Saturday, August 11, 2007

Down on the Farm: Barnyard Developers

I'm in the mood for a little Saturday afternoon amusement, so here goes:

I met up with a friend for breakfast this morning and we're both games industry peeps. As such, we invariably got around to the subject of the industry, developers, and all the amusement that that topic generates. In the middle of it all, I coined a phrase to describe a particular type of company, to wit: barnyard developers.

As I said adios and made my way into Kingston to lust over the new iMacs (they are very lustworthy incidentally) I thought to myself that I have encountered various kinds of company in the industry, as well as hearing stories of others. I thought it might make a subject of some humour to caricature them a bit. So here goes:

(shout if you recognise any of these)

Barnyard Developers
A barnyard developer is often a large-ish studio(or multiple studios in some cases) that literally works out of a barn, shed, or other farming-based building. More loosely it might apply to developers that work in big facilities off the beaten track, but the barn image is the nicest. These developers are often led by a charismatic member of the industry's old guard. They are surprisingly common in the UK, with many counties in South-east England having one, or maybe even two. They are usually located in this hap-hazard fashion because the leader was originally born in the area and is not inclined to bring himself to the mountain.

Barnyard developers are usually very introverted, egotistical and political places to work, rather like extended families. They usually have a culture split into what you could call lifers, parole cases and 2-year stretchers. Lifers are the long-timers who've stuck with the company through thick and thin and can regale you with stories of yore. They are usually engineers, long-standing designers and that one QA guy who sort of seemed to hang around until he became company president. Parole cases are the 6-month limited contract types, the ones who are green, new to the industry and full of bright ideas and hope. This is usually drained from them by degrees. 2-year stretchers are the ones who have been around a little longer, figure they know how the industry works and, the mad fools, are actually looking to make a career out of advancing up the corporate ladder among a number of barnyards. This usually does not go so well.

The goals of the companies are uncertain, the engines and tools that they use are often Byzantine. They don't seem to be that commercially successful any more, but rather seem to trundle on from project to project. Every project is deemed worthy mostly in the light of how technically cutting edge it is, but most of the employees, especially the lifers, are generally unsure if the project is actually any good or not. A general air of plus ca change pervades much of what they do. Even when bought, the culture remains largely as-was, though usually with the addition of fancy amenities like running water and non-power spiking electricity supplies.

Every veteran of a barnyard developer has their hilarious stories about working conditions and general conduct of the upper echelons of the company, whether it be that time when the tea and coffee facilities were taken away, to the bumpy carpet on the second floor that eventually caved in one night, to the fist-fight that broke out in reception over whose soft toys got turned upside down, placed in a dishwasher or whatever. These stories prove the subject of much amusement in the local pub, which is used copiously at lunch and other occasions.

Although located out in the middle of the countryside, away from what is generally held to be civilisation or at least the local village, most barnyard developers have about a 50% ratio of employees who can't drive. This is further compounded by a frequent crunch culture, which leads to people sleeping in the office a great deal and trying to find a take-away that will deliver at 1 in the morning when the troops are restless and hungry the night before milestone. Often the company seeks to solve these problems by bringing in a high-powered manager who brutalises the staff and makes them work like dogs until bonus day, whereupon he vanishes "to take on new and exciting challenges".

All in all, barnyard developers are quirky, amusing places in which every industry person worth their salt should spend at least 2 years to see what the good and the bad can be like. If you're a fan of the smell of damp, wall-high mold and occasional flooding, this might be the game development lifestyle for you!

Next: Rubik's developers.

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