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It’s funny what a few words can mean to somebody.

Especially when those words involve your name at the end of a game you’ve worked on.

Gamasutra has a feature up on that topic, with comments from Mark Jacobs, CEO of Mythic, Jen MacLean, chair of the IGDA board, and Doug Lombardi, dude at Valve.

It is perhaps unsurprising that most studio heads have opinions like some of those presented in the article. They’re simply not directly affected by the problem. The notion that people can avoid working at places that don’t have reasonable crediting policies is a myth, because the large majority of studios do exactly what Mythic used to. If you want to work for somebody else in the game industry it’s pretty hard to avoid it. Kudos to Mythic & Mark Jacobs for making a change and treating the work of all of its employees with the respect it deserves.

Admittedly the reason accreditation is important to me is my own story. I went to work for Radical in April  2003, on a project that soon became Scarface: The World is Yours. I worked there for over 2 years, about a year and a half of which was crunch. At that point, Scarface got extended for another year, and I just couldn’t take the physical toll – severe tendonitis in my wrists (all better now thankfully), as well as back & neck pain (that I unfortunately still have problems with). I tried to find another position at Radical, but none of the projects really interested me (Prototype barely being more than a twinkle in Dennis Detwiller’s eyes).

When Scarface shipped of course, I was credited under Special Thanks. That was a step above a lot of studios that simply wouldn’t have given any credit for someone who left before the game shipped. Now in the year or so after I left, lots of people worked on the game, but while I was there I busted my ass to make the game as good as it could be. And for a while, I admit, I was kinda pissed, but it’s not like Radical was doing anything different from the rest of the industry. And it’s easy to point fingers, but that’s not solving the problem when the core of it is that we don’t treat our own work with respect.

And that’s it, that’s the bottom line, respect. However I continue to be amazed by the array of silly arguments being paraded before progress on this front. For instance:

The effort – a standard actually simplifies the work a studio has to do, since it removes any and all discussion of what is fair and proper (by saying this is what is fair and proper!). Any standard will have problems, but then it’s a discussion about the standards and not more finger pointing.

The space – This one trivializes all the work employees do. You mean to tell me even one month of creative work is not worth 4 or 5 words, one line of text? A few bytes of a download?

The latest, perhaps most desperate one yet, that standards represent the stifling of a studio’s artistic choice in how to present their credits. You know what? You can list credits in whatever manner you deem to be fitting, like putting them in the beginning (who would actually use this as an argument against credit standards?) or listing names with no titles. Perfectly fine. However there’s miniscule effort involved to also list credits in accordance with an established standard. Is your studio’s artistic choice to emphasize the equality of everyone one on the staff worth holding an entire industry back in terms of gaining the respect we should have for our creative work?

You’d think I would be a fan of the work the IGDA does towards this goal. Not so much. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I cancelled my membership this year. The one value I want the IGDA to provide, because it’s the best entity currently in a position to do so, and it’s continually failed at it.

While MacLean may use the press & her position as IGDA chair to criticize studios that don’t credit employees’ work, the IGDA as a body doesn’t do what it actually could to work on the problem (plus I’m not sure finger pointing at single studios here is even fair or constructive when it’s so widespread). Granted the IGDA does not have many tools at its disposal to enforce a crediting standard, but as far as I am aware, it doesn’t even use the tools it does have.

Member studios pay money to join the IGDA and give membership to all their employees. The IGDA could simply revoke studio memberships for those that don’t apply the crediting standard (which is pretty loose anyway). Granted, that’s a bit of work to review credit lists, but as the only other value I received being an IGDA member was an invite to the party at GDC, I’d much rather have my membership dues go to the former than the latter. That’s why they’re not getting my dues anymore.

What else can be done about it? Take the time to write a few simple words of your own, like Manveer Heir of Design Rampage. Write a letter to your company heads telling them why their studio will attract higher quality employees the more they respect the work their employees do. You may not yet have the freedom to choose a job that respects employees work through their credits, but it’s worth taking the time to communicate the problem – we as an industry (and any studio that doesn’t credit fairly) are worth nothing if we can’t even pay simple basic respect to the people that move the industry forward.

