A Crisis of Faith

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Animal Rescue

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My sister is a kennel manager for a local humane society. She has a tough job, they all do there. It's not just that they fight against community apathy to save the lives of animals every day; they also often have to fight each other. It's one of those startling parallels between her job and my job as a creative director in the games industry.

I should probably explain what I mean by "fight each other" before I go on much further: Everyone comes onto a project, or into a new workplace, with their own goals and agendas. Most of the time, these individualized ambitions are in accord, if not harmony; that is to say, they usually don't get in the way.

Usually...

At least once a project, there will come a time when the people that make decisions cannot decide. This moment won' occur because the choices are difficult to make and they won't occur because the best answer isn't obvious. They will occur because the decision will force one of these agendas to die, no matter what decision is made. I've been that guy, so don't think I judge myself any better. In fact, I know because I've been that guy.

This must be true everywhere, but I've only really just considered it. Working in the games industry is sheltered. It's very easy to think our unique creative endeavors must also mean our situations and experiences are themselves unique, or special. They really aren't though - it's always going to come down to someone throwing a wrench in the works because they've come to the point where they realize that they aren't going to get their way.

In a shelter's case, lives are on the line. Sure, not human lives, but does that really matter? When a studio reboots a project three times because there's no cohesive vision, the only thing that dies is hope. What about when a shelter can't decide what to do with an overabundance of animals?

My sister tells me stories from her work whenever we get together to talk. She's incredibly passionate about what she does. All shelter folk are, I'd imagine. You'd have to be. They work for absurdly low pay in comparison to their responsibilities, they suffer long hours and they deal with heartbreak day in and day out. Kinda like... game developers, only way more tear-inducing.

I jest, but not about their situation. I make light of the comparison. People who will work for minimum wage at a shelter and then come back and volunteer there in their spare time have way more of my respect than any designer I know, no matter how awesome. My point is that I'm aware of the absurdity of scale, but the comparison is true, despite this.

It's a pretty well-known truism that we game developers make less than our counterparts outside of games. We're not ignorant of this fact: It's our passion for what we do that brings us back to it. Much like a person's love for animals leads to the sort of dedication that has them walking to the shelter in a blizzard to make sure the animals are fed.

It's also well known that we crunch. We're getting better as an industry, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. In shelters they crunch, too. We had a few forest fires out here last year - the folks at the local shelter were there all night caring for the pets of the families displaced by the fire. They rise to the challenge with remarkable - and alarming - regularity, in fact. My sister crunched more in 2010 than I did, and I launched a free-to-play rogue-like MMO with "Console quality graphics" in that time.

The parallels are there, but the stakes are oh so much higher for them, aren't they? So, does it surprise you to learn that, when agendas conflict they suffer through the same sorts of indecision and internal strife that dev teams go through? For every asshat producer that came onto your project right at the end to take all the credit -- and ruin its future -- there's a powerful, and wrong-headedly stubborn, donor who just dropped 6 months of animal care on the shelter... provided it's "spent right." You don't say know, do you? How can you? If it will keep our animals (or your project) alive, just that much longer, you do it, don't you?

But what happens to your project, or the lives of those animals, when these clashes cause the course to shift? What happens when a project that prides itself on never missing a milestone sudden can't push a patch in 3 months? What happens when a shelter with the highest feline live release rate in America can't change its tact when all the surrounding shelters begin waiving their adoption fees? Or, put more bleakly: What happens when your new producer or your new donor decides you don't need as many hands on deck?

The phrase is "many hands make light work," isn't it? Shelters and game projects share another similarity: Those hands are already lifting everything they can bear to hold, what happens to the rest when some of those hands let go?

On a game, it probably means you lost your shot at greatness. Sad and the end of a team in the long run, but survivable...

But in a shelter? How many animals die because someone's agenda prevents the right choices from being made?

I'll tell you one thing: I am both ashamed and a little appalled that the folks who decide the fate of lives get paid less than the folks who push pixels and mine fun.

- Snipehunter

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