Behind the Curtain

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nevernow:

If you abandon the "quarters" mentality, you're never really six months away from gold, or better, you never know you're six months away from gold because gold is not a fixed date, but something that happens when the game's done. It's still true that there's no guarantee and of course you don't want to end up like Duke Nukem Forever...

Unfortunately, it's impossible to abandon the "quarters" mentality, especially for those large, publicly traded companies. Imagine working as a manager at these companies and walking into your CFO's office with nothing but a half finished game, no numbers to back anything up, and a big smile. That might get you into the office, buts its not gonna help you once your in there. Im learning about the realities of business in school right now, 3rd year university, and the article makes many great points, well written.

Powerman88:

Here are the facts guys; Shenmue 3 will never come out because there isn't enough of a demand. There are a bunch of people out there who praise the series, but the GAME IS BORING (I could do a 10 page post on why collecting stupid figurines at an arcade and running errands for your mom doesn't make and exciting game)!

Ugh, indeed! Shenmue is the least enjoyable computer gaming experience I've ever suffered through. I played the first one to completion, mostly because I was convinced there must have been something good about it coming up or it wouldn't have received such raves. The story was dull & dry as dust, the world frustratingly static, and the gameplay was unchallenging. About the only thing it had to offer was as a crude simulator of what life in a small modern Japanese village was like. The idea is intriguing, but the execution was way off. Even if it worked, your audience is basically frustrated weeaboos; a real goldmine there.

The shocker is not why Shenmue 3 has never been made, but why Shenmue 2 was made in the first place.

Every bit of that article rang sadly true, except for one wrong note: since when is the PSP the choice of the "gamer like us" over the DS?

Goenitz:

nevernow:

If you abandon the "quarters" mentality, you're never really six months away from gold, or better, you never know you're six months away from gold because gold is not a fixed date, but something that happens when the game's done. It's still true that there's no guarantee and of course you don't want to end up like Duke Nukem Forever...

Unfortunately, it's impossible to abandon the "quarters" mentality, especially for those large, publicly traded companies. Imagine working as a manager at these companies and walking into your CFO's office with nothing but a half finished game, no numbers to back anything up, and a big smile. That might get you into the office, buts its not gonna help you once your in there. Im learning about the realities of business in school right now, 3rd year university, and the article makes many great points, well written.

You're right, and that was my point in my second... point. If you do things that cost tens of millions of dollars, you can't avoid dealing with businesses and investors who don't really care if you're making games in Scotland or growing bananas in Ecuador. Hopefully there will always be an indie scene/environment where you can create outside of those constraints.

All this said, we could discuss whether it's a good business practice to hide failures and underachievements to make graphs look better. Or whether cramming all releases in a small time window (an apparently abandoned habit) is so obviously better than spreading them throughout the year. Oh well, if there's something I really don't like is talking about business matters. :)

This is a great article! One hell of an eye opener, really. It's sad, but true.

Great article Christian. Hopefully this will open the eyes to many people who don't understand why they just keep making CoD, Halo, Metroid, Mario, GH, etc games. Because they sell.

A lot of folks can't grasp why it costs millions of dollars to make games. It's kinda simple. Let's say you have a team of 50 people to make a game. They are a mix of programmers, designers, artists and sound engineers. Let's average their salary to only $75,000 a year and say it takes them 2 years to make a game. That's 50 x $75,000 x 2 = $7.5 Million. That's not counting the salary for the HR and Management teams, the money paid to QA testers, the language translaters, voice actors, the rent, electric bills, equipment, insurance, marketing, etc.. It's becomes real easy to spend $15 - $20 Million on a game now.

So publishers have to make what they think will sell. They are scared to risk having a development team spend 2 years developing a game and then find that it only sells 200,000 copies. The people seem more than happy to keep buying every version of Guitar Hero, Madden, etc. that comes out, so why should they stop? Unless the majority of game buyers out there suddenly stops buying every re-iteration of these titles I doubt we will see any change...

Therumancer:

I think you completely miss the point here.
The cost isn't programmers, it's artists and voice acting

Firstly, workers in the game industry typically work 60-70 hour weeks minimum, and in some cases 140 hours a week isn't unheard of during 'crunch' time.

To top it off, the pay is typically only 70% of the going rate for a programmer in any other industry. (so they work much longer hours, for less pay)

You say 'they're using an existing engine', but the programming isn't the bulk of the work.

Between 1996 and now, we've seen a huge increase in voice acting.

Voice acting is expensive, especially with well-known actors. And the most expensive games often have 100+ voice actors.

