Software Development
Philly Tech Week / Real estate / Developers Conference

What devs can learn from the stories behind how video games are made

“People are always more important than the project should be,” says gaming reporter Jason Schreier.'s Donte Kirby (left) chats with gaming reporter Jason Schreier during the 2020 Developers Conference. (Screenshot)

For those not inside the gaming world, it’s easy — and lazy — to see the quickly growing industry through the lens of stereotypes about the people creating games and those making careers of playing them.

But like any dev team, game engineers have their own unique set of challenges that are more broadly applicable, said Jason Schreier, who is a video game reporter at Bloomberg News, co-host of “The Triple Click” podcast and author of bestseller “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels.”

“In game development, you have all the problems of software development, but also the ambiguity of like, ‘What does the game look like?'” he said. “Everyone might have their own creative visions for the game, and they all have to be aligned if you’re going to make something different.”

Schreier joined reporter Donte Kirby Wednesday for Philly Tech Week presented by Comcast’s annual Developers Conference to talk about his career covering the gaming industry and what he feels outsiders and other engineering teams can learn.

In his reporting, Schreier has covered both indie and large, mainstream dev teams. He said Lab Zero, an indie company that last month had to lay off its entire workforce, is proof that teams can run into the same problems, no matter the scale of their company. Problems can arise from the Peter principle, he said — the idea that someone gets promoted up within the company for being a great programer, but they’re never really taught how to manage people.

“We’ve seen that a bazillion times, throughout every industry, where you’re promoted for your skills at one thing, and you wind up having to manage,” Schreier said. “And I think it’s a good thing to be alert of in your own life. And I think a lot of those lessons apply to software development also.”

As a journalist, Schreier said, he’s tried to apply things he’s learned through his reporting to his own life — notably, the idea that the project always comes first.

“People are always more important than the project should be,” he said. (Consider the tech and gaming industries’ rising interest in labor unions as evidence of this idea is taking hold.)

In the decade he’s reported on the gaming industry, and as once-small companies turned into corporations, Schreier said he’s seen some folks regret that growth and instead want to return to an indie company. One prominent example is that the former CEO of Blizzard, who cofounded the company in 1991, recently launched a new company called Dreamhaven, and will be hiring back a slew of employees who left when Blizzard was growing exponentially.

And while talent is important, the most successful game-building teams follow the same path of any successful project, he said: They’re unified around one vision with everyone on the same page. And the idea of “crunch” — the kind of nonstop work in the weeks leading up to a big launch — can really hurt you in the long run.

“You think you’re being more productive putting in all these extra hours but suddenly you’re finding all these extra bugs in your code because you’re half asleep when you’re building,” Schreier said.

Schreier’s second book will be released this spring, and will focus on game studios — including some of the stories behind studios that have exploded — and how to bounce back. Watch the full Dev Conf conversation between Schreier and Kirby below (and starting about 45 seconds in):

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