GAME 260, Week 9

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, ch. 8: Destiny

“Halo … Edge magazine called it ‘the most important launch game for any console, ever’” (194)

“the two companies came to terms that everyone found satisfying. Bungie would finish Halo 3 and then make two more Halo games. Microsoft would retain the Halo IP, but Bungie could hang on to the technology they’d developed over the past seven years. And, for the first time since 2000, Bungie would be independent” (194)

Commentator’s Note: And now Bungie is once again a first-party developer, but now yoked to Sony.

Jones: “‘I think the great tragedy of Halo is that for years and years it provided wonderful single-player and co-op content,’ he said in a 2013 interview, ‘and we provided people with almost no fun incentives or excuses, almost no reason besides their own enjoyment, to go back and replay it’” (197)

Commentator’s Note: I think Jones gets this so wrong. Enjoyment is the purest incentive. We didn’t need an excuse to replay Halo levels, because they were intrinsically fun. It was fun to play two- or four-player splitscreen through those campaigns, to try to beat the game on Legendary to see the secret ending, or to try and pull off challenges and exploits we saw online. A game should be made in such a way that there need be no other reason than the enjoyment of playing to incentivize replay.

“Bungie would get to own the Destiny franchise, and Activision would give the studio creative freedom to develop Destiny games in whatever way it saw fit, so long as every milestone was met. Bungie’s schedule would have a very strict cadence. Activision expected the studio to release Destiny 1 in the fall of 2013, with an expansion called Comet following a year later. The next year would be Destiny 2, then Comet 2, and so on” (200)

Commentator’s Note: The origin of Destiny’s woes: the Activision Call of Duty model.

“‘One lesson that’s critical is that the most important stories we tell aren’t going to be told by us,’ Jason Jones told the press. ‘They’re going to be told by players—their personal legends built from shared adventures’” (203)

Commentator’s Note: Again, Jones gets games wrong, misunderstanding the importance of both authorship and design.

“The studio was growing rapidly, which made communication even more difficult” (205)

Commentator’s Note: Jesse Schell talks about the limits of effective group communication (~75-100 people).

“‘The company grew faster than the management structure and leadership process,’ said one person who worked on the game, ‘which left many departments mismanaged with no clear understanding of the game’s high-level vision’” (205-206)

Commentator’s Note: Compare Conway’s Law—“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.”

“There were none of the ‘personal legends’ that Bungie had promised. The plot of each mission would vacillate between vague and incoherent, strung together by meaningless proper nouns and baffling dialogue” (214)

Commentator’s Note: This was certainly my experience.

PsychOdyssey, eps. 22-24

Episode 22: Quite an Adventure

The team is shattered and reformed just as they face an uphill battle with delivering their first playable demo for the public. —Episode Description

What will you say in the Fig update? Zak is not here. He has moved on to other things, and we wish him well. He definitely worked really hard on this project and made a huge impact. But now I am the Creative Director of this project. And things are going to be different … I don’t know, I think it will be something like that” —Tim Schafer

“We tried to do everything we can to rehabilitate the situation and make it better, but it just… it wasn’t working. And it was really putting the project in danger in a lot of ways, with E3 coming up. We really wanted to make sure that the team was able to do its best work and make a really great level that we are going to show there. So, we took that step and it’s done” —Schafer

“When people ask for advice about how to start a company, I talk about getting the most creative people and the most smartest people, and the best people together, and then just getting out of their way. I think that’s really important” —Schafer

“There is just so many potential ways that this could go right now [with Starbreeze], that I feel like we have to kind of just behind the scenes work on bringing as much money to the project as we can and hope that we can figure it out” —Greg Rice

“The other conversations are more acquisition-based. So, that’s kind of a whole different thing. And that would mean somebody swooping in and buying the studio for rights to our entire catalogue of games, and anything we do going forward. So, they would just be paying our salaries and payroll, and we would get to focus on making games” —Rice

“The first person that approached us about this is Microsoft, and they have been doing this recently with a lot of studios” —Rice

“We are talking about investment deals with them [Microsoft]. For them the big reason is Game Pass. Which is kind of like their version of Netflix … they want to get our whole catalogue on there. And our future games too. So, talking about a big chunk of investment for that” —Rice

“There is also just a lot of things that I didn’t realize. Like secondary effects of the production before Zak left. I felt disconnected to a lot of the decision making. So, if I ran into a problem, or I had a solution, I wouldn’t feel empowered to have a conversation about how to fix it. Because it would never be the time or whatever. Also just because we are at the stage of production where we just have to solve problems now. I think a lot of our problems previously have been about indecision. Zak would keep his cards really close and be like: ‘Aaa, I’m looking at these things!’ And now it’s just like: ‘Well, we need to solve these problems now.’ And that means we are taking these problems much more seriously. And the state of the game much more seriously. Which is necessary. If we have an idea for how to make it better, we can talk to all the involved parties and get that done. I certainly didn’t feel that way previously” —Tazio Coolidge

