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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Mark Hanna

The reason why the management in those sectors do well is because the people running them "KNOW" the industry their involved with. I honestly can't say what will happen or how this problem can be diverted. I'm guessing the only way for the major publishers to change their view on how things operate would be when the smaller, independant guys start making heaploads of cash on more innovative titles released online. Sorry if this post seems a little muddled.. just getting of the graveyard shift.. ;)

Software Guy

I wonder how closely do failed games correlate with failed software projects in general. From my experience poor management and lack of focus are common in both.
Software seems so pliable that people inherently think that they can do anything given the right backing. Sadly this is giving everyone waaaay too much rope. The key is to find a focus and be driven by quality as well as pragmatism. Customers and gamers appreciate quality (Blizzard) or even an honest attempt at it (Apple).
It seems that too many managers get so involved with managing the process that they forget that the point of the process is to produce a product. There is no substitute for polish in software.
So if a manager plans to release a game before its 'done' then they may as well just fire the team immediately, and save everyone the slave labour camp stage of the project.

Robert Padbury

The thing is, in enterprise, the more things you have the better. The problem is when this philosophy is applied to consumer electronics. It's a general rule is the more things you do, the less likely you'll do them well. The N-Gage, with all it's features did nothing particularly well, and at the end of the day just wasn't as compelling a choice as the DS, Gameboy or PSP.


Notably, Nokias new strategy seems to be to include the gaming platform (along with access to their Xbox Live-like matchmaking service) on almost the entire product palette: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/34/17

Robert Howarth

Yep, died awhile back. News at minus 11. ;)

Ninteno owns the hand held market.

Mark Hanna

Normally when a company attempts to do something different and it fails, rarely will you see it make a second attempt(thats more like commiting corporate suicide). In the case of Nokia, I don't see them re-entering the gaming space until it becomes the standard integration with most other handset manufacturers.

scratching head

The publisher thing ... I'm ortunate enough to have been on both sides in my time and I concur that there are some very bad management decisions at the highest level of publishers. I've mentioned this in my circles many times, the method is detrmined by money, by and outdated development model, by unrealistic publisher expectations, but this is not all the publishers fault. Developers need to be paid according to their overheads, developers consistently fail to communicate process to a publisher and perpetuate the magic art of videogames ... which is bullshit. Videogame development is software development; its an established industry in all its sectors regardless of end use. When games are increasingly being forced by marketing demands, this only serves to complicate the matter. The industry needs to re-evaluate itself at all levels while continuing to deliver products. How does this happen? It can be argued Japan is in a market crisis, that the industry as whole lacks innovation, that apparent industry crashes did not stop the rot ... all because the wheel has to keep turning. How do we take stock? Where do we look too? Who will lead the charge to outflank the great war?

Charles E. Hardwidge

Stop doing this to me, Scott.

"It's very clear to me that publishers, especially, are generally poorly managed at the highest levels."

That's a clear and strong position, and one I agree with. However, I believe, the real issue lies deeper still and is one of pure leadership, with all the trimmings stripped away. The calibre of manager at the top doesn't just lack creative insight, they lack the capacity to lead. They are out of touch and arrogant.

"Who will lead the charge to outflank the great war?"

Me. You scoff? Alright, YOU! No? I rest my case.

Leadership requires vision and execution. It requires people who understand games and who have the spine to deliver. You don't get this by watering things down, wobbling, or sucking your thumb. Nothing worth doing is easy. That people keep taking the easy option shows something about them. TRY HARDER!

Thank you, Scott, for putting this most important of issues on the table.

scratching head

Excellent ... Leadership is a misunderstood concept and I echo your informed perception.

I do what I can, where I can, and charity always begins at home. If we don't get our own house right, how can we set an example to others? I'm a soldier in a war, not a C.O.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I subscribe to the thought that every soldier carries a Field Marshall’s baton in their knapsack, but you're right. We must set the best example we can within our limits and, being sensitive to the chain of command. This is a matter of individual judgement. In many respects, one could argue the current crop of generals are moving their gin and tonic table in line with the front. As military leadership shifted from patronage to quality, this changed. If people don't resign, they retire, or die. Waiting can be frustrating.

