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Schafer speaks out over industry's routine job cuts

"If you're not loyal to your team you can get by for a while, but eventually you will need to rely on their loyalty"

Double Fine's Tim Schafer has condemned the industry practice of routinely laying off staff on completion of a project.

"One of the most frustrating things about the games industry is that teams of people come together to make a game, and maybe they struggle and make mistakes along the way, but by the end of the game they've learned a lot - and this is usually when they are disbanded," Schafer told Wired.

"Instead of being allowed to apply all those lessons to a better, more efficiently produced second game, they are scattered to the winds and all that wisdom is lost."

The article mentioned the recent job cuts at Lionhead, which announced the job losses just days after the release of Fable: The Journey.

"After Psychonauts, we could have laid off half our team so that we'd have more money and time to sign Brütal Legend," continued Schafer.

"But doing so would have meant breaking up a team that had just learned how to work well together. And what message would that have sent to our employees? It would say that we're not loyal to them, and that we don't care. Which would make them wonder 'Why should we be loyal to this company?'"

"If you're not loyal to your team you can get by for a while, but eventually you will need to rely on their loyalty to you and it just won't be there."

In August Double Fine announced its intention to give up console work-for-hire and to concentrate on new ways to fund development and remain independent.

"Let's face it, anything beats the traditional game funding model," said Schafer at the time. "It's like a loan with a really horrible interest rate."

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Latest comments (10)

Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 8 years ago
Couldn't agree more with Tim's sentiment. Looking beyond the financial, the HR implications on destabilising the individual and the team is so detrimental on so many levels. It cripples morale, derails learning and skill development and completely ruins formal and informal communication within and between teams.

I understand that in some cases that time constraints lead to a higher than necessary amount of staff on a project but look at shifting these people around and re-purposing them not firing them! It's a reflection of shockingly poor management techniques that fail to use the skills of the people that they have on board.
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Teut Weidemann Consultant Online Games, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
but by the end of the game they've learned a lot - and this is usually when they are disbanded,
This. If this would be better our industry would be double size. This is also true for suits.
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DeShaun Zollicoffer Editorial Director, Geek Revolt8 years ago
I agree Tom, I think a lot of studios mess up by putting all their eggs in one basket, or game. Look at Bioware and Rockstar--they're always working on something. So once one project ends there's always something else to do. A employee could just go to another team within the company. Their talent and loyalty remains with the studio.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
This is disempowerment disguised as care.

If you want to empower a team, you have two choices:

1.) You can try to own them, and tie them down to one single company. Of course, they become cogs then. Kindof like auto workers who, after 20 years of their benevolent paternalistic employers "taking care of them" find themselves lost and bug-eyed if they ever have to go out into the wilderness themselves.


2.) You can empower them to realize their own aspirations. This may mean helping to facilitate their emergence as individual creators (doing things [gasp] on their own!). It may mean helping them to set up an outsourcing shop (basically becoming a separate team)... Which has the ability to go off and pursue its own destiny... Which you work with on future titles (Why would you think you "lose their expertise" if they're not on your team? Just contract them. Maintain a relationship. This happens in film all the time, even though each film is wrapped at the end of production)...

But make no mistake: just because a person isn't "on your team" doesn't mean you can't work with them. We are mature adults, after all. You don't need to belong to a cult to get things done. Indeed, having some sense of distance and self-autonomy - and encouraging that - even at the expense of some creative friction (which is actually *good*, believe it or not)... is far more benevolent than trying to psychologically confine people under the guise of "taking care of them".

Edited 7 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 23rd October 2012 6:44pm

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
It is even worse in the film industry.
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West Clendinning Senior/Lead Artist, Rovio Entertainment8 years ago
The film industry has Guilds and Unions. Talents also have agencies and representation that actively find them work, and on top of that many of them receive royalties from the productions they worked on. A film production and a Games company are two entirely different creatures.

To say that, " It is worse in the film industry " is a moot point.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
@Bruce: It's worse being able to get in a situation where a core talent member can, personally, receive gross income on a project? You call that "worse"?

@West: Why do you think the film industry has all that? You speak as if it occurred by accident.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 24th October 2012 9:15pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
@ Tim

I was just thinking of the (lack of) Unionisation of the software industry this afternoon. Weird how doing filing makes you think of random stuff. :)
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development8 years ago
Unionisation would have have a tremendous impact on this industry. I imagine it could cause many studio closures, and I don't mean that as a negative, because right now the workers are getting a very poor deal so if these were addressed by an union it would change the landscape completely.

Of course the whole situation is quite tricky to fix because when you consider the conditions of the market, the cost of development, the associated risks and the types of strategy required for longevity, you see two extreme contrasting ways to operate in this business (which is still high risk, high reward): larger project portfolios with lower staff turnover and a focus on "casting the bread in many waters", or smaller project portfolios (pretty much all eggs in one or two baskets) playing a balancing act on a knife edge budget that cannot handle many (or any) project failures.

When you look at the revenue of the video games industry and divide by the average studio wage, then compare that with the number of professionals in the industry it makes you think about the reality of the video games economy just a little. Now diving back into the perspective of businesses that operate within this economy, it seems to me that it would greatly benefit from unions and agencies because the workers would be happier and therefore more creative, and also the business models would have to adjust ever so slightly, but in such a way that I believe would improve the decision making process in companies, greatly improve the business strategies and lead to financial structures that result in more games being released (due to investing on multiple projects).

My opinion on the idea of many indies self publishing is that it is not a very sustainable model because while there will be great stories of small teams making huge profits and paying millions to each employee, there will have to be many teams seeing the opposite since there is not an abundance of revenue to support more than a handful of super successes, and well, just look at a bell curve, do a little maths and consider the realities of product production costs when it risk / reward, the associated probabilities and what scenarios they lead to based on the business structure.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 8 years ago
One significant difference between the film industry and the game development industry is that technologies used in the film industry have been around much longer and change much more slowly than in game development.

The lenses used on the latest digital cameras would be quite recognizable to a director of photography working back before the birth of someone who's retired today. Even the digital cameras themselves are used in a substantially similar way to a film camera from the middle of the last century.

On the other hand, AAA game development teams these days are building tools to help build the game that nobody even foresaw twenty years ago. It's as if your movie-making team was making not only the production itself, but designing and building the lenses, cameras, film stock and development processes. Innovating at that level and learning to use the results is hard-won knowledge that really does need to be kept in the team.

A film production can fire its DP and a new one can step in the next day and carry on just fine. A developer walking in to the middle of a large game production, on the other hand, is almost invariably going to take some time to get up to speed on the whole custom production chain that's being used there.

The truly tragic and expensive situation is when you get rid of so many of your staff that when you start a new project you've lost the useful knowledge built up during the previous project that could have carried over to get the new one moving quickly, and end up doing an expensive re-development and relearning process.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 27th October 2012 6:58pm

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