You don’t get far in anything in life if you don’t have a passion – a fire in your belly that makes you want to do it. Few careers highlight this more than games development. You need to eat, sleep and breathe games and games development; you need to want to do it in your spare time – heck you need to want to do it when you don’t have spare time. It’s clear by looking at job requirements as they become available, each one indicating a need for the above albeit in slightly more professional and less emotional wording.
The problem is that when people are this dedicated and this willing to partake in the development process, they become very easy to take advantage of. The recent whistleblowing regarding Team Bondi, Rockstar and the LA Noire development process are a case in point although they are most certainly not the only guilty party. A catastrophic mismanagement of the staff, based on punishing crunch periods over a seven year development cycle. The general consensus – or threat, to give it its correct name – is that if someone isn’t willing to put in inhuman numbers of hours then they clearly aren’t dedicated to the industry; and it’s very easy to replace them with one of the thousands of others eager to get a break into the field. This generates a feeling of oppression and entrapment, which is bad for the individual, bad for the studio and ultimately bad for the game being developed.
The concerning thing is that, very quickly, that all important passion is stifled as the development team burn out; and this isn’t just an industry problem, I have seen it happen at University level as well – I’ve even been on both sides of the scenario – both as programmer and as project manager.
This is why I think the best teams (and therefore the most successful companies) are formed, not by a passionate team of developers alone, but a passionate team lead by a passionate leader.
Even better, a leader that has worked their way up through the lower developmental ranks. My institute offers both a Games Development, and Games Enterprise course, but they have a significant amount of crossover. The would-be entrepeneurs still learn the key parts of actually making a game. This produces more empathic, well-rounded producers, directors and managers that have witnessed first-hand the development passion in action, and (hopefully) understand its need to be nurtured and not trampled.
There will always be managers with unreasonable expectations – even those that could be described as bullies. However if enough graduates enter the industry over the next few years with this more empathic attitude, I think we will slowly begin to see a much-needed shift in the way the industry operates.