Owen mentioned that game companies rely heavily on institutional knowledge and not documented processes and procedures.
This happens at small businesses,consulting shops, non-profits and government agencies of various sizes. If the process is “we call Bob” its not a process, it is entirely dependent on Bob’s institutional or professional knowledge.
So this week I’m going to attempt to dump a little of my institutional knowledge on you. In my day job I do IT compliance and have my IT audited by outside entities.
During 2006 I took a class on the NSA-developed INFOSEC Assessment Methodology (IAM) which was all about interviewing people and reading documents to assess their Information Security practices. If you could interview the people in a company doing the work and they could explain what they did, but it wasn’t written down anywhere that was a “process in place, lacking documentation”. You’d write that up as a finding and something the entity being assessed would look into fixing. The real problem with unwritten procedures is everyone might do things differently and the company may lose the ability to function if the only person who knows how to do something leaves.
When I went to do an ISO 9000 certification for an entity they wanted:
- policies that say why you do things — we update our systems because security!
- processes that say how you do things — every month we update our software
- procedures that showed at a fine level of detail how you did specific things — specifically how we update Windows or Linux
- artifacts that showed you did the things outlined in the processes and procedures — evidence of monthly system patching
The ISO 9000 auditors came and read the 3Ps and then checked the artifacts. Your processes didn’t have to be the best, most efficient, or even good, you just had to demonstrate you followed them and you passed. Consequently the company did IT Consulting, they documented how employees were given benefits by HR and how the IT Operations were maintained. The company’s core business was bidding on IT contracts and then performing whatever consulting work was required, none of the core business functions were documented and individual contract performance was heavily dependent on the institutional or professional knowledge of the individuals doing the work.
This problem appears over and over again in all kinds of knowledge work where they may not be a common body of knowledge.
Policies have a lot to do with written legal authority, if management wants a thing done they write a policy. Thinking kind of simply here, I don’t think game publishers probably need a policy to say why they write or publish books.
I believe game companies might benefit from some written processes to say how they develop, write and publish books.
I believe game companies benefit from style guides that nail down details of how work should be submitted as part of the process of making books. Getting Artists and Writers to work to a known set of guidelines saves trouble later when the book is in layout and can’t be printed without rework from the artists that sent in low resolution images in the wrong format and the printer can’t use them at all. The style guide for your fantasy books and science fiction books might be different, the artist submission guidelines which are dictated by printing realities might be the same for both.
As far as artifacts go, I don’t know if RPG companies have checklists they use before a book goes to print, there might be lots of artifacts (sign-off approval sheets) created to ensure the book is as good as you can make it and weird things still happen at the printer, like the Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide.
Last year I took a class on Agile, I’d read books on Agile (Video) Game Design, but my employer had a training opportunity and so I went to class and now I’m an Agile Institute certified something. In the Agile process you have:
a backlog is a list of things you need either requirements provided by users or things that have grown out of other project requirements.
a sprint is a collection of features or requirements from the backlog to be worked on over a specified period or time
Someone making a Bestiary or Monster Manual might have 300+ requirements for creature stat blocks, 100+ requirements for creature artwork and a dependency for someone to work out the math that balances the strength of various creatures.
I pick this specific example because in order for both the D&D 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual or Pathfinder Core Rulebook and Bestiary to launch at approximately the same times they both needed monsters and monster building rules.
Some people on the internet have said that the creatures in the 5e Monster Manual do not fit the guidelines for monster building in the DMG. I do not know if the creatures in the Pathfinder 2e Bestiary are all reflective of the monster building rules in the back of the bestiary, but logically it would make sense it would be easier for the monster writers to write monsters if they knew what the math involved should look like. BUT
Sometimes you do not know what the monster math should look like until you have some monsters and characters to playtest with. So you need rough character class progression math, rough monster progression math and then some playtesting to challenge all the math working together and then you can have monster building math to populate your Monster Manual or Bestiary. People on the internet have said that using the encounter design rules in the DMG and monsters from the Monster Manual gives you fights that are too easy because the creatures in the MM are underpowered for their CR. Other people on the internet have said that the creatures in Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are much closer to the DMG math.
Starfinder didn’t have NPC or Monster building math until the first Alien Archive book and so people with the Core Book had to have their players face other player character style challenges or use the 13 sample creatures in the Free RPG day book First Contact. That was not a lot to go on for a book that sold out day 1 at GenCon and I would not recommend it as a strategy.
acceptance criteria in agile are how people know when a requirement is met, game companies could easily include their style guides as part of that criteria and in the definition of done. In this example when the art or writing assignment moves from To Do — Doing to Done then the money people can stroke them a check. Writers and Artists in the industry often have to wait for other parts of the work to be done, for the book to publish, all sorts of things beyond the freelancer’s control are holding up their rent money.
Business Analysis Techniques
MoSCoW method for prioritizing requirements uses the following big buckets to organize development priorities
- Must have
- Should Have
- Could have
- Won’t have this time
In addition to the institutional knowledge thing I assume a lot of the mid sized game companies won’t miss one person dropping out and cratering a company because so many folks wear multiple hats and are cross trained in those jobs. You don’t suffer single points of failure, but you don’t benefit from specialization.
I believe game companies could benefit from some documentation and workflow structure, but would not need all of the amount of detail available. Jolly Blackburn mentioned losing a partner who was the only person that did a lot of things and it took them 10 months to recover.
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