Video game developer

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A video game developer is a software developer that specializes in video game development – the process and related disciplines of creating video games. [1] [2] A game developer can range from one person who undertakes all tasks [3] to a large business with employee responsibilities split between individual disciplines, such as programming, design, art, testing, etc. Most game development companies have video game publisher financial and usually marketing support. [4] Self-funded developers are known as independent or indie developers and usually make indie games. [5]

A software developer is a person concerned with facets of the software development process, including the research, design, programming, and testing of computer software. Other job titles which are often used with similar meanings are programmer, software analyst, and software engineer.

Video game development is the process of creating a video game. The effort is undertaken by a game developer, who may range from a single person to an international team dispersed across the globe. Traditional commercial PC and console games are normally funded by a publisher, and can take several years to reach completion. Indie games can take less time and can be produced at a lower cost by individuals and smaller developers. The independent game industry has seen a substantial rise in recent years with the growth of new online distribution systems, such as Steam and Uplay, as well as the mobile game market, such as for Android and iOS devices.

Game programming, a subset of game development, is the software development of video games. Game programming requires substantial skill in software engineering as well as specialization in one or more of the following areas, which overlap heavily to create a game: simulation, computer graphics, artificial intelligence, physics, audio programming, and input. For massively multiplayer online games, additional areas, such as network programming and database programming are often included. Though often engaged in by professional game programmers, many novices may program games as a hobby.

Contents

A developer may specialize in a certain video game console (such as Nintendo's Nintendo Switch, Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4), or may develop for a number of systems (including personal computers and mobile devices).[ citation needed ] Video-game developers specialize in certain types of games (such as role-playing video games or first-person shooters). Some focus on porting games from one system to another, or translating games from one language to another. Less commonly, some do software-development work in addition to games.

A video game console is a computer device that outputs a video signal or visual image to display a video game that one or more people can play.

Nintendo Japanese video game company

Nintendo Co., Ltd. is a Japanese multinational consumer electronics and video game company headquartered in Kyoto. Nintendo is one of the world's largest video game companies by market capitalization, creating some of the best-known and top-selling video game franchises, such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon.

Nintendo Switch hybrid video game console by Nintendo

The Nintendo Switch, commonly abbreviated as the Switch, is a video game console developed by Nintendo and was released on March 3, 2017. It is a hybrid console that can be used in both stationary and portable settings. In the home console mode, the main unit is inserted onto a docking station to connect to a television screen or monitor. Alternatively, for portable use, it can be removed from the dock and operated similarly to a tablet computer through its LCD touchscreen. It can also be placed in a standalone tabletop mode visible to several players. Its wireless Joy-Con controllers, which include standard buttons and directional analog sticks for user input, motion sensing, and high-definition tactile feedback, can attach to both sides of the console to support handheld-style play. They can also connect to a Grip accessory to provide a traditional home console gamepad form, or be used individually in the hand like the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, supporting local multiplayer modes. The Nintendo Switch's software supports online gaming through standard Internet connectivity, as well as local wireless ad hoc connectivity with other Switch consoles. Nintendo Switch games and software are available on both physical flash-based ROM cartridges and digital distribution via Nintendo eShop; the system does not use region locking. The Nintendo Switch competes on the console gaming market with contemporaries being Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4.

Most video game publishers maintain development studios (such as Electronic Arts's EA Canada, Square Enix's studios, Activision's Radical Entertainment, Nintendo EAD and Sony's Polyphony Digital and Naughty Dog). However, since publishing is still their primary activity they are generally described as "publishers" rather than "developers". Developers may be private as well (such as how Bungie was, the company which developed the Halo series exclusive to Microsoft's Xbox).

A video game publisher is a company that publishes video games that have been developed either internally by the publisher or externally by a video game developer. As with book publishers or publishers of DVD movies, video game publishers are responsible for their product's manufacturing and marketing, including market research and all aspects of advertising.

Electronic Arts American interactive entertainment company

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) is an American video game company headquartered in Redwood City, California. Founded and incorporated on May 28, 1982 by Trip Hawkins, the company was a pioneer of the early home computer games industry and was notable for promoting the designers and programmers responsible for its games. As of March 2018, Electronic Arts is the second-largest gaming company in the Americas and Europe by revenue and market capitalization after Activision Blizzard and ahead of Take-Two Interactive and Ubisoft.

