Thursday, May 07, 2009

libraries for developers

For as long as I've been following the articles and comments of game designers, I've heard that good designers play many games. The most common reason given is, as Ian Fisch put it: "When the designers all have experience playing the relevant games, their ability to express ideas to one another is greatly enhanced." Ian also points out that hands-on experience with a game mechanic can often dispel misconceptions from abstract analysis.

The advice is good, but playing games isn't free. It costs money to buy or rent a game. It costs time.

Fisch argues that development companies should schedule play time to enable more exposure to ideas and implementations. It's a good idea, but that still leaves the other hurdle: money. Which is why I suggest development companies should keep game libraries. I bet many companies already have such libraries, but it could be a standard practice.

But why libraries? Why not just keep a list of all the games each designer owns and promote sharing?

Well, that's not a bad idea, but there are some snags. First, anyone who has much experience sharing things knows how those things don't always come back in prime condition. Different people have different standards of care, and unforeseen events regularly happen. Reimbursement can be complicated in private transactions. Second, different employees will have different consoles. Loaning consoles can be a burdensome task, and many people share their consoles with family and friends. Third, it's simply easier to track ownership when the games belong to the company. And lastly, employees should be able to choose what they spend money on. A library, by contrast, can provide games that are more educational than fun, without forcing anyone to purchase a game they don't really want. Veterans might have large enough salaries to afford a lot of job-related investments, but I doubt rookies do.

So what I'm suggesting is a company room in which a wide variety of games and platforms are both stored and played.

The company might even arrange meetings in which the whole development team, or whole departments, play through a particular game together and discuss that game's features. Such collective play sessions would help the designers understand each other's styles and biases (which would greatly facilitate debates about their own game's design issues). Those sessions would also provide a regular and structured means for senior designers to impart knowledge to the rookies; and vis versa.

Again, I expect some of this is already practiced. But should it be a standard practice? And how might the idea be improved, if it's a good one?

1 comment:

  1. I like that idea, of game libraries owned by the company. I wouldn't be surprised if there are already companies that do that.

    I'm actually about to start with this one startup, and we'll be doing collective play sessions of existing games, a lot like you suggest. :)


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