Scratchware Menifesto Reaction (Part 1)
A day or two ago I ran across the Scratchware Manifesto, an at times angry-toned rant against common* practices at game development studios and among publishers and other parts of the game industry machinery. It also proposes an alternative called “scratchware.” It was written in 2000 and appears to be the work of multiple anonymous authors. I’ve heard it credited to a few specific people, but I haven’t verified the information so I won’t repeat it here. You can read a version of it over at Antie Pixelante: http://www.auntiepixelante.com/?p=433.
I only read the manifesto once and I didn’t take notes, but it resonated favorably with me in a number of ways. I’m a fairly independent fellow in my undertakings. I’m also not “in it for the money” to any great degree. The attributes make me compatible with many of the complaints and propositions of the document. Below are my impressions.
Some of the issues cited are issues common (imo) to corporate business practices such as crunch time (pressuring or requiring workers to put in long hours on a project), cutting the worker out of ownership of his creative output, and increasing control over worker’s fate in a broader sense through practices like slash and burn development and insourcing. I have no idea if insourcing is a term that anybody else uses–as far as I know, I just made it up. Anyway, in 2000 it was common to bring tech workers over from India on H1B visas. As the manifesto points out, such importees were tied to the company that brought them in and often worked for lower wages. As technology made remote work in the tech more feasible, insourcing became outsourcing.
Also, when I originally read the section on “Slash and Burn” development, I thought it was referring to the practice of laying workers off immediately after a project is completed. I don’t know how common that was in 2000, but I’ve read of numerous examples since then. Rockstar San Diego shitcanned about 40 workers after the release of Red Dead Redemption (to critical acclaim) according to this article: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/29457/Rockstar_Typical_Layoffs_Hit_Red_Dead_Redemption_Studio.php. Now, I don’t know any of the specifics. Did they tell their people it was temporary work? I’m doubtful because that’s what contractors and hourly employees are for. Of course, hourly employees are much more expensive to abuse. Did they treat their former workers well on departure? I hope so, but it really doesn’t excuse the practice in general.
When you commit yourself as deeply as a studio will pressure you to, you sacrifice other relationships, but you don’t lose the need for those relationships, so you make them with your co-workers. The office becomes your community. I suspect that these layoffs are all the more painful for social investment workers must make in one another. When you leave that company, you leave your social support network and you lose a piece of your social identity as well. These are traumatic events and your personal relationships may not be in good enough shape to back you up as you cope with that loss. It’s like luring people into a religious cult, pressuring them to cut themselves off from the outside world, providing for all of their physical and emotional needs for months or years, and then dumping them on the roadside when the work on the glorious golden pleasure temple is completed. I’m not being overly dramatic when I say that as a premeditated business practice it is, at best, profoundly emotionally abusive.
Anyway, that practice was not what the manifesto was referring to, but I’m sure the spirit of such assaults against workers is a big part of what motivated the document. Further, I think the term Slash and Burn Development perfectly embodies this practice and move that it be adopted as the official term. Second?
(If I may tangent for a moment, and by tangent I mean non-sequitur. As I develop my blog writing style, I’ve noticed that since I don’t outline in advance, I tend to tangent a lot. I think I need to come up with a way of formatting articles which highlights the tangents. Two columns might do–the main points on the left, the tangents on the right. The stacking of tangents would force tangent ideas to be held to a certain degree of brevity. If it won’t fit, it becomes its own article.)
So, I think that about does it for part one. Man I can ramble. Shit. Anyway, in part two I’ll hit a couple more of the key complaints of the manifesto and talk about the proposed solutions and why I intend to embrace the scratchware model of game making.
* I use the term common practices because I’ve had considerable exposure to software development and have been lateral to the game industry or folks. Crunch time is certainly no myth.