommuting) and watching the industry quite a while, I have to mostly agree. Although my experience was good as a whole, and I have absolutely no hard feelings towards the company or the industry in general, I could see a lot of the problems the author lists.

    I think to succeed in the gaming industry you REALLY have to love the stuff. I mean A LOT. Live and breathe games. Anything else and you'll get tired and burned out soon. I personally don't care much about games, and realizing that was one of the main reasons I left. I find the technology behind them pretty interesting, but the games themselves tend to bore me quickly. This is NOT good. Even if you only do engine/technology development, a lot of the stuff is still tedious tracking of Microsoft's API-revision-of-the-day.

    Interesting technology is not limited to games, although a lot of people seem to think that software is either cool games or boring financial database stuff, maybe add internet-java-perl-hype nowadays. Myself, I'm nowadays working on some very cool embedded stuff, and getting paid more for it too. It would take a lot to get me back to the game-development world.

    Petteri
  • "You weren't first, moron."

    Sounded like the first moron to me.

  • My my, you are an ego driven defensive little scrote aren't you.

  • I think that you missed the previous poster's point.

    Programmers who like playing the sort of games that they're coding make better games. If the programmers really like FPS games, then the FPS game that they're working on will probably be better than if they all liked strategy games (all things being equal).

    I think that it would be pretty hard (and wrong) to categorize all programmers as liking a certain type of game.

    --
    A host is a host from coast to coast...

  • The repetitive shoot-em-up games are not "what people want". They are what stereotypical 14-year-old boys want.

    Now, don't get me wrong. There are a quite a few stereotypical shooter-droids out there, and I've enjoyed shooters myself a few times, but there are other markets in there that the games industry isn't targeting. Who is it that says that housewives wouldn't play video games if an intensive marketing campaign were targeted at them?

    Video games are a unique new art form, but they're not regarded as such by the world, because the industry is afraid to step outside the bounds have been imposed upon it. The people with actual vision (artists, programmers, writers) are squelched by management who doesn't know what they're doing, but knows that another Quake clone will keep people pumping quarters into their disk-drives, or whatever it is that they do that keeps money flowing into the game company.

    It also seems silly to me that those violence-obsessed 14-year-old boys get so much attention from the industry. How much purchasing power could they possibly have, when compared with literate, college educated adults? If you could make games that adults with actual jobs would think are worthwhile, I think a few of them might buy it. It's unfortunate that the entire gaming industry has been running a counter-marketing campaign against that for years.
  • It really gravels my buttocks that items like this even get posted.

    There could be a thousand of these: "Why being in product support sucks." "Why being a electrical engineer sucks."

    Blah, blah, blah.

    If your job sucks, move on to a different one.

    I did that very thing, took a pay cut to do it, and have found myself way happier ever since.

  • hippie

    This is America. This is American life. You are the one who is whining and complaining. As a country we worked damn hard to get to this super comfortable life level, so we deserve it. You need to stop passing your guilt on to the rest of the world.

    ---
    Openstep/NeXTSTEP/Solaris/FreeBSD/Linux/ultrix/OSF /...
  • Playing a game you've written yourself is a lot like reading a book you've written yourself.

    Sure, you can appreciate the quality and talent (or lack thereof) that went into it, but you already know what will and will not happen, taking the adventure and excitement out of the game.

    Not to mention, some of the best commercial games took waaay more than one person to create, what with all the artwork, coding, quality assurance, filming (if the game has video capture), etc that goes into it.

    So, we must rely upon the gaming industry to supply us with quality entertainment. Money talks though....geeks are getting tired of putting money into half-assed attempts at unoriginal game ideas. Why do you think software pirating is so prevelant? Sure, a lot of it is because it's underage kids with no money and a lot of time, but mostly, and I know this is the reason *I* cruise the warez sites and friends' ftp sites before buying a game: I HATE WASTING 50 BUCKS ON A POORLY CODED PIECE OF CRAP. If I like a game, I buy it. I won't buy a game and pray that I like it. I work too goddam hard to throw my money away on them. I do a good enough job of that at the bar.


  • 14 year old boys may not have a lot of money, but their parents, who are willing to fork out $40-$60 to shut their kids the f*ck up and keep them out of trouble, do.

    But I do agree with you, there need to be more intelligently designed games for us old fogeys who are getting tired of Quake-clones, Warcraft clones, and other such unimaginative drivel.
    Sure, there have been a few winners that were based off unoriginal ideas, but most of them are just god-awful. Play Sin or Blood lately? Have you even BOUGHT a RTS game besides Star-craft in the last 2 years and not felt ripped off? Not me, man.

  • by coreman (8656)
    But you do have a mass exodus from the industry. I work with several ex-game programmers, most pretty burnt out. The good news is that you've got far greater numbers of easily exploitable teenagers throwing themselves at the misshapened vision of what the industry is supposed to be.
  • by dadams (9665)
    Do a search for interactive fiction. You'll turn up tons of links. Here's a good one http://www.ifarchive.org/. There's also a yearly interactive fiction contest
  • Agreed, working on games is quite similar to working on movies. I have only had the luxury of working on computer games (about 3 years now), but sometimes it feels like a weird little pocket of Hollywood.

    I know I have been somewhat exploited these past few years. I'm not 19, I'm 27, but the concept is the same. I could make a lot more out in the so-called real world, and in some ways it would be more rewarding. There is probably a much greater temptation for game programmers to jump ship than their Hollywood counterparts, simply because our talents are in such demand in other places. Yet I find I am happy where I am, and that these issues in my own life have become better, not worse.

    Yes, game development is sloppier than business development, simply because the competition is fierce and profits are so low. The best games these days come from well-funded companies that have the luxury of elbow room. However, like movies, just having a large budget guarantees nothing. And on the lower budget end, it is like movies too, for every Blair Witch winner you have a thousand losers, some deserved and some undeserved.

    Open source game development is a neat idea, but is somewhat hampered by the fact that it is much easier to get engineers for such projects than artists. We may still see some winners in this area.

    Alternative publishing sources are a neat idea too. You can check up on how the g.o.d. (gathering of developers) is doing, that may prove fruitful as well.