People can have a misplaced sense of their own abilities and sensitivity. Not everyone is like this, but the few that are pull everyone down with them. The higher up, the greater the danger, and the more wonderful they think they are. The easier the success, the greater the arrogance. In the old days, a general that persistently led their men into slaughter wouldn't last long, but these people stay just the right side of the line to slide by. Perhaps, given the groundswell of complaint, the industry should adopt upward feedback in all publicly quoted companies.

I'm a great fan of the Japanese style of management, more limited pay levels between top and bottom, and "no shame" losing of position to be redeployed somewhere more suitable, or out the door if you're an outright liability. The strategy, here, is to not let the management hierarchy get away with being detached from reality on the ground, whether professionally or economically, keep the level below primed with enough management training to source a replacement on demand, and maintain internal fluidity of movement. The good of the many is the good of the one, etcetera.

One must be adept at being a master, or servant, as appropriate. Anything else is pure ego.

Mark Hanna

"One must be adept at being a master, or servant, as appropriate. Anything else is pure ego." Thats a good statement.. even worth quoting in a sig. But using that logic, the only people with the power to apply that change of events are the ones sitting at the top that probably belong in the "servant/fired" catagory(within publishers anyway).

Like Hollywood, this industry needs a major crash to start turning things around and with climbing costs we might just see that happen.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Thanks Mark. We've all got egos, to one degree or another. I think, to some degree managements "right to manage" and set unreal pay differentials hasn't been all for the good. In the 1970's Britain’s management earned no more that 10 times the lowest salary. Today, it matches American levels of 100 times. In Japan and continental Europe, the culture is towards the model the Anglo-American economy has abandoned.

Generally, you're right about persons and markets needing a crash before they shift ground. It seems to be the way it is, and you can look through history and the natural world and find plenty of examples. On a smaller level, people tend to cling on to old and previously successful habits even when a better way becomes available. Really, this isn't down to fearing the unknowables that flow from a more successful path, it's down to fearing what they might lose. Fear and greed are the most powerful emotions. Of these, fear is the strongest. The catch is that fear may prevent useful change.

Myself, I tend towards the long-term view that the distribution of games will satisfy the market in a general sense, that companies will become more technically and creatively capable, and the general quality of people will improve. The internal and external complaints we've recently been seen much more of are, I believe, a symptom of the difference between where we are now and where people are setting their aspirations. In this is an opportunity for a crash and rebirth. How much crash, how much rebirth, this depends on people seizing and creating opportunity.

British politics has run into a reality wall. Between poor leadership and dissatisfaction, both politicians and public are getting a grip on the situation. The difficulties remain large, but I'm getting the feeling things are running in the right direction. A little more reality on both sides is helping improve the quality of expectation and output. If this is a useful parallel, which I suspect it is, it may be that the games industry will experience a "soft crash". We're already seeing the signs that's happening. Be concerned? Yes. Panic? No. I think, we can all roll with this one.

As with the medias rapid expansion over the past two decades, the games industry hasn't been able to draw on a pool of quality management and invest in staff development. What I would like to see is less stratospheric management and more nurturing at the bottom. This requires a little more humility and patience on both sides. Management must be more open and accountable to staff, and staff must calm their aspirations. A little more promoting from within instead of hiring wizards from outside, and a tilt more towards an apprenticeship style model may help calm things down and boost respect for quality of work and working relationships over the long term.

There’s nothing new in the problems and solutions, and some people may disagree, preferring other models they believe to me more successful, but this pattern makes me feel more comfortable. Society, markets, and people have become a little unglued over the past few decades, and a little more structure, patience, and calm wouldn’t go amiss. We’re all being driven nuts by marketing hype, saturated markets, and career uncertainty, and I can’t see more of the same is going to improve things so, perhaps, a step back might make things easier and better. If nothing else, it will help give people more “mind space” for focusing on their work and how they manage their everyday relationships, and that’s the important thing. You are what you do.

