Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

22 February, 2006

Credits and titles and other details

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?

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  1. In the early days at Microsoft, you could put any title you wanted on your business cards… one person had “Chief scientist”.

    Another rediculously random thought… You are creating a virtual world, aren’t you? Give every person involved a NPC with their name (if they want), and allow players to ask them what they did. Of course, this completely destroys immersion. Or how about “Phsychochild Lane”? Or, the “Ancient tome of testers”.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 22 February, 2006 @ 10:48 PM

  2. Actually, in Meridian 59 there is an NPC that will respond to the last names of the previous developers. Usually a quick little witty phrase about the person.

    There was also a secret hall location that you could teleport to using a basic spell. It took you to a hall filled with statues of the previous developers. There were the main developers in the main rooms, and a rotating group of people in the other rooms. I copied this idea and made my own room for some of the developers that had come later.

    The problem is, this isn’t “official”. The games you’ve worked on are the way that other people measure you in the industry. Particularly in the case of DDO, it’s pretty sleazy not to credit people that laid most of the foundation for the game, even if they decided to leave later.

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 February, 2006 @ 12:36 AM

  3. Crediting is a bit of a movable feast anyway – it’s never been standardized and a lot of people are often missed out by design.

    I know that the last two commercial game projects i personally worked on were released by (and art, direction and storyline done by) a different studio to the one i was with (Blitz), so people working for the other company got credited individually, Blitz got credited as a studio.

    I don’t think anyone felt bad about that – ILM always get credited as a studio in film work, after all.

    And then there’s the other case that i’ve personally experienced – freelancers and contractors usually don’t get credited.

    But then, you could spend your life looking for credits for MS Excel and you’d never find them. We produce software, just as Microsoft, Borland, Adobe and others do. They literally never credit. Should we do so at all?

    Comment by Cael — 23 February, 2006 @ 2:05 AM

  4. …and Mike Sellers designed Meridian 59

    Comment by Q — 23 February, 2006 @ 5:46 AM

  5. If you write any substantual portion of a pen and paper RPG in the UK, you have the moral right to be named in the credits.

    The same dosn’t apply (and I don’t understand why…) for Video Games.

    As for where I work, we use whatever template the publisher wants for the credits, and make sure everyone gets mentioned. If it dosn’t precisely match what they did for the game, og well – but they WILL be named.

    Comment by Andrew Crystall — 23 February, 2006 @ 5:57 AM

  6. It’s more important in movies, where the cast and crew are assembled on a project-by-project basis. If the games biz was more freelancer-oriented, it would be a lot more critical. Though it’s becoming increasingly rare that a developer sticks with a single company through more than two projects, so those individual credits are a bit more important when you are seeking a job than just saying, “Oh, I worked as a programmer at Activision for four years.”

    I just remember the insanity of the credits on games I worked on. It became a joke around the office. We kept our credits very small and to the point as a development studio. By the time the credits came back from the publisher, however, we were buried amidst a bunch of names that even the producer didn’t recognize. People were including their cat as far as I know. Anyone who’d sat in a meeting once where our game was MENTIONED got equal billing with the guys who worked 70 hour weeks for MONTHS getting the game out the door.

    I think certain parties really liked having the huge credits list because of Hollywood-envy. 180 people involved with the creation of the game makes it sound more important than just the 18 who actually did 99.999% of the work.

    Comment by Jay Barnson — 23 February, 2006 @ 12:11 PM

  7. Keep in mind that the video game industry is still very young. It’s only existed in a mass market kind of way for what, 20 years? Given a few more years the titles associated with positions will likely stabilize.

    And, most likely, these changes will happen right alongside the industry becoming dominated by 3-4 major video game studios, just like what happened with film.

    [Getting back to the doom and gloom predictions of a week or two ago, just because the big guys will have 90% of the market isn't really a bad thing for the little guys. They'll be pushing the size of the market to such an extent that the indie developers will be getting a very small slice of a friggin huge pie.]

    Comment by Warr — 23 February, 2006 @ 1:09 PM

  8. Q wrote:
    …and Mike Sellers designed Meridian 59

    Yes, there are some cases where people feel someone doesn’t deserve the credit he or she did get. And, isn’t one of the problems with the original M59 credits that not enough people got credited in the area of “Game Design”?

    Jay Barnson wrote:
    I think certain parties really liked having the huge credits list because of Hollywood-envy.

