Salvaging Failure

There’s an interesting thread on Gamasutra. Here’s the summary: The Tiberium game has been cancelled. Some extremely vocal opponent of the status quo at EALA starts venting, other anonymous people start freaking out about practices.

But the interesting part to me is that since the majority of informative posts on the thread are done anonymously, there is no way to vet anything that is being said. But if the forum did not have the opportunity to post anonymously, this thread would have never started.

After Superman Returns shipped, I saw a lot of forum threads in various places with disgruntled Tiburon (no relation to Tiberium!) folks. Some of them I could identify via little dropped nuggets of information along with cross-referencing who was loud about various issues to what posters were being loud about. But I also noticed people who either were posing as people who worked on Superman Returns (good God, why?) or were so misinformed that they had this vast conspiracy network built in their heads that they were displaying to the Internet world as fact.

From the outside, it is impossible to determine if any of these Tiberium posters are just disgruntled ex-employees, complete trolls or are simply misinformed. Thus, it’s also impossible to tell which ones to believe as people actually telling the truth. You would like to think that these would be the posters who seem to post in the most calm, reasoned manner. But from my Superman Returns history, that simply isn’t necessarily the case.

It would be nice to know what happened to Tiberium so that we can avoid making similar mistakes. Was it bad people, bad culture, bad ideas, bad process, and/or bad management? No one outside can know. The postmortems that run in GameDeveloper are always milquetoast: we should have decided XYZ sooner. Yeah, hindsight is nice. What we need in cases like this is independent postmortems. Get someone tangential or external to dig around and find out what went wrong. Then, let everyone know.

But that won’t happen.

Because: 1) Investigations cost money. 2) Blaming people (if they are the problem) opens one up to legal problems and 3) Boards want investors to assume that every team at a huge corporation is perfectly run. It’s less important to them for our teams to work better than it is for the investors to have proof that there is a team that isn’t working at its zenith. “That may happen at Electronic Arts, but it certainly doesn’t happen here!” Bull. Shit.

I’ve seen projects cancelled for a half-dozen reasons. From the ones where I only got an internal email that was filled with vague hand-waving about “persuing opportunities in other areas”, I learned nothing. From the ones where I had intimate knowledge of the knock down, drag outs that went on, I learned volumes.

We’d probably have less epic failures if we didn’t bury them like a cat at the litter box.

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