how is game design being hampered by business

I thought I had read something years ago, and I found a similar article from 1998

how to kill creativity

Don’t get me wrong.  Accounting is an integral part of any business.  Even the solo proprietor has to keep records of where expenses are happening.

What I see in my own line of work, of which I have worked for the same company for 30 years doing the same job, is that over the years the focus has become less and less on making and completing a project, to more and more analyzing and keeping track of the smallest minutia in an effort to minimize costs and maximize profitability, which in of itself is certainly an admirable goal, however we are creating more and more complex methods to track and inventory to a degree that it is costing more to save a small amount.

An example.  Yesterday I spent about 25 minutes reading through a long chain of emails addressing a minor issue.  It involved at least 7 people besides myself, resulted in some time to issue change orders and updates.  What was it all about?  6 pieces of 1 inch diameter PVC tubing about 6 inches long.  No where even close to a dollar of material.  Now years ago, a phone call would have been made, someone would have just said don’t worry about it, we have a pile of it laying about, or I will send a guy to the Home Depot to grab a length.  But now not only will this be taken care of by yet another person, but it will be put into a truck, driven about 25 miles and dropped off.  On top of that there were 3 Excel files that had to be generated to account for this, and like I mentioned all of the emails.

Don’t misunderstand, there are times when things come up that result in costs in the thousands of dollars.  Unfortunately the human element of common sense has been replaced with accounting systems and tracking programs, reports that need to be generated, meetings to discuss productivity deadlines, thousands of emails a year.  In very rough numbers, as it relates to myself, I have added 20% more workload in accounting to my job over the years, so that the minimum of loss occurs.  Unfortunately it comes down to adding around $5,000 of cost to save $4,500 on any one job.  And it is not getting any better.

There has been a fundamental shift in how companies do business.  I can even see the implications in our own gaming world.  A company as large as Blizzard has employees, they have stock holders, they have research and development departments, they have tech support, etc.  All sorts of overlapping departments dependent on one another, where schedules and productivity goals need to be kept, and if any one falls behind, the domino effect has broad ramifications.  We have and continue to become more and more focused on meeting schedules, minimizing costs, cutting corners where ever we can that it is beginning to show in the final products.

As a hypothetical example.  An R&D team comes up with a fantastic idea that could make millions, the development department determines it would take 2 years, things go well for a time as creative ideas are tossed about, the scope grows, but the end date never changes.  It is always looming out there.  At a certain point someone has to make the decision. What do we cut out because we are just not going to have time to do everything.  We promised this by a certain date, we have to deliver.

Sound familiar?

When Blizzard was a young company they had more flexibility to be creative, more time and less pressure.  Now they are one of the big boys on the block, and they are falling victim to their own success.  It is just the way the corporate world has evolved.  I think to survive any company will eventually just have to step back and say you know what, this is stupid.  Lets use a little common sense.  Instead of requiring someone to fill in a production report once a week or daily taking time away from them actually doing their job, why don’t I just stop by and ask them how things are going, are they struggling. In the end, is there a difference in the amount of time required to read a report that someone has written, compared to just talking to them?  The written word allows for no emotion.  What use to be handled by a quick phone call or popping in to an office is now handled by email.

When you complain about an expansion not coming out fast enough, do remember that it is the work of hundreds of people all coordinating on one massive project.  They see our demands for more and more faster, but when we push to hard, and the company tries to set dates in stone, it becomes bogged down even more in scheduling to meet target dates, and when things start slipping, things get cut.  So ask yourself, do I want a top notch product next year sometime, or another Draenor in early 2016




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