I haven’t played L.A. Noire myself. But I did sit and watch my husband play it. As a fan of Law and Order, CSI, and NCIS, I could not contain my excitement for this game. It was huge, ambitious, and most of all, had tons of recognizable actors to fill the roles of the people in the game. The game had some fairly serious flaws (who puts the climax at the end of the second chapter?) but those could be overlooked. It was a fun and interesting game.
But now, having read this, I wish I had never allowed my husband to buy it, and I wish I had never seen it played. Why? Because if L.A. Noire succeeds, then it continues to support and exceptionally BAD management style. (And clearly a very bad manager.) The game industry needs to break away from the lone programmer in his basement, pounding out a game in a weekend mentality. Unfortunately, if the game does well, all bad decisions are forgiven, and the perpetrator is allowed to go on to another project, with a new team, and make other lives hell.
First off, I really want to reach through the internet and smack this lead guy. So I am just going to pick apart the crap they quote him on.
“It’s my game. I can go to anyone I want in the team and say, ‘I want it changed’.”
The smallest game I worked on had about 25 people on it. The largest over 100. The minute a second designer has been added to the game, it is no longer “your” game. You can’t make L. A. Noire alone, and it is as much their game as it is yours. Especially when people are pouring their lives into getting it made. This doesn’t provide the “idiot idea” filter that the leads of a game are there for. By running everything through leads, there is a vetting process for time spent. Is an idea really good enough to improve a game? Can it be done in a reasonable amount of time? Is the gameplay improvement worth the time spent implementing and maintaining it? Most of all, it is a sanity check. It should prevent things like Duke Nukem Forever, provided you have a good studio head and good leads.
Crunch – “If you wanted to do a nine-to-five job, you’d be in another business,” said McNamara, citing routine hours from 9am to 8pm – “whatever days it takes” – with frequent travel and 4am calls with the New York-based publisher. “We all work the same hours,” he told us. “People don’t work any longer hours than I do. I don’t turn up at 9am and go home at 5pm, and go to the beach. I’m here at the same hours as everybody else is.”
This is EXACTLY the kind of mentality that lead to the EA Spouse debacle. First off you have employers who think it is okay to ask their employees to work these hours. Second you have employees who are so fearful of losing their jobs they will allow themselves to be exploited. Third you have exceptionally short sighted thinking the anything gets done any faster when all the employees are rapidly burning out.
I once had to crunch two straight months on a game. There was literally a point where someone said something to me about what I was doing on Thursday and I could not tell them. Not only because the days had blurred together, but also because I couldn’t even have told them what day TODAY was, much less when Thursday was coming around again. Why did I crunch like that? Well, mostly because I liked the job, I liked the game, and I liked the people I worked with. It was fun for me. But I also knew we had a hard line, set in stone, release date. We had to ship that day, regardless of where the game was. Honestly, by the time we reached the second month I was working at most 75% of my previous “skill level”. By the end, I couldn’t make a change without going to another designer and getting them to double check I wasn’t screwing things up. As people burn out, they get sloppier. They stop making good decisions. They stop fixing things in the correct way. They stop working at good productivity. At that point, it’s like trying to run a marathon with a thorn in your foot. Yes, not stopping will keep you ahead, but you will move slower than if you simply took the time to stop, pull the thorn out and bandage up your foot, then return to the race.
The thing that most stuck me about my experience with crunch was that everyone, from the studio head to the newest artist, we all knew that our crunch was a result of poor planning. Everyone was willing to admit it. They knew they took too long on the tools. They knew they hired people too late. They knew they promised more than they could deliver. Did that make it right? No. But It certainly made everyone feel better about it to hear the leads say “Yeah, we screwed up, but no use crying over it now, remember it, move on, and let’s get this thing shipped.”
He even goes on to say “The expectation is slightly weird here, that you can do this stuff without killing yourself; well, you can’t, whether it’s in London or New York or wherever; you’re competing against the best people in the world at what they do, and you just have to be prepared to do what you have to do to compete against those people.”
Unbelievable. All it takes is organization, planning, proper scoping, and good leads. I am currently on a triple A product where my crunch days are still in the low teens after a YEAR and multiple milestones. And even then, it was my own choice, not the company telling me to, just to get thing done faster that I wanted done already. But then we have good leads, good producers, and the ability to say to our publisher “Okay, we can do this well or we can do this fast, we can’t do both.” They chose the well option.
It is also implied in the article that they hired young people to do the work, and then just churned through young cheap labor that was willing to do the work, just because they wanted it so bad. The problem with this is that you have wildly inexperienced people making decisions on your multi-million dollar game. That’s gonna turn out well.
All in all this article shows that despite this game’s success it was poorly managed, and a result of extremely bad business practices. We shouldn’t as developers be supporting this kind of management. Games made like this, that still succeed, leads managers into thinking that they can do this kind of thing and make money. True justice would have the game failing, miserably, to show that unless you take care of your employees, listen to your talent, and strengthen your studio, you are just setting yourself up for failure. True, there can be flukes, but for the most part, I would expect this to kill a studio.