Thursday, December 06, 2012

Madden (your e-mail)

This e-mail came in shortly after I put up the Madden post earlier this week:
As you may (but probably don't) remember, I once worked at EA.

They have historically been able to attract some of the better talent in the industry simply because they've had the money.  I'd convinced another studio, after much hemming and hawing, to offer me a 12.5% increase over my previous salary, so I was emboldened to ask EA for 25%.  They agreed so fast I was certain I'd under bid, and they then proceeded to give me bonuses, raises, and stock.  My average compensation for the two years I was there (including stock and eventual "EA spouse" overtime compensation) equaled a full 100% more than my ending compensation at the previous studio.

I experienced the exact same situation described in those tweets, of talented developers in the hands of incompetent management.  The executive producer on my project was an ex-soap-opera-actor, who'd presumably got into television production before making the leap to video game production.  There was no evidence that he'd ever learned anything about software development, never mind the special challenges of producing video games.  And he certainly displayed no aptitude for working with engineers, or the technical understanding to do so effectively.

There was almost no time spent on development that wasn't an effort to shoehorn some new feature into the game for an upcoming trade show or executive demo.  And as alluded to in those tweets, the level of thinking that went into production was, "Let's see, we've got 10 new features we want this year, and about nine months to deliver them.  John, how much time does that work out to per feature?"  On my project, that level of production competence led to tens of thousands of known bugs.

It doesn't take a genius, but making video games is hard.  Big personality, executive experience, and even honest-to-God management skills just don't cut it.  Video games management needs actual video games production experience (including the software development side of the business).  And "management" experience at EA doesn't count.

The Maddening thing is that this situation is not forced by being a publicly traded corporation.  There's no reason they can't afford the best management in the industry. 

That's an excellent point (nice pun, too). Even with the annual development cycle, highly competent management could result in a much better product than we're currently seeing. The NHL and FIFA series from EA, as well as the NBA2K series from Take-Two and The Show series from Sony, are all proof that annual franchises can be excellent and continue to improve over a sustained period of time.

Madden and NCAA? Not so much.

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