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The Publisher/Developer Relationship

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the learning-from-each-other-while-we-do-our-thing dept.

Games 15

Via a Gamers With Jobs Press Pass post, an interview with Dorian Richard, the Atari external producer for Neverwinter Nights 2. The Game Tycoon piece discusses the relationship between publisher and developer, and touches on some of the challenges of creating a sequel to a title like Neverwinter Nights. From the article: "GT: What are the most common challenges you face when interacting with developers? DR: There's inexperienced developers, and there's experienced developers. Inexperienced developers tend to lack staff with sufficient scheduling and managing experience. They might be good at certain development tasks, but they don't know how to read warning signs and manage people, so they frequently fail to recognize when a big slip is looming. They don't plan for likely emergencies, like a key team member getting sick or having a family emergency."

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15 comments

It's Called "Systems Engineering" (3, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14779676)

There's inexperienced developers, and there's experienced developers.
Well, I've heard just as meaningless statements before (i.e. "a note is either on the beat or off the beat" or "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...") and I must say that I think the difference between Dorian Richard's "inexperienced" and "experienced" is simply the "experienced" know what systems engineering (SE) is.

Now, of all topics, SE is one that I hate the most. You will not encounter such a dry and boring subject in a long while. But I will not deny that it certainly provides structure and security in managing projects and identifying milestones.

If you like what you heard in Richard's interview, then I suggest you skip the rest of what he says and go to INCOSE [incose.org] to check out the society that studies how to avoid the pitfalls of inexperienced developers. One good project manager should be able to protect your developers from hurting themselves or a project.

I certainly hope no one is putting together a team that is just going to sit down and wing it while developing a project. Perhaps Atari didn't believe there to be a need for project management ... this would be quite telling of their latest financial woes.

Re:It's Called "Systems Engineering" (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780055)

Now, of all topics, SE is one that I hate the most. You will not encounter such a dry and boring subject in a long while. But I will not deny that it certainly provides structure and security in managing projects and identifying milestones.

Rubbish! Just, you know, code stuff. If you need to change it, hack it out, then back in, then compile with -O4 flags and -funroll-loops. If you need to add a new feature, throw in a couple of gotos and if anyone gets sick or their child dies or something, just have them work nights at home to make up for it.

As for content creators, I mean come one. How long does it take to make next gen content? With modern tools, no time at all!!

You just give me the startup money, and I'll give you the hit. Systems engineering. Huuh! I have a degree man. A degree!!

cow ... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14779706)

... feces.

Cow Feces.

cowfeces.net

Loved Gameboy Advance developers... (3, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780014)

When I worked at Atari as a lead QA tester, half my projects were Gameboy Advance titles (Atari Anniversary Advance, Nicktoons Racing, Driver 2 Advance, Backyard Hockey and DBZ: Buu's Fury). About one third of the way through each project, I would always get a phone call from the developer demanding where their money is. I had to explain to them I wasn't exactly the accounting department and some people at Atari got upset that I was helping the developer shake the money tree. I think these developers were more closer to the financial edge than other console developers but were more willing to improve the game as much as possible.

Publisher Producers - LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14780074)

I would love to see a piece on this from the developers point of view.

Every Publisher Producer our studio has dealt with has been worthless. Most come up from test with NO CLUE how to make a game. That and they are managing like 10 titles.

It is a really pathetic part of our industry that has caused more bad games than anything else I can think of.

Re:Publisher Producers - LOL (3, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780770)

I would love to see a piece on this from the developers point of view.

I think the developers would agree with most of the key points. The only difference is that developers would put a lot more of the blame on publishers.

One aspect in particular - He clearly doesn't realise just how much of a loss cancelling a game is for a developer. I don't know why he thinks a relationship with a developer is worth more than the combined cost of development losses so far and paying a development team while the company pitches for a new deal.

He definitely makes some good points about going in the wrong direction and dealing with that. But that's another problem with working with an outside developer. Now I work for a publisher owned studio, and we have so much more freedom and flexibility. The milestones the publisher cares about are Alpha, Beta, Release. That's all. Everything else we do internally. If something doesn't work, or can't be done in time, we drop it. The publisher knows we're working for the best interests of the company. Working with a publisher, every one of these decisions has to be justified.

Re:Publisher Producers - LOL (1)

2megs (8751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14785231)

One aspect in particular - He clearly doesn't realise just how much of a loss cancelling a game is for a developer. I don't know why he thinks a relationship with a developer is worth more than the combined cost of development losses so far and paying a development team while the company pitches for a new deal.