    I do not fault you for the decision to leave, and sympathize with the reasons. If finding a good game development job is a matter of luck, then I am among the lucky, although it took a few years to get to that position. And a few years of software development with published titles and associated experience is an investment in myself, and one that I do not regret, even when there are lucrative alternatives. But I recommend that you do not discourage those who want "in" completely, because even though it is difficult to manage, getting a rewarding game job is much easier than winning a lottery.

    Best of luck

    Sam Kalat (happy at Red Storm, which does not necessarily agree with anything I post, but probably would today)

  • Look at Id. Those guys obviously love to play the games they code, and it shows in the amount of fun they provide. But all too often I see the same rehashes of old concepts and I can't help but think if *I* had been working on a game like that, I'd be bored to tears.

    Basically, when people code games just to get a paycheck, the result is invariable boring and stale. But when they code games because they want to play them, there's a much better chance of something new and great coming along.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that open-sourced games/engines (ala Freeciv) will be appearing soon for that very same reason.

  • For the full skinny on Infocom, head over to this [csd.uwo.ca] excellent web site. Basically, after Cornerstone (Infocom's ill-fated business software) tanked, then Infocomics (a poor idea from the beginning) came along mainly as an idea from the suits at Activision, and that pretty much ended it.

    As for interactive fiction, the Zork games (and almost all of Infocom's interactive fiction) were platform independant. With the data files (included in the "Masterpieces of Infocom" CD) you can play them almost anywhere. I've gone through the entire Zork trilogy on my PalmPilot, for example :)

    Oh, and interactive fiction is still being written. Just finding it takes a little work, but it's still going. I doubt it ever truly left :)

    Good luck!

  • by Trith (10719)
    I had more fun playing 4 to 8 person doom2 in 94 in the computer labs on my university than any other game in my life. Why?

    Multiplayer was unheard of then. Granted, iceclimber, the orginal mario bros, etc let two people play at once but that is not the kind of multiplayer interface I'm talking about. The whole idea that each person had his own screen was great. The other thing was that 3d-shooter games were new. You put those 2 really big concepts in one game and wow!

    I also had more fun playing C&C than starcraft. Why? Because it was one of the first stragity games of that type to allow people to play over the internet. So again, there are 2 news things. One, I didn't have to go to the lab anymore to have the 4 people playing at once since I could use ppp from home. Second, it was a new type of game with a great soundtrack that didn't hurt it any.

    Now, everthing gives me the "Been there; done that" feeling that leaves me wishing that subspace would be ported to Linux. Xpilot just doesn't have the graphics and sound. Maybe I should shut up and join that project :)

    Good day,

    Civ CTP is awesome! Thanks Loki!
    Romans 10:9-10 [gospelcom.net]
  • Waa. Get a job flipping burgers or herding sheep, then.
  • This may be coming in a little late, but anyone interested in developing their own open-sourced video games with the minimum of fuss might be interested in checking out the COG Engine:

    http://cogengine.linuxbox.com
  • Does anyone know where most of the money from a successful game goes? That's right, it goes not to the people who made the game... It goes to the publishers first, then the distributors, then what is left over trickles into the hands of the developers.

    In this way, the once exciting art of making a game has gone the way of TV, movies, and to a certain extent, books.

    Until publishers stop insisting on being able to make the creative decisions AND swallowing up all the profits, the game industry will continue to go the way it has been: Hundreds of crappy games, all clones of each other, competing for space on a ten foot long shelf.
  • I think text-adventures and text-worlds in general are still fairly popular. There are many MUD's, many types of MUD's, and many people who use them. Most of these people don't even remember Infocom and Zork, I'm looking for a PC or Linux copy of Wishbringer myself, but they still find they love these games. These games take the old stand alone text-adventures and add multi-player abilities and some even allow the player to program new parts to the games as they go along. I think this is as much, if not more, the future of games than Unreal, Quake, and Half-life.

    In recent months I have done a 180 so that I now think games are perfectly suited to open source design. The majority of games use some other games engine with maybe a few tweaks to it and even new games are usually just small improvements here and there on older engines. With the engines of games as open source research is sepperate from game design and content creation which shortens the time required to create the games and empowers game players to quickly create and distribute their own games based on others. My favorite two games, Quake & Civ II, do this to some point by allowing aspects of them to be programmable and redistributed. Obviously this has helped increase the life cycle of the games as well as creating cult followings.

    I am less interested in creating open source engines than open source game libraries that have virtually everything needed to quickly create a bug free game engine of my design. Prehaps even a module game engine that allows you to hook in a module to process your data files (images, sounds, scripts, etc) and then whatever modules you want for your games. A sort of Visual Game Creator. Since IMO the logic of the game should be in a script file, not inside the game executables, creating a VGC shouldn't be that hard. Pick the kind of menus you want to use, pick the type of game it is, add a few chosen extras from the library and compile. Possibly include a simple code editor for creating the default scripts and tools for importing and packaging your sounds, images, and other data. You could start by supporting the basic well established game types: text-based, scroller, card, bricks, 3D, and empire-building games and just add new types as they were invented or someone bothered to add them to the library. I think this would make Linux quickly become the OS to have the most new games coming out for it. They may not use cutting edge new engines, let Id fill that niche and release their code when they move on, but they'd be fun and stable which IMO is what matters most.
  • Can you disable the accelerator? Most boards allow you to. And hey, I've got games that don't work on my 68030. :)

    Yep, I've got both an Amiga and a K6 Linux box on my desk. The best of both worlds.

    "I want to use software that doesn't suck." - ESR
    "All software that isn't free sucks." - RMS

  • Hey, wow. I have fond memories of Might and Magic II myself. The interface was pretty grim, but
    I thought that as a game it was better than MM3:
    you had to choose your skills and items more
    carefully since you could only have very
    limited quantities of them.

    Still not as wondrous as Dungeon Master, though.
  • No idea, sorry.

    I have the Amiga version. It still works,
    unlike MM3, which crashes during loading
    on my KS 3.1 68060 machine :-(.

    Sadly, Dungeon Master and Captive don't
    work either. Aaaarrrgghhh.
  • I think the real key to any software project is teamwork, not money. If you have 5 or 6 smart people that can work together very closely then you are more likely to succeed than if you are working like a lone ranger. Look at id - You don't just have not just one or two wonderful programmers, you have a whole team that work very well together. Look at slashdot. Look at Linux. Ultimately you need a charimatic leader, but it's unity of the group that makes things happen.

    I think more hackers need to learn not to be such loners and learn how to work together better. Open source is a great training ground for this.
  • I would believe this is the situation in game companies. I interviewed with a couple the last time I was looking for a job, and I was too expensive for all of them. I was not looking for a raise, and I am not statistically overpaid, if you look at the industry salary surveys, but game companies want people on the cheap.

    However, the description of the working conditions - no specs, no documentation, no process, chaotic development - seems to describe all of the companies at which I have worked in the last 15 years.

    I personally believe that it has to do with the mistaken belief that "First to market wins." This was true with Microsoft, but they had a monopoly, and they were not averse to acting in restraint of trade to maintain it. I don't think first to market with something that doesn't work always wins, though that is the way companies believe.

    The only lesson I think we can learn from this is the lesson we can learn from looking at any commercial venture. Commerce is Fraud.
  • I'd like to see the age differences between the people who automatically say "So get another job asshole" and the people with more supportive responses to this guy.

    That's a very insightful question. I'd like to see that too. It would also be interesting to compare the amount of development experience (and not just software, but writing or graphic arts too).

  • It compiles! -> Ship it! -> You're fired!

  • I'm really surprised he doesn't like Quake! What could be more satisfying than going online and blowing away one of these 14 year olds he talks about.

    More seriously, I find I have to be in the right mood to play specific games

    Quake) Desperate Need to Let Out Pent-Up aggression
    Civ) Feeling creative - what could be more satisfying than building a civilisation all by yourself.
    Other Strategy Games) I'm bored, got hours to kill, I want to control the pace of what I play

    The author of this message is 36 going on 14.

    On another point, I am a professional software engineer, and I realise that games are often designed from scratch, but I'm not scornful of the design approaches that games companies have used to get the game to work. Just because they don't use Shlaer-Mellor, Yourden, Teamwork, UML or anything else doesn't make the achievement less stunning. I'm consistently amazed that games deliver what they do out of CPUs; something a formal design approach is unlikely to realize.
  • It seems much software is being developed using investors' money. Perhaps this situation parallels the "savings and loan crisis" of the 1980's: A suave CEO schmoozes some financial backing for (fill in the blank) project, pays himself and his buddies fat salaries for a while, and then, suddenly, the development corporation is bankrupt. Ergo, negative profits.
  • >Sure, more people saw films in the 30s than they >do now (cause of the depression) but in the 60s >and 70s and especially the 80s (cause of two >people - Lucas and Spielburg).

    This is not true. In the 30's movies were much more popular because there was no television.
  • This is just a guess, but perhaps the reason why the games industry is less profitable than other software companies is that, like Hollywood, makes a huge portion of its revenue in the first month of a game release.

    Software companies like Microsoft, have a steadier revenue stream since people upgrade their software at different times.

    Also, game developers cannot continually make money off of upgrades to games. As Talin said, a game engine had a maximum lifespan of about two years.
  • There are still some independent shareware companies that make high quality games. Spiderweb Software (Exile I, II, III, Realmz) and Ambrosia Software (Maelstrom, Apeiron, Escape Velocity) are two examples that I can think of off the top of my head.

    Ambrosia, unless they have changed thier practices recently, is also a company that encourages independent developers to work for them. Several of their projects began with independent developers proposing projects and showing code to Ambrosia.
  • When I worked for a company that was contracted for government work, I was informed that my job was to "make the TAMO Chip work".
    When I asked what a "TAMO Chip" was, I was surprised by the answer. The engineers had chosen a very cheap, incapable, and badly designed microcontroller to handle a horrendously complex task, and I was to write the firmware. "TAMO" stood for "Then A Miracle Occurs".
    Fascinating stuff, government contracting...
  • by ebradway (18409)
    My friend (who is reading over my shoulder) and I have been through two different game companies (actually three if you consider the first company before the buyout). While I've never enjoyed a job more, I don't think I'd want to get back into the market. The game market has really closed up a great deal compared to 5-10 years ago.

    It's almost impossible for a new shop to take off. You pretty much have to develop a game completely before the distributors take you seriously and the game has to compare to what established shops were producing.

    For instance, the first company I worked for made statistically accurate baseball and football games exclusively for the PC. Our boss wanted to go head-to-head with EA and try to add arcade style play and graphics. Well, the investment to make that leap is huge. We tried to do it with a team of 15 people - about 5 programmers and the rest artists and sports experts. We tried to turn out three titles a year - baseball, pro football and college football. We didn't even come close. I later interviewed with EA's division that does the Madden NFL games and found out that they have over 20 people working just on the pro football game alone.

    Not to mention the disheartening sight of a streatch Hummer at E3 custom made for EA sports. That damned truck cost more than the production budget of our last title.

    I too have moved on to ecommerce development and have experienced all of the benefits that are listed above. Better pay, reasonable hours, female coworkers, and on, and on.

    I have also been asked dozens of times what it would take for someone to become a game developer. I always tell them - don't. It just isn't the career it used to be.
  • I have worked for a company that has a game division for years and I also have friends that work for game companies and I can tell you that this is exactly right.
    Game developers get lower pay and loger hours and more grief than any group of developers I have seen. Ridiculous deadlines are the norm for the industry and often the people making the decisions about the games to make have never played any.
    Some of the problem with the status quo is the buyers (least common denominator) who all buy the FPS ripoffs, but much of it lies in the industry sweatshop mentality.

    Those who open their minds too far often let their brains fall out.
  • Although the games themselves are not free, there is a very active "scene" out there making modifications to existing games, sometimes ending up with entirely new look and feel. With possible exception, most of these are free, and often times, breath new life into games that have become dull with use.
    My only experience is with quake mods, I'd have to say http://www.planetquake.com is a great place to look.
  • or are you too scared to show who you are?

    Maybe we'll talk again when you become consious.

    Retard.
  • I write a response to a pathetic article and get replies which THEMSELVES do not contain any substance! Why the hell do I even bother. Not ONE of you have a mental thought more advanced then a four year old.

    I am defensive? HELL YES! Why do such stupid things get said on a site which caters to the 'mentally elite' of society?

