Something I’ve seen kicked around the last few days is the executive producer of EA’s Anthem, Mark Darrah, saying that BioWare flop Mass Effect Andromeda didn’t get a fair shake and suffered due to the release of other RPGs, specifically Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, occurring at the same time.
I get why people are commenting on that. It was a stupid thing to say. There are a dozen points where the logic falls apart. The whole idea is laughable.
While I agree that someone saying something that ludicrous needs to be called out and properly examined, there’s a bigger picture here and it’s a huge opportunity being missed by gaming pundits: shining a spotlight on the real reasons games like Andromeda fail. Namely unreasonable expectations often placed on developers and the piss poor management that’s all too common in the games industry.
This is a problem that starts at the top of this industry. Greed, poor planning, a complete disregard for the people employeed on a project, and so much more are rampant. The people doing the real work, the artists and developers, on these major titles have very little control over the final product as a whole. The guy who created the trees in the sprawling open world has no input with the woman coding behavior into a fire breathing dragon. These are just artists who want to create something that will entertain peopleand they are working in an industry that treats them like garbage.
I want to preface this by saying that I don’t have a problem with large companies and corporations, at least on a fundamental level. I’m all for capitalism and businesses making money. I’m in sales, used to be in advertising, and I support anyone getting out and being financially successful. What I do take issue with is people treating other people like disposable assets and sacrificing ethical behavior for profit.
For starters, this industry has no idea how to properly handle projects on the scope that it wants to produce. If you look at the major failures of the last few years all you see is reports of teams not being given adequate time or resources, poor communication between departments, time tables and expectations changing on a whim, and leadership operating on a revolving door status. It’s not uncommon to see studios being tasked with workloads appropriate for staffing double their actual size or deadlines requiring 100+ hour work weeks to produce a game meant to ship 500 bajillion copies for pre-orders alone.
It’s also depressingly common to see a huge project like Destiny 2 or the aforementioned Andromeda go through massive shakeups in leadership and direction after a lot of the groundwork has been laid. The people working on these games will suddenly find themselves being told to go in a radically different direction, often in a direction that the foundational design of the game does not support. They are tasked with continuing to produce new content for a product while reworking the existing content to work with it. Do you want game breaking bugs? Because that’s how you get game breaking bugs. It’s not as simple as rewriting a few lines of code. Most of us played with Lego as kids. It’s safe to assume that we’ve all started building something and realized halfway through that we missed a crucial piece and had to tear down all the work just to correct one mistake. Now imagine doing that while also trying to build more stuff and some asshole who just walked in on the build telling you why you need to do things differently.
Also, don’t expect the departments to talk to one another. Are you a graphic artist? I hope you’re okay designing visual elements without being able to talk to the guy who is gonna have to make them move around on screen. Are you trying to create a fluid combat system? Better not need to talk to someone designing the animations for character models to make sure the changes you made don’t cause an issue. Do you need more resources to complete a project on time? Cross your fingers that whoever you report to is allowed to talk to whoever approves those requests. It’s a shockingly regular occurrence that departments are segregated from one another with very little in the way of clear lines of communication. You may ask “how could this happen when it flies in the way of common sense?”. It’s because the people running these projects are often in over their heads.
This is where we get into a gray area where it’s difficult to see just how far down the ladder the blame really goes. Producers, team leads, department heads, and all manner of leaders on large projects often find themselves tasked with unreasonable requirements that no one can live up to. These people aren’t stupid and they can see the writing on the wall when things start going bad and they know how office politics work. Even the good people are going to look out for themselves and their teams and make sure that when the other shoe drops they don’t get squished. They are going to shift the blame off of themselves if possible because it’s not their fault they were placed in a bad situation.
All of this is on top of a disgusting accepted industry standard: crunch. Crunch is the most used name for the period leading up to product launch and is one of the most emotionally and physically draining periods of a game makers life. 12 hour days for weeks on end with no days off are normal for crunch time and they often push people beyond what is reasonable or healthy. It causes burnout, sloppy work, and a toxic work environment. Everyone knows this. Every other industry limits this kind of thing because it’s always negative in the long term. But the people in the corporate offices that go home at the end of their day never experiencing the work environments they foster don’t care. All they are looking at is profit margins.
That’s really what this all boils down to. It’s an issue of greed an incompetence in a relatively young industry with little protection for the people working in it and even less awareness of what they go through. People imagine that game development is a non stop party but it’s a job. A demanding, difficult, often thankless job that takes so much from the people that pour their passion into a project just to be taken advantage of by sometimes clueless, often heartless corporate parasites who only care about making asuch money as they can. So if you know a developer that makes good games tell them thank you. If you have a game that you love, take a little time and see if there’s a way to send an email to the dev team and tell them that you do love their work. Words can’t describe what this can mean to them. At the end of the day these are people who do what they do to make things that make others happy. We can rage against the machine and still support the people who genuinely love games and the people who play them.
Be the change you want to see