Tag Archives: Game Production

I built my career on a QA job – a response to Nathan (RC) Peters

After two years I was forced to hand in my employee badge for Pandemic Studios, a broken man.

I was taking 4 vicodin a day to dull the pain of a herniated disc in my lower back. Wrist braces adorned both my arms to help control the repetitive stress injury induced by long days of playing Star Wars: Battlefront and typing. The herniated disc – acquired on a rare crunch time day off as I stood up from my couch at home – gave me a bit of a limp, and as I hobbled through the halls of Pandemic Studios you could hear the painkillers rattle in my pocket.

I was heartbroken. I was rejected. I could not fathom why I was let go from the team I had sacrificed so much for. In time, I would grow to understand the incredible gift I had been given in my two years of industry experience at Pandemic. But at the time I was too immature, too angry and too disillusioned to process my experiences clearly.
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Embrace the Inner A-hole

or, What to do when Scrum Fails?

During a GDC beer break, I had an interesting talk about scrum with a former colleague who works as a scrum master type (your studio may classify him as a development director, producer or project manager depending on culture).  He vented his frustration with his current game team.  Like me, he is a believer in scrum methodology and has seen it catalyze teams into cohesive units that produce powerful results and ship great games.

But, scrum only works when team culture buys in to the philosophy.  My colleague is fighting widespread ambivalence.  He faces ambivalence from studio leaders, who are stretched too thin to deliver their influence and feedback against a timeline, helping create stability.  He faces ambivalence from senior team members, who are content to finish their individual tasks without reinforcing the team-centric mentality.  He faces ambivalence from junior team members, who are not mature enough to have internal motivation driving the completion of committed tasks.  He is fighting an uphill culture battle with no support and he is losing.

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No One’s Better than Cloning

On the first day of GDC, I was introduced to a designer from a venture funded, Bay Area mobile/social start-up interested in BioWare Social.  I recognized the studio name from one of the dueling sets of recruiting billboards adorning the 101-N, and its top performing iPhone App.  When I asked why she wanted to change companies, she said “All we do is make clones, and I’m better than that.”

“No one’s better than cloning,” I replied, eliciting an amused chortle from former colleague and master designer Soren Johnson, who I had been catching up with.

“Wow, Ethan’s so grizzled,” Soren observed.

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Game Production Hotline

On Sunday, I moderated a panel at the 2012 Flash Games Summit on the life of flash developers.  I was joined by some of my favorite developers: Andrew Sega (Mytheria/Armor Wars), Dan Stradwick (Monsters’ Den) and Sean McGee (Thing Thing Arena/Endless Zombie Rampage).  During the panel, and in discussions throughout the day, feature creep, difficulty finishing games and not knowing when a game was complete were frequent topics.  For instance, Dan has been working on Monsters’ Den Chronicle for 2 years.  The first year was spent working on a hugely ambitious Monsters’ Den Godfall, before he decided to do something of a smaller scope and ship quickly (inspired by Andy Moore’s SteamBirds talk from the previous year’s FGS).  One year later, the third entry in the series plays fantastically and is nearing distribution.

In the past year, when Dan would tweet about feature creep, I replied by asking if he needed me to fly to Australia and use my Producer super powers to help him ship the game.  After a day at FGS, I had a brilliant idea.  I want to set up the official Game Producer Hotline.  For the low, low price of $0.99 you can call and tell me about the mind blowing feature you want to add to your game.  I will listen thoughtfully, ask questions and then say “No.  It’s a great idea but ship without it.”

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What is Scrum?

Scrum is a project development framework frequently used in software development and specifically game development.  It is an agile development method with a strong focus on visibility, accountability, team dynamics, quick pivots and finishing demoable product.  It has been an essential tool at BioWare San Francisco for managing the breakneck pace of live game development, and has been transformative in my own time serving as a game producer.

There are numerous resources throughout the web that can educate you on the Scrum process.  I found this brief video from Jeff Sutherland that explains the foundation of and basic tenants of Scrum.  This posting explains the various Scrum concepts I reference heavily in the posts related to the Scrumification of Music, as I interpret them.

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