Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: No, Really: What Is Quality of Life, Anyway?

Erin Hoffman | 17 Aug 2007 21:00
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In this second installment of The Inside Job, I'll be turning over the quality of life discussion to an assortment of developers who have kindly agreed to answer that most ponderous of questions: What is "quality of life"?

The curious thing about quality of life is it can tend to be such a low-simmering issue (until something really serious happens), but I've found that most people actually really like talking about it. Starting up a conversation about how the working environment can be improved is enormously satisfying and often leads to simple little things - like an office chair adjustment - that can make a world of difference in how we do what we do. And when we improve that "how," we improve the "what" - the games.

So I asked, "What is your ideal working environment?" I asked for the nitty gritty. And this is what they said.

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"My perfect working environment is a 24-7, anywhere-at-all-environment. As an artist, I often get inspiration in the middle of the night and want to work, but can't 'cause I need to be passably coherent at the office. Other times, I'll have the strong urge to work away from home - such as up in Vancouver, B.C. - but my personal machine isn't networked to the office. Sometimes, I need paint or leaves - so I'll want to go and get them at my leisure, but then I have to worry about a too-long lunch.

"Of course, there are some issues with my ideal scenario, but I've found I'm much more productive and a lot happier being free to do what I need to do for the work I love."
- Jaimy McCann, Environmental Artist at Amaze Entertainment

This is a familiar story and one of the primary bugbears in game development. Creative people of any stripe can be particular about their expertise and the optimization of their output:

"At least one big step in the direction of 'perfect work environment' is knowing when to let people do their job. I think what really kills a working environment is micro-management. Ok, yes, we've all seen Office Space (I hope) and we all know the whole TPS reports gag, but it wouldn't be so funny if it wasn't so accurate. Nothing can be more infuriating than management that is more concerned with rules and protocols than the actual work that's getting done."
- Steve Rhoades, Instructor at the Art Institute of Las Vegas; Level Designer

By piecing these two together, a character sketch of the game developer emerges. And a big part of that character is his penchant for nostalgia, the experience it continually aims to recapture:

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"I tell people that the highlight of my career was making Midtown Madness 1. It was a small team that, due to the loose management structure at Angel Studios, allowed us to really own what the game was and where it was going. The team took this ownership ran with it. Although there were lots of hours, they weren't forced. We enjoyed making the game, occasionally looking up to notice it as dark out, going home, thinking about the game, solving problems in your head while taking a shower and waking up early just to rush back in and try your idea out.

"Large teams cannot build the same sense of ownership as a small one can. They key is finding areas that small feature or functional teams or can take ownership, even beyond a given game.

"Functional teams provide support for the organization. These are tools, engine, R&D, etc teams. They are usually not cross-functional as much. The feature teams take ownership of a key feature and are cross-disciplined. They might even support a feature across multiple teams. Neil Young (from EA) described these at a GDC talk he gave a few years back. For example, you might have a squad AI team that can take ownership and pride for that feature that would push the envelope on that feature for multiple teams. The experience, focus and skill of those teams stay persistent and can continually improve far beyond a similar team only formed for a single project."
- Clinton Keith, CTO of High Moon Studios

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