    Will anyone lacking logic understand my logical arguments? If YOU (whoever is reading this) has any logic, the above statement will reveal it's own answer.

    sheesh..
  • Is that at the start of game development you are looking at the newest of the new hardware as well as older equipment..
    After development has started.. depending on how long it is in development..
    The "state of the art" moduling/gaming environment you were trying to produce is now working on all old compontent.. unless you take more time and money to make sure any new equipment with new features are incorporated into the game..
    This in turn is a vicious cycle unless you say enough and punch it out the door for older equipment..
    With the advances time tabling about 4 to 6 months as of late it can be very expensive both in time and financial resources to make sure you have all the newest bells and wistles .. especially if a game is in the pipeline for a year or 2.
  • by magic (19621)
    We found each other mostly by random coincidence; the two "founders" were brothers and hacked together in high school with some friends. That made up the original core development group.

    Since then, most of us have wandered in because we were friends of people who wore working on stuff there. There have probably been about 50 people total-- some wander in, write a few lines, and wander out, others contribute to project after project.

    Right now there are maybe 10 people doing various things including marketing, testing, art, development, and research. In order to keep new blood coming in, some of us teach summer courses to high school students. This is a good way to help out and inspire little up and coming nerds like you once were, as well as recruiting to keep the company going. The people in college can usually drag their friends in the same frat or dorm into contributing, so we meet a lot of high school and college kinds.

    It's pretty hard to attract older people. They are burned out by their day jobs and don't want to work nights and weekends on another project. I find that it is really restorative to work in a good environment, but if you aren't already doing that, it sounds like a lot of work to hold down two jobs. Hey, maybe if we get enough people, some of them can go full time Morgan Systems and make the company really grow. It's always one of our fantasies.

    Now that I'm in sales mode, I should have mentioned that dead projects (things that are no longer supported) are released as source so that users who write code are never screwed. They can always write to the company and request new features while the project is supported, and can get the source and fix bugs/add features if the project is gone. I really wish big companies would do that. I understand that there are good reasons for keeping source controlled when it is part of a flag ship product, but ditching users by shutting down support for a product and not making the source or specs available really sucks-- it's not a good way to run a customer relationship.

    -magic

  • Take Zelda 64 as an example

    Zelda was delayed, missed deadlines, was supposed to come out on the infamous 64DD, and had a serious crash bug on the first head boss..

    Oh, that and the game system makes it damned near impossible to beat "phantom shadow beast Bongo Bongo" (though it does have a kickass name)
  • What a great game!

    Played that on the ol' A500, and it blew my mind. The flipping pages in the intro... freedom to move around unrestricted... day/night/weather(? it's been a while?).

  • I think what changes it is that there are a lot of options out there in computer games, even w/in a genre. Compare this to other software. There are very few word processors comparitively, or full operating systems. And it's pretty much impossible to form a monopoly type thing in games. They become so outdated and there's just so much in variety to worry about.
  • It sounds to me like the guy who wrote this article hasn't worked in the section of the computer games industry that makes good products. I don't know if it's that he's not a good programmer, if he's one of those people who accepts his lot in life w/o trying for any better, whether he's just unlucky, or whether it's the whole age thing, but there are a lot of really excellent games out there and many cool companies making them, including a lot of pretty big companies who /can/ afford to keep their programmers employed. Of course your outlook is going to be that computer gaming as an industry sucks to work in if you've worked on no-name projects that failed, but even if you accept his 10% success rate, then that means that he should've at least worked on a few good games.

    This comment is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.
  • by toolie (22684)
    I think the real problem is that the industry is becoming more corporatized. Instead of back in the 80s when the designers had most of the say so, it shifted to the brainless managers. No more creativeness, just get the product out the door by the deadline or your fired and somebody who can do it on time will be hired.

    I wouldn't doubt that this is the prevailing attitude in the industry.

  • ...about that guy holding the gun to his head.

    Why don't you come out here, we need some help writing some billing applications. You may find that really stimulating.
  • If you feel the need to something artistic, do shareware in your spare time (assuming you have some ;-) ). I've been selling my 16-bit game, Comet Busters! [cometbusters.com] for over 7 years and am still getting registrations from all over the world. It's a blast, and it's moderately profitable. All you need is a good idea -- or even a good derivative one!
  • I've now worked in the software industry at large, and more revently at a games company, working on an upcoming PC game. While it's true that development practices suck universally throughout the industry, I have to say that game companies are MUCH worse. They've somehow found a way to take the standard (and piss poor) software engineering of most software companies, and make it ten times as excruciating for the developer. Part of this might be because one has higher expectations going in ("Oh wow! I get to write games!") but I think the author has some VERY valid points here.
  • I and most of my friends stopped buying games when the Quest (sierra type games) dissappeared.

    Ahh, but the adventure genre is coming back. After a long wait, Monkey Island 3 was released. I immediatly bought it and still install windows every so often so I can play it. Lucasarts also released Grim Fandango recently. And, an interpreter for the old sierra games was released (Check freshmeat) so not only can we still play all those old sierra games but we can write our own. Long live the adventure genre.

    -skullY (Wishing the netscape forms had a "vi" mode so I can just hit esc1G)
  • It goes even deeper than just the software industry. This happens in virtually every industry in the world. Think back to _The Simpsons_ when Bart & his class go on a field trip, only to find that they can't afford it. The motto of the place is "Sorry, but there's money to be made". Where there is money, there will be business. Where there is business, there will be bad business practices. This is very similar to the idea that after charisma comes bureaucracy. In other words, ideas start out very small and located in one person (Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs, Ghandi, Jesus, and many many others) but becomes bureaucratic and unfriendly when the idea grows. Add to this (in this case) the possibility of becoming rich off of one product, and you get exactly what the author is describing. I don't know of a single industry this doesn't occur in. Enjoy your e-commerce job while you have it. E-commerce is still in its infancy. In 10 years you might find it's very similar to the position you just left. Yes, this will happen to many other similar movements (Linux - probably RedHat is already moving that way).

    The only way to escape this is to quit and start your own company. Of course, then you have a different set of rules to follow (like getting enough business to put food on your plate!)

