‘Tis the season to be jolly … especially if you’re a gamer. The upcoming holiday gaming release schedule is a joy to behold for locked-down, socially distanced or just plain pandemic-fatigued game enthusiasts.
For game studios and game developers, however, holiday releases have an entirely different connotation—the infamous crunch time. While views differ on the evils or benefits of crunch time, there is one thing that the most strident detractors and the most ardent supporters of the development practice can agree on: This holiday season’s crunch is unique.
How the world’s first-ever WFH gaming crunch time will affect actual release schedules, workflow, collaboration and game quality (not to mention coffee consumption) remains to be seen. To better prepare for the challenges of WFH crunch, here are six tips we’ve gathered from our gaming partners:
Gaming Developer Tips
Don’t pretend it’s business as usual, but don’t reinvent the wheel
Developers (like everyone else) are most comfortable with what they know. So, while it’s crucial to adapt your development process and workflow to WFH, you don’t need to re-create them.
To modify processes, put together a multidisciplinary team of your top people in each department. Bring them together (in person, if at all possible) for a short yet intensive meetup and let them brainstorm possible WFH scenarios and create a detailed playbook.
This revised playbook should focus primarily on changing only what needs to be changed for remote working while keeping everything that already works intact. It should also include a comprehensive list of experts to be contacted for each scenario or question. And if a developer encounters a scenario for which there is no process, the playbook should help him/her identify the right team to notify.
Once the revised playbook has been established, disseminate it to everyone then follow it religiously. Instruct employees to follow process, even if they feel that doing so may cause minor delays. Shortcuts are not the right move for WFH—it’s too easy to get confused.
Create working groups (and avoid email like the plague)
Email is a notoriously inefficient and confusing collaboration tool in the best of times. Late responses, missed messages in the thread … these and similar email issues can easily translate into WFH chaos.
Instead of email, adopt a collaboration tool and strictly enforce its use. This enforcement is crucial, because the most powerful tool is useless if not used.
Then, create multiple 10-person “smart work” groups with well-defined scopes and a domain-expert moderator to lead the discussion in each. Task these teams with addressing, discussing and solving companywide issues in their relevant arena.
A list of domain-expert moderators should be shared with employees along with instructions on how to contact each moderator when unanticipated scenarios arise.
Do VPN smart
WFH employees frequently face VPN hardships such as low response times. Any latency is a nightmare when working remotely, and this can be compounded by low-speed home network connections.
Aside from upgrading internet infrastructure (for employees at home, too) and using cloud-enabled DevOps tools (instead of on-prem solutions), implement companywide network traffic protocols to ensure smoother and more predictable VPN connection speeds.
For example, instruct employees to avoid uploading large chunks of data through the office VPN at peak times. Instead, split these into reasonable-size chunks or schedule large commits during low-traffic hours such as lunchtime or at night. To ensure the success of this method, continuously monitor network traffic and alert employees that inadvertently violate traffic policies.
… Or don’t use VPN at all
Alternatively, you could trade your VPN for another acronym – FTP. When multiple teams working on multiple projects need to share artifacts, instead of uploading them through the overloaded office VPN, have them use a shared, secured FTP outside your network VPN. And consider using Steamworks or a similar solution to share testable artifacts.
And there’s another brilliant solution you can choose, beyond VPN and FTP. The Google Stadia game streaming platform (for which many games are developed, anyhow) allows frequent uploads of private game builds. This enables developers to quickly see changes made throughout development in a live runtime environment. This little-known trait can save a massive amount of time and (especially) VPN bandwidth when working from home.
Automate what you can
When time loss is compounded by the inherent disconnect of WFH, any time savings are that much more valuable. Automation is well-known to save time and effort in office-based development, but in WFH its contribution can be mission-critical. As a rule, in WFH anything that can be reasonably automated should be automated.
For example, try automating uploads to different storage locations (Steamworks, FTP, etc.). Then, you can integrate this upload as part of your build process—effectively automating the process. Allow each developer to choose in advance whether the build should be uploaded automatically, and enable email notifications when the upload is complete. This little time-saver (and others like it), multiplied by multiple development teams and multiple developers, can really add up.
Try to avoid software updates
In the office, when a little Windows software update goes wrong (which is not infrequent), it’s an annoyance. But in WFH, when no one is in the office to restart the affected machines, it can easily cascade into a serious productivity crisis.
Try to avoid any unnecessary software upgrades or changes so as to not jeopardize your stable environment. If you must update, make sure that someone is in the office to manage unexpected issues.
The Bottom Line
WFH is going to be the new normal, and development processes need to evolve accordingly. Crunch time is the time when processes are pushed to their limits, even in the best of times. By taking the time to ensure that the wheels are as greased as they can be, gaming companies can eliminate workflow and collaboration friction points. The end result—aside from on-time deliveries of high-quality versions—is developers who are happier, more productive and even a little bit jolly.