Yep. I dug Troika's games, ToEE aside, but you could hear the squeal of agony over the background music.
The Escapist has posted an article on the life and times of Troika, including bits of interviews with Anderson, Boyarsky & Cain who detail their progressive development methodology (all crunch, all the time!).
(The link was recently posted by Grifman on OO. I don't know when the article was written or if it has already been mentioned here. A forum search turned up nothing but that doesn't say much...)
Yep. I dug Troika's games, ToEE aside, but you could hear the squeal of agony over the background music.
What is the deal with The Escapist's microscopic font?
Ok, finished reading it. The article basically said that they produced 3 buggy games for three seperate publishers and their reputation killed them. They may of done better if they hired someone to run the business for them. Nothing really new.
Last edited by Rob_Merritt; 12-28-2006 at 07:01 AM.
You need a browser with a zoom function to read The Escapist. I never read any of their articles before I got Opera... I could not read them!
o_O? You can increase the font size in both Internet Explorer and on Mozilla Firefox since...ever,i think.Originally Posted by Chris Nahr
About the article, it reminds me that i still haven't got Bloodlines. Should be at bargain price right now and with the fan patches it should be nice, hopefully.
Still $29.99 most places, retail & digital download...someone let us know if it's hit the $20 mark somewhereShould be at bargain price right now
It is. For all of its flakiness, Troika really hit a sweet-spot of shooter/rpg goodness in Bloodlines.with the fan patches it should be nice
I'm playing through Bloodlines again with the fan patch, and it does fix quite a bit. However it still has a few engine bugs, but they aren't that big of a deal (mostly animation related).
Well, I'm not going to get Opera just so that I can read their broken web site. But you can switch to "text" in the bottom bar (same place as the "next" button) and then change the size on that page.
Good article, though. Seems like they ran their business poorly.
I think Firefox has a zoom add-on. Internet Explorer got a zoom function in version 7. Before that, you could only change the size of text for which the page designer had not set a specific font size. Which of course the Escapist designer did. You could direct IE6 to ignore ALL font sizes on a page but that meant the text would overflow those pretty graphical borders.Originally Posted by André Costa
I didn't know that, is that a new feature? Maybe I just missed it.Originally Posted by Qenan
Considering Interplay ran Black Isle into the ground, should this be surprising?Originally Posted by Qenan
I'm always kind of surprised when gaming guess put a business together and don't bother to bring in a friendly MBA (or other business-oriented person) to run the business. Doesn't seem like that's a core competency too many game developers would have.
This was probably less important when development teams were smaller.
Can't you hold down the Control key and rotate your mouse wheel to change the text size?
Yes, but it slips outside the intended frame (which doesn't resize) and becomes hard to read.
Yeah, sorry, i meant only the increase font size "feature" of both browsers. For reading the articles i guess those should be enough but for browsing the "page" i agree that a zoom feature like in Opera comes handy.Originally Posted by Chris Nahr
In IE6 that function simply mapped to the "resize text" feature that had no effect on any designer-specified text sizes, as discussed above.Originally Posted by Warning
GoGamer has it for $19.99 as the normal price.Originally Posted by scharmers
It was less an issue of business operations and more a matter of business development. An independent studio really has to have a talented, dedicated guy doing nothing but networking and schmoozing even when you've got projects running.Originally Posted by Qenan
Gee, I wonder why their games where so constantly full of bugs.Originally Posted by Chris Nahr
Yeah, that seems like an operational flaw of the company, to me. They weren't well managed.
A lot of the Troika story is familiar and similar to the stories of other small developers.
Having an MBA floating around the company whose job is to line up the next project sounds good, but, when though through, not necessarily a slam dunk.
During the time when Troika was around, a typical, small-ish PC-oriented development shop was around 8-15 people*. An MBA would probably command a higher than average salary, so adding such a person as a pure 'biz guy' would boost burn rate by about 10%. Most of these studios, especially startups without a proven hit, are run bare bones, with the founders using their personal savings for the first few months, then landing a deal where the publisher basically only pays them enough for the actual development team.
Most publishers would not look kindly on paying the team another $60-80K+/year so that the team could pay the salary of a biz guy to schmooze with other publishers.
As for the other issue - developers not having enough time to finish their games properly - that one's complicated. Development is difficult to forecast. Imagine you have 5 programmers working on separate critical paths (let's say engine, gameplay, A.I., scripting, and multi-player). In a normal project, each of these developers will be scheduled relatively tightly - give them too much leeway and, programmer nature being what it is, they're likely to meander off onto pet projects and lose focus. If only 3 or 4 of those 5 hit their target dates correctly, this can be very hard to deal with. It's hard, at the 70% mark in a project, to get a major subsystem done faster by rolling another programmer onto it.
In theory, publishers should account for this by allowing such teams a few extra months at the end, if it becomes apparent the game needs them. But every developer wants a few extra months at the end to polish their game, and it can be hard for a publisher to look at a buggy alpha build (most alphas are buggy and rough) and decide if the game can be done in 3 months or really needs 6. Almost every developer will ask for the latter.
If you keep giving a developer another 3 months every time they ask, you can easily end up with a Daikatana. Plus, a publisher needs to put a marketing and p.r. plan in motion for a particular target date. Finally, for publishers focusing on the P.C., the market has been in steady decline for nearly a decade now, and many of these publishers had/have their own financial woes and needed to get the games out the door.
