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Double Fine: Schafer speaks out on industry’s ‘hire & fire’ attitude

Tuesday, 23rd October 2012 11:46 GMT By Dave Cook

Double Fine’s Tim Shcafer has spoken out against the current trend of studio lay-offs that come once a project is complete, suggesting that developers are losing out on vital knowledge that could be put to better use.

GI.biz reports – by way of a Wired interview – “One of the most frustrating things about the games industry is that teams of people come together to make a game, and maybe they struggle and make mistakes along the way, but by the end of the game they’ve learned a lot – and this is usually when they are disbanded.”

“Instead of being allowed to apply all those lessons to a better, more efficiently produced second game, they are scattered to the winds and all that wisdom is lost. After Psychonauts, we could have laid off half our team so that we’d have more money and time to sign Brütal Legend.”

“But doing so would have meant breaking up a team that had just learned how to work well together. And what message would that have sent to our employees? It would say that we’re not loyal to them, and that we don’t care. Which would make them wonder ‘Why should we be loyal to this company?’”

“If you’re not loyal to your team you can get by for a while, but eventually you will need to rely on their loyalty to you and it just won’t be there.”

What’s your take on the process of letting teams go once the job is done? Is that loss of knowledge a waste? Let us know below.

VG247 recently interviewed Double Fine about the industry and the power of being an indie studio. Check out what they said here:

Double Fine: adventures into the unknown

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7 Comments

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  1. YoungZer0

    http://youtu.be/B01o2xtJwgk

    So glad to finally hear a developer speak up on this.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. absolutezero

    I agree completely with him but Brutal Legend was a far lesser game than Psychonauts. So even though his team learned how to work with each other, and loads of other lessons it still lead to a worse game. So surely keeping teams togethor instead of disbanding them does not make all that much of a difference to the end product. I’m sure it makes for far better working conditions and job satisfaction though.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. TheWulf

    @2

    Except it doesn’t work that way. They had one flop, but that doesn’t mean that it was actually their fault. Instead, it could have been publisher interference. Consider: If it was, that could have been what drove them down this route.

    And you have to look at other examples, too. Look at Origin Systems. Origin was a fantastic developer (before EA skullfucked it into oblivion), and their primary franchises of Ultima and Wing Commander got better and better with each iteration right up until EA bought them. After EA bought them, there were lay-offs. Not only that, but EA also forced their input regarding Wing Commander/Ultima games.

    And guess what?

    Every Ultima/Wing Commander game after EA bought them out was a flop.

    Let me make this very clear for you. Guess what the first Ultima game to release after being bought out by EA was? It was Ultima VIII: Pagan. Yes, it was that horrible atrocity. In fact, if you look at the timeline of Origin Systems, as soon as they were bought out by EA and EA started ‘restructuring’ them and giving them ‘publisher focus,’ their games went to shit.

    And you can verify this at any number of sources. But the fact of the matter is is that before EA came in and changes their roster, and their development style, they made one successful game after another. Every Wing Commander and Ultima game up until that point was an absolute winner.

    So there’s a definite argument to not ‘upset’ the status quo of a develooper, and Origin Systems is the basis for that argument. Because the moment they were turfed over, their games went starkly downhill. And there was no recovery, either. In fact, they ended up so bad that EA just gutted them, and these days their name is just used for a download manager. Thanks EA.

    But yes, one bad game does not an argument make. The Origin Systems argument is much stronger. And if that doesn’t work for you, I have Westwood, Bioware, and many other examples to call upon if necessary.

    As I see it, here’s a simple fact: When a developer keeps the same people around and retains their status quo, they make fantastic games. When they have big business poking their finger in the pie and stirring it around, upsetting the developer and keeping it in flux, they usually make terrible games.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Talkar

    I completely agree with Schafer. It isn’t much of a reward to have worked years upon years on a product, and when it is finally done, you’re fired…

    @2
    You can’t really compare Brütal Legend and Psychonauts. They are two very different games, in different genres, with different game mechanics. Both were good in their own respect. Brütal Legends biggest flaw was the marketing which focused on all the wrong things, which made the fans expect one thing but they got another. The same thing happened with RAGE.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. absolutezero

    As I see it theres loads of exceptions to that fact. Like Team Silent for instance.

    Brutal Legend, even when taken on its own grounds is a terrible game, the simplified RTS mechanics don’t work as they should, the AI is hugely unreliable and the online was a complete mess.

    Of course that could have been entirely EA’s fault, I mean Tim Shafer does look to be the exact kind of person that lets himself be bullied by large publishers…

    Although saying that he could have just been hugely grateful that at least another publisher picked up the game after it had been dropped by Acti.

    All I can remember about Rage marketing was how good a shooter it was, when it released it was a competant shooter but nothing more. It also had textures that looked worse than games released 10 years before it, signs in Half Life 1 are easier to read than somethings in Rage.

    Publishers interference is a different thing completely to job security within a developer. What Shafer is talking about here is people being moved about in internal teams, let go after a large project and general lack of stability. Which almost exactly how Valve works, and a hell of alot of the large JP development houses.

    I would be interested in seeing some examples of games that have been produced by the same team of people over a number of years getting better each time. Those games must surely be better than games produced by a team made for the specific purpose of creating said game.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Hirmetrium

    Brutal Legend’s failure was more enforced by the change of publisher, Activision lawsuit and the terrible strain it placed upon Tim.

    External factors are disastrous to development. Fan involvement, publisher meddling, and time spend fixing things that have nothing to do with making a great game is terribly destructive.

    You only have to read interviews with Tim to find this out for yourself.

    In my mind, an ideal Publisher/Developer relationship is one where the Publisher gives the money, lets the developer get on with it, and then handles all those external factors so they can focus on making a great game. Look at COD – it’s like a well oiled machine, pumping out product after product.

    Of course, the world is full of two sides – Publishers have to be careful with their money, and bad developers DO exist. Those with messy management structures and no clear direction, who constantly and clearly miss key milestones on development schedules. Having to micro-manage that is equally bad, and its why we are in the situation we are now in, where publishers own studios and control things.

    What worries me most is how.. foggy the whole thing is. I don’t think the public will ever truly know or understand the relationship between say, Bioware and EA vs Bungie and Microsoft or Activision.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. sh4dow

    I don’t give a damn about how Brutal Legend did. This is about hiring & firing and he is absolutely right that that is a horrible practice. I hope that it’ll blow up in the faces of companies relying on it a lot big time. All those companies treating both their employees and customers like crap can eat shit and die for all I care.

    #7 1 year ago