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GDC 2013: Hothead Rants Pt.2 - Anna Marsh

GDC 2013: Hothead Rants Pt.2 - Anna Marsh

Wed 03 Apr 2013 8:44am GMT / 4:44am EDT / 1:44am PDT
PeopleDevelopmentGDC 2013

Lady Shotgun founder gives both barrels on crunch and being 'hardcore'

The second piece we're running from the 2013 Hothead Developers Rant comes from Lady Shotgun founder Anna Marsh, who had a sudden revelation about the fallacy of having to live 'hardcore' if you want to produce quality games. Instead, Anna says, all work and too much play can make Jack a very dull boy.

Like most of these pieces, Anna's contains some forceful language, so be prepared. For yesterday's rant on race and representation from Mitu Khandaker, see here.

"I'm Anna Marsh and I run independent developer Lady Shotgun Games.  I've been a game designer for 15 years and previously worked for large companies like Eidos, Sony and Creative Assembly.

"OK - Who's ever done overtime on a job? Who's gone home, played games and gone into work the next day after 1 hours sleep? Woo!

"This rant is called "You don't need to work 14 hours a day, sleep under your desk and shit in the corner of the room to make great games."  It's called that, because, at my first job at Psygnosis, one of my colleagues went to the Sony QA department and returned back reporting that there was a turd in the corner of the room.

"I want to make it clear to all QA everywhere that I didn't believe it, but it illustrates nicely the assumption that people who make games are so obsessed with their work that they can barely leave the room to take a dump.  There's an unwritten Law that if you work in video games, they must be your life - You spend every minute awake playing or making them and when you sleep, if you sleep, you'll dream about games because games are the most important thing ever. I'm going to rant against this mind set because I think it's destructive - it ruins our health and our lives, and more importantly, it makes our games dull!

"There's an unwritten Law that if you work in video games, they must be your life"

"First off, it's exactly this idea that has facilitated the notorious Crunch work practices of the industry. Lets have a test.  Stand up everyone who's worked 16 hours straight - cos If you haven't done 16 hours you're a nobody, right?  That means, if you got to work at 9 a.m, and should have gone home at six you'd still be working at 3am the next day.  8 hours overtime - you've just done an extra workday FOR FREE! OK, I'm going to count up number of hours worked straight, and when you hit your maximum sit down. We're going to see who's last dev standing.

(There were still people standing at 27 hours and counting.)

Why did you do that? Were you paid?  Would you have done that if you were working in a supermarket? How did you feel?

"We're not dumb. Unless you're completely independent, you know that working free overtime during Crunch is done purely to boost profits- if it was done for the good of the game, you'd get paid overtime.  Would you put up with that if you were working in a supermarket or building site? Of course not! Its been discussed time and again in many industries - working long hours isn't just unproductive, it's less productive than working sensible hours - that's been known since before even Henry Ford said it back in 1908.  I think we can safely say that Management who routinely rely on crunch are incompetent.  But - I don't think this comes down to management alone.  If you look at the reasons for crunch its usually something along these lines.  

"These are cock ups born of a lack of pre-production, not enough planning.  

"Yet many developers have an almost pathological distrust of pre-production. There's an overriding belief that its impossible to plan on paper what's going to make a game fun - that, that will only happen when you're toiling away, knee-deep in the trenches. I'm sorry, but I think this is mostly bollocks.  All other collaborative creative industries have really thorough pre-production methods.  Architects make plans and models, Film-makers have scripts, storyboards, and shooting scripts. We get a couple of pages of high concept from some joker in Brand and we all want to dive into production immediately to start making the freaking game!

"It seems like we've all absorbed this idea that the only way to make games is to eat, breathe and sleep them; that this somehow makes magical inspiration fall into our heads; that if we were less than 100 per cent committed to our games that just wouldn't happen.  We know the people on the team who perhaps don't play all the big games - we look down on them as "lightweights" - we really know what we're doing because we're hardcore. We're the genuine article, eh?  

"It seems like we've all absorbed this idea that the only way to make games is to eat, breathe and sleep them; that this somehow makes magical inspiration fall into our heads"

"It's become this sub-conscious macho standoff - the hours we work, the amount of games we play, the fewest hours slept, the most obscure title we've imported from Japan that doesn't even have an English translation even though we don't read a word of Japanese.  We're all terrified to appear less than "Hardcore". I bet everyone standing  up at the start really wanted to be the "winner" huh?

"That was me too, until I had my daughter four years ago.  And then, I just couldn't do that anymore, because I had to look after a child.  I honestly felt guilty leaving work on time to get to the nursery, and going in the next day knowing that I hadn't had a chance to play games the evening before.  It made me so stressed I got really quite sick, and I gave up my job in part because I felt that I was no longer entitled to call myself Hardcore enough to do it.

"But here's the thing - we're devouring ourselves.  The raw material of our creativity is our experience - if all we ever experience is games, then our products will become narrower, more incestuous.  You could argue this has already happened in AAA.

