Diecast #293: Crunch Time, Indie Case Study, Mailbag

By Shamus Posted Monday Mar 16, 2020

Filed under: Diecast 80 comments



Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.
Diecast293


Link (YouTube)

00:00 Michael Goodfellow

Here is the Sea of Memes site, if you’re curious.

01:57 Corona

I just closed Reddit, because I was SO sick of the constant Corona / toilet paper memes. Then I remembered we talked about it on the show. This wasn’t even a planned topic. We were talking about it just before starting the show, and then made a snap decision to add it to the agenda.

Sorry for adding to the pointless media deluge. I realize you probably come here to get away from this sort of thing.

10:50 Naughty Dog Is Crunching

Jason Schreier’s latest expose is… not a surprise, but a sad read nonetheless.

During this segment, I commented that it wasn’t clear if the publisher was even AWARE that this was a problem. The story made it sound like employees were imposing crunch on themselves and the publisher wasn’t paying attention. But there’s a bit of the discussion that I overlooked, which is that one of the developers was threatened to keep quiet about the company’s crunch practices. That sounds bad, but from context it sounds like this guy was threatened by the developer Naughty Dog, not publisher Sony.

In either case, you have management doing bad things, but I’d really love to know which management we should focus on. Consider the possibilities:

  1. Sony is deliberately creating unhealthy conditions because they want to ship the next game at any cost.
  2. One of the higher-ups at Naughty Dog is trying to advance his career by making it look like he’s a miracle worker, and to that end he’s squeezing his people really hard.

These are both bad, of course. But for whatever reason I personally find #2 to be more angering. It’s one thing to harm people on the other side of the world through negligence and apathy, but for me that’s not nearly as bad as harming the people you see every day due to callousness and personal ambition.

But I don’t know. As always, we’re peering through the cracks in the wall and trying to make guesses about what we’re seeing. Regardless of who is at fault, this is very bad for Naughty Dog. They lost 70% of their creative leads. That’s the same thing that killed BioWare. If you lose your key people, you lose your identity as a developer.

I’m very curious to see if all of this chaos will impact the final quality of Last of Us II.

24:40 Steam sales case study: ‘Academia: School Simulator’

The article, which is worth a read: Steam sales case study: ‘Academia: School Simulator

36:21 Mailbag: Director Games in the West

Dear Diecast

Do you think that videos games in the west should adopt the Director role that they have in Japan the try to keep a consistent vision and them for the game? When western games have someone who seems to be the one making the decisions or has a mostly-clear vision of what the game should be, like Ken Levine with the Bioshock games, they seem be a more consistent whole. But they seem the be the rarity, at least publicly.

There are even a few games that seem to have no one of any kind in a leadership role and those games came out very much a mess, like Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Would having someone who is in a more supervisory position to organize teams and team-efforts into a unified direction be an over all benefit? Or would it lead to having too many people being promoted into those positions because of tone-from-the-top and have an unhealthy culture of favoritism and nepotism?

Has there been any past games that you can think of had a director-like role in development, for good or bad?

Horatio J. HooDoo

41:21 Mailbag: Risking Minimum Specs

Dear Diecast,

What do you do when you aren’t sure whether or not a game will be playable on your computer? Give up on it? Buy it anyway? (Hope springs eternal!) Ask the internet for help? I always end up comparing the minimum and recommended processors and GPUs to my processor and GPU on benchmarking sites. I’m hoping you know a better way.

–John

 


From The Archives:
 

80 thoughts on “Diecast #293: Crunch Time, Indie Case Study, Mailbag

  1. Joe says:

    Yeah, I’ve certainly stocked up the last few days. Mostly things that will keep. At the same time, I’m trying to keep portion sizes down and make things last longer. If I don’t leave the house for three weeks, it won’t be the best, but I probably won’t starve. Furthermore, I have a good CON score. So while I won’t be stupid about these things, I’m less worried for myself than for people with immune systems barely worthy of the term.

    Naughty Dog is interesting. I see what you’re saying, Shamus, but sometimes a person doesn’t want to be the one to let the side down by leaving early. Makes them look like the arsehole. Social pressure is a real thing. And why would the higher-ups stop them from voluntarily crunching? I’m sure I’ve heard of a games company that encourages people to knock off at five, but I can’t remember who. Not ND, of course.

    I once got my dad to return a game, way back when. He can be a male Karen, when needed. Not often, but sometimes. And more to the point, effective at it.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If you’re already stocking up…can’t you just eat normal sizes of food? Like, cans of condensed soup are pretty space-efficient, even if you’re in an apartment building. :)

      1. Joe says:

        The point is to stretch things as far as possible. So far it isn’t easy. But I’ll manage, possibly by drinking a lot of water. Besides, I could stand to lose a kilo or two.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      There’s this idea, perhaps an instinct for those of us who have never had to miss a meal, that if you don’t eat three meals a day all the flesh will peel off your skeleton that night. But as long as you have clean water and a normal BMI you can go weeks without food entirely with no negative long-term health impacts. The first couple days are rough, but after that the hunger pains fade and it’s really not even uncomfortable. YMMV, but I encourage people to try fasting. Four days is enough to break through and realize that you don’t really need food as badly or as regularly as it seemed.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        Warning: fasting is not safe or suitable for all people, such as those with long-term health conditions or a history of eating disorders.

        1. Syal says:

          You’ve also got to know how to come back from a fast. Got a relative who regularly fasts for a month at a time and he comes back off it with basically baby food.

        2. Mr. Wolf says:

          Or those with short-term health conditions, like for example the exact reason you’re in quarantine in the first place.

          Seriously, reducing your energy intake is one of the worst things you could do while ill. The immune system is pretty energy intensive.

