If you work in the video games industry, chances are you’ve been answered with a gasp of delight upon telling an acquaintance about what you do for a living. Perhaps your new friend returned with, “Oh, that is so cool!” Or, “So you get to play games all day?” And then you get to smile and correct them.
Is working in the games industry fun? Sure, oftentimes it can be enormously fun and challenging. But a job is a job, and it was decreed at some point during the dawn of time that a job is required to contain at least a few instances of tedium and frustration. Sometimes, even a job related to video games can become more than a little tedious and frustrating. That’s part of the reason why some game developers are breaking away from bigger teams to open up much smaller studios that focus on iPhone, iPod and iPad 2 (a.k.a. iOS) game development.
Ben Murch, an artist who recently left Codemasters to start up Rodeo Games, concurs. “It’s down to a lot of people wanting more creativity in the games they’re making,” said Murch, who has also done work with EA and Criterion. “When I was working at Criterion it felt like it was a great big team, and I wanted to have more in the decision-making. On Burnout it felt a lot more like you were a cog in the machine.
“Quitting then starting up this, there’s definitely an element of just having all the power in your hands and being able to do whatever you like and not having to run through a million meetings to make a decision on something.”
Creative freedom is a coveted thing that not many developers ever get to grasp: There’s some speculation that Keiji Inafune left Capcom last October because he’d not been allowed to stretch his creativity as much as he would have liked. It’s not surprising that bigger studios are forced to slip their staff into the “cog-like” roles mentioned by Murch. Games that take millions of dollars to produce require a great deal of labor, meetings, paperwork, and other grand activities that deflate the magic of game production.
No one can blame Murch or any other developer for making like an amoeba and splitting off from a big company to form something smaller and less complicated–something that’s easier to control, and therefore just a lot more fun to work with. More likely than not, however, it’s a temporary solution. Surviving on iOS games alone can prove difficult for a studio of any size, and even the cost of iPhone game production is ever-rising. Moreover, it’s difficult to gauge long-term success of iOS game development studios because, frankly, iOS game development is still very new. Therefore, we can assume that advancing to the development of downloadable games, PC games, and console games is an inevitability for a small studio (though Murch himself admits that developing for Xbox Live Arcade is unnecessarily difficult compared to developing for and publishing on the iOS). Advancement leads to necessary team growth.
Can a spunky small team of developers grow to become a faceless giant? Well, Activision was a comparatively wee thing, once upon a time.
Even so, it’s good that the games industry has become varied enough to let developers take a “break” from big production if they feel like they need it. Putting together smaller projects can be very healthy for a creative person’s brain meat. The game developers who start over get a fresh new perspective on the industry and its products, and the rest of us often get great new games on the iOS and on other devices/consoles.
Finally, consider that a developer reboot is also far preferable to the alternative: Developer burnout.