But, regardless of that, art content is the biggest problem

Most of the cost is in creating 3d models, levels, voice acting, etc.

And the more detail you have to put into it, the more work it takes.

Let's compare:
1 character model: N64/ps1 - about 500 polygons, 1 texture map 128x128.

today: 1 character model: 15,000-20,000 or more polygons, often 4-5 texture maps that are each 1024 by 1024.

That's an increase in detail by a factor of 40-50 for the polygons, and 320 for the textures!

Sorry, but the cost comes from all the extra detail. The N64/PS1 era already had about 20 artists to a game.
Now consider that assuming the tools haven't improved, you have to to do about 190 times as much work to create an equivalent asset, and you'll see what's happening.

Games have gone from teams of about 30, to teams of 120 in tht time, but the workload has gone up by a factor of about 180, so yes, the tools have improved, but not enough to compensate meaningfully for the added demands.
Not to mention that the tools aren't free either. a 3d modelling package can cost $5000-12000 or more, depending on how many options you get.

The reality is simply that the costs are out of control because people demand too much.
The Xbox 360/ PS3 are really bad for developers in this regard.

Pay people less? Game industry workers are already paid below average for their line of work, especially when you factor in their working conditions.
Limiting the team sizes might be a good idea, but paying individuals less for their work would be rather mean.
I think you're working under some strange misconceptions about industry pay rates.

CrystalShadow:

Therumancer:

I think you completely miss the point here.
The cost isn't programmers, it's artists and voice acting

Firstly, workers in the game industry typically work 60-70 hour weeks minimum, and in some cases 140 hours a week isn't unheard of during 'crunch' time.

To top it off, the pay is typically only 70% of the going rate for a programmer in any other industry. (so they work much longer hours, for less pay)

You say 'they're using an existing engine', but the programming isn't the bulk of the work.

Between 1996 and now, we've seen a huge increase in voice acting.

Voice acting is expensive, especially with well-known actors. And the most expensive games often have 100+ voice actors.

But, regardless of that, art content is the biggest problem

Most of the cost is in creating 3d models, levels, voice acting, etc.

And the more detail you have to put into it, the more work it takes.

Let's compare:
1 character model: N64/ps1 - about 500 polygons, 1 texture map 128x128.

today: 1 character model: 15,000-20,000 or more polygons, often 4-5 texture maps that are each 1024 by 1024.

That's an increase in detail by a factor of 40-50 for the polygons, and 320 for the textures!

Sorry, but the cost comes from all the extra detail. The N64/PS1 era already had about 20 artists to a game.
Now consider that assuming the tools haven't improved, you have to to do about 190 times as much work to create an equivalent asset, and you'll see what's happening.

Games have gone from teams of about 30, to teams of 120 in tht time, but the workload has gone up by a factor of about 180, so yes, the tools have improved, but not enough to compensate meaningfully for the added demands.
Not to mention that the tools aren't free either. a 3d modelling package can cost $5000-12000 or more, depending on how many options you get.

The reality is simply that the costs are out of control because people demand too much.
The Xbox 360/ PS3 are really bad for developers in this regard.

Pay people less? Game industry workers are already paid below average for their line of work, especially when you factor in their working conditions.
Limiting the team sizes might be a good idea, but paying individuals less for their work would be rather mean.
I think you're working under some strange misconceptions about industry pay rates.

Not at all, there is no room for misconceptions. You look at the budgets, and then the claims that the majority of the money from that budget are going towards the human resources.

There is no real differance between a "graphic artist" and a coder from a fundemental perspective. It's just a codemonkey trying to justify being overpaid for coding one thing as opposed to another.

Okay fine, so maybe it's the "Graphic Artists" banging at their keyboards that are sucking up the huge fees, which are obviously bigger that I suspected because after all allegedly all the other coders are getting paid far less.

The point about a Salary cap set by the industry would mean that it wouldn't affect anyone getting paid below that cap to begin with. It would simply mean that some dudes saying "I'm not *JUST* a Code Monkey, I'm a SPECIAL Code Monkey because I code graphics" would wind up making less money, lowering the cost to produce games. If the whole industry enstates the policy they can either accept less money, or go re-train for another industry (doubtful).

Therumancer:

CrystalShadow:

Therumancer:

I think you completely miss the point here.
The cost isn't programmers, it's artists and voice acting

Firstly, workers in the game industry typically work 60-70 hour weeks minimum, and in some cases 140 hours a week isn't unheard of during 'crunch' time.

To top it off, the pay is typically only 70% of the going rate for a programmer in any other industry. (so they work much longer hours, for less pay)

You say 'they're using an existing engine', but the programming isn't the bulk of the work.

