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So much in business is determined by a simple acronym: ROI (return on investment). Obviously enough, as a businessperson, if you make an investment, you'd like to receive a return on that investment. In fact, the need for a return on investment is so pervasive, essentially no decision is made without first measuring it, evaluating it and factoring it against ROI from other opportunities. What's an acceptable ROI? It really depends on the investor. To some, making a modest 5% return is a sound business decision. When we get into the 20% range, many would say that's a no-brainer investment. Where's my checkbook?!
In the game industry, most investments are made into new technologies and tools to ensure games have the latest bells and whistles. Other times, investments are made in areas like licensing rights (e.g., for a longstanding successful movie franchise) or market intelligence. All in all, investments are made in the hopes of generating more revenue: Make more and better products, sell more products, etc.
That's all fine and good, but much of the game industry is ignoring (or is ignorant to) a massive investment opportunity...
Nuts and Bolts
Countless studies performed over decades and across many business sectors have proven time and again that mature project management practices and an emphasis on keeping workers happy can net massive returns. And, we're talking 1,000%-plus massive.
Investing in development practices such as formal code and design inspections, cost and quality estimation tools, and long-range technology planning can bring upwards of 1,000% return on investment over a multi-year time span. Research has shown that improved software practices pay an average ROI of 500% (including false starts) that is sustainable over many years.
A great deal of this return (or more accurately, savings) comes from improving development lifecycle costs. For example, spending more time in early stage planning and prototyping means unexpected changes and rework can be front-loaded in a project - when change is cheap. Formal production methodologies work to avoid changes late in a project, when the trickledown impact can be massive - the dreaded beta crunch.
Returns also come from improved production time and more predictable schedules - the stuff producers dream about. No need to explain the benefits here on the gaming front, with so much riding on a holiday shopping window or simultaneous movie launch.
Another area that drives returns is improved quality. Better and smarter production leads to games with fewer bugs and stronger feature sets. Though this is more subjective to gauge, a less painful production enables developers to infuse the game with more of the "fun bits." More seriously, a front-loaded, iterative pre-production process allows the team to more easily "discover" and fine-tune the fun, as opposed to waiting for everything to miraculously come together at the end of a project.
The desired response is, "Where's my checkbook?!" Right?
Wrong. Unlike writing a check to the bank and getting check + x% back in a year, this is the kind of investment that requires work. And most of us are just too lazy. As one anti-motivation poster said eloquently: