Kinds of Employees

by Darius Kazemi on December 7, 2006

in management

I’ve been thinking about the different kinds of employees you see at a typical game company. I kind of group folks into a few different areas.

Game Industry Mavens. These folks are the ones who are plugged in to the game industry at large. They go to conferences, have worked at a few game companies, and they want to continue making games for the forseeable future. This is the kind of person I encourage everyone to be.

Game Industry Clueless. These people are really happy that they’re working in games, and they want to continue working in games. This is probably their first game industry job, and they’re making the assumption that because they’ve worked on one game they’ll be able to get hired at another game company. While this assumption is not groundless, these people also don’t know what IGDA stands for, and think GDC is a waste of their time and money. They’re going to have a hard time staying in the industry.

Window shoppers. These guys just wandered in randomly through one venue or another. Maybe they worked on banking software back in the day with one of the lead programmers and got hired as some kind of arcane windows driver specialist or something. They think it’s neat that they’re working at a game company, but would be just as happy working somewhere else.

Administrative assistants and legal folks often fall in the Window Shopper category, understandably. However, a surprising number of VP-level people get hired with no game industry experience. They are often hired on the assumption that someone who managed a department at a web hosting company could do the same thing at a game company. This is tied in to what I once heard someone call “the myth of the MBA,” that management is a wholly transferrable skill. While running, say, an IT department at a game company isn’t going to be much different from running IT at a non-game company, 90% of the time I really question the wisdom of bringing in anyone at the executive level who doesn’t have extensive game industry experience.

Okay, rant over.

Surprisingly, I don’t see much of a continuum between Mavens and Clueless. You’d expect to see some middle-of-the-road people who’ve been to GDC once and know a few people who work at other game companies. Those people exist, but are few and far between. I think it’s a positive feedback loop: once you start down the path to being a Maven, you get sucked in and there’s no turning back!


Anonymous December 7, 2006 at 3:04 am

I’m wholly sympathetic to your anaylsis of management, and am a bit (but not entirely) suprised to hear most of these people don’t have industry experience. The ability to craft a game’s quality through teamwork and iteration, to my experience, is more specialized than being a filmaker, so the idea that generalized management skills can make up for knowing game design and production seems extremely harmful.

That said, the Bioware founders were MBAs, and it shows.

Anonymous December 7, 2006 at 11:18 pm

The Bioware founders were also Doctors (are, I think… specialists the both of them). They started the company to make medical training software, then got a game contract, played around with 3D animation (shorts mostly) and then hit it big with Baldur’s Gate.

Not exactly the straight path to game development.

Ian Schreiber December 9, 2006 at 9:00 pm

As for management, shouldn’t the industry have learned its lesson back in Ray Kassar’s day? Yeesh, it’s scary when people continue making the same mistakes 20 years after the fact.

As for Mavens vs Clueless, I’d agree that it’s mostly a sucking-in thing. A few years ago, I didn’t particularly have the desire to go to GDC. I went for the first time this year, and I had such a good time that I plan to continue going for the foreseeable future. I just didn’t know what I was missing :)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: