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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Is The Grind Necessary?

I've heard from many people, including some actually in the industry, that in order to develop video games ... the "grind" is a necessary evil. The "grind", of course, being that period of time pre-launch where nobody has time to sleep or shower because they're too busy putting in the spit, polish and duct tape on their product before shipping.

Otherwise you end up with what an old QA manager of mine refers to as a "gum release". That from an old Dilbert cartoon where, in lieu of a legit software release, the company just starts throwing things from the office into boxes ... leading Wally to announce, "this one's getting gum!"

It seem ex-EA producer Josh Holmes, of NBA Street and Def Jam, disagrees. He's helped form Propaganda Games, which apparently is trying to ungrind the crunch time:

"I think the industry was getting to a point where it was being driven purely by the need for profits and purely by the need to put out a game within a very, very tight time frame," he said. "And over time (it) became almost an expected part of developing a game, to the point where it was sort of planned for. . . . I don't think that that's necessary and I don't think it's really fair either to the people that you're relying on."
-- Vancouver developer looks to make video games without burning out staff

During the glory days of web development, I probably spent about sixty to eighty hours a week in the office. It was brutal, but I have to say that I see both sides of this argument. There's a certain equation involving time and quality which can be difficult to balance. I've also heard that part of the concept is to weed out undesirables by overworking them which, for the record, is pretty much how every doctor in this country gets his job as well.

A few years ago, I don't think I would ever have argued against the grind. Now, having been out of it, I can't imagine ever finding a reason to support it again. Seems like two properly managed forty hour weeks can be better for everyone than one crazy eighty hour one.

But I've never tried to ship a game, different industries have different needs.

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Patrick Dugan said...

You're right about the industry distinction. If you consider interactive storytelling a distinct industry from the game industry, then it makes sense. With this new wave of game design comes much lower content demands, largely because the need for simulated spatial environments is eliminated, and balancing becomes a matter of the author doing statistical runs and tweaking equations directly, making the post-production process much smoother and less grindy.

Jeffool said...

And even then you have people toying with new methods. I think making Stubbs the Zombie they said that they only had two weeks of crunch?