Tim Schafer: hire-and-fire cycle bad for industry

Double Fine president laments layoff culture, says studio could have shed devs after Psychonauts to save money, but decided against it to maintain company cohesion.

by

Double Fine president Tim Schafer is none too pleased with the culture of layoffs in the industry. Speaking to Wired, the Psychonauts and Brutal Legend designer lamented some studios' decision to sack a portion of its staff following the completion of a game.

"One of the most frustrating things about the games industry is that teams of people come together to make a game, and maybe they struggle and make mistakes along the way, but by the end of the game they've learned a lot," he said. "And this is usually when they are disbanded. Instead of being allowed to apply all those lessons to a better, more efficiently produced second game, they are scattered to the winds, and all that wisdom is lost."

Schafer noted that when development wrapped on Psychonauts, he could have laid off half its staff in order to have more money and time to get to work on Brutal Legend. However, he decided against this because he did not want to disrupt the already established cohesion and camaraderie among Double Fine's staff.

"Doing so would have meant breaking up a team that had just learned how to work well together," he said. "And what message would that have sent to our employees? It would say that we're not loyal to them, and that we don't care."

"Which would make them wonder," Schafer added, "'Why should we be loyal to this company?' If you're not loyal to your team you can get by for a while, but eventually you will need to rely on their loyalty to you and it just won't be there."

Discussion

110 comments
tgwolf
tgwolf

Yeah, but I maintain that they could have had more revenue in the end if they had in fact fired the devs before the game, since that would have potentially led to hiring ones with more taste and who could out of a random abysmal chance come up with a (far) better game than said.

shadowdoggg
shadowdoggg

I completely agree! It only seems good ol' Ninty doesn't do this.

Musharasur
Musharasur

Tim Schafer is an awesome person.

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

Not to take issue with the illustrious Mr. Schafer, but the companies that practice this have at times pointed at hollywood.  A group of individuals comes together to make a film, they work on it for several years, then they all shake hands and go on to their next project.  Its an industry designed around that, however.  The talent and the companies for making movies are concentrated in one geographic location so that its easy to roll onto your next gig.  Still, its hard for many people to work when there's no guarantee of steady income.  It will necessarily limit your hiring pool.  Plus for now the gaming industry is not cohesive enough and set up to work in this model.

 

There seems to be a critical mass that a development studio needs to hit so that they can keep - I'm going to guess about three - projects in the air at a time.  That way they have a smoother roll-off, roll-on cycle where they don't waste people's talents or have to lay them off until the next project needs writers or needs QA or whatever.

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

this off course. i wonder what companies can do until their next work? making a game is soo expensive nowadays

RickDemonsbane
RickDemonsbane

Of course! it also tells the rest of the world they aren't assholes. Though they must point at the issue for us to take notice, just like on this article.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

Very wise words there, if somewhat overshadowed by the "naked chick" eyes in the photo.  

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

Tim is correct. If layoffs cannot be avoided, you'd think they'd have some system in place that would allow those individuals let go to come back at a later time when they are needed again. Not exactly preferential treatment, but in the event the company is hiring again for a new project, it would give those people they let go first dibs to come back.

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

I couldn't work in such an industry. 

 

I have a passion for gaming, but I have an even greater passion for a paycheck.

GH05T-666
GH05T-666

yeah it would suck to be a game developer in the sense that ur always being hired then fired from ur job then u have to move on to the next one.

everyone needs some stability in there lives

Mellowcow
Mellowcow

Image caption: "The human body isn't supposed to bend like that!"

eiji1
eiji1

I rarely ever disagree with Mr. Schafer.

 

And this is not one of those times. Good going, man!

soulless4now
soulless4now

He could be Tim Burton's brother with that hair. 

---Cipher---
---Cipher---

I think he's spot on with this comment. Unfortunatly, I don't think the rest of the industry is so blind that they don't realize this. Most companies are interested in maximizing profit though (rightly so, they are still a business after all.) and really don't care about the quality/efficiency of their next product, just selling the current one. It's not about making games anymore, it's about the bottom line.

JDWolfie
JDWolfie

That would be a terrible work environment. That would be like (I'm just making an example up) telling the makers of Super Mario Galaxy; "Even though you made a terrific game, guess what? You're fired." Can you imagine working somewhere once a game is done, you have to worry about losing your job? At least by not firing someone, you know what you are getting in the future. Hiring new people can be hit or miss.

Vatusus
Vatusus

Tim Shafer is a great guy and Double Fine is one of the devs I'd love to see having great success comercially. They sure deserve it. One of the few devs that still try to be different and inovative.

msfan1289
msfan1289

you do know a lot of these guys are on contracts and are freelancers right?