Between 1996 and now, we've seen a huge increase in voice acting.

Voice acting is expensive, especially with well-known actors. And the most expensive games often have 100+ voice actors.

But, regardless of that, art content is the biggest problem

Most of the cost is in creating 3d models, levels, voice acting, etc.

And the more detail you have to put into it, the more work it takes.

Let's compare:
1 character model: N64/ps1 - about 500 polygons, 1 texture map 128x128.

today: 1 character model: 15,000-20,000 or more polygons, often 4-5 texture maps that are each 1024 by 1024.

That's an increase in detail by a factor of 40-50 for the polygons, and 320 for the textures!

Sorry, but the cost comes from all the extra detail. The N64/PS1 era already had about 20 artists to a game.
Now consider that assuming the tools haven't improved, you have to to do about 190 times as much work to create an equivalent asset, and you'll see what's happening.

Games have gone from teams of about 30, to teams of 120 in tht time, but the workload has gone up by a factor of about 180, so yes, the tools have improved, but not enough to compensate meaningfully for the added demands.
Not to mention that the tools aren't free either. a 3d modelling package can cost $5000-12000 or more, depending on how many options you get.

The reality is simply that the costs are out of control because people demand too much.
The Xbox 360/ PS3 are really bad for developers in this regard.

Pay people less? Game industry workers are already paid below average for their line of work, especially when you factor in their working conditions.
Limiting the team sizes might be a good idea, but paying individuals less for their work would be rather mean.
I think you're working under some strange misconceptions about industry pay rates.

Not at all, there is no room for misconceptions. You look at the budgets, and then the claims that the majority of the money from that budget are going towards the human resources.

There is no real differance between a "graphic artist" and a coder from a fundemental perspective. It's just a codemonkey trying to justify being overpaid for coding one thing as opposed to another.

Okay fine, so maybe it's the "Graphic Artists" banging at their keyboards that are sucking up the huge fees, which are obviously bigger that I suspected because after all allegedly all the other coders are getting paid far less.

The point about a Salary cap set by the industry would mean that it wouldn't affect anyone getting paid below that cap to begin with. It would simply mean that some dudes saying "I'm not *JUST* a Code Monkey, I'm a SPECIAL Code Monkey because I code graphics" would wind up making less money, lowering the cost to produce games. If the whole industry enstates the policy they can either accept less money, or go re-train for another industry (doubtful).

How is an 'artist' a code monkey? They're totally different skill sets. That's like calling a guitarist a bricklayer.

In any event, a salary cap will accomplish fuck all. It isn't individual salaries that cause the problem, it's the fact that you have 150 people involved.

Pay rates in the industry vary from country to country, and I'm only really knowledgeable about the pay in UK,

Which goes something like this:
(multiply the numbers by about 1.5 to get US dollars)
(figures are yearly salaries)

Programmer: 16,000 to 40,000 (compared to 24,000 to 80,000 in other industries with overlapping skillsets)
Game designer: 14,000 to 30,000
QA/Testing: 12,000 to 20,000
Artist: 15,000 to 35,000

All variation is pretty much down to seniority. A senior programmer earns more than a junior one and so on. And before you say it isn't worth it, the difference between an unskilled programmer and an experienced one can be a factor of up to 100 times faster at getting the job done, so...

Now, to put these figures in perpective, someone working a 40 hour week in say, a supermarket (or McDonalds),in the UK is already earning 12,000.
Considering a game developer's working week is probably 60 hours minimum in most cases, they really aren't getting a fortune.

The people in the industry that are 'overpaid' are quite the rarity. If anything, they're habitually underpaid and overworked already, compared to them doing anything at all with their skills other than making games.
Programmers could go work for a bank; Much better pay, much shorter hours.
Artists could do special effects for films; Again, better pay, shorter hours.
Game designers: Well, they can't do anything else, so they're stuck.

The only thing that can be done, realistically, is reducing the number of people involved. - But that would inevitably mean changing the kind of games that get made.
But suggesting people are overpaid is just ignorance.

Make games less demanding to produce, so you can use a smaller team; Paying the actual people involved less is sheer ignorance and arrogance about the amount of hard work involved.

Being a game developer isn't like being a film star, professional athlete, or pop star;

Contrary to what you seem to think, it is not a high-pay profession, and you are quite unlikely to get rich doing it. It is in fact, by all measures generally a relatively low paid, high stress job that nobody in their right mind would do if they didn't have a serious passion for it already.

How to make games cost less?
Hire fewer people. That's the only option short of slave labour.

*Holds up sign saying "Support Tim Schafer"
He is our only hope....

