Sections
Get a job in games graphic

Level up your career

Learn about working in games

Sign up to the GI Jobs board

View jobs board

Making the games industry a better place to work

See best places to work
Get a job in games graphic

Ex-Ensemble dev attacks "workaholic" culture

As Pandemic veteran admits that lack of discipline saw studio "f**k everything up"

Former Ensemble Studios developer Paul Bettner has blamed himself and Ensemble's studio culture for the company's demise and has refused to condemn Microsoft for the developer's closure.

Speaking at the recent Game Developers Conference (GDC), as reported by sister site Eurogamer, Bettner commented: "The reality is that every single game we shipped took twice as long as we said it was going to take, and cost twice as much to make."

"Microsoft is a public company, they answer to their shareholders, and we were simply too expensive."

Bettner went on to blame himself for the poor quality of life at the studio, where "everyone was a workaholic", and for the cost and inefficiency of running the studio.

"I watched this happen and I did almost nothing to stop it. As an employee, and later as a manager, I didn't take a stand. I just kept hoping for that next high," said Bettner.

Referring to claims of similarly destructive work environments at EA and Rockstar Games, Bettner claimed that over a third of people in the games industry intended to leave within five years.

"This is a horrible vicious cycle. We burn out all our best people. We destroy these precious artists, we wreck their families and we sacrifice their youth," said Bettner. "So they leave, and they take all their experience with them."

A twelve year veteran of the Age Of Empires and Halo Wars developer, Bettner has subsequently gone on to found iPhone developer NewToy with his brother David.

Bettner's talk during one of many "rant" sessions at GDC received a standing ovation and his comments were also echoed by former Pandemic Studios developer Carey Chico.

Closed by EA in November 2009, Chico indicated that Pandemic also suffered from a lack in internal accountability and a failure to hit milestones.

"We were very good for a long period of time in the middle there," said Chico in reference to the company's more celebrated titles such as Full Spectrum Warrior and Mercenaries.

"Then, we got our own money. And that was probably the beginning of the fall."

Access to greater funding lead to the decision to develop the company's own technology and take games closer to completion before selling them to publisher, but according to Chico the studio lacked the discipline to execute this business plan successfully.

"When you have your own money, what happens is that you have to maintain your own accountability internally, and if you don't have that, you just f**k everything up," said Chico.

Chico, who recently became president and COO at Globex LA, claimed that having to follow publisher milestones and schedules "are actually good restraints in a lot of ways".

Get a job in games graphic

Level up your career

Learn about working in games

Sign up to the GI Jobs board

View jobs board

Making the games industry a better place to work

See best places to work
Get a job in games graphic

More stories

Ubisoft group says Yves Guillemot has "sidelined" its demands as CEO responds to open letter

Over 1,000 current and former staff claim Assassin's Creed publisher "continues to protect and promote known offenders and their allies"

By James Batchelor

Activision Blizzard's nasty frat-boy culture is an industry-wide ailment | Opinion

The roots of a culture enabling harassment and discrimination are found across the industry - and only structural change will dig them out

By Rob Fahey

Latest comments (17)

Aidan Fitzpatrick Artist 11 years ago
"This is a horrible vicious cycle. We burn out all our best people. We destroy these precious artists, we wreck their families and we sacrifice their youth," said Bettner. "So they leave, and they take all their experience with them."

Then hire graduates to fill the holes, rinse and repeat.
sounds about right.
:/
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde11 years ago
Im sure the same principle can be said of just about any IT-driven sector these days. It's just a shame it seems to have bled into the creative industries.

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
"Then hire graduates to fill the holes..."

Surely you mean "outsource to [insert cheap labour country here] to fill the holes"

Graduates seem to be having a hard time of it recently.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Simon Tovey on 15th March 2010 11:27am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (17)
Mark Bridges Human 11 years ago
Its a Vicious Cycle that will never end unless someone in a company is prepared to stand up, be counted and say "You cant work like this." Problem is that person is never in management and normally gets shouted down pretty quickly.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tim Ryan Producer, Fire Muse Consulting11 years ago
"I watched this happen and I did almost nothing to stop it. As an employee, and later as a manager, I didn't take a stand. I just kept hoping for that next high," said Bettner.

Having taken a stand and gotten shit all over for it, I can assure you that your efforts would have been futile. It's hard being the voice of reason when your EP is nuts.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Someone is going to start a new development house called "Asylum Games" or something. There, burned out game developers will be able to return to a fun-but-disciplined work atmosphere where the lessons learned from previous ship-wrecks in the game industry are posted on the meeting room walls as "Company Commandments" and steer the business.