    Johnathon
  • It really depends on where you work. I've worked in general web development and databasing... it can go either way. Hell, it can apply anywhere where creativity is involved in any way.

    I've worked where I've chunked out code constantly and administered machines. If I did anything creative, no one cared. I was constantly asked to proof text as some people couldn't use their fingers to open Word (sic) and spell check.

    But then again, my first job was cool though. Boss and I would go for coffee, people there were mostly nice. We'd discuss what are better methods of doing things.. actually discuss.. not dictate..

    I wish I had better examples, but it isn't only salient to the game industry.

  • Woo hoo! comment 69! ;>

    Sorry.. couldn't resist..

    --
    Life's short, play hard.... Ow owowow... stitch in my side!

  • You got the content, you didn't get the point though.. it's to give insight on the game industry.. at least in his pov...
  • You know.. the point of this isn't to be a whiney little cry baby. Its to give insight. Imagine if no one ever gave you insight on anything, even without asking for it. You know how many times you will do 'dumb things'? C'mmon people...
  • "In this way, the once exciting art of making a game has gone the way of TV, movies, and to a certain extent, books"

    I very much agree with you here - I would also include the music industry and comics industry - all industries that started out being fresh and full of creativity, but once the truckloads of money started rolling in, degenerated into mass-market over-commercialized tripe.

    However, I tend to shift the blame somewhat away from rich producers, to the consumers themselves - until people start actually demanding quality, producers will continue to churn out the same shit again and again. But the sad part is that the market swallows it up; the people all hand over their money like droids, never actually stopping to think that they could (and should) be asking for more than the hundreds of crappy (x), all clones of each other (where (x) could be songs, comics, movies, tv shows, computer games, whatever.) Maybe its what people want. Or maybe our expectations have been lowered to the point where its what we accept.

  • There could be a thousand of these: "Why being in product support sucks." "Why being a electrical engineer sucks."

    Well, yes, but no one ever says "Wow! You're in product support? That's SO COOL! I've got great ideas for the business. How can I get in on it, too?"


  • Don't gloss over the comment on gender ratio.


    It's a social aspect which can directly and drastically affect morale regardless of anyone's marital status.

  • Oh! Did he question your illusions?
    Oh! Bad guy he is!
    Really!
  • Don't get we wrong, Fallout 2 is an amazing game, but the errors, bugs and slow-downs I got from playing the game without the patch(I got the game when it first came out) really ruined the experience for me.

    I just wish that marketing stayed away from the programmers during the creation of the game, and Black Isle released it when it was ready, instead of rushing it straight to market. I think that the time has come to give really good game ideas the time they need to flourish, instead of rushing them to market all of the time.


  • (disclaimer: not a serious coder, more of a benevolent observer and person with money to spend on games)

    I mentioned this in another gaming article (more focused on the OSS side) so if this is redundant to you I apologize.

    The major problem, as I see it, with creating consistent high-quality games is building the underlying technology. As the author said, game engines have a half-life (yes, pun) of about two years. Now wouldn't the open source model for building software be applicable to creating such engines. The bugs could be worked out en masse and all the nifty features could be added a la carte. This would also provide the community type support that I have found SO extremely helpful in learning Linux and Apache.

    Not having to build a quick, proprietary (and therefore buggy) engine for each game would allow designers to work on the stuff that make a great game, level design, art, interaction, sound, etc. By lowering the programming barriers to entry we might even see a return to the lone-wolf style games that bootstrapped the industry. And just might lower game prices into a range where they can be massively consumed, like movies. Personally I think $20 is a good target. With the rise of digital (legal) distribution, and the HUGE proliferation of gaming sites (comes close the pr0n IMHO) would provide all the hype, marketing, and access you need to sustain a comsumption driven product.

    Also building a common installer and graphic libs would GREATLY reduce the complexity of getting games running on the wide variety of installations out there, not to mention a conversion of the next generation of gamers.

    Just some thoughts on a Frydi...

  • Sometimes I wonder how software companies make money at all

    see: business practices, Microsoft.

    (sorry folks, but that's the harsh reality.)
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  • If you had told me this over coffee, I would urge you to leave your job and find something you could be more enthusiastic about.

    Saying that systemic problems are keeping you down is tantamount to giving up. If YOU wan't to change the computer games industry, change it by being successful in a new mode of game development and distribution. Of course, you must be aware of the success of ID, through Internet distribution and freebies. You allude to the "big game companies" with their "first person shooters" but look back five years and you won't see all those first person shooters, you'll see a few guys about to revolutionize an industry with a new type of game and a new form of distribution.

    The bad news is that the situation you describe is true of the computer industry as a whole. The good news is that you get to decide: work for Microsoft, or work on free software, start a new company, or work at a bank.

    It's your choice.
    John
  • It also seems silly to me that those violence-obsessed 14-year-old boys get so much attention from the industry. How much purchasing power could they possibly have, when compared with literate, college educated adults?

    It isn't so much about purchasing power, as it is about what you are willing to spend the money on. For 14 year olds, dropping cash on Games (or comics, CCG's, D&D, and whatever else the flavour of the month is) is a lot easier to justify.

    As a literate, college-educated adult, I find I have less time to play the games, regardless of type, and other responsibilites, for both my money and my time.

    Thus, while I wouldn't mind playing the latest and greatest, I have little to no tolerance for a game that leaves me feeling like I've wasted that time.

    Thus, the games that reside on my HD are traditionally either quick and easy card games that can be done while waiting for a download, or a mindless shooter that can be dropped into and out of without a significant investiture of time (ie, Q3A).

    And somehow, I get a sneaking suspicsion that I'm not alone in this either.
  • Worked hard? Who worked hard? What I remember from my history is, some old white dudes moved in to a resource-rich land, killed damn near everyone there, enslaved the population of another continent to work that land and since then has been moving on momentum.

    Sure, some people worked hard. But to *expect* this great life is the problem with this article. This author expects that everything should be handed to him, that he shouldn't have to work hard to get it. Do you think the people that "worked hard" to bring us our American Dream loved their jobs? No. But now people want everything.

