The Pit Pony Awareness Trust

Writing a blog can be dangerous. It’s easy to get dooced, and though I write anonymously and have given no details about my employer or the projects I have worked on I somehow don’t think my boss will be all too happy should he ever find out. Still, I make great pains to keep the details of my work out of my posts as my company and the project really don’t deserve any aggravation that may or may not arise from this blog. And though my company certainly has some issues that I think it needs to sort out it most certainly isn’t the worst place I’ve ever worked, far from it. And the project too, though it has had its hiccups should be fun and I have no doubt it’ll do a nice number of sales and delight the fans. But still, employers do not like developers to speak publicly.

There are some obvious reasons for this. A lot of work related talk can be sensitive and covered by Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Giving free reign to developers to talk to the press, for example, could lead to leaks, information that competitors may find useful or just a bad image if said developer isn’t, let’s say, the best personality to be talking to people. There are also a lot of industry employment issues, but luckily the blanket ban on public speaking usefully covers that up too. You think working in games is all fun and, um, games? That’s probably because there have been few developers telling the world it is actually damn hard work. As such any contact usually goes through marketing and PR.

And herein lies a problem. Unless you work in the game industry yourself, how many actual developers do you know by name? There are a few high-profile designers, even a programmer or two, but what about generally? Do you know any programmers, artists, planners, audio designers, even testers by name? There are an awful lot of us, so not everybody can be famous, but it’s a little irksome that the only people that get press coverage are producers, directors and marketing bods. You can’t imagine the feeling when you’re deep into crunch mode, working nights and weekends, and you see some footage of a guy at a trade show, glass of wine in hand, talking about your game, saying things like “we worked very hard on this” or “we’re very proud to be bringing you this”, but you’ve never seen this guy before; he’s probably some marketing guy from the publisher’s side. Or when game retailers get awards at game shows, yet nobody knows the name of that one programmer who implemented that genius bit of code on a late night one weekend that not only made the game but saved the whole project.

I certainly hope more developers break the silence and speak out. They don’t have to rant or complain, and they certainly mustn’t malignantly bring disrepute to their employers or break NDAs, but just write about things that are of interest. A few blogs I have linked to in the sidebar are just that: developers writing about things they care about, think are important or simply want to share. None of them are giving away sensitive information or revealing details about their projects that shouldn’t be revealed. And though a lot of us, myself included, still fear reprisals from paranoid employers, we mostly write anonymously. It’s a shame, but it will have to do for now. Maybe this is a small step to bring developers a little more into the limelight. Not to take away from the hard work marketing or managers do, which is also an important part of the whole development process, but simply to seek a little recognition for the people who sweat away in the trenches month after month to not bring you but actually create those games that have thrilled so many of you.

That said, you mustn’t think I am writing this blog in a desperate bid for fame; I’m writing under a pseudonym after all. No, for me it was a genuine desire to let people know that working in Japan is simply like working in any country, with its quirks, lows and highs. But also to help those who really want to work here. I know that when I was looking to move there was very little information out there and the idea it was a “giant, almost impossible task” seemed very real. Hopefully with this blog I can let people know that it really isn’t such a big deal and if you’re willing to put in the effort to study the language then there is nothing really stopping you.

On a more selfish note, another reason for the blog was to bring out my latent desire to write. My mother always told me I had it in me, but she has to say that; it’s genetic law or something, so mothers’ opinions cannot be trusted. I am finding that writing is something I enjoy a lot, and maybe should consider doing something with it. In that sense the blog has been a very good exercise for me and also a bit of a boost for my confidence. I’ll try to keep it up as long as I can.

In the meantime, I hope more developers start blogging. We need to step out of our shells where we willingly suffer the imposed silence that our bosses hang over us. If we write responsibly and not compromise our employers there is no reason why we shouldn’t step into the limelight a little more. Without us, after all, there would be no game industry, no awards, no trade magazines or product for the punters to enjoy.

12 comments:

  1. At the risk of sucking up, let me thank you on behalf of myself and the other doe-eyed dreamers who frequent this blog. Your commentary on the industry and the life in general is sobering without being defeatist, and I personally appreciate the input and advice you afford your interested readers. I intend to be back in Japan by the summer, probably teaching for the first year or two, but every spare scrap of time will probably be spent beefing up my portflio and distributing demo reels, and I'm sure I'll be referring to the articles in your archives to keep the wind in my sails.

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  2. I enjoy your blog and I think you are a great writer, with an engaging style. Trust your Mom, she was right!

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  3. Really looking forward to the (inevitable?) japanmanship book. Lord knows there's far less well written and less interesting blogs out there that have transitioned into print.