So again, good for Mythic on its new crediting policy. Hopefully this great example will lead the discussion for the rest of EA as well as the rest of the industry.

It is after all, just a few words.

14 Responses to A few simple words.

  • Good brain dump on the credits debate. Sad that we lost you as a member. Why not offer to get involved, instead of walking away from the org? Largely, we are bottom-up, volunteer driven (everyone involved in the credit standards effort is a volunteer developer, BTW).

    Any specific advice, or help lifting the load would be greatly appreciated. Just walking away doesn’t help.

    Oh, and BTW, the standards are still in “beta” hence the lack of widespread roll-out, enforcement, etc.

  • Borut says:

    Very valid criticism, Jason, thanks for commenting. I sent my collected thoughts to Jen when I decided not to renew, if I can find the mail I’ll pass them along to you as well. At the core of it, from my perspective, the IGDA is pretty far away from serving my needs as a game developer, so I don’t realistically think one extra voice is going to accomplish any change in direction.

    Especially given that I am of a much more radical mindset than most developers (ie. pro-union), and I don’t think that’s something the IGDA really wants to become. But that’s what I want as an established professional, a group that’s going to fight for for my rights as a creative worker, even if I have to pay hundreds more in dues.

    I know the standards are in beta,
    but they’ve been that way for a long time, no? No reason to not make them the real thing, imo. Even if they’re flawed in some capacity, a less than wonderful standard is infinitely better than no standard at all. Granted if there was any process required (in terms of review) that might be slower to rollout, but honestly what’s the hold up? If it’s waiting for studios to accept it and approve it, then it will continue to drag out.

  • Manveer Heir says:

    I’m curious what studios have dedicated themselves to use the current beta standard as well. Jason, any insight there?

    The problem with revoking memberships for Member Studios is that I’m not convinced they are going to lose enough out of the deal. You can look at Activision and a ton of other companies dropping from the ESA as evidence that the companies think they can exist without these professional organizations.

    In my opinion, if we get a good amount of the top tiered developers (Valve, Blizzard, Epic, etc) to publically adopt the crediting organization, you have them become leaders. Then the “lesser” studios can say “well we want to compete with these guys, we need to offer the same benefits, which includes credits”

  • @Manveer: Good question, the committee chair, John Feil, would know which studios are working with the standards. There are a handful, but certainly not widespread yet.

    @Borut: Points taken. Indeed, we do need to ratchet things up. We’re working on it :)

  • Borut says:

    Manveer – Oh yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that such a move (kicking out emmber studios that don’t follow the standard) was somehow sufficient for making this a reality, just that it was the main punishinment the IGDA could currently give.

    I think it’s important to at least take that step as a symbolic one, though – otherwise the message is that hey there’s there’s cool standard everybody should follow, but it doesn’t really matter to us if you don’t.

    Although I’m not sure getting studios like Valve, Blizzard, etc. is going to be the way this happens – I think the big studios are going to think similarly to Valve in that they won’t really care because it’s not a problem for them. And then “lesser” studios aren’t going to pay attention because they’ve already given up competing with the Blizzards & Valves – their mindset might just be “well that’s something only they can afford to do”, as it is on many other fronts.

    I think the more realistic way it’s going to happen, believe it or not, is if EA or Activision as a whole adopt a policy – then the other will have to out of sheer competition. As soon as one does, the other will, and then you have a significant portion of the industry covered outside of the platform holders.

  • Manveer Heir says:

    Well I can’t speak for Activision as a whole or even Raven, but I am going to push for good crediting on the game I’m working on, as there are a lot of people no longer with the studio who worked on the game in some form and I think they at least merit a “special thanks”.