"Other creatives don't have this obsession with their own medium.  

"Quick example - George Orwell wrote the two joint best-selling novels of all time - which have been phenomenally influential.  Did he sit on his backside writing and reading other books? No.  He was a policeman, a tramp, a farmer, a father, a soldier, a political activist... In his autobiography he details how these experiences directly influenced his work.

"Loving games is good, playing games is great, enjoying your job is awesome.  But please let's ditch the idea that it's necessary to devote your whole life to games to make a good one.  Every once in a while, go fly a kite, take a walk or ride a very fast motorbike.  Work efficiently not obsessively - Enjoy your life. I think, you'll make a better game."

9 Comments

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst

88 67 0.8
I find this post fascinating in light of the recent discussion in:

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-03-28-ea-doesnt-get-enough-credit-says-ea-spouse#comments

I didn't bother bringing up children in the previous thread, because it's a distracting side issue from the main problems with "crunch culture".

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Gareth Eckley on 3rd April 2013 12:41pm

Posted:A year ago

#1

James Robertson Founder, Oso Games

9 15 1.7
"All other collaborative creative industries have really thorough pre-production methods... Film-makers have scripts, storyboards, and shooting scripts."

Have you ever wondered though, how much better a lot of movies would be if the teams making them were able to take a step back halfway through and change direction a little? I'm not arguing against a solid preproduction phase, but I would say iterative development practices, generally speaking, produce better products.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

888 1,324 1.5
I'm with you 100%, James. It never ceases to amaze me how often and why people keep looking at our industry and trying to shoehorn it into how the movies works.

Why the f**king hell do we want to copy the movies for anything. We make more money than they do!

Posted:A year ago

#3

Henrik Pettersson Games Designer, The Voxel Agents

3 4 1.3
"Why the f**king hell do we want to copy the movies for anything. We make more money than they do!"

And while our company owners are bathing in money. They live healthier life and produce content of ritcher cultural significance.

History is going to love you.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
There's a huge difference between software and movies: one accepts input from the consumer of the art during the course of "playback" and changes the experience based on that, and the other doesn't. That adds an enormous amount of complexity and unpredictability, and is the primary reason that how a game or other program will "feel" when played is so hard to predict by simply thinking about it without actually emulating the experience.

The idea that we can have or need to have the kind of pre-production that movies have is simply wrong. (And comparisons to engineering projects are often even more misguided, since they equate engineering design with preproduction and manufacturing with development, whereas the correct correspondence is engineering design with development and manufacturing with the user using the software.)

That said, it's well known and utterly predictable that anybody building a software artifact (game or otherwise) that isn't a near-clone of something already built will discover in the middle of working on it that they really want to be doing something in a different way. Not only do we know that this will happen, but we've developed means of dealing with this (such as agile development methodologies). A competent experienced team shouldn't be doing overtime often, and should just as often find themselves with extra time during the project that allows them to add things they hadn't been sure would fit.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 6th April 2013 1:34am

Posted:A year ago

#5

Jolyon Leonard Senior Designer, Climax Group

5 4 0.8
I have been saying the same for years, and roundly condemned for it. It's a relief to hear it from someone else's mouth. Thank you.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Rafe Gaskell Lead Programmer at the Design Institute, Coventry University

11 12 1.1
Great article. It's this attitude that it's ok to crunch and pull extra unpaid hours for the love of the medium that's put me off the creative industries in general. it genuinely scares me that there's so many posts on my facebook to the tune of "it's Friday 1am and I'm still in the office trying to hit the next milestone". An mentioned in the article, it doesn't help that many in these industries support this way of working. A lead developer for a large UK developer told me this at the Eurogamer expo job fair 3 years ago: "You want to be paid well and do 9 to 5, go work in an bank. You work in games because you love making games and don't mind putting the extra time in". Yeah I'll pass, as any sane person would.

It's also worth noting that while movies and other creative industries have better production processes in general, they still have the same attitude by and large.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rafe Gaskell on 4th April 2013 10:05am

Posted:A year ago

#7

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

527 786 1.5
Have you ever wondered though, how much better a lot of movies would be if the teams making them were able to take a step back halfway through and change direction a little? I'm not arguing against a solid preproduction phase, but I would say iterative development practices, generally speaking, produce better products.
I generally agree, but there's also the point where this goes too far and people change their minds every two minutes disrupting development. It's hard to get the game finished when you've got a constantly moving target, as the likes of Duke Nukem Forever show.

Posted:A year ago

#8
"You want to be paid well and do 9 to 5, go work in an bank"

Not quite... the hours might not be as bad as mentioned in this thread, but working evenings is very common... not to mention the soul-destroying effect developing software for a bank has on you. Put the bi-yearly redundancies in the mix and you'll see why people work long hours in banks despite having to work with outdated technology on dull projects. And on weekends...

Posted:A year ago

#9

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