Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Revisiting Quality of Life

Erin Hoffman | 29 May 2008 19:00
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Crunch and Logical Fallacies

There is a basic logical fallacy that runs core to human nature itself: because we've always made games this way, this way is obviously necessary to make games in the future. One poster succinctly addressed a major failure in this line of thinking:

" 'There is a reason all the great games that come out go through crunch time'

If everyone does crunch then it's normal that great games go through it - just like bad games do. The naive thing is to say that great games are great because they crunched, or that that without crunch they wouldn't have been great.

I believe that if the people developing a game are passionate about it then the game has better chances of being great. I also believe that when people are passionate they will work more hours and/or with more intensity, because of their own choice and desire. That's not crunch. Crunch is mandatory overtime for an extended period of time, often planned (explicitly or not). Wonder what that does to your passion and your productivity, in the short term but especially in the long term? It destroys them. You will cut corners to go home before 10. You will hack solutions that will bite you in the ass next month. You will hide problems that someone else will have to deal with. Your ability and willingness to communicate with your teammates will diminish. Way to make a great game!

In various projects, I have crunched on my own will, I have crunched against my own will, and I have asked other people to crunch. But you will not convince me that crunch is a necessary part of developing a great game. Crunch is always the result of creative and technical management mistakes. You can argue that the ability to use crunch to work around those mistakes is what allowed some great people to complete great games without proper management skills. Everyone has a first time full of doubts, mistakes, etc. and you do anything you can to make it happen... but that's something that you also have to grow out of or you won't be making any great games soon.

Point me to a crunch success story and I will point you to a couple dozen miserable failures that also crunched."

QA, Resources versus Human Resources, and Scoping Crunch

"While fairly new to the industry, I'll have to say that as far as the type of department I'm working (QA on the publisher side), life is tough. It is expected that crunch/overtime will happen; we all accept that and we don't mind it .... While, fortunately, we have someone working to change that, the OoL for those in the trenches from my end isn't all that great. We love the job so we stay (or at least, we know we need to stay for the experience)... but we all know that we're getting a small stick and taken advantage of. More than a handful of people have quit for other companies, non-gaming and otherwise, for the simple fact that those companies aren't asking constant OT for just above minimum wage."

Even this is just a small sample of the feedback from Paul's article, where the discussion still continues, indicating that there is indeed a renewed sharp interest in these issues. And, of course, it always lives on Gamewatch .

In closing, I would offer (since I can) a further explanation on some of my comments to Paul for the Gamasutra article.

Regarding EA, I do believe that it has made a tremendous turnaround in many of its studios. Multiple media articles have quoted me saying as much, and the in-total reduction of my current quality of life comments seem to soundbyte into that message. As with all soundbytes, however, there's a bit more to it.

I do receive reports regularly from developers in situations both good and bad. Gradually, the messages coming from EA employees have drastically spun around. From being one of the most out of control deathmarch companies in the industry, EA seems to be now turning a corner to emphasize the message at its founding, that developer talent is at the crux of its business model and its business success. There was a recent statement made by CEO John Riccitello on the company's 2008 fiscal year that I found especially interesting (emphasis is mine):

"A year ago, we committed to an aggressive change agenda at EA. Our employees stepped up to the challenge and we finished fiscal year 2008 with non-GAAP revenue up 30 percent to $4 billion - a record for any third-party publisher."

This represents an important realization by EA on the connection between its developers and its destiny. EA went through a very dark period, and I would argue it is not yet completely out of it, in which it forgot that it is in fact a game developer studio and not just a retail product manufacturer. I hope that EA can retain this new remembrance and continue to improve its still-lagging studios.

I do believe that the 'cause' has moved forward significantly since 2004, and that it will continue to do so. There is no 'forgetting' these issues - it's hard not to give a damn about the basic level of satisfaction one has with one's life. It's also an ongoing process. We'll never be 'done' - but there's reason for hope, and reason for praise as well as critique.

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