    I doubt it’ll be the IGDA standard, just because honestly that’s a hard sell (there’s always a political aspect to the credits debate). Maybe it goes over well and it becomes more studio wide? Then maybe Activision will take that as a policy? All wishful thinking I know…

    How else can we get these studios to change policy from the inside? Or is publicly calling people out the way to go? Cuz honestly, if we called out ever studio for bad crediting, watch how fast we are blacklisted from some studios…

  • Borut says:

    Yeah, pointing out studios that don’t credit properly is tough. Even pointing out ones that do is difficult – when I was at SOE the tech director on my team took the effort to properly credit anybody that left, but I’m not sure if that was consistent across all the disciplines, and that wasn’t a company policy that I know of so who knows if other teams there did it – so it’s tough to even hold up good examples since it’s so unstandardized and difficult to verify.

    But beyond letter-writing and blogging, most of the solutions tend to veer in the direction of “how would you start a union”, which would have many more challenges.

  • Reid Kimball says:

    I’d like to see developers have more fun with the credits, the way movies do sometimes creating a credit sequence at the beginning of a film. This way, more people will be likely to watch and pay attention to some of the names.

    That’s part it, we need more people especially devs to care about OTHER people’s credits and not only their own name. Take the time to watch the credits of many games to show respect to people that worked on it. When an inspired credit sequence appears in a game, talk about it with others to generate more interest. Do something unique and make your games’ credits interactive.

  • Manveer Heir says:

    That doesn’t really address the core problem though.

    If I watch an awesome Credits sequence, like the one in Fight Club in a game I have no idea that Borut wasn’t credited when he should have. It doesn’t affect me watching it that the incorrect people were credited.

    A cool credit sequence, in my mind, is separate from this debate which is proper crediting.

  • Sean Barrett says:

    “honestly that’s a hard sell (there’s always a political aspect to the credits debate).”

    But that’s the problem! Who worked on a project is a matter of fact, not a matter of politics. I guess the idea that credits _should_ be fact-based is political, but I think that’s nuts to anyone _outside_ the industry, who just assumes they are factual.

    Unfortunately, I can’t entirely point to other creative industries to indicate that they’re entirely fact-based; movies had a long-standing thing against multiple directors (a rule forced by the directors’ guild) and still has lots of messiness with credits for screenwriters (again, because of rules of the screenwriters’ guild). (Which is another thing to keep in mind with unions–for every good thing they bring to the table, they seem to bring another two bad ones.)

  • Borut says:

    The problem is definitions are pretty slippery, not just for people that work in certain roles for only part of the project, but even as to definition of what certain roles do (like technical director vs. lead programmer – some places it’s the same thing, some places it’s different). That’s really what a standard can help reduce (although it’ll always be a problem as you point out).

    The multiple directors example though is great argument *for* unions. Look, any co-director that is screwed over for not receiving exact credit for his work is in exactly the same place he would be without a union – no guarantee of receiving proper credit. But every single director is protected. It’s not that unions don’t bring their own problems, but the scope of the problems they solve is so much bigger than scope of the problems they introduce.

  • Sean Barrett says:

    Man, I knew I should have left out that parenthetical aside to avoid derailing the conversation, but ok:

    As to the example, that’s absolutely not true. Until the rules changed, a second director was actually in a worse position on the credits front, because the DGA (union) rules _forbade_ crediting multiple directors. Without the union, as you say, the co-director had no guarantee of receiving proper credit. With the union, the co-director was absolutely guaranteed to not receive proper credit. (Absent shenanigans like one of the directors legally changing his name temporarily to ‘Zuckers and Abraham’.) The “offsetting benefit” is different; according to wikipedia, the benefit is that it avoids non-directors getting handed director credit the way the producer credit is thrown around now. (The DGA has changed the rules to allow ‘directing teams’, but it’s still contentious.)

    A similar thing abides with the current WGA rules, which place an absolute maximum on the number of writers who can receive credit. And simultaneously, as I understand it, the WGA mandates linking bonuses to receiving screen credit, thus absolutely guaranteeing excess contentiousness over credits.

    I’m not saying unions do no good. I’m saying for every good union story I’ve heard, I’ve heard a bad union story — from someone in the union.