Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
 
Games developed by porn stars

Zubon, who after a big success with pants humor is considering to turn the Kill Ten Rats blog into a comedy show, compares game developers to porn stars. The problem is a well-known one: There are lots of young people who dream of working in the games industry. So the games industry reacts in true capitalist fashion, exploits them to the max, and throws them away to be replaced by the next batch after the project is finished. Gevlon would approve. Lum doesn't.

But if we put aside the discussion of the ethics of exploitation, there is another serious question to be looked at: Is this system even likely to produce good games? Would you take a bunch of young engineers fresh from school, work them 60+ hours per week in permanent crunch mode, and have them design and build a bridge? Would you *drive* over that bridge once its done, or would you rather take the money and flee to South America?

I'm sure these game developers are all brilliant people, full of youth and enthusiasm. But they are lacking experience, and in most game companies there is a lack of culture of attention to detail. Games, even more so than other software, are quite often full of bugs, and even frequent crashes. So knowing how for example EA is often accused of exploiting young game developers, am I really surprised that my Empire: Total War is still unplayable due to constant crashes to desktop from the campaign map? If other products we bought were as defective as games, we wouldn't let the producers get away with it. But with games we not only let them get away with bugs, we also let them get away with systems that prevent us from getting our money back. If I charged back my credit card for my Empire: Total War purchase on Steam, Steam would disable my account and make not only Empire, but every other game I bought from them unplayable.

And MMORPGs are some of the worst offenders when it comes to bugs and being unplayable. When did you see the last MMORPG launch at which there were no launch problems, and where the game wasn't full of bugs at the start? And if a bug isn't serious enough to cause a crash, it might not be fixed for months, if not years! I think this is a direct result of working conditions in the industry.
Comments:
I think it's more because of the different way we use MMORPGS than other things in the world.
there are not many things that we use simultaneously. Cars are used by many, but only one car by one person,
so that can be tested in the "normal" way. You cannot test a MMORPG on a proper way, even a closed/open beta program
will actually only get you a certain type of users, instead of the wanted "no-brain-monkeys"

Furthermore, the architecture of the PC is nice for the user, but horror for the developer.
How many different GPU's, Motherboards, CPU's, RAM, HD's, etc. etc. etc. are there, and they all can be combined
where you have zillion configuration, where you have X percent that doesn't work at all, Y percent that works 100% and
Z percent that may or may not work on a certain condition.
 
Argh whenever I see posts like this I usually try to post a non-ranty response, but usually I fail and decide I'm better off saying nothing. Let me try again. Insert obvious caveats and disclaimers here.

This is a pretty vicious cycle, and unfortunately it's supported by a very strong hegemony. It would be one thing to have these problems, but repeating them over and over is what's really bad. The reason for this is that often the people causing all the problems are those with the cushiest jobs. Have you ever noticed that people who are bad at their work never burn out? They can stink up the industry for decades without breaking a sweat, as other devs are crushed to a pulp.

In a system like this, the more idealistic people are, the more spectacularly they are apt to self-destruct, become part of the problem, or detach in self defense. It saddens me to see. There can be a very small window, if any, between when somebody is experienced enough to do good work and when they are burned out too much to do any. So yes, I do think this is a contributor to poor quality, but it is not the only one.

Don't get me wrong, though, fresh devs are great for the industry. They can do great work and really make a difference, if they are allowed and encouraged to. The really bad problem is when new devs don't receive the mentorship and guidance they need and deserve from the previous generation, who have checked out or become jaded.

Something I've had a lot of trouble with in my career is knowing how to take a zenlike approach to problems that are out of my sphere of influence. Sometimes game development requires a balancing act between wanting to improve things and accepting them as they are. I haven't found it yet, but hopefully I'll get there.

Mike
mikedarga.blogspot.com
 
You get exactly what you pay for, that's the law of capitalism.

If people would not pay for buggy games, there wouldn't be buggy games. Until people buys them, why bother debugging and testing?

The main problem is that 99% of the people don't take his own personal recreation time seriously. He is forced to take his work seriously (as being fired if not), and to take his social time seriously (as being laughed at if not). After all these, he is so hungry for some recreation that he is ready to take anything, just to get out of his pathetic life.

Until people don't recognize that proper (creative) recreation is a necessary part of a successful life, as it prevents burnout and lets him use his brain differently than he use to do at work, games will remain terrible.
 
It is indeed capitalism - or the rule of the market. Fortunately we are not in Somalia where there is only the market, but got laws and regulations. With these kind of instruments you could force games to be better - just like planes etc .. but too few politicians play games (or admit it). Lets wait for a few more decades until it has changed.
 
The game industry looks for "passionate" workers. Passionate being a code word for people willing to work overtime for little money that still think this is great and a dream job.

It is for sure a reason why so many games have issues. One of many reasons.

Gevlon is right in the point that we support buggy software and even praise it: Empire: Total War is a blockbuster bestseller, gets tons of positive reviews and I could really bang my head against a wall when I read them...!

I let my friends test WAR and AoC, did not join myself on release. After so many years of MMO gaming, you just lose some enthusiasm and become sceptical.

