About Game Development: On Family

We spend so much time at work, a development team becomes like a family. We fight. We annoy. We eat. We have kids (well, the married couples working on the team do).
We hire slowly here at Bethesda Game Studios. It’s no surprise that we strive find people who fit our culture and team. People who aren’t a good fit can often bring everyone else down; they become a massive negative buff. Flip side to this, losing folks hurts. It takes time to make up the lost knowledge and talent that people take with them, and when someone leaves, it usually means we’re losing a friend, too. That makes us sad pandas.
Institutional knowledge or corporate memory — depending on what business self help book you are reading — is how a team learns to make games, learns to work together, and most importantly, learns to get better at makes games. Malcolm Gladwell writes in his great book, The Tipping Point, the following:
…the benefit of unity, of having everyone in a complex enterprise share a common relationship…in a family this process of memory sharing is even more pronounced. Most of us remember, at one time, only a fraction of the day to day details and histories of our family life. But we know, implicitly, where to go to find the answers to our questions – whether it is up to our spouse to remember where we put our keys or our thirteen year old to find out how to work the computer, or our mother to find out details of our childhood…when new information arises, we know who should have responsibility for storing it. This is how, in a family, expertise emerges… mental energy is limited, we concentrate on what we do best.
A team that has worked together for many years and shipped multiple projects benefits from “transitive memory: it’s knowing someone well enough to know what they know, and knowing them well enough so that you can trust them to know things in their specialty…recreating, on an organization wide level, of the kind of intimacy and trust that exists in a family.”

This is the kind of culture every game developer hopes for. Making a truly successful game is hard enough, and there are so many factors outside your control that decide the success of your game. There is no replacement for having a team you trust to get you there.

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About Game Development are short essays exploring the world of game development at Bethesda Game Studios. Today’s post is about how a team is like a family.

We spend so much time at work, a development team becomes like a family. We fight. We annoy. We eat. We have kids (well, the married couples working on the team do).

We hire slowly here at Bethesda Game Studios. It’s no surprise that we want to find developers who fit our culture and team. People who aren’t a good fit can often bring everyone else down; they become a massive negative buff. Flip side to this, losing folks hurts. It takes time to make up the lost knowledge and talent that people take with them, and when someone leaves, it usually means we’re losing a friend, too. That makes us sad pandas.

Institutional knowledge or corporate memory — depending on what business self help book you are reading — is how a team learns to make games, learns to work together, and most importantly, learns to get better at makes games. Malcolm Gladwell writes in his great book, The Tipping Point, the following:

…the benefit of unity, of having everyone in a complex enterprise share a common relationship…in a family this process of memory sharing is even more pronounced. Most of us remember, at one time, only a fraction of the day to day details and histories of our family life. But we know, implicitly, where to go to find the answers to our questions – whether it is up to our spouse to remember where we put our keys or our thirteen year old to find out how to work the computer, or our mother to find out details of our childhood…when new information arises, we know who should have responsibility for storing it. This is how, in a family, expertise emerges… mental energy is limited, we concentrate on what we do best.

A team that has worked together for many years and shipped multiple projects benefits from “transitive memory: it’s knowing someone well enough to know what they know, and knowing them well enough so that you can trust them to know things in their specialty…recreating, on an organization wide level, of the kind of intimacy and trust that exists in a family.”

This is the kind of culture every game developer hopes for. Making a truly successful game is hard enough, and there are so many factors outside your control that decide the success of your game. There is no replacement for having a team you trust to get you there.

Ashley Cheng is the Production Director at Bethesda Game Studios. His credits include The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3. He also authored a car buying guide and produced consumer segments for NBC’s Today Show (but that was like almost 10 years ago so really, he needs to let go). Read more at his mega popular blog, Rice Always Wins.

Reader Comments

  1. As a incoming freshman to Devry’s GSP program I gotta say that it’s knowing what’s waiting on the other side that’s going to get me through.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Praise Bethesda! Trust is their shield. Unity their might!

    Oh and thanks for the most interesting links as heavy chains which smack my toes with the pain of wake up to reality BOY!

    Uh oh The Tall Man speaks from within…

  3. Cool read. Good to know more about the company I guess. However, I noticed something lately. It shows that Bethesda’s trying to move away from what made them popular when they’ll make a Facebook page for all of their games (even the flop known as Rogue Warrior), but not for TES.

  4. {Left by Hobgoblin Rob on May 20th, 2010}”However, I noticed something lately. It shows that Bethesda’s trying to move away from what made them popular when they’ll make a Facebook page for all of their games (even the flop known as Rogue Warrior), but not for TES.”

    The answer for that is simple. Bethesda knows when to keep their mouths shut(believe it or not secrecy in the entertainment industry during development is very important) and that page would inevitably invite those that would question current development status. A TES page would just blow up, possibly literally.

    It is my theory that Bethesda has taken a step backwards in the development of TES V in order to facilitate a giant leap forward(probably 64bit)in the games they make as is their M.O.. If this is true then I don’t expect to see another TES game for 2 to 3 years.

    That alone would explain why they have been so tight lipped when it comes to TES and have even gone as far as to say they don’t have any plans at the moment, which by the way is contrary to previous statements made after FO3′s release.

    It’s just a theory and I could be wrong but as a man of science I stand behind the results of my analysis. Bethesda has proven themselves time and again and I trust in them wholeheartedly.

  5. You mention that Bethesda hires slowly and wants to find people who fit the culture and team, what does Bethesda look for in people to see if they’d fit in? Sorry if this is an awkward question, I’m trying to figure out what game companies are looking for so I can improve and it’s hard to figure it out from the outside. And thank you for posting these short essays, always fun to see how you guys make games.