The article has got it wrong. The industry DOES work for gamers. You cannot sell what people don't want to buy.

It's just that you aren't all gamers.

There are huge unwashed masses beyond the escapist community and gamers here cannot agree on games and consoles either.

That's why hardcore gamers, elitists and fanboys are essentially right: they are concearned about the future of their hobby, the part of gaming they like.

Fenixius:

I will hate Mr Kotick, thankyou. I'm an Australian, and if that's your American Dream, then I think it's an totalitarian state of affairs, controlled by the corporations; nightmarish, elitist, and evil. It's destroying what I love. Oh, and the oil giants, corporate greed, etc. I don't really need to go into that rant, full blown, do I? The man is hurting directly our beloved medium by striking the weak point for massive damage.

It's not my American Dream mate, Im a born and bred Pom. Around here socialist isn't a four letter word.

Powerman88:

The Dreamcast failed because it had lousy games (except for Soul Calibre and Crazy Taxi. Tons of fun!) Tell me I'm wrong all you want, but if it was a good product and marketed well it would have been profitable.

You hit the nail on the head saying "a good product and marketed well". The DC had some great titles. It just couldn't compete with SONYs PR.

Wait, the PS1 had a more powerful rival? I thought it was the most powerful system of the 5th generation? Other than that, though, it's kinda surprising how much companies chase the title of most 'hardcore' system when that's often not what's best for said company. I mean, the technology for full color, backlit screens (albeit ones that killed batteries) existed back in the Gameboy's monochrome time, but it destroyed all of its supposedly superior competitors. It almost seems like the quest for power is the opposite of what a successful company wants.

Pay rates in the industry vary from country to country, and I'm only really knowledgeable about the pay in UK,

Which goes something like this:
(multiply the numbers by about 1.5 to get US dollars)
(figures are yearly salaries)

Programmer: 16,000 to 40,000 (compared to 24,000 to 80,000 in other industries with overlapping skillsets)
Game designer: 14,000 to 30,000
QA/Testing: 12,000 to 20,000
Artist: 15,000 to 35,000

All variation is pretty much down to seniority. A senior programmer earns more than a junior one and so on. And before you say it isn't worth it, the difference between an unskilled programmer and an experienced one can be a factor of up to 100 times faster at getting the job done, so...

Now, to put these figures in perpective, someone working a 40 hour week in say, a supermarket (or McDonalds),in the UK is already earning 12,000.
Considering a game developer's working week is probably 60 hours minimum in most cases, they really aren't getting a fortune.

The people in the industry that are 'overpaid' are quite the rarity. If anything, they're habitually underpaid and overworked already, compared to them doing anything at all with their skills other than making games.
Programmers could go work for a bank; Much better pay, much shorter hours.
Artists could do special effects for films; Again, better pay, shorter hours.
Game designers: Well, they can't do anything else, so they're stuck.

The only thing that can be done, realistically, is reducing the number of people involved. - But that would inevitably mean changing the kind of games that get made.
But suggesting people are overpaid is just ignorance.

Make games less demanding to produce, so you can use a smaller team; Paying the actual people involved less is sheer ignorance and arrogance about the amount of hard work involved.

Being a game developer isn't like being a film star, professional athlete, or pop star;

Contrary to what you seem to think, it is not a high-pay profession, and you are quite unlikely to get rich doing it. It is in fact, by all measures generally a relatively low paid, high stress job that nobody in their right mind would do if they didn't have a serious passion for it already.

How to make games cost less?
Hire fewer people. That's the only option short of slave labour.[/quote]

Well those prices are higher in American Dollars (the pound being worth more). However My point is simply this:

If your looking at a budget of tens of millions of dollars, and the majority of that money goes towards the workers/man hours, then either the industry is lying about the expenses of game development/budgets/etc... or something is being done with that money other than developing the game.

Truthfully, I'd tend to think that the amounts of money being publically released for code monkey payroll are inaccurate.

As I demonstrated before, if you take the budget for a game, divide by a thousand (when the number would be more like a couple hundred tops) realizing it got spent mostly on manhours, you wind up with some rather high salaries.

If 75% (or more) of these budgets go towards coders, someone is lying about how much they get paid.

-

As far as how it would lower prices, well if you weren't spending all this money to pay a game design staff, development would be less, and then the companies could sell their product for less. Granted however, the industry is corrupt enough where it never passes it's savings onto consumers (at least so far) and simply keeps it all as profit. However I'd imagine there is a point at which the consumers would eventually get up off their nacho dusted EZ chairs and decide they had enough. [shrugs]

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