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Is Technology Really Making The Life of a Game Developer Easier?
As technology continues to advance at an unprecedented pace, many game developers have come to rely on it to make their work easier. But is technology really living up to its promise? This was the question at the heart of a recent panel discussion at Pocket Gamer Connects (PGC) London on the topic, which explored the ways in which technology has helped and hindered the game development process. Hosted by Backtrace's Oz Syed, the panel featured a diverse range of voices from the game development industry, including developers, designers, and programmers. The panelists included Keith Adair from Unity, Konrad Dysput from Backtrace, and Phil Williams from King.
Key Factors To Consider When Adopting a New Technology
In the world of mobile gaming, technology is always evolving, and the use of new tools and solutions can have a significant impact on the player experience and the developers' lives. Oz started the panel by asking the panelists about the key factors to consider when adopting a new technology in a mobile game project.
Keith, Senior Client Partner at Unity Gaming Services (UGS), emphasized that developers should adopt technology that improves the player experience while also making the developer's life easier. He cited analytics and data as a great example of technology that has helped improve the player experience while making the lives of developers easier. He also mentioned cloud content delivery tools, which, when used appropriately, can refresh content on a regular basis and improve player engagement.
Phil, Art Director at King (the makers of Candy Crush Saga), explained that when considering new technology, developers should first identify the problem they are trying to solve. He stressed the importance of finding the most straightforward solution to a problem and not overcomplicating things. He suggested looking into digital asset management tools, for example, that can automate processes and make sharing files between stakeholders straightforward.
Konrad, Staff Engineer at Backtrace, stressed that developers need to consider multiple factors when deciding on new technology, such as whether the technology is needed by the product and the team. They also need to understand the consequences of implementing new technology and ensure that the team can learn how to use it effectively. Additionally, developers should be aware of the impact of deploying the technology on customers and whether it will break anything.
Balancing Stakeholder Pressures and Quality Concerns in Game Development
Next, Oz highlighted the conflict that exists between stakeholders' demands to meet deadlines and game developers' reluctance to release a game when it has critical bugs or issues. While stakeholders prioritize timely releases, developers prioritize quality to avoid associating their name with a poorly made game. However, timely releases are still essential for success in the gaming industry.
Keith was asked by Oz about the ways in which Unity Gaming Services (UGS) assists game developers in ensuring that they release their games on schedule. Keith explained that Unity Gaming Services provides robust and scalable technology that helps game developers manage a live game when it's out in the marketplace. The platform brings together different features and functionality under one modular platform, allowing developers to efficiently test and optimize games through the early phases, ensuring the best player experience and positively impacting KPIs. Unity Gaming Services also offers tools like Cloud Diagnostic Services built into the platform that provides benefits like Backtrace and ease of accessibility available through the Unity dashboard.
On the other hand, Phil explained that at King, the teams focus on building a roadmap that includes estimates from both artists and developers. They aim to be team-led and try to think about the robustness and confidence of the release rather than just meeting a deadline. Phil believes that the focus should be on the quality and robustness of the game, rather than just releasing it within a certain timeframe.
In response to the Oz's question about how Backtrace helps mobile game developers in shipping quality games faster, Conrad begins by stating that there is a contract between stakeholders and engineers when it comes to development plans. He goes on to explain that one of the biggest challenges game developers face is identifying, reproducing, and fixing bugs quickly. Backtrace's platform helps to streamline the process by providing real-time visibility into production issues and identifying the root cause of crashes and errors.
Advice for Game Developers on Balancing Workload and Maintaining Wellbeing
Moving on to the next question, Oz asked the speakers for their suggestions on how game developers, whether new or experienced, can balance their workload to take care of their mental and physical wellbeing, given that the work can be stressful and demanding.
In response to Oz's question on how game developers can balance workload to take care of their mental and physical wellbeing, Keith acknowledged it as an interesting question. He pointed out that the issue is not unique to the gaming industry, but common across all professions and industries, particularly during the COVID and lockdown period. Drawing from his experience of working remotely for years, Keith emphasized the need for discipline in taking time away from the desk to maintain a healthy work-life balance. He encouraged game developers to engage in activities like socializing, working out, or going for walks to stay motivated and focused.
Phil and Keith agreed that it's a common challenge in all industries, and not unique to game development. Furthermore, Phil discussed the impact of technology on work-from-home situations, emphasizing the importance of being mindful of the increased effort required to participate in virtual meetings and the need to be gentle with oneself and take breaks. He also highlighted the need to be aware of presenteeism and the desire to prove that one is working, which can lead to difficulties in switching off. Overall, Phil stressed the importance of maintaining a work-life balance and looking after oneself while embracing the opportunities offered by hybrid working.
