17 November, 2004
My first reaction was, of course, “Why did 3DO have to go bankrupt before now?!?” No gravy train for me, I guess.
My second reaction was similar to that of my colleagues Scott Jennings (broken link to Scott’s old blog) and Damion Schubert. It’s something I’ve talked about for a while, the difference between “good crunch” and “bad crunch”.
Game development is exciting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of work, but the feeling of releasing a game knowing that other people are going to play it and enjoy it is exciting. Most game developers are passionate about game development; that’s why we write in our little blogs about it. It should come as little surprise that we often enjoy putting in a bit of extra time.
When I was working on Meridian 59 at 3DO, I’d often spend many extra hours working on the game. I remember one Thanksgiving I ate a great dinner, and left to go to work afterwards with my better half’s blessing. I met a project manager that called me “crazy”. See, I was in there doing “good crunch”. I had a problem I wanted to work out in my head and I wanted to try it out on the game. That manager, however, was there enforcing “bad crunch” upon his team as mandated by the upper management. He didn’t necessarily understand that I was there because I wanted to be. All he knew was that his team was forced to death march to get the project done.
What probably happened along the line was that some enthusiastic manager saw that his or her employees were already putting in “good crunch” to meet a deadline. “Why not just plan for that in the schedule?” the manager probably thought. Thus “bad crunch” was born.
The big problem is that crunch time is part of the industry’s culture now. At 3DO, some teams bragged about much they crunched, and how the whole team pulled together and didn’t leave work for months on end to finish a game. They never realized that this created an unhealthy environment, and was probably the reason why the game they created never measured up to the competition. Their response was to be even more “hard core” in the next production cycle. Managers rewarded this insanity, and other teams respected the “dedication”. In a separate incident, a 3DO manager missed his child’s birth in order to stay and do bad crunch “with the team”. He got a “Star Performer” award for his actions, reinforcing the message that work is more important than family.
I think one of the most interesting suggestions was made by Evan Robinson, where he suggests that the experienced developers in the industry work to educate people getting into the industry. “Our industry runs on Cool,” as Evan puts it, and making EA look uncool can help bring about change since the fresh supply of meat to grind through would vanish. I wonder if this would be enough. First, game companies are experts at creating desire via marketing. Look how many fairly mediocre games sell incredibly well based on marketing and hype. Second, people often don’t understand that making games isn’t the same as playing games. EA still makes some great games despite everything, and people new the industry might look at those cool games and want to work on things like that instead of listening to us crusty old veterans bitch about how much EA sucks.
One of the reasons I helped co-found Near Death Studios, Inc. was because I saw what was happening in the industry first-hand. I saw good, creative people get chewed up and spit out by the game industry machine, and I wanted an alternative. Yeah, I [i]still[/i] work 16-hour days 6-7 days per week, but I’m doing it for [i]my own[/i] company. I’m making me richer, not someone else.
It’ll be interesting to see how things work out. I wouldn’t mind seeing some serious change in the industry. We’re getting big enough and making enough money as an industry that relying on the exploitation of inexperienced workers shouldn’t be the order of the day. Time to do the right thing. But, even if this isn’t the case there’s still the small indie developers out here doing our thing.