Naughty Dog - who most recently brought us the rather lovely Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - has been talking at the Develop conference in Brighton about its rather strange approach to managing game development.
Or rather, British-born game designer Richard Lemarchand has - he's giving the production keynote at the event, despite being a designer rather than a producer. The reason for that is, simply, that Naughty Dog doesn't actually have any producers.
Instead, the company's games are "produced by the people who work on it - designers, team leads, programmers, even our co-presidents," Lemarchand explained. "Anyone who wants to step up and take responsibility for an aspect of the game... Is empowered to just stand up and start organising."
If that sounds somewhat chaotic, well, it is. But it's aided and abetted by some other strange approaches Naughty Dog takes - including the fact that nobody in the company only manages. Right up to the company presidents, "everyone, at all levels, works directly on building the game".
"That helps us stay very focused on quality and fun, since the people with the responsibility are the same creative artisans who are making the game. Nobody signs off on an asset or feature that isn't up to scratch just because a piece of paper says it's time to do so."
Lemarchand describes this structure as a "DoOcracy", a rather horrible word which has emerged from volunteer organisations and charities. "It creates a meritocratic team culture," he says. "Even if you're the most junior guy in the company, if you start working on something and get good results... Your passion and abilities will attract more responsibilities." He went on to explain that formal promotions at the company generally only happen when someone has actually been doing the role for a while anyway.
The team's structure (or lack of same) owes much to other creative industries, rather than to the software development industry many other game firms model themselves upon - and Naughty Dog also uses other creative industry staples, like a lengthy pre-production time which Lemarchand describes as "a process of managed chaos", with few conventional deadlines.
So why should other companies sit up and take notice of Naughty Dog's extremely unusual approach to game development? Well, with a team of just 90 people today, the company has sold 35 million games and turned in about a billion dollars worth of revenue in its history. Add in the fact that Uncharted was really rather good, and you start to see that the guys might just have a point.
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