22 February, 2006
As I’ve been talking to people about upcoming projects the issues of game credits, position titles, and related have come up repeatedly. I thought I’d discuss some of the problems I see with the industry in this specific area.
The basic question is: how standardized should things be? For example, in Hollywood if you said you were a Producer on a movie, people know pretty much what that means. If you say you were a Producer on a game at the GDC, that could mean quite a few things: Were you in charge of business issues? Of the budget? Of the schedule? Of the creative direction? All of the above?
Likewise, who gets included in the credits? Should people who leave before the end of the project get their name in the credits? What about people who have worked for 90% of the project then leave? What if the departure was involuntary?
Lots of interesting questions here that influence business decisions.
The issue of titles is one of the biggest, I think. For example, what is the difference between “Software Engineer I” and “Jr. Programmer” at different companies? What do the titles “Producer” and “Director” really mean in a game’s credits? Many times these last two titles have vastly different meanings between companies. In film, a “producer” is the person that is responsible for all the non-creative aspects of the movie: budget, schedule, salaries, etc. Yet, a game “producer” often has final authoritative control over the creative aspects in a game.
Film has a set of standard definitions for each role in the making of a movie. Is this something the games industry should consider?
One problem with such standardization in the computer games industry is that the roles aren’t always so well defined. My skillset, for example, includes engineering, system design, and writing. These skills cover 2-3 different areas in game development for most places. If I were to work on a game where I used all these skills, should I get my name in the credits 3 times? What if I focused on systems design and engineering, should I get a special title like “Design Engineer”? Maybe “Engineering Designer”? Or, are those too imprecise?
On the other hand, when areas are too well defined they can become rigid and unyielding. Many companies I’ve talked to couldn’t accommodate my entire skill set; they have programmers and they have designers, and never the twain shall meet. As a larger issue, segregating people by title and function can cause tremendous troubles during development. In many teams I’ve seen programmers (unfairly, mind you) look down on artists as lazy bums who just push polygons all day. The problem is that neither side speaks the other’s language, so there’s no common ground. You see the same things in the online space with the arguments between customer service and the live team, or with community representatives. Putting people into pigeonholes helps encourage the “us vs. them” mentality.
You also have the issue with small-scale development. Meridian 59 doesn’t have many official credits for the current version. We simply state that Near Death Studios is a list of employees, then we give thanks and special thanks to people that helped out. We have sections like “Additional art” with a list of people that contributed art (usually under contract). But, generally the employees of a small company like Near Death Studios are expected to fulfill any needed role. I’ve worked on scripting, design, customer service, business, budget, schedules, even a bit of art. But, for example, my art contributions have been touching up existing stuff in MS Paint, not exactly a full-blown “artist” by most consideration.
Related to this is the issue of inclusion in the credits. This industry thrives on credits, and the more projects you have your name on, the better. Of course, it helps to have your name associated with successful titles as well. But some places will do, frankly, sleazy things to take people off the credits. While I worked at 3DO, it became official policy that testers would not be added to the credits. This is unfortunate, because the testers really should be doing good work for the game. This policy was established because of the attitude that testers were not a valued resource, rather something to be replaced on a regular basis like an air filter. Well, anyone who has played any 3DO games before they went bankrupt knows how that went.
On the last game I worked on at 3DO, one of the developers was leaving before the game was released. It wasn’t really anything noble, he was just sick of working on crap games and found a better opportunity. Yet, he was the one doing the credits, so even though I had stayed through the whole project, my name was listed below his in the programmer section since I was less senior than he was in the official company hierarchy. (Our titles ignored the fact that I was the only engineer on Meridian 59 for about a year before I started working on that game, so not really a newbie anymore.)
More recently, I was told by a former developer that Turbine will not be including the names of people who left before launch to the credits of Dungeons & Dragons Online. If true, this is a really sleazy move on Turbine’s part. Some of the developers had put a lot of effort into early development, and had worked on the project for the majority of its development. To leave them out is to try to deny their role in the game. No matter how the game turns out, they should have the right to have their names associated with the project. Obviously, information like this gets out so the people won’t be completely forgotten, but it’s nice to have your name on the project “officially”.
So, what’s the solution here? Should we try to standardize these practices as Hollywood has done? Or, would that be too restrictive? Is there some middle ground to make it easier for people to be recognized for what they’ve done?