Should Videogame Development Be Fun?

Posted by Stropp on September 17, 2009 Tobold has a post up where he discusses the comments made the other day by Bobby Kotick regarding how he brought in people to deliberately drive the fun out of the work environment, and where he applauds a situation where his employees work in fear and depression. Tobold is taking a tangent to what many other commentors, including myself, are saying. He's saying, short version, that a company like Activision-Blizzard is there to make a profit, not to provide a fun workplace. I agree completely. But (you knew that had to be coming, right?) There is absolutely no reason why a workplace cannot be a productive, professional, and enjoyable environment all at the same time. Fun and professionalism are not mutually exclusive. To answer Tobold's first question,

How often you as a player ended up angry with a video game, because the developers had too much fun making that game, and forgot the decidedly unfun activities of quality control and bug fixing?

My answer to that. Never. I have been angry at the shoddy workmanship in some of the games I've played. I've been angry because it's been obvious that too little care was taken by the developers. That's not necessarily the result of too much fun.  It's more likely a result of management not implementing appropriate development processes, and/or not enforcing those practices. As a matter of fact, it's been more my experience that work environments that induce the atmosphere that Kotick loves so much tend to produce less favorable results. Demoralised employees are more likely not to care about their work. They have higher rates of absenteeism. And they work slower. BTW, all those whacky studies that researchers love to do? They almost invariably say the same thing. A sad employee is an unproductive employee. Ever been in a Walmart? You'll know what I mean. When people hate their jobs they dread getting up in the morning. When they love their jobs, they can't wait to get to work in the morning, and they stay as late as possible (taking into account non-work commitments) without being forced too. They work harder and better too. I've worked as a software developer in both kinds of places, and I can tell you now that (depending on the circumstances) if a manager brought in people to make the environment miserable I would be looking at the wanted ads like a shot. I didn't always think like that, as I said I have worked in a couple of Kotick paradises early in my career, and was made to feel worthless. That doesn't encourage looking for something else either. I learned a bit later that I am damn good at what I do (a few times when supervisors start looking for reasons and new projects in order to extend a contract tend to help that viewpoint.) Now after 25 years of software development I'm confident enough to refuse to put up with the kind of crap that managers like Kotick are shoveling. As a gamer and a damn fine programmer if I say so myself ;-), there's been not a few times that I haven't considered looking for work in the computer game industry. The one factor that always pulls me up is the amount of exploitation that I see there, especially with the US companies like EA and now Activision. Errm. Sorry, got a little ranty there for a sec. So yeah, Tobold has a great point. The businesses we are employed by are there for the sole reason to make a profit (unless they are specifically non-profit organisations) and not to give their employees the jollies everyday. And perhaps if the employees are having too much fun and not doing their jobs, there should be measures implemented to address that loss of productivity. There's no reason in the world to encourage a dark depressing work environment, but there's every reason to increase productivity by making the environment interesting, challenging, and yes... even fun.
  1. Pete S Said,

    “As a matter of fact, it’s been more my experience that work environments that induce the atmosphere that Kotick loves so much tend to produce less favorable results. Demoralised employees are more likely not to care about their work. They have higher rates of absenteeism. And they work slower. BTW, all those whacky studies that researchers love to do? They almost invariably say the same thing. A sad employee is an unproductive employee.”

    Precisely.

    When I’ve worked at a place that was “fun to work at” I, and the rest of my team, would wind up often working late into the evening, just because we were super-excited about what we were doing. We’d do extra projects on the side, for the company, because they were interesting and excited. And we took pride in our work.

    With the economy in the toilet, the place I’m at now subscribes to the Kotick management style. Instead of a carrot they use the “You’re lucky you have a job” stick, and most people come to work unhappy, spend a lot of time complaining, and leave at 5 on the dot if they can get away with it. People still do side projects, but for themselves or as a hobby; they’d never ‘give’ those hours to the company. Way too much resentment for that.

    As soon as the economy turns around the place I’m working at is going to be a ghost town..everyone is desperate to get out.

    I guess we can just be happy we don’t work for Tobold!!

  2. Aaron Said,

    A game developer must make money, but that money is made by creating fun. Demanding someone design fun in an unfun environment is like demanding that a comedian come up with jokes while unhappy. It’s ludicrous. It can’t always be fun, but treating a game company like a bank is thoughtless.

    Does fun in the workplace mean T-shirts, toys, arcade machines, and such? Of course not. People can be joke around and have fun while wearing suits and have little but papers on their desks. But intentionally curbing employee enthusiasm is financial idiocy.

    If you compare recent games of Activision and EA, the difference in effect of management seems clear. EA earned a bad reputation, but they’ve blossomed under John Riccitiello. The majority of their games are high quality, whereas the majority of Activision’s games are cookie-cutter garbage. I was sending emails around to publishers and developers not long ago, trying to set up relationships for interviews and previews, and I decided to pass on Activision because Infinity Ward’s games were about all I’m interested in from them. I’m sure it’s not all due to management, but…

  3. Ethic Said,

    I think tobold is off on his statement and you hit the nail on the head. No, it doesn’t need to be playtime all the time at work, but everyone knows a happy worker is a productive worker even more so when the work is creative by nature. Kotick seems to feel like a frightened depressed worker is the best kind of worker.

  4. DM Osbon Said,

    Agreed Ethic, Tobold is off on his statement. Maybe his outlook on this is coloured by his profession and his work ethic.

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