Disclaimer: All people and examples in this article are inspired by my professional experience. Similarities to real people, organizations or situations are in no way related to my current employer. The views presented here are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.
We don’t really know each other at the best of times. In most cases we will never meet – and yet our relationship is a love relationship. At least that’s how I feel about you. I am never quite as sure as you think about me, be it good or bad, because many of these emotions are only conveyed in the best possible way.
I have dedicated my life to you regardless of whether you realize it. I’ve spent years learning about you. Who you are, all your different wishes and moods. What makes you tick? What makes you feel joy, torment and love, what makes you grit your teeth and murmur swear words, what makes you laugh and cry. I know you even though I don’t know your face Your many faces
I spend 40 to 80 hours a week doing something that I hope will make you happy. Or sometimes to help you experience something that you may not have known you should feel. Part of my job is being mysterious and doing things with you that you didn’t see coming. Knowing what you need before you do it. In a way, I know you, especially if you play, probably a little better than you know yourself.
Why am I doing this despite the risk and industry conditions, long hours and inexplicable trends that make it so impossible to schedule game releases?
I grew up playing games. I know their potential, for you and for me. How many times in life do you have the chance to touch someone else’s life? To make it better or more interesting, to have fun and maybe to change perspective. I believe that games have more potential than any other medium – and I know you do too.
That makes us, dear player, two sides of the same coin. I don’t speak for everyone working in this profession, but I know that the love and respect for the art we do and the players we want to make are incredibly common, if not the default for the most. After all, there are easier ways to make money. But I can’t think of a better way to live a life.
Sometimes I sit for hours and turn the numbers. I optimize them – health, endurance, damage, currencies – and then I play the game again. I optimize and play and optimize and play … It takes hours until I understand it correctly. Days.
Sometimes I repeat it all a month later. Two months later. I go home with a headache every day, but I’m glad I improved the game for you.
In a way, I know you, especially if you play, probably a little better than you know yourself
You will be surprised at how often an elegant solution to a number problem is found by forcing things brute like this, or how much an OK game can be improved or even made great by changing some variables. So many of us are plagued by this idea – by the thought that trying again with a slightly customized thing will make all the difference. Perfection is impossible and you can hurt yourself if you chase it.
Almost all of us do this. We know that it may or may not change the number of games we sell or even our own paycheck, but we want you to play the best possible version of our games.
Sometimes I fight. In meetings with other people. Coders, artists, creative leads, marketing people, publishers … it gets loud sometimes. I often advocate you, dear player. For your time, how long you play, which payment models are appropriate. Sometimes I advocate your right to be well represented. Or for your right to play our game at all.
I don’t always win.
And that’s because games are made up of thousands of small and large decisions that many people made along the way. Every problem has many possible answers and perspectives. Collisions are normal. It is important to keep an eye on each other when making creative and business decisions. These tough conversations are part of my job. Representing you, dear player, is my job. It’s okay that I don’t always win. It is important that I try it. We try that.
Sometimes I have to solve strange problems. Problems that I know would upset you if you found out about them, but problems that are part of my job. Sometimes I tell the game that every opponent’s first bullet should miss you to compensate for the lack of senses you have compared to the real world when you play our game. I know that you will feel better when you play. I also know that you would probably hate me if you knew. But I really think knowing a little bit more about magic will help you understand us better, friend.
Sometimes I read your feedback. On Twitter, in our forums. It often cuts right to my core. I wish I could often explain to you why or not we can do what you ask for. I wish I could often tell you that you are not necessarily right. But how do you explain that you know someone better than yourself without making them angry?
Sometimes people tell me they wish I was dead or worse. I make sure the door is locked twice that night.
Sometimes you become very passionate about a game, dear player. You spend hours playing it, and from your point of view, you become very familiar with its systems. Sometimes you think you know better than I what to do to improve it. I want to respect your dedication when this happens, dear player, but I also want you to know that gaming skills are not the same as developer skills. We see the same product from two different angles – both are valid, but they cannot be confused.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iidluvCVx0c (/ embed)
They tell me that I am wrong when I try to explain. If I don’t do what I should do, you write a bad review, or worse. This is just one of the ways developers are often isolated from gamers.
In my career, I have participated in the planning of meetings where we all stared with hatred at the one ticket in our system called an “error”. It’s been open for 48 days. We do not know why. There is a flaw in our file. I have seen people who have spent several long nights finding it.