      2. LCF says:

        As said, you could survive with less food, but food is matter for building and maintaining the body, and energy for normal operation, which the body needs for everything, immune system included.
        Outside of a pandemic, it *might* be interesting to check one’s own limit, under careful medical guidance, skipping a meal or two. Currently, it is really unadvisable to do so.
        Also, as previously said, don’t return to normal serving sizes in one meal after starving, it’s a recipe for disaster. Again, medical advice is needed.
        Keep healthy, keep warm, don’t starve, don’t over-indulge. And if the doomsday preppers were right on one thing, it’s good to have a diverse stock of long-length preserved food, dried and/or canned, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, pasta, beans, rice, lens, so on and so forth, for a week or three. And outside of emergencies, remember to rotate your stock on a regular basis, don’t get stuck on expired rations at the worst time.

    3. GoStu says:

      Naughty Dog is interesting. I see what you’re saying, Shamus, but sometimes a person doesn’t want to be the one to let the side down by leaving early. Makes them look like the arsehole. Social pressure is a real thing. And why would the higher-ups stop them from voluntarily crunching? I’m sure I’ve heard of a games company that encourages people to knock off at five, but I can’t remember who. Not ND, of course.

      In my opinion, this is where you separate the excellent leadership from the merely okay, and the mediocre from the downright malicious. It’s not just on a manager to allocate tasks and monitor performance; it’s also to set the tone and culture of a company.

      If a person has work to do and is putting in the hours to do it, good. If that person is done what they’re working on, or is just feeling burnt, they should go. If another member of the team is making judgmental remarks or is imposing “social pressure” then it’s the role of a good leader to shut that down.

      That kind of mutual shared guilt-trip leading to resentful bums in chairs is a low-key form of nasty workplace culture and a good leader will stomp that shit out. I’ve been in a workplace that had that sort of culture and while it certainly encouraged more clocked hours I’m certain it didn’t do a damn thing to actual work accomplished; it just led to me resenting the prick making pointed remarks and looks at his watch. No Perry, I don’t give a shit that you’re here at six am and won’t leave until seven pm; I can get everything done by showing up at eight and leaving by five.

  2. Ninety-Three says:

    You poked fun at hoarding water (“It comes out of the walls”), but hoarding toilet paper is equally baffling to me. Like, you don’t go through toilet paper that fast, most houses have months of TP stocked up just by default. What do those people expect to happen?

    I am pretty much unaffected by the whole thing. I’m one of those “I’ve been practicing social distancing for years” nerds and I work at a tech company which ordered all its employees to work from home, so really all the panic means to me is that the local grocery store is out of raspberries for a while.

    1. Chad Miller says:

      Toilet paper doesn’t have an easy substitution (bidets notwithstanding). If someone goes to the store to stock up on non-perishable foods, there are a lot of things they could end up buying. If rice is out, they may go buy pasta. If pasta is out, they may go buy instant noodles. People with large freezers can be even more flexible. If you go to buy toilet paper and it’s out, you’re not likely to look at paper towels or Kleenex and say “close enough.”

      So you have people doing routine shopping, and toilet paper happens to be one of the first things visibly disappearing (along with sanitizing products). Word gets out, then suddenly everyone is making sure they have enough. Then if that weren’t enough to cause temporary shortages, the scalpers see all of the above and start cleaning out stores intentionally (yes, there really are toilet paper scalpers right now)

      1. Lino says:

        Toilet paper doesn’t have an easy substitution (bidets notwithstanding).

        [Don’t read if you’re easily grossed-out] If people don’t have a bidet, can’t they just use a bottle of water to wash up? In any case, it’s a much better solution than toilet paper…

        1. SupahEwok says:

          I’ve actually suggested using a shower to rinse off. Much easier and less messy than a water bottle.

          1. Lino says:

            If you don’t have a bidet, and your setup allows for it, using a shower is by far the best option. You can also hook one up to your sink or the toilet tank itself.

            1. Chad Miller says:

              Indeed, I think most people in the US don’t even consider the possibility because we’re creatures of habit. But last time I went shopping, there were 3 packages of TP, I “only” took one, and figured my detachable shower head would be Plan B if it comes to that.

      2. ivan says:

        Yes it does, it’s called “any paper”. Seriously, tolet paper is a fairly recent thing. Go back 60 years it basically didn’t exist (anecdotal evidence from my mother, fight me on it if you wish), ppl did just fine with things like magazines and old newspapers. Now admittedly those examples may not exist anymore for most households, but I’d imagine if they try they can get their hands on something that will suffice.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          I said “easy” substitution and I stand by that. To quote my last comment:

          If you go to buy toilet paper and it’s out, you’re not likely to look at paper towels or Kleenex and say “close enough.”

          If more serious shortages actually happen, I’m sure most people will figure something out. I’ve had to deal with week-plus long utility outages in the past myself. But if we’re talking about people with disposable income shopping right now, they’re not going to look at a nearly-empty shelf of toilet paper and say “eh, I’ll use newspapers if I have to.” They’ll just buy the toilet paper and maybe some extra for good measure.

          1. Syal says:

            A reminder that the special property of toilet paper is that it dissolves, instead of turning into a wet ball that clogs your pipes until they break and spray crap into random parts of your life.

            If you’re going to use newspapers or paper towels, don’t flush them; be responsible and burn them.

    2. Software Dev says:

      I’ll be working from home too – I can commit code and instant-message people just fine outside of the office. My team’s actually a bit of an outlier, since we usually have at least one or two people working remotely on a regular basis. The rest of the office has much more of a “in person is the only way to discuss ideas” attitude, which will be more affected by people working from home.

      1. Thomas says:

        I’m working from home this week, because I was at a big crowd event on Saturday and I’m trying to make sure I don’t have any symptoms before going back to the office.

        It’s Monday and I’m already bored out of my mind.

        1. Hector says:

          The problem with that plan is that it can take significantly longer for symptoms to appear.