Charlie Cleveland

I think Marc is right. It's time for the game industry to take itself seriously with real biz guys, not game developers who become biz guys or flaky biz guys who are gamers. It's amazing to me to see how most game start-ups have no biz guy at all. If they did, it would be a lot easier to convince investors to get involved, which helps free them from the publisher funding "ghetto".

I recently decided to work with a non-gamer CEO with good general business experience over perhaps a lesser business candidate that knows games. I think that if the business people are working closely with the game people (and of course have shared vision/values/blah-blah) then you get the best informed business decisions and execution.

Byron Gaum

Business leaders in the gaming business need to play games. It's that plain and simple. Whether you have an MBA or whatever, if you don't play your products, how can you know what's going on in the industry and make strategic decisions? Why can't you do both - well you're lazy and lack ambition. It's like being an executive at General Motors and not knowing how to drive a car.

Scott Miller

Byron, I completely agree. The problem with most publishers is that they are not being run by people who understand games, or the development process. Trust me, this is true. And that's a huge reason why our industry is suffering.

Byron Gaum

Scott, I know it is true. I've been on the publishing side for 5.5 years now and am completely baffled at how many people involved in this business don't even play games at all. There are, however, others that are very ambitious, and will do whatever it takes to keep on top of the industry (i.e. playing games, following industry news, etc.). Unfortunately, I think that these individuals are a minority though. We definitely try to encourage people to play games here, stocking a rather large library of PC and console games.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Charlie Cleveland is spot on. Understanding games and business is useful, but the mix and level of expertise isn't a hard and fast thing. Roger Foster, an accountant and CEO of ACT, which later became Apricot, developed a very successful PC business. Sir John Harvey-Jones, of ICI, was one of the most successful industrialists of the 20th Century, and he wasn't a biochemist. I'm sure there are more examples.

That some people remain wedded to the must-play-games mantra just tells me you're wedded to a single perspective, regardless of alternative perspectives, which rather proves my point. I've seen experts come and go, personalities rise and fall, authorities write their words in stone that shatter in time, and so on, and so forth. Everyone's got to be right, take first place, be the biggest. Jeez. Feel the ego. And you guys criticise others?

I see no leaders of the stature the industry needs in here.

scratching head

As Scott points out, its about UNDERSTANDING games and the development process. YOU DO NOT NEED TO PLAY GAMES TO HAVE THIS KNOWLEDGE! American Idol is in the background and who is the only guy there who speaks the truth ... Simon Cowell! Yes there is Paula and Randy but there views always misrepresent the artists. Cowell doesn't play instruments, he doesn't sing, he doesn't even try! But what he does know, is the business, what a customer wants and what is required to make a hit song. Cowells ability to understand the underlying structure of song and artist make him a very successful producer.

Hey, and I'm not saying that acquring this knowledge is easy; if it was, I'd the the equivalent of Cowell in games. Why might this be? I'd suggest one reason is that no-one quite knows the formula, and although EA get is right sometimes, they also get it wrong sometimes. Difficult Question About Videogames is a great example of this: http://www.publicbeta.org/dqav/

Byron Gaum

When Simon Cowell drives home at night, what do you think he does? Exactly, he listens to the radio and he probably also has one kick-ass CD collection at home too. He listens to music all of the time - what's hot and what's not - all different genres. This gives him a greater understanding of what people want and what they don't want. There's nothing natural about his ability - he just worked his ass off to get where he is today. I'm not saying that playing video games will magically provide you with all of the industry knowledge and understanding that you need, but it certainly puts you head-and-shoulders above the rest that don't and will allow you to understand the industry a lot better.