Square Enix Japanese video game developer, publisher, and distribution company

Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd. is a Japanese video game developer, publisher, and distribution company known for its Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts role-playing video game franchises, among numerous others. Several of them have sold over 10 million copies worldwide, with the Final Fantasy franchise alone selling over 115 million. The Square Enix headquarters are in the Shinjuku Eastside Square Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company employs over 4300 employees worldwide.

Types

First-party developer

In the video game industry, a first-party developer is part of a company which manufactures a video game console and develops exclusively for it. First-party developers may use the name of the company itself (such as Nintendo), have a specific division name (such as Sony's Polyphony Digital) or have been an independent studio before being acquired by the console manufacturer (such as Rare or Naughty Dog). [6] Whether by purchasing an independent studio or by founding a new team, the acquisition of a first-party developer involves a huge financial investment on the part of the console manufacturer, which is wasted if the developer fails to produce a hit game in a timely manner. [7] However, using first-party developers saves the cost of having to make royalty payments on a game's profits. [7]

The video game industry is the economic sector involved in the development, marketing, and monetization of video games. It encompasses dozens of job disciplines and its component parts employ thousands of people worldwide.

Polyphony Digital internal video game development studio of Sony Computer Entertainment

Polyphony Digital is an internal Japanese first-party video game development studio of Sony Interactive Entertainment, part of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, which in turn is owned by multinational conglomerate Sony. Originally a development group within Sony Computer Entertainment known as Polys Entertainment, after the success of Gran Turismo in Japan, they were granted greater autonomy and their name changed to Polyphony Digital. Polyphony currently has 5 studios in Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Rare (company) video game developer

Rare Limited is a British video game developer and a subsidiary of Microsoft Studios based in Twycross, England. Rare is known for its platform games, which include the Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker series, although the studio does not adhere to specific genres and has developed games in the first-person shooter, action-adventure, fighting, and racing genres.

Second-party developer

Second-party developer is a colloquial term often used by gaming enthusiasts and media to describe game studios who take development contracts from platform holders and produce games exclusive to that platform. [8] As a balance to not being able to release their game for other platforms, second-party developers are usually offered higher royalty rates than third-party developers. [7] These studios may have exclusive publishing agreements (or other business relationships) with the platform holder, but maintain independence so upon completion or termination of their contracts are able to continue developing games. Examples are Insomniac Games (originally a 2nd party for Sony), Bungie (originally a 2nd party for Microsoft) and Rareware (originally a 2nd party for Nintendo).

Insomniac Games, Inc. is an American video game developer based in Burbank, California. It was founded in 1994 by Ted Price as Xtreme Software, and was renamed Insomniac Games a year later. The company is most known for developing several early PlayStation mascots, Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet, and Clank, as well as the Resistance franchise, 2014's Sunset Overdrive and 2018's Spider-Man.

Bungie, Inc. is an American video game developer based in Bellevue, Washington. The company was established in May 1991 by Alex Seropian, who later brought in programmer Jason Jones after publishing Jones' game Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete. Originally based in Chicago, Illinois, the company concentrated on Macintosh games during its early years and created two successful video game franchises called Marathon and Myth. An offshoot studio, Bungie West, produced Oni, published in 2001 and owned by Take-Two Interactive, which held a 19.9% ownership stake at the time.

Third-party developers

Activision in 1979 became the first third-party video game developer, [9] where the term "second-party" originally referred to the consumers. A third-party developer may also publish games, or work for a video game publisher to develop a title. Both publisher and developer have considerable input in the game's design and content. However, the publisher's wishes generally override those of the developer.

Activision American computer- and video game publisher

Activision Publishing, Inc. is an American video game publisher based in Santa Monica. It currently serves as the publishing business for its parent company, Activision Blizzard, and consists of several subsidiary studios. As of January 2017, Activision is one of the largest third-party video game publishers in the world and was the top publisher for 2016 in the United States.

Game design is the art of applying design and aesthetics to create a game for entertainment or for educational, exercise, or experimental purposes. Increasingly, elements and principles of game design are also applied to other interactions, particularly virtual ones.

