Can Joel’s success be brought to video games?

by Seanba on December 14, 2009

Joel Spolsky photo

I’m a fan of Joel, but I have to admit that lately his posts have been doing less and less for me. He’s pretty busy boosting his Dev Days and Stack Overflow efforts, and I think it shows. And his latest post related to, you know, programming, left a bad taste in my mouth.

But no matter how I personally value Joel’s advice, he gets me every time with this horribly cruel tease at the bottom of each post:

About the author. I’m Joel Spolsky, founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week.

Why do you have to go breaking my heart like that every time I visit your blog, Joel?

Our video game industry is still locked into providing a rather poor quality-of-life for our talent*. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you want to hang with us then you must be prepared to sacrifice a good portion of your precious life as the price of admission. That wasn’t too bad when I was straight out of school, but we’re all grown up now, and we’ve seen it ruin people and break families. And I’ve yet to see a game ship that, upon reflection, couldn’t have seen a better and faster completion, sans death march crunch, if only an honest and sobering assessment of the project and team were performed earlier.

I realize that even the best laid plans are foiled at times by the uncertainties that accompany software development, and that even Joel’s Stack Overflow guys have to crunch sometimes.  And of course hindsight is 20/20 -  but can we not expect a little foresight from our experienced peers and managers to help guide us to a launch that is both successful and healthy?

To quote the profound wisdom of George W. Bush (kind of) …

“Rarely is the question asked: is our game developers learning?”

George W. Bush speaking

(There you go, Joel. I’ve just quoted you along with the grand master of public speaking. You can thank me later.)

Here’s the holy grail that I’m in search of: I want to be challenged. I want to grow. I want to make a game that people really care about and remember fondly years down the line. I want my efforts to make money for the person or entity trusting us with tens of millions of dollars. And I want to enjoy life with my wife and my kids and my hobbies as I do so.

That goal is likely thought impossible by many of my friends in this business, and maybe making games is just so super-special-different that it is … but dammit I’m going to give it one hell of a try!

I’m going with this: It’s all about working well within our limits.

(* It is worth mentioning that I’m happy to see my current employer doing a pretty good job at avoiding this so far.)

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