scratching head

I thought about my post and the one thing I should have pointed out is that it appears innate with Cowell. I know a similar guy in this industry; he can look over my shoulder or listens to a snapshot description of a games mechanics and he can deconstruct it with alarming accuracy. Now, he does play games, of course he does; but he also plays other games, not video games. And the fact is that its not just games ... its business, its social relationships, its process - in all these areas he can see why something won't work against what it is trying/designed to do. So what is it he understands? How is it he understands? Is it innate? Its always slightly puzzled me and I've never looked into it further. However his mind works, it provides him with some effective tools with little more than common knowledge of a subject in the areas highlighted. To reiterate, I believe, with as only common knowledge of the subject, the right person can lead in our industry, where so many game players, developers, managers, designers, programmers, journalists or artists fail despite their upheld belief that to make games a success you need to play them to addiction, and if you don't, then you have no place in the industry. Proposterous.


While the state of leadership/management in video game publishing continues to operate at a deficit, I don't agree that it is any worse than mobile or internet (as the quote implied). In all three industries, too many people with horrible attributes (starting stats for the Management class: -47 Talent, -20/400 Vision -55 Leadership, +64 Lazyiness, +88 Arrogance :) keep leveling-up for their non-efforts. The game too often rewards the same people who are killing it off, or something like that.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I'll accept understanding of games and the development processes can make a contribution, and am glad some people have come on board the idea that you don't have to play or develop games to distraction to acquire or maintain this. However, all of this is detail. They're building blocks that don't cut to the heart of the matter, which is leadership.

Where's the talk of resolve, duty, compassion? It's not just about knowledge or skill, it's about values and experience. Unless you have an interest and love in your work, without being blinded by it, moral fibre, and sensitivity to the people you lead, how can anything else matter? People chase profit and turnover because they're not alloyed with other values.

Look at Tesco's and Vodafone. One is a company that tramples over communities and suppliers in its greed for growth, while the other goes for the quick buck and pulls out when the job starts getting too difficult. These are the sorts of people who can make gains by cutting costs, and who are prepared to cheat or sell out when the going gets tough.

To change the industry, you must become better than this.

Software Guy

As always lots of interesting posts... Scratching Head: yours are a pure pleasure to read.
They smack of pragmatism which is refreshing. I do however question the idea that some hypothetical leader will lead us to glory. Its just the market and it always wins. According to Steven D. Levitt, "morality represents the way we'd like the world to work, whereas economics can show how the world really does work." The good ones succeed and the bad ones die off. Its a natural process, and deficiency in good leaders is surely natural.


Maybe we should have a developer that either becomes a publisher or both(both a developer and publisher)?

(Offtopic: Do you think Google will start failing, as they're becoming unfocused.. There are rumors that they're making an internet-scale network, computer, and operating system..)

scratching head

Indeed, Charles, values are a pre requisite. I'd like to add that you don't need to be passionate about games (I'm not sure if you made this clear). The passion could lie in any area as long as (you rightly state) values are alloyed ... and in our case, with the sensitivity of game development or games themselves.

Exponents of such leadership come to mind, they occur in two very different fields. I can't help but think of Tom De Marco for Software Engineering and the flipside of that is Gordon Ramsey ... his UK series of Ramsays Nightmare Kitchens is exemplary in demonstrating this.

Software Guy: Not sure if your poking fun or what ... but I'll give you the benefit of doubt. I'm not familiar with Levitts work but looked him up. Part of his Freakonomics books synopsis reads ...

'economics is, at root, the study of incentives - how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing'.

So yes, the market always wins but its driven by individuals, not all of which are without fault, but they understand he demands of leadership. I think of Freddie Laker, Howard Hughes and in terms of corporate individuals I think of Sony Playstation, EA or Toyota.

scratching head

I'd like to add ... this is the longest post I've ever engaged in. Normally, I have this type of conversation, once in a blue moon, among friends. The posts have so far challenged, enlightened and entertained. Thanks to all contributors and a hand to Scott for setting the stage.

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