Konrad's response focused on the perspective of development and the pressure to release software quickly, often leading to frustration and stress among developers. He emphasized the importance of asking questions about how the software will be used by users and how to counter any potential issues before release. This approach helps to reduce stress and allows for quick action in the event of failure, while also emphasizing the need to be aware of potential issues and failures.
Best Practices for Accelerating Game Development and Maintaining Quality
When it comes to game development, delivering a high-quality game within a shorter timeframe is a challenging task. In response to Oz's question, the experts on the panel provided some insights into the best practices and learnings for accelerating game development while maintaining quality.
Keith suggested that the best practices for releasing a quality game faster were to use technology to personalize or customize the game further down the line. He recommended designing the game to react well with the technology to make real-time changes, such as those that can have a positive impact on KPIs and game performance. Additionally, Keith advised testing and iterating through the early phases of game development, making adjustments and changes and analyzing data per segment to ensure the game is in the best possible state before global release. Lastly, he suggested that developers not be too proud to ask for help and reach out to teams like Unity Gaming Services, who are experienced in game development and can share best practices for different game genres and platforms.
Furthermore, Phil emphasized the importance of creating a system and processes for art production in order to release content in a timely manner and meet player expectations. He believes that using the available technology can make the creative process easier, but it's important to keep in mind the original systems and processes that allow for creativity to flourish. Whether it's from a development, art, or production perspective, the same concepts apply of using tools to work smart and unlock creativity.
Next, Oz asked Conrad a similar question from the perspective of automated error and crash reporting. He asked Conrad about his thoughts on how automated error reporting can be useful in detecting and fixing issues before they become a problem for the users. Conrad agreed with the importance of testing to ensure that everything works as expected, but he also questioned whether developers were testing enough or in the right devices. He suggested exploring possible technologies in the market to capture exceptions before customers report them. He emphasized the importance of understanding the context of the problem and focusing on issues that could seriously impact customers. Conrad recommended understanding trends in the data to make informed decisions about whether to move forward with new features or adjust the technology to fix problems. He also stressed the importance of capturing errors before customers report them and of using context questions to help understand the problem.
Oz concluded the panel by highlighting the need for game developers to stay current with the latest technology trends and to continuously learn and improve their skills.
The panel discussion on whether technology has made the life of a game developer easier provided some insightful perspectives on the topic. While technology has undoubtedly made game development more efficient and cost-effective, it has also introduced new challenges that must be addressed. Collaboration, communication, and continuous learning are essential for game developers to thrive in a rapidly evolving industry. By working together and staying current with the latest technology trends, game developers can create amazing games that engage and delight players around the world.
Game Developer Evangelist, Backtrace, Sauce Labs
Oz Syed is a Game Developer Evangelist at Sauce Labs, with over 15 years of experience in various senior technical roles. His extensive knowledge and expertise in game and software engineering make him a sought-after speaker and mentor. Oz has served as a professor in various Game and Software Engineering programs at Canadian post-secondary institutions, where he has inspired the next generation of game developers. As a subject matter expert in Unity Game engine and emerging technologies, Oz has a keen interest in using generative AI tools to create innovative tech products involving gaming and gamified applications. Oz is also the host of the upcoming podcast, Beyond the Code, where he shares his insights on the intersection of technology and creativity.
Senior Client Partner, Unity Gaming Services, Unity
Keith Adair is the senior client partner for Unity Gaming Services with extensive experience in the gaming industry. He has been in the industry since the early days of Java group development in mobile gaming and has more recently focused on data analytics. Keith was part of Delta DNA, a company that developed a data and player management platform for the games industry and was acquired by Unity in 2019. Since then, he has been part of the gaming services team at Unity, which provides a modular platform that offers all the necessary tools for running a live game at a marketplace. These tools include multiplayer tools, game back end, analytics, A/B testing, content delivery tools, and a new cloud diagnostic advanced service developed by Backtrace.
Art Director, King
Phil Williams is the Art Director at King, a game development company known for popular games such as Candy Crush Saga. Phil has been in the gaming industry for over 20 years and has worked on many successful game titles.
Staff Engineer, Backtrace, Sauce Labs
Konrad Dysput is a Staff Engineer at Backtrace, where he has been working for five years. He is responsible for client-side integrations and service layer integrations at Backtrace. Konrad has designed several SDKs for Backtrace's customers to use and is also responsible for integrations with Backtrace's UI.