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.

He Didn’t Just Say That?

Posted by Stropp on September 15, 2009 Slavemaster Kotick Via Broken Toys, Gamespot is reporting on an interview with Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision-Blizzard where he makes the following two comments.

We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.

Gamespot added:

If that sounds like it would create a corporate culture that isn't all sunshine and hugs, then it's "mission accomplished" for Kotick. The executive said that he has tried to instill into the company culture "skepticism, pessimism, and fear" of the global economic downturn, adding, "We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.

Well. I'm almost speechless... Almost. This attitude isn't just confined to the computer game industry or the US. I've encountered it before in a place where I've worked, and it isn't nice. Not only does the climate of fear in a company like that make effective slaves of the employees -- at least the ones who haven't been demoralised enough to escape -- it also reduces productivity a tremendous amount. The thing that surprises me is that Kotick openly states that he set out to create a dark and dismal environment for his workers. Normally folks keep those sort of things to themselves. It's not a great way to be recognised as an employer of choice. I wonder if Pharoah Kotick intends to entomb his employees with him when he passes to the afterlife.