Shipping Experience

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I keep an eye on the help wanted ads for MMO development teams — among other things, it’s a handy way to see who’s doing what, often before they officially announce. And sometimes it’s pretty amusing to read about who people think they want to hire.

For instance, I recently ran across an open position that specified an experienced developer who had shipped at least one triple-A MMO title.

Let me give you a hint here, anonymous hiring manager. You don’t want someone who shipped a triple-A MMO title. All too often, MMO development breaks down into a morass of death-march crunches and frantic, disorganized flailing several months before launch … flailing that includes hiring anyone who can type and can therefore (probably) implement the masses of incredibly behind-schedule content. If ‘shipped an MMO’ is your only criteria, you have no idea what you might be getting.

Even the team members who were with the project from the beginning aren’t neccesarily a good bet. It’s likely that they were rolled off to another project as soon as the game went live. And that means that while they spent two or three years setting up delicately balanced code or intricately detailed content, they weren’t around to see how any of it survived when exposed to a plague of players. They went their merry way in ignorance, happy with their creation but utterly unknowing of whether it actually worked.

No, your best bet is to seek out the people who stayed on or were brought onto the project after launch — the live team members who had to clean up the mess made by those frantic final pre-ship months. They’re the ones who learned to work within the limitations of the engine and the budget and the schedule, because they had to — because suddenly there was no more three-years-of-development stretching out in front of them, no more we-have-to-ship-NOW-so-we’ll-hire-fifty-random-people-to-help-and-money-be-damned budget — just a small team and a voracious audience. These are the people who learned how to make the game go. These are the people you want.

Of course not all live team members are competent, any more than all pre-launch developers are incompetent. You’re going to have to interview all the likely candidates, after all; there are no short cuts here. But if you really want to put an experience requirement on the job description, I’d suggest “six months on a live team” rather than “shipped a title” — it’s more likely to be useful.

And don’t worry about the triple-A thing, either. I don’t know exactly how “triple-A” is determined in the MMO space, but if you’ve been paying attention you may have noticed that the biggest launches of the past five years have largely failed. To be sure, the smaller launches have largely failed also, but at least they cost less time and money! There’s no inherent value to being part of the more extravagant failures. On the flip side, you also can’t afford to set aside candidates who happened to be involved with a failure (unless they were directly responsible!) — there’d be no one left!

Hiring for an MMO is hard enough as it is. It always takes way longer than you think it possibly could to find the right people for your team. Don’t make it harder on yourself by seeking out the wrong kind of experience in your candidates.

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One Response to Shipping Experience

  1. Babs says:

    You hear an “Amen!” from me =)