Sunday, May 29, 2005

How small game team efficiency compares to other media

Often people who deal with Serious Games ask very different questions than people in the game industry.
  • Game developers, driven by intense competition and the urge to have a king of the genre title will typically ask "How can I make the best game possible, no holds barred"
  • Business instead as "How much does it cost to get a basic job done?"
You end up with productivity comparison charts that look like this:

Getting the job done
The reason is pretty straight forward. Often simple fact that you have a system in place will bring the company benefits over not having the system. Some repair training is better than no repair training program. Business decisions makers focus on creating an improvement over the current state of the company. The subtle quality elements that are key determining factors for the success of games are far less important.

The most blatant example of this is the training world. Many (though thankfully not all) groups value quantity over quality. Creating thousands of pages of 'training' that detail procedures that few people will ever use or learn is preferable to creating learning experiences that actually teach.

Let's put some numbers around this discussion...

HPD for Training
In a previous post I talked about HPD, a metric that allows us to calculate hours of gameplay per developer year of production. We have some numbers for casual games (Fate) and commercial games (Diablo). Let's calculate HPD for training.

Training folks already have basic metrics that are comparable so we simply have to do some conversion. They measure hours of training per hour of authoring. In numerous conversations with training organizations I've found the typical range to go from 20 hours of development for 1 hour of training. Some very advanced groups that produce very specialized training with an advanced development pipeline are able to squeeze 1 hour of training out of each hour of development.

Here's the chart that shows the equivalent HPD for games and training. I've included the cost of making cut scenes as well for comparison.
  • Movie (Cut scenes): 0.22
  • Large Game Team (Diablo): 0.54
  • Small Game Team (Fate): 7.5
  • Training (20 hours of dev time): 104
  • Training (1 hours of dev time): 2080
If we plot this data on a log chart, we get a lovely straight line that shows how each category of content is approximately 1 order of magnitude more less expensive to produce.

This is where Serious Games has a great challenge. We can promote the benefits of Serious Games over other types of training, but we will always need to contend with the bean counters who are looking at metrics like HPD as a major determining factor of viability. When you have regulations that specify 'hours of training' as a key metric and cost per hour as an important evaluation point, Serious Games lose out when compared to PowerPoints and PDFs.

Most Serious Games groups that are heavily promoting the benefits of Serious Games over other types of training. Better retention, less drop out, etc. This is a very worthy promotional tactic. Another tactic that can help ensure the adoption of Serious Games is a focus on techniques and technologies that radically reduce the cost of production. The focus is on being competitive using standard metrics. Each developer should ask themselves, "How much is it costing to produce this 1 hour of content?" and seek ways to improve their HPD metric.

We also start talking the language of our business customers. We can stop saying "Dude, it's a game and games are expensive!" when someone asks us about production costs. We can instead say "Well, this past title gave us 7.5 HPD. If you are willing to cut down on the video sections by 50% and add in more gaming sections, we can keep the effectivness the same but increase our HPD to 12.6. That will save you $40,000."

take care