Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: The Great Game Studio in the Sky

Erin Hoffman | 7 Sep 2007 21:00
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The trouble is, like any field of unlimited growth, the frat house quickly exhausts itself and exists at a high state of instability. Couple hungry youth and boastful inclinations with publishers anxious for bang-for-buck and you get an environment where studios over-commit and under-deliver (or worse, crash and burn without delivering at all), leading to a tense relationship between publishers and studios, which in turn leads to underhanded behavior. On an individual level, young developers remain passionate for about two to five years, give or take (depending often on how many studio closings and unemployment stints they've had to survive), and then grow bitter and leave the industry, blaming the system as a whole for patterns established on a local level. A select few will stay in and ruthlessly sacrifice social lives, family connections and personal hobbies out of commitment to the company.

A plain fact is many of the adrenaline-inducing emergencies that emerge from frat house-style development - and the ensuing acts of heroism - frequently aren't necessary and are ultimately self-defeating. Balancing this is the fact that, for many, the people, the charge and the environment are why we make games - so the trick is to capture that level of excitement-driven creativity without utterly burning people out. There are successful frat house-style studios that do this - quite a few of them. Ironically, the longer a studio remains a frat house, the more likely it is to make a transition into another kind of studio, as the happy developers age.

The Family Store: Room for Everyone
On the other side of the pendulum swing from the staple of the frat house is the "family store" - the studio specifically oriented toward, and advertises, its support of family. You'll see flexibility for people who need to abruptly leave the office to pick up a sick child, company events that offer babysitting so parents can attend without guilt or hardship, and, more frequently than in other studio models, a dedicated HR manager whose specialty really is human resources, not just managing the applicant pool.

These studios are incredibly stable by comparison to their predecessors, and because they're family-friendly they'll often attract that rare bird, the veteran game developer. They often know how to manage contractors and work on a flexible development schedule that predicts hardship and engineers around it, or knows when to batten down the hatches and weather the storm.

Does it have to be as extreme as offering babysitting perks to parents to be a "family store"? Certainly not. But in terms of priority, events will more frequently be parent-friendly, you're more likely to see a pregnant woman on a team and the general atmosphere, while still fun, will be quieter - and emptier at night - than the frat house.

Does this impact the quality of the output? No, it doesn't seem to. Red Storm Entertainment is noted by its employees for its family-friendly policy; Cyberlore was similarly regarded.

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