          1. Thomas says:

            The guidance in the UK is that 7 days gives a fairly high probability of symptoms showing up.

            1. Liessa says:

              The guidance is 7 days for people who already have symptoms, 14 for those who don’t. (I’m all too aware of this, as I’m currently quarantined after my housemate developed a cough that resembles the virus). However that’s only for people who’ve been in contact with a known/suspected case.

        2. Lino says:

          You’re doing this of your own volition? If even half the people with symptoms were like you, this whole thing would have been over by now…

    3. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Those of us down in New Orleans know the value of stocking up on bottled water. The City of New Orleans is constantly having to issue boil water advisories, and a bad storm can make the tap water unsafe in a heartbeat.

      Fortunately, I always keep a stock of emergency food. The biggest issue for me is bread.

      1. Lino says:

        The biggest issue for me is bread.

        Because it spoils easily? Why don’t you stock up on flour instead, and make your own bread? In the beginning of the panic here, all the bread ran out, but we bought some flour, along with some yoghurt (real yoghurt; it’s very abundant and cheap here, but you can also use yeast, as well as anything else you’d like to put in it), and made our own.

  3. Lino says:

    I’m not from the Philippines, but I lived in Cebu (their second-largest metropolitan area after their capital) for about a month during a bit of a martial arts pilgrimage, and I’d say that $1000/month means you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Rent was quite cheap, and so were most of the goods and services. Of course, if you want to live in one of the highest-class neighborhoods, that kind of money wouldn’t take you very far, but if your spouse is working as well, I’d say you’d be able to support a family (to be fair, though, I don’t know how much school/kindergarten costs).

  4. Joshua says:

    “One of the higher-ups at Naughty Dog is trying to advance his career by making it look like he’s a miracle worker, and to that end he’s squeezing his people really hard.”

    Been there. Heard her talking about how after all of the sacrifices she was making, she better get a big bonus too. None of the rest of us were going to get one, and people were leaving the company in droves.

  5. Chris says:

    Corona hit here too. Nothing worse than people hoarding. First of all why toiletpaper of all things, and people buy like 10 packs, which easily lasts you for a year. Whats the endgame here, starving while surrounded by a wall of TP?

    Also funny, the coffeeshops were going to get closed so there were huge lines in front of them for people trying to get some weed. Which to be honest I think is a much more reasonable purchase if youll get stuck inside for a long time.

    1. Syal says:

      The TP hoarding is actually a defensive measure; since everyone will be trapped in their homes, the only thing stopping hooligans from toiler papering every house in the neighborhood is preemptively hiding all the toilet paper in town.

  6. Lino says:

    We’ve also had a total of 51 Corona cases, and 2 deaths (of course, all of them old people with pre-existing conditions), and the government’s declared a state of emergency until 29th March, with plans to extend it if need be (a total overreaction, in my opinion, but let’s not get into that). And what does this mean? It means that in addition to people hoarding like deranged chipmunks, all restaurants and stores are closed, with the exception of pharmacies, supermarkets and banks. The worst part, however, is that only a few people can go into a store at a time, so if you’re unlucky, you can end up waiting for half an hour just to get inside the supermarket. I’m already dreading the shopping I’ll have to do after work (crossing my fingers for a shorter line!).

    At our company, we can work from home if we want, but both yesterday and today, I decided to go to the office. Yesterday, because I had the entire office to myself, and today because I want to take one of the monitors home, so I can have two at home (so that I can work more effectively, DEFINITELY not so I can play videogames while I’m at work). And the entire city is like a ghost town. It’s awesome! Rush hour in the subway, and there are hardly any people, normally busy the streets are completely empty. The only downside is that restaurants and fast food joints can only have their takeaway section working, so eating at work is a bit more expensive.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Solution: eat instant-noodles at work!

    2. Decius says:

      The small number of cases is a result of the declaration of emergency and isolation measures.

      Those old people with existing issues? They’re parents and grandparents who are better off alive than dead.

      1. Lino says:

        Oh yes, it’s definitely an issue, especially for older folks and people with pre-existing conditions. We should take this seriously. What people shouldn’t do is act like it’s Armageddon, and blow this out of proprtion (and for fuck’s sake, stop buying everything off the shelves!).

        1. Echo Tango says:

          But if they don’t buy 100% of the toilet paper, how will they get enough calories to keep themselves alive?

          1. Lino says:

            – I regret to inform you that your coronavirus results came in positive…
            – But that’s impossible! I bought 100 rolls of toilet paper!!!

      2. Duoae says:

        That’s great but in reality authorities are going about this the wrong way. Instead of quarantining the entire population of the world in various lockdowns, they should isolate the vulnerable and then reintroduce them into society bit by bit so health care systems can cope.

        The way they’re doing it now, the economic and political fallout is going to cause more deaths and hardship than the other way around.

        On the plus side, hitting environmental targets became more easy…

        1. Syal says:

          hitting environmental targets became more easy…

          Yep. Park Rangers are all at home, there’s nothing to stop you from just punching a deer.

          1. Duoae says:

            Haha. I actually laughed. :) seriously though, this is going to have a long term dip in emission figures. The roads are empty, factories are at reduced production or offline altogether.

            There is a huge problem we’re seeing here in Europe is that many people on zero hour contracts (i.e. no minimum requirement) have been forced to not work through company closures with no income to cover that gap. Most SMEs do not have funds to cover a 2-3 month shutdown, let alone a 1 month shutdown. Touristic countries/cities will see a complete lack of the sector for many months after any shutdown due in part to shyness but also the aforementioned loss of general income.

            At the same time, extreme social distancing will not work because the virus is already endemic in society and social distancing will only allow current severe cases to exhibit, people without symptoms or with mild symptoms (of which there are a great many total% of those infected [80%+]) will come back into society and start the landslide again.

