Behind the beautiful scenery of service-oriented games is Sisyphus’s desperate work

Before the developers, there is a mountain, a rock, and a work that can never be done.

In the comic “Backstreet Girl”, the Inukin group leader of the underworld has a classic line:

“After all, the old man is not a demon.”

Although he said this with an empathetic smile, the next thing to do is often squeeze regardless of the victim’s wishes. It’s like throwing three offenders to Thailand and transforming them into girls, or forcing them to become idols-behind a stage full of ribbons and lights, there is a prison-like “idol training room” and endless work.

The reason why this bridge was mentioned suddenly is because it reminds me of the experience of a game practitioner.

When Nathan Allen Ortega became the community manager of Telltale Games in 2015, he thought he had found his dream home. After all, the protagonist Rhys of Borderlands is one of his favorite characters. One, and the invitation is also a company that has a long-standing reputation for adapting IP and chapter-based works such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.

But Ortega was quickly overwhelmed by the heavy work, and his irregular work and rest caused him to get a stomach ulcer. After he was diagnosed with hemoptysis, the doctor advised him to resign immediately. Ortega clenched his teeth and persisted until he was mercilessly fired in a layoffs two years later.

Telltale’s most famous game is The Walking Dead

Whether it is overtime or layoffs, Telltale is facing high pressure to save himself, at least the former CEO Kevin Bruner (Kevin Bruner), who was kicked out by the board of directors a long time ago, thinks so. But this kind of self-help didn’t work in the end, instead, it was their crux. In October 2018, Telltale closed its doors after firing 250 employees, and Bruner took the old company to court.

Under high pressure

There are many reasons for Telltale’s sudden death, such as a single product line, poor technology, scale expansion regardless of cost, and serious internal friction. Another point is due to the type of game and business model they are good at: due to the need to sell according to chapters, this high-intensity update rhythm has brought tremendous pressure to employees, and the company’s performance has declined after 2014, everyone is We are on the verge of collapse.

As Bruner said in future interviews, Telltale’s game is more like the TV variety show “Saturday Night Live” (Saturday Night Live). The traditional game business model can continue to postpone the release date, but their budget is limited and cannot extend the product development cycle. In addition, the production of content in the form of chapter serialization also means that it must “release a program” at a fixed time.

“Saturday Night Live” was produced in 1975 to the present, every Saturday night NBC will broadcast this show

In his opinion, the reason why the quality of “Legend of Borderlands” did not succeed is largely because it was not released on time. The members of the studio are like a fleet that has crossed most of the English Channel and has no retreat, and can only move forward with the goal of the next chapter and the next. In the end, like snowballing, the quality of the game and the body of the developer are deteriorating day by day.

Although Telltale’s work is not strictly speaking a service-oriented game, the frequency of updates and the intensity of work it brings are no different. In 2016, they had six projects developed in parallel, which was too burdensome for a medium-sized studio.

Chapter-oriented games, so what about the service-based games that have suddenly emerged in recent years and have become popular? You will find that most of the teams behind them are like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up a steep mountain, and every time you use your best to achieve the goal, the stone will slip out of your hands-the new season is coming, new heroes appear, New skins are launched.

Sisyphus by Hugo Puzzuoli for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Service-oriented games are the result of market choice. “Team Fortress 2” is a typical example of keeping revenue alive through regular updates. Since 2007, weapons, maps, and exterior decorations have been continuously introduced, and finally switched to a free mode. Designer Robin Walker bluntly stated that “the more players, the greater the value”, relevant experience has also affected “CS:GO” and “Dota 2”.

At the most exaggerated time, the optional heroes of “League of Legends” can be changed every January. In 2013, the developer Riot had 1,000 employees to fully support the game. Even so, at the time, a contract worker still complained on the employer evaluation website Glassdoor: “I was suddenly told that my job did not meet the standards. If I want to keep my job, I need to work more than 100 hours a week.”

100 hours of work may be normal for the people in the “Fortress Night” project team. This work was completely divided before and after the launch of the “Eating Chicken” mode.

Although domestic players are not too cold on “Fortnite”, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon overseas. Not only can it bring Epic millions of dollars in revenue every day, a group of top anchors made with this have already become multi-millionaires. The game is on a weekly basis, and the gameplay, skins, weapons and linkage characters are constantly updated, which is more diligent than traditional MMORPG.

Recently Kui Ye also joined “Fortress Night”

However, in an interview in Polygon, a group of Epic employees revealed the other side behind the beautiful scenery.

Someone said: “For such service-oriented games, overtime will never end. You are always creating more content.”

Someone said: “I work at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I have maintained this state for at least 4 to 5 months.”

Others said: “I work an average of 70 hours a week. At least 50 to 100 people work at Epic and I at the same time. I also know some people who work 100 hours a week.”

In fact, it is not difficult to imagine that “Fortress Night” is a cross-platform online game that supports seven platforms. It is prone to errors. The Unreal Engine team racked their brains to achieve the goal of 60 FPS widely. In order to maintain the momentum of development, a considerable number of people from other departments in Epic were forced to move to this project. The executives required immediate response to the bug, while at the same time not neglecting the content update.

