My postings on this blog (and most of the talks I do) have a core theme of commercial pragmatism running through them. As the CEO and founder of such a company, one very practical issue that I and my colleagues frequently need to grapple with is project resourcing which is, in the main, about finding appropriately skilled people when you need them.
Most serious games (and I use that phrase loosely to include virtual world and immersive simulation developers as well) companies will be mostly or, indeed, totally based upon a work for hire model right now. Whilst many that I know are looking to develop internal IP (e.g. content, tools or technology) the reality is that most companies in this space are under capitalized and the market (customers) are still very much in a commissioning mode still.
Serious games/immersive sims (as opposed to simplistic edutainment or small mini games) are an order of magnitude more complex than your average eLearning project. They are very much software applications rather than online/multimedia content with a huge array of art assets (3D models, characters, audio, music etc), contain complex logic to cater for providing a variety of user choices/actions and meaningful effects (the interactivity) and will most probably be processing large quantities of data (think how much data an advanced business simulation deals with).
Working in this environment requires game, simulation, technical, instructional, narrative, graphic and multimedia skills and at an advanced level. It also requires strong subject matter/domain expertise, in-depth project management and a high level of client/partner liaison.
Projects tend to have long lead times (6 months is very typical) but when they fall into place my experience is that the developer is expected to be able to gear up in as little as two weeks and invariably all but the largest projects are expected to be completed in 3 to 4 months. That includes in-depth needs analysis, materials gathering, detailed game design, simulation modelling, technical design, UI design, content creation, art/asset generation, external systems integration, client approval/compliance reviews, QA, testing and deployment.
With all of this in mind, consider how easy (hint: or not!) it is for a small developer to rapidly hire/engage a team of, say, 15 people with the right skills, experience, team fit and crucially…availability.
In the Western world we have huge skills shortages particularly in IT. You can hire people quickly but at a price (e.g. £40,000 plus for a reasonably experienced Flash Programmer), use freelance talent (£300 plus per day for an Instructional Designer) or use agency staff (£500/day for programmers). These rates are unsustainable for a projects-based company as they kill the profit margins and hammer cashflow.
Our approach to date has been thus:
- Maintain a core internal team at our main office in Coventry that has a blend of all of the key high level skills (essentially the instructional, game, technical and creative conceptual design roles).
- Supplement this with niche skills with UK freelancers (e.g. 3D character artists)
- Utilise freelance Project Managers and Instructional Designers on a project by project basis
- Utilize offshore resources for the ‘nuts & bolts’ creative and development work
This ‘burstable’ model requires a high degree of internal discipline, multi-channel communication and rigorous project management as well as an anal level of internal systems and processes but if set up well is, in my opinion, the best way of tackling serious game resourcing at this stage of the market’s development.
I intend to look in more depth at the challenges around offshoring/outsourcing in another post shortly but I’d be intrigued to learn how others approach this challenge.