Sticks and Stones

I’ve been stuck in bed for the past week with some flu, porcine or otherwise so I’ve had a lot of time to sleep and lament about my situation.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a no-nonsense kind of guy. If you would ask me if that’s a positive or negative trait, I would generally tell you the former. I’m not one to pull punches and if you ask me what I think, I will tell you. I have opinions, let me show you them. I don’t lack tact, I just believe in honesty in business and there’s little I despise more than folks who smile and nod on the surface and secretly wish daggers underneath.

That’s how I went about being a designer as well. I was given a paycheck to develop ideas and understand higher-level concepts and if I believed something wouldn’t work, I didn’t wait until the shit hit the fan to say so. But it was never based on gut feelings that I’d interject, if I had a criticism it would be followed by a reason and sometimes, if I could, a solution.

Needless to say, I wasn’t endeared by all for that trait.

It never really bothered me though because I was of the reasoning that we were all there for the same purpose – to build a killer product. I always saw bad reactions as their problem. I wasn’t challenging people, I was challenging ideas. They needed to get over themselves. And I wasn’t challenging out of ego; I didn’t think my ideas were best because I was touched with some talent. If I had an objection, it was always followed by a reason. And when people challenged my ideas, I generally took it as I would like for it to be taken, as long as there was an explained reason behind the objection and not vague gut feelings. We were all on the same team. Sometimes you just had to do a little digging to get from gut reaction to reason.

This honestly didn’t happen often. Most of the teams I was on went smoothly and this approach was a huge asset. It was only towards the end of my previous position that this started to become an issue. Feathers got ruffled, but it was fine. At the end of the day, we were all on the same team with the same goals.

It wasn’t until I had my figurative pink slip that I learned that, no, it wasn’t the case. Now with more and more layoffs here close to home and across the country, there are more talented people competing for a smaller slice of quality openings, many of which I’ve applied for to see what happens. No dice.

So I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t something that has been a great asset to me, my openness, that has done me in.

Twitter and this blog make it ridiculously easy to post my feelings and as we’ve covered, I have trouble self-censoring. And as the days go on, I watch the news in politics and I get angry and want to say something and I watch the news in the industry and get angry and want to say something. But to what good?

Let’s say I do a post on Borderlands. I finished it last week and had a blast. Fun game with some unique hooks. But I wouldn’t be able to write about it (and it wouldn’t be a worthwhile post) without commenting on what I didn’t like about it and what I would have done or tried to do differently. Now while that would be pretty par for the course for this blog, I’m starting to wonder: what if I apply to Gearbox? What if they read my blog and find it and it hits a pet issue or nerve? Would I be looked at differently than a blank slate designer with the same qualifications? Negatively?

It’s not that I write with malice. I had two separate posts removed by my boss when I was at EA which I complied with because I was a coward. I wish I would have just unposted rather than deleted each of them, but I didn’t. The first was a post about tuning, of all things. It’s when the NBA Live team announced their “Dynamic DNA” feature. I recalled a paper or talk by Richard Garfield that talked about the necessities of tuning to a visible result – i.e., if something is underpriced, bumping the price up by 5% will be unnoticed by users, but a 50% bump won’t be. And from the larger bumps you can triangulate a proper value rather than incrementing until no one cares anymore (boiling the frog by degrees, &C.,). Yet would Dynamic DNA be all about turning up the heat by a degree rather than twenty?

I thought it was a pretty reasoned critique of a feature that Peter Moore called something like “the most important feature” that EA Sports had put out in a decade. Of course, because I used Peter’s name and quote in the post and because he has some Google Alert that rings a red phone in his office whenever someone uses his name (Hi Peter!), people found out about the post and it was suggested that I take it down.

I don’t bring up this anecdote to cast aspersions (I see their reasoning), but to illustrate that any good intentions I have with this blog quickly go awry when it comes to business.

There has been great good, certainly. I’ve met a lot of awesome people. I’ve been on the national news. And it is a lot of fun. But is any of it worth anything if I start to self-censor myself because I think it is better for me to be a blank slate to a hiring director?

And Twitter! Twitter is so much worse! I can tweet (and do) from my phone, with almost no cycles of “should I say this?” It’s just from ego to fingers with that damn thing. If I didn’t have a 102 fever when I heard about all the things going down with my former employer this week, I definitely would have written some things that would have made me look ugly.

So I’m wondering if I should just quit or suspend the blog and Twitter. Or should I say “damn the man” and just blog myself into poverty? I don’t know.

3 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

  1. I say keep the blog. If a designer’s job isn’t to give their opinions on things, then what purpose do they serve? Certainly they don’t actually make the game (that’s what programmers and artists do)- they’re the ones telling the guys that make the games what to do, meaning there has to be an opinion there. Otherwise it’d just be “guys, do whatever”. Or worse “my boss says do this”. Heck, even if you say “tighten up the graphics on level 5” at least that’s an opinion that the graphics are bad.

    So a designer is only useful for his opinions, and I think saying them on a blog is a useful tool to show potential employers that you at least care about design and care about their games enough to notice (and analyze!) them.

    Of course, once you get a job I think the expectation- in any corporate environment- is that you publicly toe the company line, or just don’t even really talk about them. At one point this week I thought about posting a picture of my white board full of tasks to facebook to show how busy I was, but thought better of it in case there was anything on there that we hadn’t announced.

    It sucks on principle, of course, but what might be a fine internal disagreement (and I think those are mostly healthy) becomes a different beast when put on the internet. “Designer says he wanted better graphics on level 5” doesn’t look good for the company if anybody ever gives a low review score to the graphics on level 5. Like I said, it sucks, but it’s the same in any corporate environment. It’d be like the president at Bank One blogging that he only has accounts at Bank of America.

  2. Bryan, everyone knows it is the graphics on Level 3 that need tightened up. They are all loosey-goosey down there.

    And naturally I knew/know not to talk about what I am personally working on. But when you work for EA, one of the most diverse in terms of portfolio game companies in the world, what becomes off-limits? Tiburon’s games? Sports label’s games? Games of companies they partner with? (Valve, id) Games of companies they _may_ partner with? (They own a 16% stake in Ubi. Is it safe to talk Far Cry 2?) How do you talk about a design philosophy in sports games without talking about something EA has its fingers in?

    I imagine this is just Tangible Design Withdrawl. Not only have I been unemployed for a year where my only fun design has been some card game stuff that no one will ever see, but the last year and a half at EA had been cancelled title after cancelled title.

    I mean seriously: have you seen Level 3?

  3. I don’t have a lot to say, but you should keep on posting.

    I’ve had a couple run-ins with EA censors with posts I’ve made on forums, but none of them were my home turf so it wasn’t too unsettling really.

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