            The only way to reduce and control very sick people presenting at healthcare services is by isolating them, like i said.

            When a patient has a compromised immune system, doctors put them in a bubble/ clean room – not the rest of the world. It’s easier to isolate a subset of the population than the entire population…

  7. Asbjorn Sand says:

    Hi Shamus.

    The Naughty Dog problem is described adequately as it is: The staff/management of the developer itself incentivizes the problem in order to set a higher bar and employees burn out because of the social pressure that keeps them up late at their job.

    But there are cases of direct Management telling employees “Either you crunch or you’re fired”. I know an Ex-BioWare person who worked at Vicarious Visions. He was fired because he refused to work 90 hours a week during crunch.

    1. Thomas says:

      One thing that often gets missed is people really want to contribute to something big and meaningful. Humanity has told ourselves stories for aeons about people who push themselves through hell for some great public work or art.

      With this article and the RDR2 one it’s clear a lot of staff tell themselves it’s worth giving up their work-life balance to make a truly great game.

      It’s particularly believable with Naughty Dog which operate semi-Valve like without much real management structure.

      But it’s not a sustainable attitude. Naughty Dog might be killing themselves with that belief – and harming their employees at the same time. The people who’ve made that great game start realising it’s not worth it, and leave to find a better way.

      A tragedy of games like Andromeda is some people gave up their health to contribute to a work of art, and then the work of art wasn’t even good. Imagine how devastating it will be if TLOU2 turns out bad.

  8. John says:

    Fortunately, I no longer game on a potato, though I did for many, many years. I think the thing that finally persuaded me to scrape together the money to upgrade was when I wanted to play Endless Sky and couldn’t. Endless Sky should have been perfect for me. It’s a very light-weight game in a genre I love. It’s also free, which appeals to my inner miser. Unfortunately, it requires OpenGL 3.0 and the integrated graphics on my potato only supported up to OpenGL 2.1. I am now the proud owner of a very low-end, budget-y sort of gaming PC, and I am continually surprised by how well it runs everything. I’ve gotten to the point where now I sometimes forget to check the system requirements before I buy a game. I get a little panic attack when I realize what I’ve done, but everything has worked out for the best so far.

    The event which got me thinking about system requirements and prompted my question was the announcement of Horizon: Zero Dawn for the PC. (I’m not normally keen on open-world games of this type, but Horizon Colon Annoying Subtitle has robo-saurs.) The game won’t be available until sometime this summer, but there’s already a store page for it on Steam. The minimum system requirements are, in their entirety, and I quote: “Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system.” The recommended system requirements are likewise “Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system”. This is almost certainly placeholder text, destined to be replaced as the game gets closer to release. But imagine if it wasn’t! “Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system” is the lowest of low bars in this day and age. Note also that the store page doesn’t specify which 64-bit operating system. Play Horizon: Zero Dawn on your Mac, on your Linux machine, on your cheap Windows laptop with integrated graphics! What a world that would be.

    1. Syal says:

      Horizon: Zero Dawn for the Nintendo 64.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      There was some indie game I played around Halloween, that had the system-requirements as something like “will run on a potato”. Besides that, there’s many other non-joke requirements, that are basically “really old version of Direct X”, “really old family of graphics cards”, etc. It’s great, playing games that don’t push the visual fidelity up to 11. :)

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I used to have the early Blizzard game Blackthorne on (floppy) disk. I kinda wish I still had it for the system requirements listing which included specifying that you needed a hard drive to play it. That was already starting to feel quaint even at the time.

  9. Redrock says:

    I keep coming to the conclusion that the crunch issue is not being portrayed in a helpful way in the media: too much emotion, not enough critical analysis of the causes and possible solutions. A lot of writers, including Jason Schreier, fail to highlight the difference between bideo-game crunch and any other type of creative/project work. I’ve worked in news, political campaigns and PR firms, and none of those jobs were a steady nine to five. That’s just the reality of working on a project with a deadline – stuff will go wrong and you will inevitably be faced with a lot of overtime, a lot of it unpaid because, again, there’re jobs where you’re paid for the end result and not just showing up.

    That said, in the specific case of the videogame industry, a lot of the crucnh seems to come from poor management. Perhaps because the industry is still so young and there’s just not enough managerial experience and know-how to go around. Still, though, I’d wish that publications would focus on the specific pitfalls and mistakes rather than the sob stories of burnt-out developers that are wondering if it’s “worth the cost”. Harsh as it may sound, tugging at heartstrings may cause sadness, anger or even the rare glimmer of compassion, but it doesn’t incentivize development of complex managerial solutions.

    1. Lino says:

      While I absolutely agree with you, doing what you suggest requires actual analysis and commentary on business practices – something that seems to be beyond the ability of most video game journalists.

      Although, on the bright side, they do seem to be learning. The quality of articles has gone up over the years, and we’re getting some actual analysis here and there, rather than just copy-pasted press releases and clickbait. Unfortunately, most people just prefer reading clickbait, rather than a well-researched and thought-out article…

      1. Redrock says:

        I’m pretty sure this isn’t the place for what I’m about to say, and I’ll point out in advance that this isn’t a dig at Shamus or bloggers in general, but I feel that a lot of problems come from the intermingling of blogging and journalism. There’s nothing wrong with blogging, not at all, but it seems to me that historically blogging was more about the author, their views, emotions and ideas, rather like an opinion column in what we would now call legacy media. Actual reporting, however, used to adhere to a pretty strict style both in terms of language and content. A lot of video game media outlets are ostensibly news media, but in reality retain a lot of blogging trappings. Again, nothing wrong with that per se, except that on an industry scale we’re left with actual blogs and the half-blogs that are your mainstream video game sites. I can’t help but think that the industry and the community would benefit from at least some straightlaced old-school journalism.

        God, I sound old.