The business arrangement between the developer and publisher is governed by a contract, which specifies a list of milestones intended to be delivered over a period of time. By updating its milestones, the publisher verifies that work is progressing quickly enough to meet its deadline and can direct the developer if the game is not meeting expectations. When each milestone is completed (and accepted), the publisher pays the developer an advance on royalties. Successful developers may maintain several teams working on different games for different publishers. Generally, however, third-party developers tend to be small, close-knit teams. Third-party game development is a volatile sector, since small developers may be dependent on income from a single publisher; one canceled game may be devastating to a small developer. Because of this, many small development companies are short-lived.

A common exit strategy for a successful video-game developer is to sell the company to a publisher, becoming an in-house developer. In-house development teams tend to have more freedom in the design and content of a game compared to third-party developers. One reason is that since the developers are employees of the publisher, their interests are aligned with those of the publisher; the publisher may spend less effort ensuring that the developer's decisions do not enrich the developer at the publisher's expense.

In recent years, larger publishers have acquired several third-party developers. While these development teams are now technically "in-house", they often continue to operate in an autonomous manner (with their own culture and work practices). For example, Activision acquired Raven (1997); Neversoft (1999), which merged with Infinity Ward in 2014; Z-Axis (2001); Treyarch (2001); Luxoflux (2002); Shaba (2002); Infinity Ward (2003) and Vicarious Visions (2005). All these developers continue operating much as they did before acquisition, the primary differences being exclusivity and financial details. Publishers tend to be more forgiving of their own development teams going over budget (or missing deadlines) than third-party developers.

A developer may not be the primary entity creating a piece of software, usually providing an external software tool which helps organize (or use) information for the primary software product. Such tools may be a database, Voice over IP, or add-in interface software; this is also known as middleware. Examples of this include SpeedTree and Havoc.

Indie game developers

Independents are software developers which are not owned by (or dependent on) a single publisher. Some of these developers self-publish their games, relying on the Internet and word of mouth for publicity. Without the large marketing budgets of mainstream publishers, their products may receive less recognition than those of larger publishers such as Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. With the advent of digital distribution of inexpensive games on game consoles, it is now possible for indie game developers to forge agreements with console manufacturers for broad distribution of their games.

Other indie game developers create game software for a number of video-game publishers on several gaming platforms.[ citation needed ] In recent years this model has been in decline; larger publishers, such as Electronic Arts and Activision, increasingly turn to internal studios (usually former independent developers acquired for their development needs).[ citation needed ]

Quality of life

Video-game development is usually conducted in a casual business environment, with T-shirts and sandals common work attire. Many workers find this type of environment rewarding and pleasant professionally and personally. [10] However, the industry also requires long working hours from its employees (sometimes to an extent seen as unsustainable). [11] Employee burnout is not uncommon. [10]

An entry-level programmer can make, on average, over $66,000 annually only if they are successful in obtaining a position in a medium to large video game company. [12] An experienced game-development employee, depending on his or her expertise and experience, averaged roughly $73,000 in 2007. [13] Indie game developers may only earn between $10,000 to $50,000 a year depending on how financially successful their titles are. [14]

In addition to being part of the software industry [ citation needed ], game development is also within the entertainment industry; most sectors of the entertainment industry (such as films and television) require long working hours and dedication from their employees, such as willingness to relocate and/or required to develop games that do not appeal to their personal taste. The creative rewards of work in the entertainment business attracts labor to the industry, creating a competitive labor market which demands a high level of commitment and performance from employees. Industry communities, such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), are conducting increasing discussions about the problem; they are concerned that working conditions in the industry cause significant deterioration in its employees' quality of life. [15] [16]

"Crunch time"

Some video game developers (such as Electronic Arts) have been accused of the excessive invocation of "crunch time". [17] "Crunch time" is the point at which the team is thought to be failing to achieve milestones needed to launch a game on schedule. The complexity of work flow and the intangibles of artistic and aesthetic demands in video-game creation create difficulty in predicting milestones.

Most game-development engineers and artists in the United States are considered salaried employees; as "exempt non-hourly-paid professionals", they are not subject to state laws governing overtime. [18] An exception is California, where software developers are specifically protected by a minimum hourly wage to be considered exempt. [19] In 2008, due to the amendment to California Labor Code Section 515.5 by Bill SB 929, [20] the minimum wage was $36 per hour (or $74,880 per year).