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  4. "Really looking forward to the (inevitable?) japanmanship book."

    I don't understand these. They are just blog entries converted into a book, right? Reselling what is available for free on-line? That just seems wrong. I am playing around with a gamesmanship book idea though.

    Anon, if I had trusted my mom I'd still be playing guitar which, Lord knows, I was *terrible* at.

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  5. "They are just blog entries converted into a book, right? Reselling what is available for free on-line?"

    Not exactly. While some content is usually found in the blog, most include new material or expand on what was originally online.

    Why buy a dvd if you already saw the movie in theatres? Why watch a music video if you already have the cd (or mp3)? Value added content.

    Plus, you try reading blogs while soaking in the bath.

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  6. sillylittlefreak, use a pda :D

    JC, your mum was right, keep writing! As Anon said, you have a nice engaging style that is easy to read and entertaining.

    A book would be something I'd probably buy btw ;)

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  7. Thanks guys, my confidence is certainly bolstered by your many compliments and, ahem, sucking up. It's appreciated. But the real aim of the post was more to make a case about more developers blogging. I'll keep linking to good blogs I find, but if yours isn't on here yet, drop me a line and let me know the URL.

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  8. Great article - as an aside to the audience, it took a bit of prodding to get JC to post. :)

    So he's no gloryhound, I can assure ya.

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  9. Before I went indie, I was given the opportunity to give our game a voice, and I was one of the people working their arse off, late at night, over weekends, without overtime pay. It didn't make a scrap of difference the someone in the thick of it was asked to represent the game, and I'll tell you why:

    I was asked to write a developer diary. Naivety of naiveties, I took the word "diary" to imply an honest, heart-felt perspective on our game. I put some real effort into the piece (though I'm sure it wasn't Proust or anything), and although I was feeling real strain from the job (and talked about it in the piece), I still gave it a hopeful, positive ending. I hoped that explaining the pains we went to might create a sense of bon-aimie with the readers - we're working our arses off for YOU to have fun... we could do with your support.

    I sent it to internal marketing, who said it was fine, and that they "loved it". Then we sent it to an external marketing group.

    At this point it became clear that our internal marketing had not even bothered to read it: I was rebuked for using swearwords, which internal marketing missed, but still decided to laugh in my face about how stupid a move it was. This was only after the external marketing group warned internal marketing that "twat" might be considered an offensive term in America. (NO FUCKING SHIT. I'M GLAD WE'RE PAYING YOU FOR THIS INSIGHT, RATHER THAN HIRING EXPERIENCED DEVELOPERS)

    That really wasn't my problem with it though. Fair enough, gamespot is a "family site", and swear words are far too naughty for their readership to hear, apparantly.

    No, the real problem was that no matter how boarderline negative the statement, and regardless of the fact that the piece was wrapped up in a positive light, if something was deemed in any way offensive to the powers that be, it was doctored, culled or replaced (in an unreadably inconsistent style, I might add) until the diary was nothing but an impossibly saccarine advert for the studio.

    When I complained about it, I was told not to worry, and that "this is how you play the game". When I asked if I could atleast revise the changes to stick closer to the overall style, I was told "sure". After a bit of work, the piece was entirely positive, but didn't stink quite so hard of being chewed up and shat out by a protocol droid.

    However, marketing still got the final doctorings in, repeating their previous failings of a mismatched style, and without asking for my approval before sending the diary to gamespot. I get the impression that they decided "Fuck it, cut the twerp of an author out of the loop. It's not his perogative."

    The next guy to do a developer diary had pretty much the same problem, except this time the piece was doctored internally, and it was done worse than before. He kicked up more of a fuss about it than me, until the piece didn't even go to press. Good on him for not allowing a distorted voice represent us.

    At the time I didn't worry about it... just got on with development. The farther I get from the incident, the more embittered I feel.

    A fucking jihad on all beige, robotic, group-thunk press releases, I say! THEY CAN FUCKING SHIT UP MY CUNT.

    Thanks for posting about this. I really don't feel like I was being dishonestly negative about the place, but as you can see, there are too many small minded marketing executives and business owners to ever be honest and open about their internal workings. Watch the indie scene if you want honesty.

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  10. Yeah, marketing-controlled, sanctioned logging is never going to work, is it? As an extention to the Do as the Hollywodians" post I think developers need to see themselves more as autonomous, work-for-hire professionals whose only loyalty to the company ends with the exchange of services for money. I certainly don't feel lik I "belong" to my compnay, but rather that we have an understanding that I do some work and they pay me for that. As such, my blogging is as an individual professional, rather than a cog in a big machine.

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