I’m one of the rare people who has split his career (and moved back and forth) between the web and gaming industries. Having that experience has given me a different perspective, especially on how games are made.
The smartest people I have ever worked with in my career have been in the games. Despite that, game development seems in the dark ages compared to web development.
My last project in gaming, RIFT, took five years to build, and more than $50mm in investment. It did well – but what if it didn’t? What if, right before launch, a different product came out that made ours obsolete? What if we launched and people seriously just did not care?
To stem this risk, the web / mobile app industry gets *something* out as fast as possible and tries to learn if anyone cares about the product. Because that risk is even sometimes too high, ‘Fake Doors’ were invented – just put up a website for a product that doesn’t even exist, and see if people take an action (like clicking a button) that would show interest.
The only game I can think of that launched early was Minecraft. And hey, it did ok.
Once you get your product out there, either in 5 years or 5 months, you are flying blind unless you know what your users are doing. Aside from Zynga, I don’t know of a large gaming company that is hard-core into understanding how the product is used at the finest level on a moment to moment basis.
In Squawk, and just about every other web and mobile app product, we track *everything *. We are a small team and yet have custom nightly reports as well as have integrated many third party SDKs like Flurry, MixPanel, KISSMetrics, etc.. Even more importantly, this metric data tells us what to do next.
Also, I have never, ever, seen an A/B test written or implemented in the gaming industry.
On RIFT, we made a new build each day. On a different gaming project that I was consulting on, they got a new build … once a week. And that was somehow ok. In the web space, a build is continuously created and deployed as fast as possible, often thousands of times in a month. There are often more steps and asset crunching in the build process for games, I get that. But often there isn’t the attitude that it needs to be faster, whereas it is obsessed over in the web space.
Seemingly every system in the gaming industry is written from scratch (Unity is bucking that trend), whereas a web project is more a big tapestry of open source works from other authors. Why is that?
A correlated observation: others’ code in the web space is free, and in games it’s not. Is it because a useful, shareable component in the gaming space is necessarily large and complex, and therefore takes so much of one’s time that you’d need to charge for it?
Did you ever notice that web companies don’t have QA people? For RIFT, we had around 20. That’s because in the web space people write tests for everything possible. There could be tens of thousands of tests in a mature product, run every time you compiled, checked in, or deployed. We basically had none. And these are the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. And look, it was in my control to push this. Instead, we had a great QA team.
Especially because games are so complex, you’d think we would have tests.
I have never seen a more stark contrast between the two industries than when it comes to people. The gaming industry is notorious for ass-in-chair management, and ‘crunching’. As in:
We had to work 60 hour weeks for three straight months to make our ship date. We were told we needed to have X all done, which really wasn’t reasonable. And then they added more stuff. And then after all of that … launch was delayed. We got a few days off to ‘recharge’, and then started crunching again.
Do employees at Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and Apple do that? What about at all hot, A or B round funded start-ups? Something tells me no. I can’t think of a gaming company that wants to build a great culture – yet Mark Zuckerberg obsesses about it all the time.
Why oh why oh why????