Attention to "crunching" was drawn by a 2004 blog post entitled ea_spouse. [21] The protest against crunch time was posted by Erin Hoffman (fiancée of Electronic Arts developer Leander Hasty), who contended that her life was being indirectly destroyed by the company's work policy. This led to debate in the industry but no visible changes until March 2005, when Electronic Arts announced internally that it was planning to extend overtime pay to some employees not currently eligible. As senior game developers age and family responsibilities become more important, many companies are moderating the worst crunch-time practices to attract better-quality staff. [22]

A similar situation was brought to light in January 2010, when a collective group of "Rockstar Spouses", the spouses of developers at Rockstar San Diego, posted an open letter criticizing the management of the studio for deteriorating working conditions for their significant other since March 2009, which included excessive crunch time. This was followed by several former Rockstar employees posting similar complaints of their time there. [23] [24] The International Game Developers Association considered that Rockstar's working conditions were exploitative and harmful. [25] A similar concern of crunch time at the same studio arose near the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 in October 2018. [26]

Crunch time may or may not hamper a game's quality. Despite the crunch, both Red Dead Redemption games above were critically praised; similarly, Retro Studios' Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes , both which included periods of crunch time, [27] [28] [29] are also recognized as high-quality games that were critically acclaimed upon release. [30] [31] On the other hand, Sonic Team's 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game was rushed in development to meet deadlines for holiday sales that year, suffering in quality, and has become known as one of poorest-received video games. [32] More recent, crunch time at Starbreeze Studios and Overkill Software in developing Overkill's The Walking Dead , principally from multiple switches in game engine requiring nearly full restarts each time, led to a product that was critically panned for its quality and gameplay, and left both studios in financial distress. [33]

Unionization

Similar to other tech industries, video game developers are typically not unionized. This is a result of the industry being driven more by creativity and innovation rather than production, the lack of distinction between management and employees in the white-collar area, and that the pace at which the industry moves that makes union actions difficult to plan out. [34] However, when situations related to crunch time become prevalent in the news, there have typically been followup discussions towards the potential to form a union. [34] A survey performed by the International Game Developers Association in 2014 found that more than half of the 2,200 developers surveyed favored unionization. [35]

In 2016, voice actors in the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) union doing work for video games struck several major publishers, demanding better royalty payments and provisions related to the safety of their vocal performances, when their union's standard contract was up for renewal. The voice actor strike lasted for over 300 days into 2017 before a new deal was made between SAG-AFTRA and the publishers. While this had some effects on a few games within the industry, it brought to the forefront the question of whether video game developers should unionize. [34] [36] [37]

A grassroots movement, Game Workers Unite, was established around 2017 to discuss and debate issues related to unionization of game developers. The group came to the forefront during the March 2018 Game Developers Conference by holding a roundtable discussion with the International Game Developers Association (IDGA), the professional association for developers. Statements made by the IDGA's current executive director Jen MacLean relating to IGDA's activities had been seen by as anti-union, and Game Workers Unite desired to start a conversation to lay out the need for developers to unionize. [38] In the wake of the sudden near-closure of Telltale Games in September 2018, the movement again called out for the industry to unionize. The movement argued that Telltale had not given any warning to its 250 employees let go, having hired additional staff as recently as a week prior, and left them without pensions or health-care options; it was further argued that the studio considered this a closure rather than layoffs, as to get around failure to notify required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 preceding layoffs. [39] The situation was argued to be "exploitive", as Telltale had been known to force its employees to frequently work under "crunch time" to deliver its games. [40] By the end of 2018, a United Kingdom trade union, Game Workers Unite UK, an affliate of the Game Workers Unite movement, has been legally established. [41]

A survey of over 4,000 game developers run by the Game Developers Conference in early 2019 found that 47% of respondents felt the video game industry should unionize. [42]

Following Activision Blizzard's financial report for the previous quarter in February 2019, the company said that they would be laying off around 775 employees (about 8% of their workforce) despite having record profits for that quarter. Further calls for unionization came from this news, including the AFL-CIO writing an open letter to video game developers encouraging them to unionize. [43]

Women in game development

In 1989, according to Variety , women constituted only 3% of the gaming industry. [44] In 2013, Gary Carr (the creative director of Lionhead Studios) predicted that within the next 5 to 10 years, the games development workforce would be 50% female. [44] According to Gamasutra's Game Developer Salary Survey 2014, women in the United States made 86 cents for every dollar men made. Game designing women had the closest equity, making 96 cents for every dollar men made in the same job, while audio professional women had the largest gap, making 68% of what men in the same position made. [45]

See also

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