        1. Supah Ewok says:

          That’s a decent point, but I want to point out something else: I think gaming “journalism” is largely a myth, fed by gaming’s big brother, cinema. Hollywood cultivated a journalism scene, even for negative expose’s, just as a matter of thrusting cinema into the public consciousness, to the point that most big movie stars are better known than most of our politicians.

          I wonder how many folks who follow gaming news follow other kinds of news. Not mainstream news, but industrial and enthusiast news. You’ll find that other industries don’t put up some pretense of investigative journalism and whatnot. If there’s a break in some unsafe automobile plant, it’ll come out of mainstream news, not car blogs. If there’s a break in bad side-effects in medication, it’ll come out of mainstream news, not pharmaceutical news magazines. If the software vendor that supplies the program suite I use in my field is keeping their programmers chained to their desks for 100 hour work weeks, I don’t expect to hear the big break from industry sources, I expect I’ll see it headlining the New York Times or in some new book.

          What does get passed around in industrial and enthusiast news that you don’t expect from mainstream news? New products and tools, new methods, the occasional heartwarmer story, the big items from the major conventions, promising research.

          I think people apply a certain standard to games journalism that isn’t anywhere close to what enthusiast news is for any other market, and are consistently disappointed when it doesn’t live up to it.

          1. Redrock says:

            Oh, I wasn’t talking about investigative journalism as seen in, say, Spotlight. I just meant quality news reporting, with a decent stylebook, fact checking and, well, some restraint. In my experience, in mainstream media a lot of news editors, for example, would be just that – news editors, full-time. In games media a news editor is also probably a reviewer, an occasional columnist, or, well, a blogger. These things bleed into each other, and we get news items written like blog posts and reviews written like essays. I may be wrong, but other enthusiast media often seems more professional – not in terms of investigations or whatnot, but in terms of style amd formats.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      I keep coming to the conclusion that the crunch issue is not being portrayed in a helpful way in the media: too much emotion, not enough critical analysis of the causes and possible solutions.

      Yeah, Schreier in particular is a big advocate of unionization, but without analysis it always comes off like he’s saying “Something must be done! Unionization is something, therefore unionization must be done.”

      As Lino points out above though, actual analysis and commentary is rather beyond the ability of most game journalists, and that’s not just because they’re incompetent. Most audiences’ eyes glaze over when you start on the kinds of serious economics talk that needs to go into that kind of discussion, journalists aren’t good at it for the same reason journalists aren’t good at writing movies: that’s not the skillset they were hired to practice.

      1. Hector says:

        Also, while its not that nice to say, not many journalists were out there taking g serious math or science courses or gave real business experience. Exceptions exist, but the average journo often lacks relevant knowledge even of the field they ostensibly cover.

  10. Syal says:

    Assuming Wha Happun is in any way accurate, there are a few games that tanked in large part due to the directors having big ideas and little concern for cost. Splatterhouse 2010 in particular apparently had a director who tried to make a weird Silent Hill-style game in direct opposition to the people who’d hired him, and the game was only finished once they fired him.

  11. Christopher says:

    I’m not sure Peter Molyneux could pick up the cans without overpromising on his ability to and the experience of picking up the cans.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      At least with cans, it’d be easy for someone to say, “Hold on – this one man is signed up to collect the cans for this entire city? That must have been a mistake, let’s hire a few dozen teenagers, and give them each a neighborhood, and a proper schedule.”

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    I can’t open the gamasutra link for the Steam sales case study. Does anyone else have the problem?

    What do you do when you aren’t sure whether or not a game will be playable on your computer?

    Here’s how it was in the 90’s and early 2000’s: I was like Shamus was. Sure, I once in a while tried to make sure my PC met at least the minimum requirements, but usually I just tried it anyway, and if it ran, no matter how badly, I kept it. It helped a lot that many of the games were just borrowed from friends (back then such a thing was possible). Every once in a while a game I’d buy wouldn’t run at all, so I would just keep it until I upgraded. That could take years.

    Nowadays my gamer PC is decent, but I very rarely get to run games at max settings. Still, as long as it works, I keep it. Today we have the advantage of refunds, so if a game just doesnt’ run on my PC I can request one. I haven’t had to do it yet, fortunately.

    1. King Marth says:

      Article is broken for me too, doesn’t look like an issue with the link as that’s the same one that shows up on a search. The article is hosted by the same author on some other site as well, linked from a Reddit post.

      1. Supah Ewok says:

        Shamus’ link works for me.

    2. Shamus says:

      Very strange. The link works for me. I can’t imagine what’s going wrong here.

  13. ccesarano says:

    I was recently reading the Iwata Asks for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time development, and they mentioned how the game’s development was a rough and yet exciting two-and-a-half years. Iwata himself was shocked when the development leads noted that, each time the game was extended, they reacted with joy. Though they were working long hours, they were enthused about being able to fit ideas in and fix lingering problems. It was strange to read someone saying he’d work until or after midnight on most nights, but reflect on it in a positive manner. The team that remastered Ocarina of Time for 3DS discovered comments in the source code that reflected this attitude.

    It was really startling to read that in contrast to this news of The Last of Us II crunch, but it seems like there are a lot of key differences. The first is that the team was smaller back then, and they were all in communication with one another. There was a better sense of the whole between the team members, and even jokes about how the fishing mini-game came about because one of the developers, when he was supposed to be working on the boss to the Water Temple, ended up making himself a little fishing game in that chamber so he could unwind at times (humorous, how a programmer would write a program to unwind). When the others discovered it, they decided to throw it into the game officially.

