Tuesday, 15 April 2014

From Generalist to Specialist?

Over the years, the game industry has expanded in to a goliath with in the entertainment scene, pushing its way almost to the top of the mainstream. It has turned a hobby into a job, and what some imagined never taking off into a multi-million dollar powerhouse of the entertainment world.

The game industry is now one of the largest in the world; hiring thousands in the UK alone. Not all are full time roles or careers, but many are. As a whole the industry looks for extremely skilled people with special talents in specific areas. However, freelance artists are also sought after as well as the lower cost of outsourcing studios. A company will look for the best job at the cheapest rate. Outsource companies are usually contractors working outside the EU or US which will work at a significantly lower cost. This is very effective when trying to save money as a large company, especially when they take on a large project.

Although, this could be a cost effective way to make a game, it can also lead to confusion within a studio, and in the long run may cause problems for the development of a game. One reason for this may be that the managers have to wait for certain assets or that the layout of a level cannot be fully understood. Also contact may be more difficult due to language barriers and time differences, etc. Without personal one-to-one interaction with other artists and mangers/directors, etc  it may also be hard to express the right critique and may cause a wild goose chase of files and assets being sent back and forth between developer and outsourcers with little progress. But sometime outsourcing is done between more than one developer.

An example of a game that fell victim to outsourcing was Sega’s Alien: Colonial Marines. The teasers they showed in early development were stunning and many fans had hopes that this game would recreated the horror franchise and it truly showed the beauty of dynamic lighting. Gearbox Software had been working on this game for 4 years when they released the very successful Borderlands in 2009. They immediately began work on Borderlands 2 and so the Aliens project was outsourced to TimeGate. The project struggled because of the lack of planning between companies and the conflict in ideas.

Developers like to find talent which specialises in certain areas, but also knows how to work in many other areas of their field as well. With a general overview of how to do most things and then to also be a specialist in one of these departments can help in getting recognised and receiving work. It also helps lower costs for a company. With an employee who can do most things as an artist, they can use this person to work in different areas of a game as well as them focusing on their key skills. Being this kind of worker could also help the learning of skills in their “general” areas as well.

In Valve’s ‘Handbook for New Employees’ they talk about what they call “T-shaped” people. This is their example of a generalist and specialist. They look for people who are both generalists, being the arms outstretched and a specialist, the “vertical leg of the body”. They also ask questions such as: “Would I want this person to be my boss? And “Would I learn a significant amount from him or her?” when hiring. As a developer they understand that everyone learns throughout their career and that people within work learn life-long skills from working with one another. That is why they want generalists working together and learning one another’s specialist area as a general one.

Looking at Valve’s vision, it is interesting to see that they want people “higher up” in their business to learn from those who may appear insignificant. They, as many companies look for generalists who specialise, because they want to save money at the same time as having many of the skills in one place with the specialism in required areas. This view is understandable as it can avoid confusion between companies working with outsourcers as well as freelance artists who specialise in one specific field.


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