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Management within games industry


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I've seen this posted on Kotaku and I thought it was pretty interesting, even tho a bit extreme maybe. Still, sharing with you folks.

This was a reply to the recent Layoffs that hit Propaganda, they were working on Pirates of the Caribbean Game.

http://kotaku.com/comment/30788787/

I'm a veteran in the game and film indusrty and this is how the game industry works: Some of you wonder why a good looking game that's also near complete gets cancelled,... The problem has nothing to do with the quality or the creative team behind the game. The problem is the MIDDLE MANAGEMENT in the game industry. This is how it all goes wrong: game industry exists out of creatives and coders, a group of artists and programmers can create a game all to themselves. Of course there is some need for administration and people who deal with paperwork, especially when you are a publisher. Buts as far as a develpment team goes, the artist and programmers are the heart and soul of your game.

Unfortunately our industry started to get more and more middle mangers, who are NOT artists or programmers. There is nothing that the middle manegemnt does which end up in the front end product of a game. Imagine having a company with a lot of administrative people who middle in the decision making and all have high paid salaries, because they call themselves 'management'. So why are they there? glad you asked, because they created these jobs for themselves and they like to keep it that way. In fact they are constatnly multiplying in the game company structres (like Hollywood) so there are more and more salaries going to middle managment people than to actual artists and progmmers. Plus these manager salaries are always more than what the average artists/programmer gets paid. So it is even a greater blow to the financial part of a game. It doesnt stop there, the middle mangers are known to meddle with every decision (creative or technical) that is made in the creation of a game. Sometimes we have a manager who has to answer to another manager and so on just to make a decision on a creative issue or coding. As a result of this the creatives have to wait untill these managers make a descision, and often they go back-and-forth with it. So subsequently time gets waisted. In short MIDDLE MANAGEMNT takes away money off of the project and at the same time delays the production project and wastes time, which is also wasting more money. Thats why it takes a long time to make a game, there is a lot of waiting for decisions from managers who nose in every aspect of a game, who shouldnt be employed in a development team in the first place. But yet there they are.

So the publisher sees that a lot of time has passed on a project, lots of money is spent on it, and still there is no complete finished game. In fact its a miracle that a game can even look remotely decent in a working condition like that (nothing is worse than fruistrating your creative team, artists and programmers). So the publishers cut their loses (eventhough the game might be near finish or might look good) but they want to cut their loses and order the publisher to lay people off. Ironically and sadly, the middle mangers are the ones who do the lay off at a game development company. So they will never fire themselves (eventhough they themselves ARE the problem in the first place!) In cases of lay offs the first thing the middle managemnt does is looking at the highest paid artists and programmers in the company (who are usually also the best talent, hence the highest salary usually). Managers fire those talent first, to save money. Then the company is left with a variety of good to mediocre level of creatives/coders. They get selected for layoffs and half of the company is thrown out. Still with the same amount of middle management involved, bacaues again the managers never fire themselves. And they never would admit that they are not needed in the industry.

What follows after this is quite remarkble, because now the company is half crippled. All or most of their high paid talent is out, and the company is left with a mediocre cheap labor group that cant even make a decent game anymore,...it a fast down-hill from that point on. Bcause the developer is basically not capable to produce anything to meet with the publishers demand. Yet still the middle managers are there, leeching the funding of every project. Seeing the weak and frustrated creative results of a develper, the publisher will eventually decide to cut off the funding comepletly and closing down the developer company all together. Then the managers are forced to leave and hopefully will not be hired in any other game company.

The HOPE is: that talented creative people will ALWAYS find work, at another and better company. Even better in situations like this, is when a group of artists and programmers will leave the decaying company and create their own developing studio with no middle mangers or any leeching entity at all. Because art+code is the creative heart of making a game and that's the most important part in making games. To make games you dont need a group of ridiculously high-paid administrators who call themselves 'managers'.

This is also the direction we already see the game industry heading,... groups of artists and programmers creating leaving big companies and creating their own developing studio. And they deliver great results in shorter time and push the creativity even further. Publishers soon notice these small pocket of developers run by artists and programmers and give them funding to develop even more. Just remember to keep the middle managers out of it. Leave them on the street where they belong!

