I have been in the game industry on and off for the last 12 years. I have seen commercial games go from a programmer and an artist and a budget around $100,000 go up to teams of 30 people with multimillion dollar budgets. In all of this time I have seen an insane amount of pain caused by management trying to manage 30 people as though they were 2. Once you have 30 people working on a project for several years you have a machine – like it or not. Things have to be remarkably well structured or they just don’t work at all. Currently the game industry often has a disfunctional model of production. As teams got this large a working model for running this process already existed. Hollywood has had an effective process of making movies for years now. This series will concentrate on the various aspects of what concepts can be migrated from the movie industry to the game industry to make it flow more efficiently and predictably.
Today we will concentrate on the game design/script analogy.
A huge problem in the game industry is when the game designer holds the game development team hostage. In many development houses games are pitched and won and a game designer “assigned” to the project. Say a dev house has access to a great piece of IP. They will take advantage of it and make a game. But by simply assigning a game designer and having him prep a game design document before game development begins a rats nests of problems occur right off the bat. This model lacks the proper incentives to get a fully fleshed out design early and up front.
A game designer dreams of creating the best game he possibly can. It’s in the game designer’s best interest to keep himself/herself from getting pinned down, that keeps things open-ended for later so that changes can be made. That also keeps things honky-dory with the game team. When things are “fluffy” and poorly defined everyone is happy. Until the project is underway and work can’t get done. With a team of 20-30 other people on the project it’s a nightmare. Their are plenty of management techniques to “extract” the information from a designer and pin him down. But the truth is that at this point it is way too late. It’s like filming a movie and writing the script as you go. Who would possibly do that.
The solution? Go the Hollywood route. If multiple game designer’s had their game designs “as complete as possible” up front and then had them compete to be selected this would put the motivations in the right places. The producer, art and coding leads that had been earmarked for the new team could review everything for completion. In the end the game with the best “proposed” gameplay and highest level of demostrated definition would be chosen by a group comprising the producer, programmer, and art lead. This would motivate the game designers in all the righ ways. He would make his design document as detailed as humanly possible in order to win the position of game designer. You wouldn’t see a script written in Hollywood with big vague blocks to be fleshed out later.
In the rare circumstances that Hollywood lets a movie go forward without a decent script you get movies like “Speed 2″. If the game industry would sit up and take note, create a competitive market for game designers, and only greenlight games that win this darwinian battle, a lot fewer games would end up being schizophrenic, poorly inspired “Speed 2″‘s that lack any kind of cohesion or true focus.
Next article in the series: Vetting from the A list