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Phil Harrison: It's time for a change in games development

Atari president promotes lower risk strategies and endorses transparency with gamers

Atari president Phil Harrison has revealed his belief that the process of game development needs to change, in order to make it a less risky experience overall, and one that will help to promote innovative and creative ideas.

Speaking in a keynote at the Unite 08 conference in Copenhagen, Harrison praised the Unity middleware platform as one way to help "de-risk that pipeline" and underlined the importance in his view of following a set process of development, which involves a series of procedures that should be satisfied before moving on to the next.

"Here is my EUR 10 million gift to this room - all of the mistakes I have made in software development have been based around one problem and one problem alone, which is accelerating through this pipeline without successfully and properly satisfying the requirements of each of the stages - and typically it involves going from concept to production in one jump," he said.

"That's pretty much the definition of why projects fail - because you don't know what you're building, you don't know how you're going to build it, you don't know who you're building it for, but you've got 60 people working on it and they've all running in different directions - that's how most games fail.

"What I'm really excited about with Unity is that it helps to de-risk that pipeline - it helps you to experiment earlier, fail more often, and fail more cheaply.

"This is the mantra - you want to fail early, to kill those poor ideas, but you also want to do it repeatedly and quickly so that you will eventually find those great ideas, but you want to do it as cheaply as you can so you save money.

"And with something like Unity, you can empower so many more people in your organisations - big or small - to be involved in that creative innovation process," he added.

Harrison went on to suggest that involving consumers at a much earlier point in the development process was more suitable than focusing everything on a big set piece launch, preferring instead a longer tail with ongoing development of a 'service' rather than a 'product'.

"I believe that a true 21st century business model is to do all of that [production] in the glare of the game-playing public, so you can expose that innovation to your consumers," he said. "You may not charge them for it at this point - but why not deliver your innovations and experimentations directly to your players, and let them be part of the process of deciding which games to make?"

The Unity platform is a browser-based technology capable of rendering high quality 3D environments across a range of PC and Mac machine specifications, as well as the Nintendo Wii and the iPhone.

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Phil Elliott