And that's one of the main problems with the developer/publisher/milestone model. Some years ago, I was a programmer on a certain title at a certain underfunded studio, both of which shall remain nameless. A few months into the project, the gameplay just plain wasn't coming together and we had a meeting internally about what to do. My response to our (internal) project lead: this project should be cancelled. We all knew it, but with very little discussion we proceeded to patch up the enemy AI in a completely unmaintainable way that just happened to work in a carefully-constructed test level. Our external producer was pleased, and we got operating capital to make our next couple of payrolls.

Ultimately, the game shipped with all the problems and cost overruns that we foresaw internally at that time. If we'd been honest with our producer to try and "build the relationship", there wouldn't have been any relationship at all. There wouldn't have been a studio for the publisher to have a relationship with. We'd have been out on the street looking for new jobs.

Re:Publisher Producers - LOL (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780942)

Most come up from test with NO CLUE how to make a game. That and they are managing like 10 titles.

That's always been QA's dirty secret. The more incomptent testers end up being associate producers who think they have some authority now when all they do is grabbing coffee for the producer. When one of my supervisors got promoted, the department didn't have a going away party but an outright celebration party. Incomptent people should find their niche where they do the least harm to everyone else. Now everyone knows that the really, really bad producers come out of marketing.

Re:Publisher Producers - LOL (3, Interesting)

Yaldabaoth (649550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780973)

> I would love to see a piece on this from the developers point of view.

Well, I recently resigned from a developer after quite a few years there. According to this interview, we've gone from being "experienced" to "inexperienced" with our ability to deliver games, and yet we've gone from "inexperienced" to "experienced" in terms of implementing a lot of the things he associates with experienced developers.

Schedules and processes are important and have their place; however, there are limits and balances to consider. To the extent that game development is a creative process, it is very difficult to schedule. Schedules need wiggle room (particularly for the harder areas), and processes need flexibility.

In my ex-employer's case, we had neither. The schedule was done down to such tight time increments that it was a nightmare to create and maintain, and the processes made it worse. Leads couldn't lead since they were all always in meetings; when they weren't, they were so flooded with authorization requests and status updates (tied to the schedule) that they were generally ineffective even when they could lead. Inflexible processes (ie, not adapted to the strengths/weaknesses of the team) frustrated pretty much everyone.

So, in terms of what the producer was looking for, we had everything he'd expect from an experienced developer, yet the project's a year behind and possibly facing another delay -- probably 3x our longest delay to date.

Of course, I don't know any specifics about the publisher/developer relationship in the article, so I'm not familiar with how he's regarded by his developers. Like anything else, there's good producers and bad producers. Unfortunately, it seems they're a _lot_ harder to tell apart.

The plus side to this, though, is that with all the ex-employees and soon-to-be ex-employees, the possibility of making something really interesting is getting higher and higher.

Publishers should let Developers Develop (3, Interesting)

UberMench (906076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780076)

Developers are responsible for making a game to the best of their abilities within the restraints of the design and hardware. In essence, their job is to MAKE GAMES. Publishers advertise and sell the games that developers make. In essense, they SELL GAMES. Publishers should realize that they can't do their job without the developers and visa versa. Then maybe publishers would realize that developers are working to realize a creative vision, and that poking them every day and asking, "Are you gonna meet our deadline? We must keep to the business model!" can only hurt the quality of the final product.

Re:Publishers should let Developers Develop (2, Interesting)

rueger (210566) | more than 8 years ago | (#14780139)

Developers are responsible for making a game to the best of their abilities within the restraints of the design and hardware.

And budget. Small operators often tend to be underfinanced. Publishers should have enough expertise to help developers to manage cashflow, providing funds as needed.

"She," not "He" (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14782138)

Okay, having seen three people get it wrong, I just have to point this out: Dorian Richard is a woman. [bioware.com]

Maybe it shouldn't matter, but there are far too few women in the game industry as it is (let alone at the Producer level).

I worked with her for a little while at Atari. She gave a lot of freedom to developers in terms of creative space, but was serious about keeping devs to their schedules, and good at it (which is a rarity in games). Dragonshard came together in a hurry when she got on board.

Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14786090)

How are Atari's financial difficulties going to affect Neverwinter Nights 2? Seems like a lot of the pressure might be coming from that end.
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