“The previous regime had a lot of power concentrated in one place. I think a lot of people feel like they have a lot more authority, because all of that disseminated down to the team” —Amy Price

“Of we can actually be successful with Loboto, it’d probably be behoove us just to redesign all of the team to be more level focused rather than discipline focused” —Geoff Soulis

“As far as leadership, for me, the whole thing I would say is: ‘You have to trust your team!’ You have to. That’s how you are a leader. Even if you don’t think they can do it. You put across that you trust them. Otherwise, what have they got? If you don’t have that, then all you have left is just regret and doubt … But on a project this big, with this many people, you cannot afford to do that. You have to believe right till the end. I am impressed with Tim because he does do that. Annoyingly so!” —Camden Stoddard

“That’s one of the reasons I want to show really well at E3. It’s because when management or anyone big and important on the team leaves, it’s like: ‘What’s wrong? Is that a troubled production?’ And all productions are troubled. But, that brings the question of, like: ‘Is something wrong?’ And so I would like to show that we are making a good game” —Schafer

“People’s relationship with authority is kind of funny. There are some people who they accept having the authority over them for whatever reason. And they want to hear stuff from that person. And then there is someone who they don’t think should have authority over them. And they are like: ‘That person should shut up.’ So they’ll take something from the person whose authority they accept. And they won’t take it from the other person. And it might be the exact same idea. So, figuring out why people give their authority to some people and not others– Maybe it’s just trust, or they think they know what person is about. And they just trust them. Or, they’ve just made a decision. Or the person was just already in power. I don’t know. I guess if you think you know what the values are of the person in control, you are more likely to trust them. Maybe you can’t see where they are taking you, but you trust they are taking you somewhere good” —Schafer

Episode 23: Always be Closing

The team picks up the pace as the E3 deadline looms. Meanwhile Greg and Tim work to secure Double Fine’s financial future. —Episode Description

“I told this story before about being in my twenties, working on Monkey Island, and Ron just coming into our door and being like: ‘Hey, it’s getting to that point where we gotta start working nights and weekends.’ And me and Dave were like: ‘Yeah! High five!’ What else are we going to do? Go home, and eat Chinese food, and watch TV? At least that’s how I felt, and we didn’t feel that exploited at the time. Because we were so excited to be making games. Until halfway through Monkey 2 when I was like: ‘We are making three-fifty an hour, Dave. We are not getting paid for this, this is terrible!’” —Schafer

“I am completely against the sustained crunch. I will not make my team do that. It’s kind of a principle for me at this point in my career” —Lisette Titre-Montgomery

“The mirrors in development of the first project and the second project are so close, it’s so weird. The things that were good and bad about the first project, are good and bad about this one. The feeling of the team, and the morale, the ups and downs, like, everything is very similar to the first game. I thought we were going to be a totally different company doing the second game than we were on the first game. But in some weird way, it’s like this weird fairy tale where we got reset back to who we were. And had to relearn a bunch of stuff along the way. A grim fairy tale” —Schafer

“Things are going to be announced on Sunday. What’s going to be announced is that we have signed a letter of intent with Microsoft to acquire Double Fine. So, Double Fine will be becoming part of Xbox Game Studios” —Schafer

Episode 24: Best Teeth

The team wraps up their playable demo and has a blast showing the game off to the public for the first time. —Episode Description

“Microsoft really, really values Double Fine. Like, it was clear in their offer and everything, how they approached us, and how they wooed the company, they really see a lot of value. And it’s really a great recognition of everything that everyone here has been doing for the last twenty years” —Schafer

“I think we are all really excited about the stability that it’ll bring” —Rice

“What it does mean for the P2 schedule is it’s longer. I’d say longer. Longer than it was before … It doesn’t mean that we run out when the Starbreeze money runs out, which is, like, months ago” —Schafer

Media and Management, ch. 3

Spaces of Labor Mediation: Policy, Platform, and Media

Author: Julie Yujie Chen

“The ascendency of managerialism as a new social order” (62)

“cannot be fully understood without interrogating the construction of the exemplary neoliberal citizen as a worker who is agile (or flexible), creative, entrepreneurial, and productive” (62)

“I argue that the terms of mediation for labor management are implicated in the discourses and practices of management at different scales and in varied and precarious organizational shapes, which I call spaces of labor mediation” (65)