    If you think we should all just sit on our asses and live off of the spoils of our ancestry, you've got to give me some of whatever you've been smoking.

    ryan
  • I'm sick and tired of people whose lives center around computers, and themselves. Points:

    1) Your dog lives a better and healthier life tha 90% of the people on this planet. Cry me a river for the woes of not having "fun" at work, when in most of the world people are shitting their intestines out because they can't get any food.

    2) Stop using hyperbolic exaggeration. If I read one more fucking paranoid computer user talk about "big brother" reading their email, I'll flip. Big Brother is the one that shoots you if talk bad about the government in China, not the one that simply suggests that maybe you don't talk about felching in the Barney newsgroups.

    3) I don't care which platform you like. Can we move on to something important?

    In short, this article is whiny. I'd lay dollars to donuts that this author is a rich white male. Guess what? No matter what insignificant, lame job you take you're still going to be successful. You can afford a computer! You eat 500% more food than you need to survive! You're killing hundreds of people every day through your incessant consumption!

    Get over yourselves!


    ryan
  • ... don't just happen in the Gaming industry.
    I hear of lots of high-tech companies that "love to exploit 19 year old programmers", "fail to actually apply the principles [of project management]" and slot multi-talented people in a (mismatched) very narrow job description.
    Seems to me that it's a quasi-universal problem!

    ---
  • If you think game software is bad for getting something useful published, try some other field, especially research related ones. I used to work for the drug company Merck- my father worked there for 30+ years as an organic chemist.

    Number of drugs on the market that he made: 0. This is actually the typical output for a medicinal chemist- the fraction of compounds that become successful drugs is so small as to approach zero. My Dad was luckier than most- he actually got a compound to final human trials before it was canned.

    Oh, and you don't exactly get a lot of latitude when it comes to deciding what avenues to pursue. The saving grace is that at least drug companies are realistic about deadlines- they know it takes years even with an all-out rush, so you don't have the pressure to ship by Christmas.

  • You should read more Hollywoon tradepaper, because a mature Game market should very much resemble the entertainment business.

    When you read that The Fnglish Patient beat out Fargo, or Babe: Pig in the City bomb in BO, maybe you will feel better.

    If you want more fair/stable environment, your hardware upgrade cycle has to be longer than a couple of years. You still don't give console enough credit.

    Really want something that can exploit PC's potential, how's this for an idea: A stradegy game that's skinable, user will make their own figure, map and storyline. (kids will make pokemon saga and Slashdoter will make Redmond Monster.) A skin editor that is opensource and modular. You make money off of the host gamename.org.



    CY
  • Pick any industry that produces commercial software and you'll find lack of design, testing, documentation and shorten deadlines.

    My advice is to do your 8 hours and do what the pointy-hair managers want and CYA out the wahzoo. Or become an hourly employee and profit from the overtime that will be coming your way when the project managers screw up (and they will screw up).

    Back in '94 I started my own company and tried to release a commerical product. What I have found is you have about a 6 month window to design, code test, and release before you miss the window of opportunity. I was my own worse boss and worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, for 7 months.

    I've consulted and done the salary thing since and have seen a lot of companies flush millions of dollars into projects with nothing to show for it. All the same reasons you sited in your article.
  • Which people? Granted console gamers will buy the same old tripe over and over again, but there's a whole other sector of the market out there to be exploited. I and most of my friends stopped buying games when the Quest (sierra type games) dissappeared. You can definitly make money selling slick FPSs to fourteen year olds, but small business probably has a better chance of profiting from a more mature slice of the market.
  • I can imagine so.

    Although, if I could code a really cool game (i.e., really cool to me)/get it to work/etc... I'd be happy enough with just that. But I can see where, when one is trying to make a living out of coding games and doesn't get very far..well, it'd be discouraging (as the article related). but then, I think i'd do just what he said he might do.. switch to a different source of income, and code for fun. that way, your work is appreciated more, by you, the OSS community, etc..
  • This article is powerful stuff. It's interesting to consider the implications.
    Firstly. I'm incredibly reminded of the music industry. This is not a compliment. The music industry is incredibly exploitative- ask a Steve Albini, ask an insider, ask an indie player of some sort. It's really quite sick and horrible.
    In this light, the kids yelling 'Whiner!' are worthy of contempt- they've bought into the fantasy, but I think none of them are actually living the reality. I'm not living that reality either, but I retain a fascination with the stories of those who are :) at any rate, simply _insisting_ that the world is filled with opportunity does not make it be true. In some places there is opportunity. In others there is not. And many of these exploited game programmers will develop physical ailments such as ulcers which are life threatening and _not_ things that one automatically gets by being poor.
    My own choice? I'm setting out to write free software (i.e. GPL), and expect not to be able to make any money with it- so I have to be devious. I and some fellow techies have founded a web hosting service for nonprofits, we are _becoming_ a nonprofit, and we are setting out to offer ISP services. If we can do that and lose money doing great things, we can compete for grants effectively- and our job descriptions specifically cite 'writing software for nonprofits and people in general' without getting very specific as to _what_ software this would be...
    If we can have an ISP, then we will be able to release games that use a game server, and that's the plan. I'm thinking in terms of rather low bandwidth- for instance, I've mocked up an interface for an oil supertanker game- simple raycasting view from the helm, but the _depth_ of the game would be much more intense, and one vital part of it is that you'd be setting out on tanker journeys in real time, and your tanker would be steaming away unattended while you slept or tuned out- you'd go on line and fire up the client to control the ship, but it continues to exist without you (possibly running into other tankers if you ignore it). Kind of like tamagotchis only several billion times heavier and filled with oil ;)
    There's a whole level of detail in just the oil pipe routing and tank filling alone- this would be pretty nearly a hardcore sim.
    There's also a space-based concept I'm putting a lot of work into, that's on a scale way beyond anything anyone's currently doing or contemplating, because it's based on emergent detail rather than the designer playing god and specifying everything accurately.
    The common factor here is this: I gotta make these work _first_. I have every intention of releasing all source as GPL and trying to entice Linux ports of it all (and working hard to help that to happen) but I don't believe for a second it'll happen unless there's already a playable game there, so the initial phase has to be 'produce something that plays' no matter how long it takes. It's extremely likely that these will be coming out on the Mac first. That doesn't mean there's no Linux interest, it means I can't program Linux yet :) and won't wait until I can release on all platforms to release something.
    I do have a sample [airwindows.com] or two [airwindows.com] of the space engine, at least. What you're seeing in the first one is the universe, which contains over ten million discrete stars (to be exact, 10,884,297). In this picture, every fully white pixel represents 255 stars or more, in an orthographic projection. Every star appears at a specific 32 bit by 32 bit by 32 bit location. The total data file that generates all this is sixteen megs... In the second picture you see a single slice through the universe, one sector deep, which shows the type of aliasing the algorithms produce. This engine is geared for speed of lookup, and the full map drawing program plotted the positions of 10,884,297 stars in about four hours on a 200Mhz 604 using a terribly unoptimised OOP basic (this, despite the fact that the engine is intentionally set up to make maximum use of bitshifts and rapid divides and multiplies, and also optimises the use of a PowerPC 'branch if equal' loop terminator)...
    Again- this isn't going to make me any money (and God knows how many people even bothered to follow the link and read my whole, typically-long diatribe). However, it _will_ make a deeper sort of game possible, on lots of levels- I've studied the dynamics of many online multiplayer games (I'm talking Warbirds here, not quake deathmatches- _large_ scale stuff), and am also ready to extend other areas (such as ship automated systems) into mostly uncharted areas, i.e. only RoboWar has done what I'm suggesting, and even that is a very different flavor- I've been designing a special set of opcodes for player assembly language programming for computer aided ship handling- assuming computer cores that run at about 60Hz- again, yes I know I could have one running much faster, but I'm planning on having _thousands_ all running in one large-scale engagement. On having superbattleships built by the cooperation of dozens of players who must get together and arrange duty rosters in order to be able to run the huge beast effectively.... there are really interesting issues involving gameplay and how to get people working together to wipe out others (instead of just trying to go and directly wipe out others) ;)
    You'll be hearing about this- and it'll see Linux- but it won't make me money, and it won't ever be mainstream. So much the worse for the mainstream ;)
  • The repetitive shoot-em-up games are not "what people want". They are what stereotypical 14-year-old boys want.