As the game became more and more popular, the preparation time for new feature development was gradually compressed from one month to one day. Compulsory overtime is everywhere, and marketers often make promises without preserving most of the spare time.

So the phenomenon mentioned by a source is not surprising: “I know that some people refuse to work overtime on weekends, and then some content updates are overdue, because their part of the work is not completed, and then these people are fired. .”

“Fortress Night” is just a joint animation campaign “against the Planet Devourers”, setting a record of 15.3 million players online at the same time

The jobs of regular workers are at stake under high pressure, and the situation of contract workers and contractors is self-evident. A member who had outsourced QA for “Fortnite” said: “After 8 hours of get off work, ask the leader if he can get off work. He will look at me like a fool.”

Contract workers are signed for three months to one year. If they do not work hard, Party A may change at any time. Therefore, the European and American game industry has a ridiculous name for contract workers: Bodies-the original meaning is the body, but here it has the meaning of a corpse, which means that it can be disposed of immediately after it is used up.

Frankly speaking, Epic did not have a lot of black material on the company’s treatment and welfare in the past, and they are not notorious for squeezing employees. Everything can be said to be the pressure of service games. In 2016, a year before the “Eating Chicken” mode of “Fortress Night” was launched, Epic tried to reduce the burden on the QA department with an automated system. However, this project was shelved after “Chicken” became popular, and the company immediately hired a new outsourcing team.

A customer service responsible for handling player issues stated that the daily workload has increased from 20-40 orders to 3,000 orders. A group alone has to fill up to 50 newcomers every day, and there is no training to rush to the shelves. In the end, even the table was not enough and four people had to squeeze one. The answer from executives is always that the overtime problem will be solved soon, but the final solution is to “eliminate the person who raised the problem.”


Is it to give priority to ensuring the update frequency of service-oriented games, or to ensure the health of employees? Of course some people chose the latter. You can clearly feel that the rebirth entertainment behind “Apex Heroes” does this.

Vince Zampella, the leader of Rebirth Entertainment, mentioned earlier that his purpose is to maintain “quarterly updates” and does not want to overwork the team, thereby reducing the quality of the game: “Our goal is to make less frequent, Test more complete and impactful updates so that you can minimize the time spent on specific mechanics, weapons, and characters. You don’t have to go to patch notes every few days…”

“Apex Heroes” is unexpectedly popular in Japan

Perhaps as the old line of rebirth entertainment, they still prefer the distribution rhythm of traditional games. However, as a result of this, most of the player circles have begun to rumors that “Apex Heroes” is cold. The average number of viewers on a live broadcast platform has changed from 200,000 to 30,000 at the beginning of the game’s release. The Internet has further magnified people’s sensitivity. The self-media uses this topic to win eyeballs.

KFC also posted a mocking tweet during the period when the popularity of “Apex Heroes” began to decline-in a picture, a hand-painted villain holding a wooden stick while poking the game’s LOGO while chanting: ” Please, live on the hour.”

Starting from the topic of “Cool or not,” I think “Apex Heroes” is obviously not cool. When this game is launched in the seventh season, it will be able to rush to the top 10 on Steam’s hot list, and the peak number of concurrent users is close to 90,000. However, although I fully agree with the practice of Rebirth Entertainment, and I have no intention of advocating the legitimacy of overtime, some people do think that if they can increase the update density, then “Apex Heroes” will be like “PUBG Mobile” and “Fortnite Night”. “Likewise, it has the potential to be the first echelon in the “chicken-eating” category.

Wish Studios, which used to develop games for Sony PlayLink, may also trigger such recognition.

Wish Studios has won the “Best Place to Work Award” by for two consecutive years. As one of the founders, Casper Field commented on the overtime problem behind service games in October 2018:

“I started to work in journalism in the 1990s. At that time, I was used to working 12 to 14 hours a day, even working overnight before the deadline. But as far as I have understood over the years, this phenomenon is caused by a combination of common problems. Yes. I can summarize these problems as: poor management plans; insufficient team staff; too high product specifications; middle-level managers refuse or are unable to respond to higher-level or external requests.”

“So there is a misunderstanding that the problem can be solved by working late. To be fair, if you work overtime very carefully, then one or two days, I think the extra working time can help solve the crisis, but in the long run, this will never be the case. The solution to the problem. The solution is to plan reasonably, reduce specifications, hire enough people, and learn to say no to external forces from time to time.”

He made many suggestions to major manufacturers at the time, but these impassioned statements became unconvincing a few months later. Because it failed to find a distribution and investment for the new project, Casper closed the studio that had survived for seven years in 2019.

The PlayLink game “Knowledge is Power” developed by Wish Studios, you can use PS4 to connect with your mobile phone for a quiz

Hutch, which focuses on the development of racing games and was also selected for the “Best Place to Work” award, has encountered this problem somewhat. The studio’s CEO Shaun Rutland once said:

“Avoiding overtime is essential to our way of operating. As a company that provides free service-based games to millions of daily active users, our team has to remain happy and efficient, so overtime does not work. Only a team with fun can create A better game, and the process of making a game should be fun-otherwise, what’s the point?”

