One thing that's been interesting over the last few months is that we've been trying to articulate why we're doing this whole Wonderspark thing, and what we have to offer that's different than anyone else. And it's been interesting, because in many ways, when we try to "tell our story" it's fairly modest. We've spent the last five years learning a new way of developing, focused on fast iteration, developing with a live audience, putting the needs of the team first, and maintaining a sustainable long-term pace while building novel, interesting things that players love. For the most part, that sounds pretty straightforward - the kind of thing that a lot of teams aspire to or try to achieve, and when the rubber hits the road and things get difficult, those principles fall by the wayside, teams crunch, and they fall into the more traditional patterns of game development. And that's really the big problem.
Crunch is easy.
I don't mean for the team. Obviously. But for management, deciding to crunch is the way to fix big problems you failed to fix in other ways. And it leads to all the inevitable nonsense that dogs game development in most places. Burnout. Frustration. Broken relationships. Creative exhaustion. And crunch breeds more crunch, because it's so effective in the short term. Solved a problem that way successfully? GREAT, let's do it again. Longer. Look at how much I'm rewarded as a manager when the team bangs it out, and look how much of a "leader" I look like when my boss sees me leading people through long nights and when I'm here on Saturday! I kick ass!
But that's obviously garbage.
The thing that we achieved at Self Aware was that we didn't crunch, the team was consistently able to operate at "full capacity", happy to come to work, and we also built interesting new things that no one had built before, and achieved massive financial success.
It's not just about the ideals, it's about the ideals and the results you get.
More than that, though, there's no reason that Self Aware shouldn't be held up as a beacon of what is possible when you do things right in the game industry. You can have a great work-life balance with a team you love working with, work on novel, exciting and strange things, push the industry forward, and maintain that indefinitely.
Oh, of course it's difficult. It requires you to alter almost everything you think about development. It requires new infrastructure. It requires a new way of developing, focusing on experimentation rather than polish. It requires a constant fight between whoever is in charge of the $ and whoever's in charge of development, because in the short term, building out an infrastructure for speed & iteration, pushing off features that aren't going to make the next release, NOT maintaining an extensive roadmap, taking creative input from everyone in a meaningful way and turning into improvements in-game, and getting everyone out of the building at a reasonable time are expensive and difficult.
But that's the job. That's the point of management, to maintain the things that are hard to maintain, to fight the battles between the obvious money and the lasting, durable loyalty of players - the long game.
With Wonderspark, our goal is to do that again. To build an environment where you can build amazing things and NOT sacrifice your life to do so. To build things that players will love for years and years, that we love to build. Where we can be constantly challenged, constantly learning, and still love coming to work every day.
In our experience, we built a company that did everything well at a time when the assumption was that your life had to suck to do what you wanted to. One thing that we failed to do was bend the industry to our way of thinking. It's a mistake I hope to fix this time out.