    Incorrect. The majority of the fanbase for games such as Quake is composed of college students. They're the ones with the 10mbps Internet links and LAN parties.

    The reason games are marketed to those 17-25 is simply because they buy the games. My parents do not buy computer games. Not even supposedly "intellectual" games. They use the computer to do taxes, spreadsheets, and look up stuff on the internet, not to play games. I'd imagine a lot of adults over 40 are like that, and hence that demographic is not a good one to market your game towards.
  • Oh geeze.. This is almost too foolish bother with... The lottery is based on chance. Pure Chance. Killer games are based on quality, marketing, and consumer needs

    But in a complex system, evaluating this isn't easy; moreover, the people in position to do this evaluating aren't necessarily competent at doing so, and may have ulterior motives (getting a bigger budget) that interfere with making the smart decisions. If everyone did competently analyze the situation with full knowledge and understanding, then there would be no lousy games or games that never ship at all. Clearly, given that there are plenty of games in those two categories, there are plenty of people with access to funds who aren't making the smart decisions, and are giving the industry a bad name.

    I personally was part of a development team that lost lots of money for Revell...
  • I'd like to see the age differences between the people who automatically say "So get another job asshole" and the people with more supportive responses to this guy. The fact is he's written some really nice stuff - most of us would be really happy to do anything close in our careers. I have Music X myself, and it's a great package. To those of you with no sympathy I say go ahead, move into management now, because if you stay a programmer you will surely feel the same one day.
  • Could it be the very nature of games as both software and entertainment products?

    I think that's it exactly.

    Given the modern-day multimedia, graphics-intensive capabilities of computers, the demand on game designers is greater than ever before. As soon as you CAN have an immersive 3d environment, the bar is raised and people will EXPECT to have a quality 3d environment. That's the software end. The Entertainment end is a whole 'nother ball-o-wax that most developers (let alone suits) just aren't prepared for.

    For a game to be successful, it must be engrossing and entertaining, like a good story. Since it's also a visual medium, visual design is hugely important. There's sound involved, and the sounds have to ADD to the 'spell' of the game and not detract, etc.

    Storytelling, Set Design, Sound Engineering...sounds like a movie! How many Really Good film directors are there out there? How many of the 'Really Good' ones STILL make bombs half the time? Now add the element of interactivity, and you have an even greater demand on creative resources to produce a successful game product.

    There will always be a niche market for 'classic' style video games, which mimic/enhance classic non-video games (cards, mah-johng, whatever) or create their own clever abstract game environments (pacman, Tempest, - I can't think of a modern PC equivalent), but the bulk the market will be led by games that combine front-of-the-line engineering with high-quality and immersive environments.

    To do this requires dedication and resources that few companies are willing or even able in their wildest dreams to support. Some try by hiring live actors to do static 'reality' bits, but these generally fall flat, as most gamers don't want live, uninspired actors intruding on their fantasy.

    Hungry. Lunch. Good. Go now.
  • I'm glad that Talin has taken this issue up with the slashdot community. I'm not in the games industry myself (yet), but I am an avid reader of Game Developer. Rarely do you hear about a game that wasn't plagued by scheduling issues, or the frantic rush to hit the famed Christmas deadline. Some games have had absolutely horrible creation methods, simply because nobody felt like there was time to plan anything different out. I'm gonna get slapped for this, but the games industry follows the "if it compiles, ship it" philosophy more than Microsoft ever could. At least Microsoft delays their products. Not that it helps much.

    You know what, though? It's a total damn shame, too. Unfortunately, not enough people are able to recognize games as an art form as opposed to something guys without girlfriends enjoy. Ask almost any game developer why they create games -- any developer, regardless of the game -- and I think half will tell you they consider it an art form. The other half just plain enjoys what they're doing. (These are my rough estimates, by the way.)

    As games have evolved over the years -- in complexity, in technical ability, in sheer impressiveness (and hence expressiveness; at least, that's the way it is for many viewers) -- they have increased the capacity of their art. So it would make common sense that the games industry slow down to reach this art. Nope! Rather, the games industry is run by company boards who, for the most part, view games as a source of income rather than an art form. They'll be blunt about it, too. If they think your game sucks for any reason -- even in the raw prototype stage -- you can forget developing it further. It's gone baby, solid gone. When you get to the development cycle, it's dictated by them, and if you don't keep up to their expectations, you can kiss it goodbye. This is not an environment in which you foster creative, artistic thinking.