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I haven't witnessed something as extreme personaly yet. Seems more a problem for studios who are owned by a big corporate entity.

I don't agree with him that artists and coders are everything it takes to make a game nowadays. Producers are important to stay within budget and for paper work and such. But i'm not sure that's the kind of management he means. I think some companys have actual managers for their creative staff who just sit there and overlook work like slave holders. This indeed sounds like a very silly and counter productive thing.

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i attest to everything that guy says except that middle management is pretty much safe from getting fired because they do the firing !

at my current "dayjob" the turn over in the middle management area is huge but thats probably because the UBERBOSS still sees whats going on in the trenches and always blames the manager of a team and never the team itself ! if the boss was not in the same building or maybe not even in the same country that this shit will inevitably happen !

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It's true but everywhere will differ slightly so it's a bit generalised

Producers are needed, general managers are the bigger problem because they just move around information to the rest of the team often not understanding what or why a decision was made.

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Quite a popular topic this week...

I read about EA Louse and the Bioware lay-offs today and be it a rant or not, he/she stirred up some dirt about how the high-ups couldn't manage their game as well...

This reply to the blog struck me the most:

No, naming names is a good thing, and F*@K their lively hood. This industry is littered with parasites that need to be purged. I’m sicking of working with “designers” and producers that couldn’t manage a charity car wash.

I guess things like that only happen in the biggest of big studios? I wonder how much money hungry people there are in management positions, what happened to: let's make a great game :(

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It's an overgeneralizing rant (as all rants) so it's painting a skewed reality with a large brush.

Where I agree is that your middle management should absolutely always emerge from the production ranks, so they know who and what they're dealing with. There is absolute great value in leads/managers and producers that have made games themselves because they won't be easily BS'd by slackers and will push for the right things at the right time.

Looking back, the best games I've worked on were always headed by such people. Assassin's Creed 2 for instance was such an elite group of people that none of the meddling with publishers ever came down to my level. Because in reality it was kept to a very minimal impact. Both by people on the team that knew what they were doing to perfection and because the publisher trusted those guys and no one else to deliver a game like AC2. It helps that the team was literally an insider to the publisher. When the head of publishing sits down with the team, things that could take weeks to know about get solved in hours.

The more you work in this industry, the more you realize that faults are on both sides. The publisher's and the developer's. It usually starts with the developers lying to their heart's content about their capacity to make a game/feature in time and in budget so they can secure their budget. Due diligence should always be key, but publishers themselves aren't necessarily all that savvy about the business (the suits come from all sorts of other industries) and they're just happy to see something that looks good on a screen.

The worst games to work on are the ones where the producer comes back from securing funding then asks himself : "How the hell will we make that game now?"

The future to me lies in self publishing on one side for small teams, and the continuation of massive AAA teams internal to the publishers with a very close collaboration. In both cases it fills the gap between publishers and developers and that can only be a good thing. The games and studios that have been successful for a few years have all followed this

Valve (self published, self developed)

Naughty Dog (Internal team to Sony)

All indie darlings of the past 3-4 years (self published or in the case of ThatGameCompany, something similar to internal team)

Sony Santa Monica

Rockstar (internal teams that can get all the publishing they need like GTA and RDR)

Ubisoft Montreal and soon Toronto

Bioware (they're good enough on their own to have all the publishing support they need)

Bungie (very close publishing partners with Microsoft on Halo of course)

Crytek (which partnership with EAP makes them able to make the games they want to make, with all the publishing muscle EA can have)

Infinity Ward (despite the way it ended, their partnership with Activision was absolutely the source for the galactic success of the MW series)

Let me be clear, this close relationship is absolutely necessary, yet should always remain a balancing act without any sort of corporate lackey that just aims to please the other side and not watch for his own best interest and that of his team. The best work will come from those sorts of work relationships, much like it does on every level of the production as good ideas are born from regular ideas everyone has. It's all about balancing both goals and ideas while always keeping the vision of the project intact.

And the people that can do that, the executive producers and creative directors that can do that for their production team, are worth all their weight in gold and much much more. As someone who has worked with two such individuals, I can only wish that everyone get to experience it one day.

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Excellent post Furyo.