We support banana products by buying them right away. It may sound cynic, but waiting pays off: I almost bought a Roccat Kone gaming mouse. A few weeks later I read tons of reports of broken mouse wheels and other issues, while gaming magazines again only delivered glorifying reviews.

We really need to wait and see. As long as we rush to buy software right away, we are going to support banana products in beta stage.
 
I'm now very much in the wait and see camp. I'm currently shopping for a second MMO to play when not raiding in WoW.

I trialed WAR recently. Great game for people who love WoW battlegrounds. It's doing that side of WoW far better than WoW does. But possibly still not ready, class imbalanced is skewed with Empire seeming stronger and even worse faction imbalance seems skewed with most trial players rolling Empire. I judged it needs another few months.

Now trialing Vanguard. 2 years has done this game good. Released still raw and bleeding, it's now a cripsy brown in most places. Still has some terribly amateurish moments (one of the first quests spells "aid" as "aide"). But it's playable complex and engrossing. I think I will be updating my trial to a sub.

Part of what breaks these games is that as designers they feel they should be making something gorgeous. This leads to games that don't run on most people's pcs (VG) or collapse if more than 50 people go to the same place for a fight (AoC). With experience designers can see that what players want is first and foremost games that work smoothly. I gave up my first AoC character because as a female I did 33% less damage. I gave up my second because my jeweller quest bugged and after 2 weeks of trawling forums, petitioning in-game and trying every work-around I could think of I still couldn't progress as a crafter. I almost gave up Vanguard because I got stuck in crafting (two times, first time because of a dialogue bug where your quest NPC won't talk to you - you have to run 100 yards away to reset him to continue the conversation, and second a non-intuitive UI - the step I needed to take was hidden in a drop-down menu I didn't spot.)

I've also seen a recurrent problem in MMOs that when they fix one thing it breaks another which I've always believed has to be because of lazy coding. SWG had this, AOC had this. They'd fix a range issue and bank storage would break. Gaaaaah!. DO NOT USE THE SAME DAMN CODE FOR SEPARATE THINGS! - copy paste if you have to.

You're quite right experience will help a great deal. However if you look at projects like Darkfall - 7 years in development while people were presumably paid on promises and peanuts - you can see why passion, meaning exploitability, is the foremost requirement.

Hopefully someone will have the courage to spend a little more to get project managers who can steer the younger members of the team to designing something more in tune with what is needed. Until we do the industry will be filled with 20 year olds trying to create a Mona Lisa in pixels.

I honestly think not screwing your game up is the capitalist thing to do.
 
I'm a professional software engineer, and let me tell you, there are always bugs. Bugs aren't avoided by having better developers, they are fixed with better testing.

A team I worked on at a previous job had 15 members in the dev team - one of whom was a tester. Needless to say, we often didn't find bugs until it was too late. But we fixed them, and promptly.

The problem is that business managers think of testing as a "nice to have". If ETW was tested thoroughly, and found to not work - does anyone really believe that they would have released it when they did? Well, ok, they would have released it when they did, but those bushy tailed young devs pouring years of their life into the product would've stayed in the office later to get it to run.

People saying that "oh, it's because the coders are bad" is just stupid. It's really a lack of correct structure in which to burn out that causes these problems.

Do you think this perchance coincides with the over 9000 quality control people being laid off recently due to the recession?
 
Gaaaaah!. DO NOT USE THE SAME DAMN CODE FOR SEPARATE THINGS! - copy paste if you have to.Of course, copy-pasting not only makes it more labor-intenstive to change things afterwards, it also can introduce a completely different type of bug: Things that should work the same way but don't. For example, the latest WoW patch allowed land mounts to swim. If the mount-in-water code was copypasted, one could find out that every other mount swims just fine.. except red hawkstriders.

Of course, having proper testing in place would make it irrelevant whether the code was shared or copied..
 
When I was young and in graduate school, I took an outside job and I completely coded up a simple 3D renderer for a small Game Boy title a few years back. Think "Final Fantasy 4 (or 2) Airship" quality. The silly ray tracer optical trick. I had no experience doing this, so it was a major challenge to get it done at all, even though the final product was not well coded. But it worked. The guys that I wrote it for certainly weren't able to understand the math behind it, so they were glad to have it done. But what did they offer me to do this? $500. I gawked and immediate asked for $2000 (what I considered fair for a month's part-time work), and I did get. But the notion that (1) they would trust an inexperienced programmer to put something this complicated in a commercial product, and (2) pay so little for the work, shocked me. I was done with the video game industry after that. I hope this isn't everyone's experience, but it certainly stinks of the kind of youth exploitation you're talking about.
 
I don't remember guild wars having many bugs when it first came up. (I remember reading about 1, possibly 2, though there were almost certainly more, though not enough to goof up the game.)

I do agree both with the "games are trying to be too pretty" and "if people didn't buy buggy games, businesses would probably have a lot more quality control" points. Having experienced developers and artists might help in another way as well with the first issue; in addition to realizing that the games need to work, they also may know some tricks or other methods to get better looking graphics out of less intensive systems. On one of the download only gamer blog threads, something that came up over and over was "design art to look good with lower system requirements" (Or something along those lines).

it does seem overall, though, that a lot of computer gamers are too easily influenced by hype, for whatever the reason. I'm not sure what to do about it, or what the source is (how much comes from rabid fans vs. how much comes from other marketing or "this game appears popular, lets buy it", not that these aren't related.)
 