“three seemingly discrete domains where labor management are mediated, practically and discursively” (65-66)

  • “national policies”
  • “labor process control and management practices”
  • “mass media representation”

“research on the discursive and material manifestations of labor management in the digital platform economy ought to confront the role played by policies, not just as a regulatory or geographical context but also as an active force that shapes cultural norms and platform labor politics” (66-67)

“it is crucial to interrogate the multiple yet uneven terrains where the platform intersects with the existing social institutions and organizations” (67)

“the government … assumes a ‘pedagogical’ role by introducing new vocabularies from policy documents to be circulated to the domains of knowledge production and popular culture, inventing or reinventing the ‘social imaginary, and with it, a new subject’” (68)

“The disciplinary and pedagogical nudge via policies and official documents, complementing the direct control by the central government, helps to achieve certain forms of cultural hegemony” (68)

“A new vocabulary introduced to shape the common sense around platform work in China is the term ‘new forms of employment’” (68)

“Zhang Chenggang … singles out three exemplary new forms of employment: (1) workers or entrepreneurs in an e-commerce platform ecology such as Alibaba’s; (2) worker-partners in the two- or multi-sided platform-mediated markets such as drivers on ride-hailing platforms; and (3) workers on crowdwork platforms” (70)

“Other scholars define the term by the characteristics of flexibility nonstandard contracts, de-institutionalization of employment, and platformization” (70)

“Shen Manhong, the president of Ningbo University, singled out four aspects of newness in ‘the new forms of employment’ for college graduates: (1) new sectors like e-commerce and the sharing economy; (2) new employment relations that are established with internet platforms rather than the traditional ‘work unit’ (danwei); (3) new opportunities for entrepreneurship; and (4) new notions of flexible work and multiple part-time jobs” (70)

“In China, as elsewhere, the digital economy is mystified to be a more advanced stage of development toward which developing countries aspire” (71)

“State policies, like development plans, are crucial texts to reframe economic development as a question of innovation to which digital technologies are the primary solution” (71)

“policy’s mediation of labor, via the term ‘new forms of employment,’ naturalizes contingent employment and structural inequalities in the platform economy” (73)

“New forms of precarity arise from platform companies’ dynamic deployment of their technological apparatuses of management (e.g. algorithms) and labor outsourcing via temp staffing agencies” (74)

“The dynamic management of markets involves changing the media or organizational form of management practices” (75)

“Subcontracted riders, usually working full time on a fixed schedule, face compounded management and control from the platform and the temp staffing agency” (81)

“The platform company designs and implements all the algorithms at work (e.g., delivery time, route, rewards) and has the power to change the algorithm at will” (81)

“The platform is also able to shift its contracting terms with temp staffing agencies, encouraging them to compete against each other and leverage the available supply of crowdsourced riders” (81)

“The global trend of the flexibilzation of the workforce has given rise to the flourishing of temp staffing agencies, many operating translocally or transnationally” (82-83)

“making them an active force in restructuring the spaces of labor management” (83)

“subcontracted food-delivery riders face the same old challenges as others in the temp staffing industry: wage theft, harsh management, and lack of substantive labor protection and social security” (83)

“Platforms assemble and reassemble the labor force at a pace seldom seen before or in other industries” (83)

“The ‘responsibilization’ (Shamir 2008) of riders’ work in platform capitalism, however, blends the moral order of Chinese family values with the individualization of the neoliberal regime as to assuage the rising tensions between the normative imperative of ‘new forms of employment’ and the intensification of precarity for the food-delivery workers” (85)

“media representations of food-delivery workers help depoliticize workers’ labor struggles by displacing them with moral evocations” (85)

“new meaning-making efforts have entered the fray so that prime food-delivery riders think of their jobs from the point of view of offering social and public services” (85)

“the job of food-delivery is framed as fulfilling not only platform-mediated orders but also the civic and social responsibility for maintaining the urban on-demand consumer culture” (87)

“The dominant narrative is that a worker can work flexibly on the platform, lead a self-responsible and self-reliant life in a possibly upward direction, and, in so doing, contribute to a larger cause by serving their country and society, whether this be as the hero during a crisis or as a participant worker helping to develop a future-facing digital platform economy” (88)

“Being agile, resourceful, responsible, responsive, and most importantly, raising no questions when the request arrives on the phone, are what is most valorized in flexible capitalism” (88)

“and the current mode of capitalistic accumulation in the platform economy” (88)

“Going ‘in search for media’—as this book series is called—requires recognizing the possibility and perhaps inevitability of the fluid composition of technology, organization, market, and knowledge morphing into the terms of media that condition our lives” (90)

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