I say all this having seen both sides of the fence. Troika wasn't the first developer to follow this trajectory, and they won't be the last...
* Teams these days, developing games for consoles, are mostly much larger than this.
Last edited by Phil_Stein; 12-28-2006 at 12:29 PM.
My recollection of them was always putting out buggy games then saying they wouldn't patch it unless they were paid.
That is why the position of project leader exists. If a programmer doesn't pull his/her weight the project manager must put his/her foot down. In a small team the project manager should be the a decent coder and they should be familiar enough with all the code written to step in and make things happen if the have to. I hate the "but writing games is HARD!" excuse. Of course software development is difficult. If you aren't up to the task go take burger orders somewhere.Originally Posted by Phil_Stein
I agree that a project leader is important, and particularly one with coding know-how. But that's different from an MBA-type 'biz guy'. The latter is I think a cost that most small teams should be able to do without. (Nice to have, but not necessarily worth the money when on a tight budget...)Originally Posted by Brendan
Interesting link and thread - appreciate your insights as well, Phil.
The closest I've come to being involved on the biz-side of a gaming company is a company that was an early publisher of cellphone games (which has now evolved into a much bigger company), but as a venture capital investor and manager of several venture/private equity funds, I've overseen (and, at times, helped manage) dozens of start-up software companies, and definitely am of the opinion that while software developers can be amazingly brilliant (and even good project managers), they often, if not generally, inept CEOs and business managers.
They are also often extremely defensive and territorial, and don't properly understand or value the contributions of more professional management because -- quite correctly, in many instances -- they believe they better understand how to make a good product, but fail to properly appreciate other considerations, such as marketing/business development/producing a commercially viable product. The Troika guys really struck me as fitting in that category.
Desslock, your observations sound reasonably on the mark about software in general. However, game development is a subset of that market, with its own idiosyncracies.
With a normal software development team, developing, say, a new vertical app or web app, the development itself is relatively less important than with games.
For the general software app, market development, sales, marketing, etc, are critical, because most apps have to build their audience and distribution channels nearly from scratch.
For games, if you've got the ability to produce an excellent game, you can, to a much greater degree, focus on just that and hand off much of the rest of the process. It's fairly easy to approach publishers, and if you can convince them, either by your pedigree or your demo that you have something good, they will be more than happy to sign you. There's certainly some business savvy involved in negotiating the contract, but I think that's an easier skill to pick up than the whole range of biz skills needed to develop a market for a new general app.
Once the contract is signed, the game's success largely rests on the quality of the game (not a biz function, but a development function), and, to a lesser extent, the publisher's marketing, p.r., general clout, etc. (All of which are mostly out of the developer's hands).
I don't mean to demean general business skills - they're important with any startup. I just think they're LESS important for a game development startup than, say, for a web development startup.
Putting it another way:
Which was likely MORE responsible for the failure of Troika?
1) Lack of successful project management.
2) Lack of successful biz development.
Based on the article, I'd argue it was #1, though #2 probably contributed to #1. They signed 3 different game dev deals for fairly big budget, non-sequel games* - that's not too bad in the biz development area. But all 3 games were apparently relatively incomplete when shipped. It's the latter that really did Troika in.
* Yes, two of them were licenses, and there have been many D & D games before. But I don't think the gaming public, or Troika themselves, saw any of them as real sequels.
Last edited by Phil_Stein; 12-28-2006 at 01:20 PM.
Say what? That's like saying construction skills are less important for building an apartment building than for building a shopping center. That makes no sense.Originally Posted by Phil_Stein
Business is business. The same general principles and skill sets apply. You need to understand cash flow management, business negotiations and time management or you will eventually fail.
A typical small game development shop signs a deal with a publisher, who in turn, handles most/all of marketing, sales, distribution, p.r., and certain other functions.
For a typical generalist software developer, most or all of those roles would need to be provided from within the developer themselves. Thus, more work for the 'biz guy', and that person's skill is a greater part of the success/failure of the company.
Really a blend of the two. On #2, Troika didn't start trying to land new deals until their current projects were almost done. The company almost went under after Arcanum until ToEE materialized. Vampire dropped into their lap due to a variety of internal Activision factors (I'm still amazed it didn't get cut in their project cull at the end of 2003), Troika didn't go looking for it. You can't count on that kind of luck forever. Also, the founders wanted to do big PC RPGs, but from a survival standpoint, Troika should have worked to land a console project starting in early 2003. The writing was already on the wall.Originally Posted by Phil_Stein
On #1, the primary problem with Troika's development process was that the iterative design method is really risky unless you are Blizzard and have effectively unlimited resources. Oh, and Blizzard QA. The last Diablo II patch probably got more man-hours of QA than ToEE. Reining in the scope and a bit more design discipline would have helped a lot, but for better or for worse, that just wasn't Troika.
Troika also had non-existent PR, the lack of a publicist or PR firm meant comments like the 'pay for patch' were made and misinterpreted. There was a patch done between GM and release, but if Activision hadn't authorized upping the Vampire headcount allowing the ToEE team to get rolled in, they would have all been laid off within a couple weeks of the game hitting shelves.
Phil, I get what you're saying, but that logic is why there are so many musicians with gold albums that are broke and enslaved by their record companies. A team of creative folks isn't enough to make a company. Startups, even game company startups, need at least one biz guy to go over the numbers and make sure things get done right and on time.