    Oh, sure. But, is this worse than people not getting the credit they do deserve? I don’t think so, personally. I think having longer credits is better. There’s less chance of someone getting recognition for something they didn’t do in that way. Given the relatively small size of the industry, someone else that was on the credits is probably working at the place you’re applying. If you were credited because you pet the publisher’s president’s cat, you will probably get found out. :)

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 February, 2006 @ 2:22 PM

  9. Yeah, the live team issue is another good example of a problem, but sometimes the live team gets credit in an expansion. Of course AC1 didn’t have a whole lot of expansions. :)

    I haven’t run into the “printed credits” issue you speak of, but I can see that happening and agree it’s pretty silly. What’s an online RPG supposed to do, send a piece of dead tree to every subscriber when they change the team? :P

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 February, 2006 @ 4:58 AM

  10. On the ‘credit’ side of your blog post, I feel that I have to mention one of the things that I believe 3DO did right when they initially launched the game.

    I don’t have the manual around, so I can’t show any proof, but they posted a large amount of the actual beta testers from the game in the first manual shipped with the box. This gave the players A) A egocentric reason to purchase the game, B) Something cool to have, and a reason to check out the manual, and C) Gave beta testers credit for finding bugs and stress testing the game. Granted, not everyone playing in the beta played to find bugs, but those that did appreciated it, I’m sure.

    Comment by Mike Emmons — 28 February, 2006 @ 12:55 PM

  11. Blog owner’s noteKen Troop told me he did not make this comment; it was excerpted from an email and taken out of context.

    You (this is a global you) may think the plan was ungenerous, or needlessly stringent, but I’m amazed there was a furor over this. I doubt strongly that the people who left care as much about whether they get an Acknowledgement credit than some of the people still here apparently do, *mostly people who are not even on the D&D team currently* (this is the part that really amazes me).

    And if some of those people who had left did care that strongly, if it was or is that important, *to them*, to get a credit…they could have stayed and finished the game. A fairly simple calculation.

    As a final note, and something that seemed to go unremarked during all this melodrama — I applaud giving full Design credit to Phillip Speer, Brent Walton, Ryan Schaffer, Ian LaBrie, Tim Lang, and Thatcher Risom. 6 people who came to us for a few months from QA and made a critical difference when it counted in helping this game make it. More than anything else, I’m glad they were recognized for it.

    Comment by Anonymous — 1 March, 2006 @ 4:44 PM

  12. Not giving someone the credit they deserve is just wrong. There’s no ifs, ands, or butts about it. I am an artist/designer and have been in games for 5 years now. I’ve run my own company as well. If it hadn’t been for getting ‘my name in lights’ as it were, I wouldn’t have the job I do now. I don’t care if I don’t release a project. If I was instrumental in developing that project, you damn right I better get the credit that is due. For a company to do something underhanded simply because they are upset that someone left…well I’ll stop there.

    Point is. Give people the credit they deserve. If someone was lead world designer on your project and quite literally designed your game’s entrie world before leaving – make sure their name is listed as such in the credit. Don’t be petty.

    Comment by Matthew B. Doyle — 7 March, 2006 @ 8:30 PM

  13. [...] Psychochild had a post up at the end of last month talking about the value of being in the credits for a game. More than just a ‘Hey mom look what I did’ trophy on the wall, credits prove to future employers that you Kilroy was really there. Jason booth, over on his site, talks about the crappy way Turbine handled Dungeons and Dragons Online’s credits. If you weren’t there at retail launch, no credit for you. Even if you wrote like half the code or were responsible for most of the design. [...]

    Pingback by DDO’s Credits at MMOG Nation — 12 March, 2006 @ 9:37 AM

  14. Jason Booth posted up some details of the DDO credits issue on his blog: credits not withstanding.

    Some more information about this this issue from the other side.

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 March, 2006 @ 11:51 AM

  15. Your post could not be more timely. I’m so glad you’re taking an interest in this as well. I have a personal interest in credits issues because the problems make it very difficult to determine who deserves credit during awards season.