    Take Zelda 64 as an example. (Console games may differ between commercial strategies, but certainly not their artistic qualities.) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had a long development cycle with a staff of 200 people. The result: a game which is detailed, enjoyable, and, above all, undeniably a great work of art. That's how everything should be done. Alas, not everyone is a video game genius and are willing to dictate things differently like Miyamoto. However, that's how you make art.

    Video games have a great potential for art that no other art form has -- their inherent interactivity. Using this advantage, the art form can be molded to reflect upon what the player has done, and send them the message that the designers want to be sent. We should argue with the game companies to see this reflected in their games. Support games as art; not games as a way to fatten some CEO and give a company a good profile.

    -- Stargazer

  • You are strongly advised to check up on the history of a little-known independent game development house called The Dreamer's Guild, a company founded on almost exactly the same principles you mention. Talin was on the executive staff of The Dreamer's Guild.

    Briefly, the Guild started getting some good contracts, and the niggly little details of running a business began to get in their way (things like payroll, benefits administration, legal counsel, answering the phones, leasing office space, etc.). So the Guild had to invent management. This worked sorta kinda okay until, one day, the Guild made a poor choice for their CEO, who sank the company.

    I'm sure Talin would be the first to tell you that such an idea can still work, but I think you need to disabuse yourself of the illusion that "management" is irrelevant. Once you exceed a certain size (which is surprisingly small), it becomes necessary. I'd strongly recommend talking to Talin (or someone else in the industry) so you can get an idea of all the landmines you need to avoid in order to succeed.

    Schwab

  • What boggles my mind is that some people have actually told me "Cool, I'd like to be in tech support, how would I get in?" I gave 'em dirty looks like they were mocking me. I was a level 1 tech (phone drone) and I was doing nothing but internal support, i.e. no external customers. So if someone cussed me out I can and did call their manager over it. And I still burned out. Now I'm a level 2 type, I take only returned calls to ones I made, and having root access isn't a matter of if politics will ever allow it, it's a matter of when I get it. Know what? It still sucks in a lot of places, but I deal.

    All that said it's good that the dark sides of any industry be exposed. More knowledge is a good thing. Overall though, the story seemed really lacking in actual anecdotes, and mostly contained a lot of assertions and opinions. Maybe true, but I didn't feel like I was being given a picture of the situation more than being handed a resignation letter.
  • This article is full of illogical banter and emotional nonsense. He does not prove anything, and tries backing it all up with false examples covered by a mask of logic.

    it sometimes seems like more investment money is actually wasted developing and marketing failed games than is made in profits from successful ones.
    What a dumb thing to say! If that were the case, there would BE NO game industry! You want to know why game developers think their's might be the Next Big Thing? Because it might! And if it does, they are set for a long time to come. If it doesn't work out, they just got a bunch of nice paychecks.

    The economic realities of developing games induces what I call "The Lottery Mentality".
    Oh geeze.. This is almost too foolish bother with... The lottery is based on chance. Pure Chance. Killer games are based on quality, marketing, and consumer needs. If you match those up, you win. He whined about bad marketting, bad this, bad that, well, there is your answer! Your companies sucked!

    I don't feel like going on. This article was one of the lamest things I have read in a long time. >:(
  • by magic (19621)

    This has been 100% of my experience in the industry as well. I agree that the best game developers are multi-talented, with expertise at art, design, game scripting, implementation, and good old fashioned hacking.

    I ended up working with a small shareware company part time, so that I could still work on games, but do it in a pleasant environment. Your list description of an ideal environment is what I strive for. Our company focusses on the relationship between customers, the company, and "employees". We have no salaries, so we are free to work on or start whatever projects we want, because it is not costing the company anything. If something ships, the profits are distributed entirely among the people who contributed to the product.

    The down side of this is that you don't ship sexy, cutting edge apps. The things that ship as consumer products in our case tend to be simple Win32 arcade games, which have accumulated a small cult following and get a few million downloads a year.

    However, we do have some sexy things in house-- platform independent (well, really linux, win32, mac, sparc... anywhere codewarrior or gcc compile to) games, 2d/3d graphics engines, languages, etc. that are developed and licensed to larger companies, as well as small but lucrative consulting deals for websites and small apps. We don't get the brand recognition of working on a product anybody has ever heard of, and you don't get the support of having up front resources to afford to hire people and buy art-- everything is through contributors who work for free (plus royalties, of course). We do get to work in an exciting, supportive environment (where everyone wants to be there and finds it fun!). It is comfortable, but I wouldn't say "low-key", though. There are a lot of late nights of hacking or design sessions, because that's one way great things get done in this industry.

    FWIW, Morgan Systems [aol.com] is the company. You probably won't be impressed with the games, and they don't run under linux :( Maybe some of our other stuff will start to get out though; we have a simplified Matlab style app/language and ray tracer that are going to be released as open source, and run everywhere. Hopefully some of our libraries are coming to a game near you, but not with our brand on them.

  • As a matter of fact, I'm looking for a job with at least 90% female employees right now.

    I hope my wife doesn't read slashdot. :)
  • ... is a lot of fun. No deadlines, no pressures, no managers, and alas, no money. The biggest problem is having to have a real job as well. ;)
  • The author's experience is obviously of value here, and his insider's perspective is important. However, I think that he missed the opportunity to point out the bigger issue.

    Much of the problems he describes -- bad management, lack of well-understood engineering mechanisms, etc. -- are very widespread in software industry in general, not just the game industry. However, software industry in general is rather profitable -- and gaming industry, according to the author, is not.

    There is a differentiating factor here -- there is something about the gaming industry that makes it work by different rules from the rest of the software world. Pointing out that difference, is what the autrhor should have done, rather than just enumerate the problems that plague software industry in general.

    What is that difference? I don't know -- but I am fairly certain it's not the fact that the target audiences differ. Could it be the very nature of games as both software and entertainment products?.. It is possible, I suppose, but I lack the knowledge to say this with assurance.

    In short, the author raised an interesting problem, but failed to dig deep enough for the answers, IMO.

    --

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