This is not a video game problem, this is a capitalism problem. I've seen this in every industry I've ever stepped my foot into. Younger people work longer, and work harder, and work faster, and maybe even work SMARTER. Why? Because Younger people expect hard work will advance them in their career. The truth is hard work does != promotions. Hard work generally results in company recognition, over and over and over again...eventually leading to that now EXPERIENCED hard worker finding a better job at another company. The alternative would be that the hard worker realizes his efforts are for naught and stops trying, and falls into the slump of doing only what is needed of him to keep his job.

Why do managers support a system such as this? Well if you see it through their eyes you have Billy Whizkid writing 2000 lines of code per day, and Ol' Heuy doing about 500. If a promotion is givin the younger, newer employee then the other Heuy gets pissed, as he has been with the company forever and decides to only do 400 lines of code per day. Meanwhile, Billy is now a manager and produces 0 lines of code per day. Wrong...management would just hire outside the company to avoid this situation.

Why do we have so many bugs? Management doesn't reward bug free games, they reward production. Even in the situation of being a tester, most management will have a plan that rewards HOW MUCH you tested, and not HOW MANY bugs you found. Lets face it, management does not want to hear about bugs anyways, because that means shipping delays and lost profits. Lost profits because people will buy buggy software before reading reviews, thanks to hype and advertising. In theory it should be the other way around.
 
Tobold, I think you are using "porn star" to boost your google rank. ;)

On topic: I see the underpayment and poor quality as separate issues. The Egyptian pyramids were built by slave labor, but they are of fantastic quality! Because the market (king) demanded it. Since the gaming market accepts poor quality games, the gaming industry will continue to churn them out. As for underpayment, that is just supply and demand. If I could get my current pay working my current hours doing game design at Blizzard, I would. Who wouldn't?
 
No, porn sites are using the term "Tobold" to boost their Google rank. ;)
 
@changed:
You are wrong. The pyramids are great because:
1) The work the slaves did wasn't really complicated. The complicated stuff was not done by slaves (not in the tradition meaning of the word 'slave').
2) The slaves were actually treated quite well and were BELIEVERS (yeah - it's stupid to believe in a godking, but not much more stupid than to believe in the pope). Whatever, they WANTED to make the pyramids great. Your example is completely off track.

http://www.johnkay.com/business/317
"The great corporations of the modern world were not built by people whose overriding interest was wealth, profit, or shareholder value. To paraphrase Mill: their focus was on business followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they found profit by the way."

The greatest things are built (coded, constructed..) by people who are devoted not to money, but to the things they actually build.
 
"When did you see the last MMORPG launch at which there were no launch problems, and where the game wasn't full of bugs at the start?"

Of the games I've played:
Asheron's Call 1, City of Heroes, and Lord of the Rings Online.

All of those had extensive beta cycles that seemed to shake out the major problems. There are lots of games I haven't played--some of them probably launched well, and I'm just considering the US-developed games!

Now, the content updates to those games were often a different story...
 
The bridges may be designed by people who have been doing it for a long time but the worker bee's may not be.

Game developers use the fresh college grads to pump code into a game. You don't need them for their insight in how to fix the more technical issues, just do what they are told.
 
Games have been 50 bucks new for as long as I can remember. I payed 50 bucks for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, I paid 50 bucks for Left 4 Dead. I resent paying the new price of 60 bucks, even though inflation has made the game way cheaper in real terms (despite being way better in quality and taking much more time to develop).

So maybe the answer is people need to unclench their asses and start paying 100 bucks for a video game?

No? Huh. No wait, its all the rapacious developers fault, not competition and well ingrained expectations about how much a game costs.
 
http://www.huguesjohnson.com/features/sears_catalog/sears-catalog-1990-pg1447-NES.jpg

That's 20 years ago. Same prices, but I bet I could cram the entire NES catalog onto my flash drive. Of course the thing with games is that each unit is cheap, its the development cost.

SO yeah, it's not all the game developers fault, or to put it another way, we are getting a HELLUVA deal (in real terms games are way less than they used to be despite costing so much more.

So its not as simple as you'd think.
 
SO yeah, it's not all the game developers fault, or to put it another way, we are getting a HELLUVA deal (in real terms games are way less than they used to be despite costing so much more to develop. Development costs> inflation.
 
@Mafti

The car is a poor metaphor for this. You point out that a car is driven by one person at a time, but you forgot to mention all of the features that consumers expect to be operational. From blinkers to rear-driving cameras/sensors or from intermittent windshield wipers to night vision screens on the windshield, whatever the customer wants in their package is expected to work.

Likewise, all the features expected/shipped with a video game are also expected to work.

If you were to purchase a new car (even one that you previously test drove) but the CD player wouldn't work, would suck it up and keep driving? If you buy and continue playing buggy games, then you might as well keep the faulty car as well. To do otherwise is just hypocritical.
 
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