    I was also reminded of the Darksiders documentary, where one of the leads said regarding crunch for the first game: “It’s kind of like going to war… it only feels like it was worth it because we won. But if the game had been a failure…”

    If we look at Schreier’s report, though, we see a very different atmosphere:

    Worst of all for some of Naughty Dog’s developers were the times when a high-level decision might lead to their work being scrapped without them even knowing it. An artist might be working on a building in The Last of Us II’s post-disaster version of America without realizing that their scene was cut or overhauled. They might not find out for days or even weeks, leading to hours and hours of wasted work—a demoralizing feeling compounded by the other stresses of production.

    There’s so much different in that paragraph than what was happening in the development of Ocarina of Time. This person is so honed in on one microscopic aspect of the game, whereas all the developers in Ocarina had a better perception of the bigger picture. In part, that was due to the fact that no one had tasks so focused into the detail. You didn’t have the tech to work on just one building for that long without completing it.

    But it also speaks to an issue in management if someone could be working on something that’d been cut without realizing it.

    And it really kind of drives home the difference. Everyone working on Ocarina of Time was part of a team that shared in a vision, and though there were some people in charge of the overall work (Miyamoto would come in, Aonuma and others would oversee multiple aspects of it), it was something being made by a group together. It was a real group effort, and everyone believed in what they were making.

    By contrast, I can’t help but think of the anime Shirobako, where a character came into work every day and did 3D modeling of yet another tire for whatever 3D car racing game they were being contracted to make. It was a job with an assembly line spirit, and she didn’t really care about cars or tires. It wasn’t something she was passionate about. Imagine if your job for two or three weeks is to make just one building. And then you have to work over-time to get it done.

    Reflecting on that, it’s two very different kinds of “crunch”. Working late on something you believe in comes with it a satisfaction. Working late on something because it’s your job and you need it to get paid makes you wonder what life is worth living if the money earns you no satisfaction, or just kills you faster.

    This is why the developers of Ocarina of Time could look back fondly, and yet at the same time say “We were young”. None of them work like that anymore if they can help it, and if last year’s interview with new Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser is to be believed, Animal Crossing was delayed into March 2020 in part to avoid crunch.

    Now I can only wonder if “passionate crunch”, as I’ll call it, can exist in the AAA space. I can see how smaller projects whose tech level is more reflective of what it was back in the 90’s can make it work. Smaller teams where everyone is able to regularly meet, communicate, and participate, so indie or AA levels can probably have that sort of passionate crunch where people stay behind because they want to, not because they’re pressured to. I don’t think you can have that in the AAA space, where too many employees doing too many tasks that are so zoomed in so far you can’t see the whole, can do the work as anything more than a job. So, like any job, there may be times where overtime is required, but not to the extent that video games in the AAA space have made standard.

    Oof, this then gets me considering more potential ponderous tangents, though. After all, Japan is a country where overtime is also more expected, so perhaps the reason those employees had so much fun doing that is because they happened to enjoy the project they were going to be working overtime on anyway.

    There’s also the question of Sony’s decision to cut back on E3. After seeing how honest the God of War documentary they put out was regarding crunch and its potential cost, I’ve wondered if one of the reasons they keep pulling out of E3 is to avoid the insane crunch that vertical slice demos cause. So two years in a row Sony doesn’t have E3 demos, therefore no crunch for vertical slices that almost pause overall production, and you’d wonder if they’re trying to improve mental health in their studios. If that’s true, then why is Naughty Dog able to operate like they have since 2018? Are they unaware? How can that be possible? They have to have representatives from headquarters making regular visits. There’s no way Sony could be ignorant, especially if there’s so much attrition.

    It’s a big, big topic, I think.

    1. Lino says:

      While this doesn’t detract from your general point, bear in mind that in the case of Ocarina of Time, there are some huge cultural differences between Japan and the US. In both countries overworking is a serious problem, but out of the two, Japan is the one that has a specific word for “dying from overworking”. And they have that word, because that literally does happen.

      In Japan, it’s considered an honour to work extra long hours. Some people even pretend to sleep on their workstations, because working so much that you literally fall asleep is thought of as one of the greatest honours of a worker.

      So, to me, the fact that they were feeling elated about the opportunity to work until midnight is more indicative of Japanese culture rather than anything else…

      1. ccesarano says:

        Yeah, I lightly touched on but didn’t dive into that factor of cultural difference. The article on Naughty Dog mentioned staying late because you didn’t want to look like the lazy, unhelpful employee, and that happens all the time in Japanese corporations as well. The clock will strike five and a bunch of employees with no work left to do will stay in the office, not wanting to be the first to leave. That the work team is meant to be a deeper communal relationship also means you’re expected to go out drinking after work more often, and if you don’t then it raises questions of whether you’re a team player or not.

        Of course, some of this information might be out-dated. I know it started to see a change in the 80’s with the Shinjinrui (New Breed) coming of age, but when the economic bubble pop my impression was there was a lot of regression. Then you had the whole NEET thing, which I think is starting to die out. Regardless, there’s been some rebellion to the salaryman lifestyle, and the life-long employment angle has begun to die in Japan as well. So some of those old ideas don’t stick.

        All of that said, I still think there’s something different regarding the development of Ocarina of Time. I’ve read stories on the development of other games, such as Resident Evil 2, and the realization that they’d have to delay the game in order to start over from the beginning, and it’s more of a universal expectation and atmosphere. No one ever said it during the interviews, but it felt like Miyamoto’s famous quote that “A delayed game is eventually good” came about from Ocarina of Time specifically.

        It’s all largely conjecture, and because the idea of harmony and saving face is core to Japan you can’t entirely take interviews at 100% face value. But I’ve read and seen enough of this stuff that, by this point, that story regarding Ocarina of Time really did feel different. To contrast it another way: I’ve been reading You Gotta Have Wa, which covers cultural differences between America and Japan through the lens of Japanese baseball. There’s discussion of fighting through the pain and overwork due to the “Japanese Fighting Spirit”, something else that has changed somewhat since the book’s writing (covers a timeframe between the 60’s and 80’s). The description of the development team’s attitude in the interview was very unlike the attitude expressed in that book.