Well, I can dream can't I?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mark Bridges Human 11 years ago
Its a beautiful dream, but still only a dream. :)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alex Jones Editor-in-Chief, Pixel Fist11 years ago
Shame to hear it from this kind of source. Ensemble Studios were my favourite devs for a long time running. I suppose the problem of running a company focused on creative output is finding someone whose expertise isn't at all creative to help steer the ship, as it were.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Sometimes, you just need a marriage of creative producers working alongside a creative team, without the traditional management heirachy to do a game studios/product justice. I head naughty Dog have a very interesting development model where everyone has a voice, is jointly accountable and thus have a enthusiastic creative atmosphere.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Sebastian Cardoso Project Manager, Crytek11 years ago
It's a puff of fresh air having a senior manager acknowledge these kind of mistakes.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up11 years ago
These kind of situations do exist in the games industry for sure. To be honest tho, its usually been down to bad management and bad planning about what you are actually trying to develop. Unfortunately you do sometimes get the wrong people in the wrong jobs.

You also sometimes get the right people in the right jobs. You could count on one hand the amount of late nights that were worked at Studio Liverpool during the development of Wipeout HD. Everyone had a proper life outside of work, they came into work motivated for the next day, with ideas flowing. It worked out pretty well for the game given the review scores.

You can dress up the development process in anyway you like, but long hrs do not translate into more product! A balanced life, motivated staff and a decent plan does.

Simple really.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nick Burcombe Games Design Consultant, Playrise Games11 years ago
Hi Sandy ;) Totally agree. Knowing what you're making and how to make it eliminates so much risk that crunch is much easier to control. It was largely like that on F1CE too as I remember.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Yannick Boucher Project Manager, Crytek11 years ago
Well, this is what happens when you have people who think that project management is not needed. It's exactly a failure of proper management that leads to situations like these.

Too often you have people who "have had it with the paperwork, let's just make the awesome game we want", and they can't get a focused scope, they just want to "get the game done and put in all our awesome ideas" (with all the changes along the road, of course). And you end up with situations like this. It's classic.

You need to be able to know how to balance your quality/time/budget properly so you can let your people live normal lives. And I'm not even saying you need _managers_, just saying you need _management_.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yannick Boucher on 16th March 2010 4:21am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 11 years ago
If you can't take the heat, you shouldn't be in this industry. If you want to make money you have to make hits, if you want to make hits that can stand up to 400 man strong companies with 40 people you must endure this.

I hate what is happening but it's the only way to compete. Money doesn't grow on trees, specially if you work for a small company.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Killing crunch cycles are not necessary to create AAA games in sensible budgets. We do it at Firebrand every day. Our teams rarely work crunch (and indeed in Glasgow almost never) yet we hit milestones and get critical acclaim. This is due to high quality people, an absence of ego and strict project management - and this is the same in our 4th year in business as it was in the first. It is refreshing to me when the team go home at the end of the work day having done a good day's work. Because they know, although we are creating games, we are AT work and this is a business. Only businesses that make money continue to exist and only people who understand that a business must make money to succeed are successful in those businesses. Hours spent does not equal output or quality. It is the quality of the time spent that has the most success. AND the least restriction, the least 'its not my job rubbish' and the absence of egos and megalomaniacs from the boss down to the QA. Work as a true team and the results happen. Play one side against the other, or piss around during the day and it takes little imagination to see the results. Graduates are great but they need to understand that they bring a lot to the table BUT they need to learn from the ones who have learned it already, and the one thing they often lack is the self discipline to realise that a job in games is exactly that - a job. So its work and not play. Highly enjoyable work but work all the same. And if you do it well, you get to have a good life AWAY from the office too. Mess around and you don't. Its actually pretty simple. I have worked with creative types all my working career who say you cannot rush the creation process. True, but if you want to live in fantasy land, be my guest but on your own dime. Inject some responsibility and be amazed at the results...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
CaseyB Artist, Digital Extremes11 years ago
hmmm ... I read the mythical man month a while back. I couldn't help but chuckle and grin after almost every page because the parallels from a few documents published in 1975 still hold true today. Everyone claims they know the magical key to how a piece of software should be made and they even make acronyms with aggressive buzz words surrounding them, hailing them as spoken truth of god himself.

IMO this isn't a problem the Video Game industry holds on it's own.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Gonzalo Figueroa Game Designer, CNG Studios11 years ago
Today, your most valuable asset is a good team. If you have a balanced team and you control scope/budget/time, then you should be able to survive in the industry. If your team burn out, then you will have the new trainee problem which will slow you down. There are companies outside that show us that a good balance between life and work helps productivity and give you higher returns. Even when is not a software company, Patagonia is one of them.

The ultimate goal should be achieving clear goals with a scope/budget/time well define while keeping a balanced life for everybody in the company. Easy to say, hard to implement.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.