    I’d like to offer my take on the questions you posed and hopefully get the committee to discuss it to some degree at the IGDA sessions next week at GDC…. and who knows, maybe John will want to incorporate some of this into the white paper if he hasn’t passed out from pre-GDC exhaustion:)

    1. “What A Producer Does: The Art of Moviemaking (Not the Business)” by Buck Houghton

    This is the exact title, parentheses and all, of a book I have. If you say you’re an executive producer, or a line producer, people know what that means. However, assistant producers, associate producers, and co-producers seem to run together in my mind. (Also, Dan Irish published a book called The Game Producer’s Handbook.) I think the problem in both film and games is when just the single word “producer” is used. What does that mean? If there a ton of producers, there is immediate suspicion that most of them are “business” producers (working with studios, agents, investors) as opposed to creative producers (working with the production people). If there are only three “producers”… the suspicion is not immediate. “Good Night and Good Luck” had a gazillion different types of producers… but it was easy to separate them come Oscar time when only certain producers are eligible. (The Oscars used to have a three producer limit for Best Picture, and this year they added further requirements to ensure that the “money producers” do not get Oscars. In other words, the producers who worked with production people OR administer a substantial part of the production’s affairs get Oscars… no more Oscars for investors and money men) A standard I would propose for the game industry is that whenever there are more than 3 producers, the more descriptive producer titles should be used, rather than just simply “producer.”

    2. If You Fart, You Get Credit

    I’m of the mind that even if you spent one month on a project compared to others who spent 2 years, you should still get credit. However, lesser contributors could get “associate,” “co-” or other such things affixed to the front of their credit to separate them from the larger contributors with the same credit. Maybe “co-” could be used if you worked between 25-49% of a project’s dev cycle, and “associate” could be used if you worked less than 25% of the dev cycle.

    3. Director vs. Manager

    I can’t stand when the word Director is used instead of Manager. American teams use Director when they mean Manager, and Japanese teams use Director in what seems to refer to our concept of a film director. The word Manager should be used to designate “business” people (budget, schedule, salaries), whether its Design Manager, Audio Manager, whatever. These people would NOT be the people who receive the awards if a game wins for design or sound. That’s not going to go over well but I think it’s proper. That’s why they invented certificates and plaques.

    4. Multiple Skill Sets

    By all means, I believe if you do 3 roles, you should get SEPARATE credit for all three. There are plenty of George Clooneys in any business and that’s not a problem. The problem is the cockfights among devs who get into pissing contests over who has more credits than them… or at least I’ve heard. I think it’s important for individuals to have restraint when it comes to multiple credits; George Clooney did not take producer credit even though he was the one working with production people the most.

    5. Team Spirit, or Credit Laziness?

    Valve doesn’t make it easy to give them awards. Every blasted member on the team is listed, but not credited for a specific role or title. A few companies do this and it serves no greater good. There was absolutely nothing for me to go on last year (for NAViGaTR awards), until the IGDA nominations came out and somehow the IGDA (through its advisors) was able to determine who in the mob of names got credit for the IGDA award. (I’m both jealous and curious and would love to know how these things are determined, because let me tell you it’s no fun!) So clearly this happened because people knew people and were able to get the information from people at Valve who, we assume, gave reliable and generally accepted information — though we wouldn’t necessarily hear of anyone at Valve who felt cheated out of an award.

    6. Credit Does Not Equal Job Title

    My biggest rant! I think it would be a lot easier if there was NO attempt to connect ROLES with JOB TITLES when forming credits. Credits should be for roles, not job titles. You may have been hired to do X, but that needs to be put aside when talking about credits. Now I’m not saying this should be used as an opportunity to score multiple credits. But there are enough problems in setting credits based on roles; it just adds to problem if you try to establish credit titles based on job titles . A job title is sometimes more about getting that “key word” in your title that pays more. Fine. Let Personnel handle that. But that should be a separate process from determining Lead, Senior, etc. credit. 95% of the time I would hope the two processes parallel each other, so I’m more thinking of extreme cases like yours. Design Engineer and Engineering Designer are not roles, they’re not credits. They’re job descriptions that mesh your various roles because you can only have one “job.” Again, fine for payroll, but good God I hate seeing this stuff make it into the manuals and the game credits. This is the kind of erosion that does so much damage in recognizing what people actually do… because the three-head Hydra bastard child that are these funky names only further obscure your actual role (hello Microsoft Chief Scientist?) and also end up creating six different kinds of credits for the same things, instead of just having six different NAMES under a few standard credits. You deserve two credits! Ah, feels good to get that off my chest! I hope you agree.

    Well, we have some fascinating work ahead of us for the next year. GDC 2006 will result in getting a clearer picture of current practices; GDC 2007 should result in a proposal on how to clean up the mess. Looking forward to it!

    Thomas J. Allen
    Executive Director, NAVGTR Corp.
    National Academy of Video Game Testers and Reviewers Corp.
    13200 Forest Drive
    Bowie, MD 20715

    Comment by Thomas Allen — 15 March, 2006 @ 1:31 AM

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