Video games are awesome. If you are reading this and visiting this site, you likely agree. Playing video games is awesome — solo or multiplayer, there is often very little that compares to a good gaming session. Making games, however, might not be so awesome. At least it wasn’t at Black Box, the Vancouver studio responsible for developing the Need for Speed games from 2004 to 2007.
According to EA‘s John Riccitiello, EA sent the studio on a “death march” during that time, where the team was expected to work “24 hours a day”. And according to Riccitiello, that grueling work schedule also lead to the decline in sales and quality of the Need for Speed games. Crazy how that works (note my sarcasm), but at least Riccitiello is stepping up and having EA take some of the blame.
As you would think would be expected, the “death march” also put the quality of life of those at Black Box in decline too. Again as described by Riccitiello, Black Box was on a development schedule of one game per year for five years in a row. The games were, “annual iterations, they had to put it out; no rest for the weary.” So what happened, yeah, the quality of the games drastically declined and EA started to lose employees. As Riccitiello put it, “They didn’t want to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.” No kidding.
But hey, things are looking up — at least as far as Need for Speed development cycles and hopefully quality goes. Because now, Need for Speed games are developed by two alternating studios on bi-annual cycles. The Slightly Mad Studios developed Need for Speed: Shift dropped in 2009 to critical praise and the Criterion Games‘ Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is set to hit the road this November. And it too has received positive attention leading up to its release.
So yeah, it looks like the Need for Speed games are back on track and all is right in the world of making video games — sure developers and programmers generally still have to worry about the occasional long hours, letters complaining about the working conditions written by their wives, or mass layoffs after a successful game ships, but hey, small price to pay to live the dream, right? (note that I am not sure if there is sarcasm here or not . . . )