I don't work in the games industry, so I can't comment specifically on that, but I do work in an industry, and I think this kind of thing is pretty universal. Anywhere where you have highly technically skilled people working under people who are not skilled in the same area, you will have these issues. I'm in engineering, and I think the disconnect may be even greater here than in the games industry, but I can't say for sure. Much of engineering work is so technical that it is completely impossible for a non-engineer/physicist to have any clue whatsoever what is going on or what is involved. Seemingly small changes or details can have enormous repercussions (or none whatsoever!), and unless you understand the problem and process, its easy to leave out one of these details or assume a small change is no big deal. I'd imagine it's the same way with game production... Management decides to make a change, which they think is no big deal, but in reality they basically just told you to start ALL over again. Its frustrating, and the second iteration is always of inferior quality to the first. The passion and interest is gone, you just want to get it done.

I hope to work for myself someday :v

Fortunately, many of the management-types are engineers themselves, so often there isn't that disconnect. But I have dealt with it, and it is painful. Like you said Furyo, hopefully the games industry progresses towards the same thing - game designers managing game design. Gosh it sounds so obvious :derp:

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Much of engineering work is so technical that it is completely impossible for a non-engineer/physicist to have any clue whatsoever what is going on or what is involved. Seemingly small changes or details can have enormous repercussions (or none whatsoever!), and unless you understand the problem and process, its easy to leave out one of these details or assume a small change is no big deal. I'd imagine it's the same way with game production... Management decides to make a change, which they think is no big deal, but in reality they basically just told you to start ALL over again. Its frustrating, and the second iteration is always of inferior quality to the first. The passion and interest is gone, you just want to get it done.

Ugh, I'm getting that right now with a client for one of my freelance gigs. He doesn't really understand the process of building a model and keeps asking for changes upon changes upon changes. Sometimes those changes affect another part of the model, then I end up having to changed that, or he asks for a change, then changes his mind, etc. So frustrating. Never worked with someone as picky or difficult as that =0.

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Much of engineering work is so technical that it is completely impossible for a non-engineer/physicist to have any clue whatsoever what is going on or what is involved. Seemingly small changes or details can have enormous repercussions (or none whatsoever!), and unless you understand the problem and process, its easy to leave out one of these details or assume a small change is no big deal. I'd imagine it's the same way with game production... Management decides to make a change, which they think is no big deal, but in reality they basically just told you to start ALL over again. Its frustrating, and the second iteration is always of inferior quality to the first. The passion and interest is gone, you just want to get it done.

Ugh, I'm getting that right now with a client for one of my freelance gigs. He doesn't really understand the process of building a model and keeps asking for changes upon changes upon changes. Sometimes those changes affect another part of the model, then I end up having to changed that, or he asks for a change, then changes his mind, etc. So frustrating. Never worked with someone as picky or difficult as that =0.

if he keeps doing this, ditch him. seriously, if he doesn't know what he wants, he's not worth working for.

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell explains it better

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We're gonna try talking to him first before going that route though, because the money he's paying is pretty good and it'd be pretty enjoyable work to do if it weren't for his endless changes. We threatened to quit at one point because we had made a whole ship for him then he said he wasn't happy with it and wanted to scrap it (a whole weekend wasted), but when we said we'd quit he freaked out and said, okay I'll pay for it even if I don't take it in the end. I'm guessing we have to do that one more time =P.

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It's not extreme, it's reality. I quit my job almost 2 years ago partly because of this. And quite frankly I'm scared to consider another company just because of these politics (which is why after 2 years I'm still unemployed). Games are being made by a small group of people who have to work twice or even triple as hard to get half of what they imagined ingame because of the friction caused by other people slowing down the development (not just management). You end up with a lot of overtime which you don't get paid for and burned out to the bone (this is what you get for caring about the stuff you actually work on).

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It's not extreme, it's reality. I quit my job almost 2 years ago partly because of this. And quite frankly I'm scared to consider another company just because of these politics (which is why after 2 years I'm still unemployed). Games are being made by a small group of people who have to work twice or even triple as hard to get half of what they imagined ingame because of the friction caused by other people slowing down the development (not just management). You end up with a lot of overtime which you don't get paid for and burned out to the bone (this is what you get for caring about the stuff you actually work on).

I agree 100%. I can tell you so many fuck-up stories, many of them just beyond imagination.

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