“In the final analysis, the overtime problem is the result of poor planning in terms of functions and design iterations. This is usually top-down. Understanding and appreciating lean development means understanding what is valuable to players. The core quality of the product must be prioritized. Trust your team… It’s easier to reach consumers now than ever. Beta, Early Access systems and soft distribution are now common. Don’t make excuses for overtime.”

However, after operating the company for nine years, they sold it to Modern Times Group (MTG) for $375 million in order to raise funds. The development of service-based games has reached a point where it is difficult to have a virtuous circle. In the process, it has changed the expectations of players and the entire industry.

Hutch’s service-oriented games are all racing mobile games, such as “Top Drivers” host players will feel very unfamiliar

Market Choice

Many console players may feel this way. At the beginning of the millennium, online games were still new, but if a manufacturer jumped out and said to be a pure stand-alone player, we would be thankful. Take-Two’s 2018 annual report can illustrate the problem. Digital sales accounted for 63% of its total revenue, higher than 52% in 2017. I am afraid that the service-oriented content of “GTA Online” has played a key role.

The stand-alone game market may still be growing, but its proportion in the industry has dropped significantly.

Michael Pachter, managing director of Wedbush Securities, said that at the peak of EA, there were 49 games per year, but now it has dropped to about 10. Trial and error with stand-alone games is no longer the norm. Having a popular service-oriented work has become extremely important. This has led many companies to choose to integrate their businesses and then close some established studios.

From a revenue perspective, EA’s move to reduce the number of stand-alone games has had a positive effect. I still remember the existence of “Crysis 3” and “Dead Space 3” in 2013, and the smashing “Sim City” also caused congestion on the Origin server. By 2018, although there were almost only six sports new year products and “Battlefield 5” left for games of the same size budget, the company’s total annual revenue had climbed from US$3.797 billion to US$5.15 billion.

EA’s choice to develop a service-oriented game business is imperceptible. Taking the New Year’s sports series “FIFA” for example, the Ultimate Team was initially largely based on DLC one-time payment and virtual currency. Now it has evolved into “free + continuous update + heavy demand.” Krypton pumping players” model. The number of players increased exponentially during this period, from 1 million to 3.9 million in 2011 and 11.2 million in 2013.

Since its launch in 2009, FIFA Ultimate Team’s service-oriented content can be said to be increasing

And Ubisoft has not forgotten to make “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” more “modern” on the basis of having service-oriented games such as “The Division” and “Rainbow Six: Siege”. The level lock between maps requires players to repeatedly chew the content. Only when money is spent on experience gains can the game progress be accelerated. The roadmap of stand-alone games is now also a tool for major manufacturers to keep up with the pace. The plans for the next few months are clear at a glance. The entire industry is afraid of losing users. Only eternal work can retain players forever.

The way of experiencing games has also changed. Take Cohh Carnage, who set a continuous live broadcast record for 2000 days as an example. He is happy to see game manufacturers continue to introduce new elements so as to catch up with the audience’s content consumption. speed. In 2018, Richard Blevins, who already had tens of millions of subscribers, could not sit back and relax. He once revealed that after only two days of rest, he discovered that 40,000 users had cleared the pass.

Even the indie game “Among Us” has a roadmap

All of this forces developers to build a great wall of flesh and blood, and for players, this sometimes becomes a psychological burden. Someone once compared the Battle Pass of a service-based game to “the yoke of slaves.” Although the description is too exaggerated, we will obviously be affected by sunk costs. For accounts that have invested thousands of hours, Whether it’s an event, an update, or the expectation that you can pay back or even earn after completing the goal, you are always worried about what you will lose if you don’t play, but put the fun on the back.

When it comes to the topic of game fun, if you quote the “Self-Determination Theory” of Edward L. Deci, a professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Rochester, fun and value involve players in the game. In the process, whether to self-summarize a set of methods in exploration and experimentation; whether to feel competent and satisfied from the challenges again and again; whether to feel the feelings and belonging from one thing. Obviously, most service-oriented games are not designed in this direction, and tend to use gold nuggets, gems and pop-up windows to discipline users.

What’s interesting is that even though many of us know this truth vaguely, we fall into the trap repeatedly. Even though developers also know this truth, they have to sacrifice their lifespan to create the trap.

Perhaps just like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, these desperate people are precisely the most resourceful people on the planet. They are like the city builders and kings of Corinth. When Zeus abducted Iqina, the daughter of Isopus, they were able to point the way to the river god, Isopus. But this kind of ability will only touch the scales of the powers. Behind the beautiful service-oriented game is the end of hell and the punishment of Zeus. There is a mountain, a rock, and a work that can never be done.

Reference materials:

How to avoid video game development crunch
‘Every Game You Like Is Built on the Backs of Workers.’ Video Game Creators Are Burned Out and Desperate for Change
How Fortnite’s success led to months of intense crunch at Epic Games
The pressure to constantly update games is pushing the industry to a breaking point

Source: Game Time


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