We may have decided to mask it by changing a feature instead to bypass it and pray that it doesn’t bother the players in any way. It can take weeks, months or even years for us to find out whether this was the right decision. Sometimes we never know. But we remember.
Sometimes I sneak into a Twitch stream late at night. Someone is playing my game. I remain silent and watch them enjoy what I have worked on for years. It is one of my happy places. I can see your face, dear player, and I can understand why I do what I do when it is sometimes difficult to remember.
Sometimes I wonder if the players are friendlier when they don’t know they are talking to me directly. I am not sure why that is. I wonder if this is because so much feedback is being sent to people who can do little to change the topic under discussion. This makes players feel like they’re not being listened to, and they think they need to ask with more strength or less grace or add a threat. I wish I had a better way of de-escalating these situations. I wish we had better opportunities to talk.
And it’s not just me, you know? I have hundreds, if not thousands, of friends who put their hearts into the things that I hope you will enjoy and that will do so for years.
One day I spent two hours in the gym after I finished work. When I got back to the office, my friend was still there and made sure the art he was working on was just perfect. Nobody told him to stay – he did it because he wanted it to be perfect for you. We laugh at how difficult it is sometimes to disconnect and how players now know about our problem with the crunch, but it’s more complicated and often culturally self-inflicted. He has four children at home.
I had another friend who was recording wild things for hours in his studio: a watermelon that broke and soup bubbled. Once he picked up a fly. Sometimes we joked that the soundproofing booths are a great place to cry when the stress is too high due to their soundproofing. We laugh, but we both know it.
This other friend I have likes to come to the office early. Long before one of us is there, often before the sun rises. It’s the only time he can do his job, he says. Not for personal reasons, but because the rest of his day will be filled with meetings where he solves problems with other people. He was due to leave at 4 p.m. if he comes so early.
One day he was halfway when an important stakeholder happened to come over to play the game. We had no warning about it, but we stayed because we thought we should do this for the game. He leaves almost every day after 6 or 7 p.m. to support his team. He commutes over an hour to get home to his wife and children, and does it all again the next day.
My other friend, an artist, once ejected the 16th version of a draft he had made. The direction changed so often that he asked me to brainstorm with him to get access to new ideas. He had discarded hundreds of other concepts that he had developed in the last four games he was working on. All four were canceled.
Can you imagine what it’s like, dear player? It is possible to work on so many games that you become an industry veteran, though most, if not all, of your projects have been canceled. We need to be careful to include them on our resumes if they are public. We don’t want to make any news or waves by saying that a game you think you enjoyed has been canceled for reasons we may not control or consider possible.
I hadn’t seen a close friend in many months. I knew it wasn’t because he didn’t want to see me, it was because he had crunched. When I checked in with him, he said he had been in the office a few nights until 12 noon last week. He said it’s worth it because they’re doing something good.
We both know we have to deal with it. We believe it, of course. But we have to say it a lot. To ourselves, to each other. To make it true.
Did you notice that all of my friends at work are men?
Is it ever good?
There is a magical moment in game development that we are all familiar with, but it cannot tell you when it occurs and where the game just clicks. It is the most amazing day in a development cycle. It is the first time that you actually see what you are doing. When developing games, it is very important that you make it. The game does not look the way you imagined it while you are interviewing yourself and others.
The moment a game goes from a list of setup systems and exists enough to be played to confront you with any kind of challenge or unexpected behavior is always magical.
– Mike Bithell (@mikeBithell) November 18, 2019
It is like jumping out of an airplane while you are still sewing the parachute, and only hoping that this will be done as you approach the ground.
We live for this magical moment. Then we really know what we’re doing. Then we really know who you are and what you will see, feel and experience when you finally hold in your hands what we have been doing in our lives for years.
We have to believe that you will love it, otherwise … where have the past three to eight years gone?
Sometimes when I think about it, I’m scared. From you, dear player. From you and your judgment. About a misstep that could make you hate me and the people around me and what that would mean for my future or even my safety.
Why do you stay, you ask? With all the things I told you? Because the few times in my career that I can drag myself through the stress, pain and work required to bring out a game that really matters to some of you has paid off hundreds of times for me want.
And maybe, maybe if you take some time and look inside yourself to get to know me, then maybe I never have to do anything other than spend much of my life doing things out of pure love for you.