RighteousPlank
RighteousPlank

I've never played a game from this developer, but I have say I truly respect him for his principles in the industry

avatarIVN
avatarIVN

When I read this article I thought: a group just adds the skill of every member to get a result, but a team multiplies the skill of each and everyone to achieve success. There is an added value when you get to know your team members.

SciFiCat
SciFiCat

Tim Schafer; the wooden stake to Bobby Kotich's vampiric heart.

whakyZ86
whakyZ86

sounds like another result of the "short" view, very much like that which got us into the recent financial crisis.  I mean...controlling the margins is good business, but we must do a better job of valuing human capital. and when developers have worked on a game for years together, they invariably have upped their reserve of human capital...which is valuable.

Frost259
Frost259

Tim Schafer is the only guy that seems to get it, god wish there were more like him in the industry.

LtReviews
LtReviews

As a programmer, I'd argue it is, in the end, more profitable to keep those employees on your team, even when you are in between projects where they aren't as useful. Hiring whenever production starts and laying them off when it's finished means you constantly have a team that is not accustomed to the habits of one another, the work style, and the workflow.

 

It's not just charity, it makes sense from a financial standpoint to build a cohesive team rather than hire-and-fire with unblinking consistency.

Llama345
Llama345

When the big corps (EA and the like) started to take over what did you think was going to happen?  Everything to make more money.  

GreggD
GreggD

It makes me happy to know that on any given day, on any given website about video games, a story about Tim Schafer may appear with the image above. So damn happy. :)

Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

The videogame industry historically treated it's employee's as desposable, Thus the games became desposable. At least they is some hope.

Bane69
Bane69

Interesting  comments by Schafer.  The gaming industry  is at a cross road. Do they use a more traditional  business model as Schafer suggestsor continue with the project driven model.  The entertainment industry has used this model for years. I look forward to see if the gaming industry will change or come up with a hybrid model.

decoy1978
decoy1978

On a somewhat unrelated note, you guys at Gamespot could NOT find a less creepier photo of The Man? =P

Cappuccin0
Cappuccin0

Tim Schafer is awesome. I wanna work for him. In fact, I'd actually make an effort for him... he's that awesome.

Lost-to-Apathy
Lost-to-Apathy

I agree 100%. Stop laying people off when they're more than qualified to make another game.

DevilD2005
DevilD2005

I love this man. No seriously, I love this man. He is everything that fans want developers to be in the industry. He is the counterexample to alot of the big wigs who whine about the direction of the industry. They are so busy defending their own practices and not comprehending why gamers are expecting more and better from them, and here is this man, who makes games for the sake of making games and furthering the medium.

spckJ
spckJ

 @---Cipher--- The thing is, they would improve their bottom line if they retained most of their staff, just not immediately. They are are short sited. I honestly think that in the long term, they'ed save money by keeping most of the staff on. Sure, they may lose some money up front in between crunch time for each project... but I believe in the long term, an experienced dev team that works cohesively together during peak development phases will save a good deal more money and time. They don't see all costs that a new employee and loss of wisdom have, only the numbers on how they are over staffed during slow times.

BludshedX
BludshedX

 @---Cipher--- ..keeping the shareholders happy... what a f%@#ed up mess the gaming industry has turned into.

Granpire
Granpire

 @msfan1289 If they were contractors or freelancers, they wouldn't be called lay-offs...

Snide-Cipher
Snide-Cipher

 @msfan1289 I think more importantly, the industry would benefit in the long run if devs did not hire staff with the mindset of letting them go when the project is finished.Contractors or not - as I imagine both are used.

surrealme
surrealme

 @msfan1289 Not necessarily because they want to be. Having to find a new job every couple of years and never having benefits is a crappy way to have to live, especially for people supporting a family.

Renunciation
Renunciation

 @RighteousPlank  If you've never played any of Tim Schafer's games, you've been missing out.  His games have a certain feel to them which is difficult to describe.  The best way I can describe his games is to say that they have a ton of humor and personality, and they make you smile.  Kind of like a friendly and playful puppy, but the games won't leave any messes on your floor... unless you reverse-snort a drink through your nose because you're laughing at some of the jokes in the games.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

 @SciFiCat If the history of these people shows us anything, it's that John Riccitiello is the real arch-villain here (I suppose he's sort of the Emperor to Kotick's Darth Vader).

whakyZ86
whakyZ86

moreover, I'm also sure that a good portion of that value is tied to the culture they learned it in.  It's the same reason why CEO's are largely NOT interchangeable between most companies.

vault-boy
vault-boy

 @Frost259 Its not that he is a genius when it comes to hiring and firing people (he IS genius, don't get me wrong), he just cares about gaming. Not many other people do in the industry. And that is why we are at where were at.