        So while I think the difference between American and Japanese cultures factors in somewhat, I also think the attitude and joy towards a delay was also sincere on the part of the team. Besides, if we’re going to interpret it based on Japanese culture, then wouldn’t a delay be bad news because you’d be letting down your fans that are counting on you to release this game?

  14. Ninety-Three says:

    one of the developers was threatened to keep quiet about the company’s crunch practices

    I’m going to take this link as a prompt to complain about Youtube talking head news coverage. The most basic complaint is that the average person can read through all that information presented as text at two or three times the speed of listening to someone narrate it, but if that were the only problem I’d find it silly rather than annoying. So, on to critiques of the substance.

    This video, and talking heads in general, tend to be unscripted and done in one take. The result is awkward wording, awkward pauses and awkward repetition that compounds the “I could get this information faster in text” problem. I’m not sure if it’s because of the unscripted nature of the format, or just something in the style guide all the talking heads follow, but the recurring calls to outrage are incredibly annoying and unlike what you find even in heavily editorializing news articles. I can’t stand hearing him spend fifteen seconds reading a tweet then saying “So, we’re off to the races, that’s not a good start is it? Just threatening someone by withholding the payment that they’re owed to keep them quiet about some of the shady goings-on behind the scenes” before jumping to the next tweet. That commentary adds nothing and treats the viewer like a child who needs to be reminded that illegal threats are bad, little Timmy. He continues in that way, reading tweets aloud one or two at a time and then rephrasing without analysis like a grade school English essay.

    The man recaps eleven tweets in seven minutes. I can read that Twitter thread in under one! This isn’t just reading speed vs speech, it’s awful, awful padding. I can’t tell if this is the result of careful optimizing to feed the Youtube algorithm, or it’s just the natural indulgences that hobbyist Youtubers afford themselves, but either way this is what hashtag content looks like in the current year and I hate it.

    1. Lino says:

      I had a brief stint of watching one of these “head news” channels, and even though I had the videos at 2x speed, it STILL felt like it dragged on for hours (needless to say, actual commentary on events ). But even though that part was irritating, the reason I stopped watching it regularly was just the amount of negativity it brought to my life. I feel like every single video these people make is made with the express purpose of targetting the YouTube algorithm, and engineered with surgical precision so that it makes its viewers as angry and miserable as possible.

      We’ve got enough drama in our lives as it is. Going out of your way to find more is not only masochistic, but extremely stupid. I hope more people realize that and stop consuming this kind content, so that this awful business model receives the quiet, obscure death it deserves.

  15. danielfogli says:

    “You can’t stop Blizzard” :-P

  16. Hector says:

    Shamus,

    Oh look, CrossCode happens to be 20% off on Steam. https://store.steampowered.com/app/368340/CrossCode/

    Wink wink nudge nudge hint hint.

  17. evilmrhenry says:

    What I’ll say about crunch is from my own experience. My first real software development job (not game dev) was…not good. So, what did I do? I kept my head down, worked as I was told, then quit after a year and took a couple months off to recover. I didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing my job at the time, and hadn’t gotten an interview in quite some time. My second job was better.

    So when I see stats about a bunch of people quitting Naughty Dog, that sounds like people who really want to get into game dev, and are willing to put up with horrible working conditions…for a year, or until the game is released. Then they quit because that’s not sustainable, and find another job, now with a released AAA game on their resume.

  18. evilmrhenry says:

    Regarding system requirements:
    My tactic is to buy games on deep discount, and then never play them. Will it work? Probably?

  19. Asdasd says:

    It’s interesting to hear you attributing the failings of Fable 2 specifically to Peter Molyneux. Part of me wonders what happened to protecting individuals on failed projects by attributing mistakes to ‘the writer’; part of me understands that as the person who put himself forward as the face of the company it’s only to be expected.

    I think there’s a bit of recency bias going on here, though. If the man were to be credited with the good projects he fronted in the same way he has to carry the can for the bad, well, wow: Bullfrog helped gaming take some pretty huge strides in the ’90s. Populous, Syndicate, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper – even Magic Carpet – that’s a pretty solid string of hits that helped shape several genres.

    Due to the business dynamics you mentioned on the podcast, a games developer’s career can be like a politician’s: no matter what level of success you attain, there’s always a significant chance it ends in catastrophic failure. When I think of developers who gamers hold up as public laughing-stocks – David Jaffe, Derek Smart, Cliff Blizenski – the entirety of that reputation is based on one or two big failures at the end of their career, while all the successes that got them to that point are ignored.

    1. Shamus says:

      “It’s interesting to hear you attributing the failings of Fable 2 specifically to Peter Molyneux. Part of me wonders what happened to protecting individuals on failed projects by attributing mistakes to ‘the writer’; part of me understands that as the person who put himself forward as the face of the company it’s only to be expected.”

      That’s a really interesting observation that I hadn’t noticed until you point it out.

      I’m not sure why I have this discrepancy in my habits with regards to calling people out by name. I suppose it’s partly due to the “public persona” thing you mentioned. Todd Howard, John Romero, Peter Molyneux, and Derek Smart didn’t just headline failures, they did so while displaying an incredible degree of hubris or arrogance.

      Like, even the Great Sid Meier had a couple of not-so-hot games, but Sid didn’t jump on stage to make ridiculous promises with regards to the features, stability, and quality of his projects. At some point, this behavior is impossible to ignore. Taking it one step further, not only do we realize that the leader was being arrogant and dishonest with us, but you start wondering if that arrogance and dishonesty is the reason for the failure.

      I admit it’s still mean-spirited to single out leaders, and it’s not always clear when doing so is or isn’t warrented.

    2. Syal says:

      Part of me wonders what happened to protecting individuals on failed projects by attributing mistakes to ‘the writer’

      Peter Molyneux is a special case. He’s happy to tell bald-faced lies about what he’s delivering. While he might not be directly responsible for the story’s failings, he’s almost entirely responsible for the audience’s expectations going in.

      1. Asdasd says:

        I certainly don’t agree that ‘lying’ about a game in advance of delivering it makes him anything like unique in the games industry. If we allow ‘lies’ to stand for ‘promised features that don’t make it into the final release’, he’s barely deviated from standard industry operating procedure.

        1. Syal says:

          I take it you didn’t check the link. “We have fully functional human AI, today, in 2009, that uses the Kinect” is far beyond promising a feature that didn’t make it in.

          1. Asdasd says:

            I’m not sure I see your point. Milo and Kate never came out, never went on sale, nobody was ever in a position to pay money for it. If anything, those promises rank among the least harmful ever made by a development lead. Even if you want to argue that people bought into the platform on the strength of one creepy demonstration, which I doubt (even back then the widespread assumption was that it was all smoke and mirrors), it’s not like Lionhead were getting a vig on every sale of a Kinect.

            1. Syal says:

              The thing that stands out to me is how aggressively he’s culling his own wiggle room. This technology isn’t in development, it’s already complete. This isn’t an actress, this event isn’t scripted. Not just one person, every person reaches for the fake goggles. He’s not just taking the standard market-speak approach of using insinuation to catch the unwary, he’s using direct lies to try to catch the wary. A man that set on convincing strangers of something he knows doesn’t exist, for no benefit to himself*, is going to do the same thing everywhere, to everyone.

              Milo and Kate didn’t release, but Peter Molyneux made promises about his released games too, and the Milo demo shows he doesn’t believe them.

              *E3 is about investors, so there’s benefit to himself if he convinces people to invest in the company.

  20. Cubic says:

    I probably surprise no one here when I say crunch is a failure of management (poor scoping, unrealistic release dates, etc etc) as well as corporate culture (counting on crunching and burning and churning some employees for free). In this particular case, the project managers seemed overloaded as well by having people work on cancelled stuff.

    “You’re working 70 hours a week picking up elephant droppings?” “At least I work in show business.”

    Has anyone computed hourly compensation when crunch hours are included? Junior investment bankers make less per hour than McDonalds employees because of the huge overtime, so my guess is it won’t be great for game devs either.

  21. Anubis76 says:

    Regarding Corona, i’m living in Madrid and the city is in lockdown. Everyone who can work from home is doing that, schools are closed, all stores except pharmacies and supermarkets are closed. The streets are mostly empty. Last time i was out, on Sunday, the only groups i saw in the street were tourists. I suppose they were already here when all this happened, but i do not know what do they expect to see or do.

    Everyday the goverment announces a new measure, now they recommend avoid going out at all if you can. You can still go out of the city, but people say that will be forbidden soon. I expect i will have to stay around a month at home, at least i hope so. We have not reached the peak yet. Even if you have only had a couple of cases in your state i would not consider yourself out yet. You may have seen how fast this spreads. Two weeks ago i was still looking at this as something in the tv, last week our company told us to start working from home if we could and this week the country is practically stopped.

  22. RFS-81 says:

    I live in the Netherlands. Last Thursday, someone at the building where I work was diagnosed (they worked at a different company though). We’ve been working remotely since then and I was ready to hole up in my apartment for a while to avoid spreading it in case I got it. I’ve decided to skip my regular Friday board game night and a Magic: The Gathering Mystery booster draft, so I find all the memes about “nerd utopia” very grating. I’m not a happy nerd right now.

    A few days later, it was announced by the government that everyone should work from home if at all possible, and that restaurants, gyms etc. would be closed.

    I had planned to visit my family in Germany for my birthday next Sunday, but I’ve abandoned that plan two weeks ago or so because I didn’t want to travel by train at this time.

  23. When I worked on SW:tOR at Bioware 10 years ago, it was announced that we would be doing 2 weeks of crunch. 9 hours a day, 7 days a week. This crunch time was presented by the managers as an expected and normal part of game development. I was not asked about crunch when I interviewed for the job.

    One Saturday during this crunch period I came into work to discover that my login credentials had become corrupted and I was unable to log into ANY of the servers or do ANY work. I spent the next 6 hours begging anyone I could find to either fix the problem or give me alternative work. Most of the day I spent surfing the web because there was nothing else for me to do, and no one seemed to care. I couldn’t discuss the issue with my supervisor because he was never at his desk and never answered his text messages.

    Finally at 3pm, I went home in frustration.

    On Sunday I was called into a meeting with a different manager (I had at least 3) and chastised like a truant teenager for leaving early. At the time I was 43 years old and easily 10 years older than the majority of the employees, including this manager.

    On Monday I was fired from my job.

  24. ColeusRattus says:

    I know I am late to the party, but I did not have the chance to listen to the podcast before today.

    Concerning auteurship in western games, especially electronic arts really pushed that in the eighties and nineties, when they were regarded as an “indie” publisher that tried to have the game developers gain some “rock star appeal” (even mimicking music albums in their very early boxes) as opposed to the anonymous by-the-numbers studios that cranked out crappy shovelware that ultimately lead to the demise of video games in the early eighties.

    Thanks to EA, we got the mentioned Warren Spector (allbeit not as prominently featured), Richard Garriott, Chris Roberts, Will Wright, and IIRC even Peter Molyneux got their names with help of EA. I mean, even “Crusader: No Remorse” had “Tony Zurovek” pretty prominently in it’s title.

    But I guess the industry kind of outgrew auteurs in the west in the last two decades, with shareholder interest becoming more important than the vision of single executives/designers, and teams becoming much too big for a single person to imprint their visio on projects.

    But then, the rise of the indies did cause a little renaissance of auteurship IMHO.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *