How a video game studio works during coronavirus isolation

Covid-19 has blocked the production of many films, eliminated tourism, stopped industries and crippled the entire entertainment sector and beyond. Events are canceled every day, movies are postponed, and the same goes for video games. However, video games are a sector that is somehow moving forward and to find out more we talked to Patrick O ‘Kelley, operating director of Bungie, a software house that has the Halo saga in its illustrious past and is currently engaged in the management of the contents of Destiny 2 and, probably, in projects that at the moment cannot be revealed and on which there is no confirmation.

Destiny 2 is a title that has been released for some time, so it is not subject to the complications of a game in full development that is likely to suffer delays due to the closures imposed by the pandemic, but still needs development, comparison, testing and maintenance.

“Since the beginning of February we have been able to plan an intervention in several phases – explains O’Kelley – this is because we were in contact with NetEase, one of our investors, who is based in China and updated us on the situation. The first step was to make sure the offices were properly sanitized while encouraging employees to clean up properly and planning the steps needed to work from home. The second step, since Destiny 2 is an online game, was to make sure we could keep our infrastructure running from home as well. The fact of living in an area of ​​Seattle at risk of earthquakes and winter storms that have already caused the closure of the studies in the past helped us in this. The third phase, when the government has ordered the closure of all non-essential companies, was based on providing everyone with the ideal hardware to work, especially those in need of great computing power, animators, graphic designers, 3D modelers, etc. Now we are in the fourth phase in which no one goes to the office if not very few people who deal with the network infrastructure, the fifth phase will concern the gradual return to work “.

One of the biggest challenges obviously remains the collaboration and use of often very complex technological infrastructures. On the one hand, the development of a video game requires the movement of very large files that normally reside on internal servers and are easily accessible by those in the office, on the other hand there is a constant need for discussion and meetings to correct the course on the projects in development and to keep the tiller on those that need updates and patches.

“From a technological point of view, there are two essential aspects: having an infrastructure capable of withstanding the impact of hundreds of people who download and modify large files and immediately providing those who need them with computers capable of managing them. On the tools side we use more or less all those we already had and that are used in many companies, in the end we are still a global company with employees located in various parts of the world, so we were prepared, only now in online meetings there are many more people. We also managed to have our usual plenary meetings with over 400 employees, more or less like private Twitch streams where questions are collected via chat ”.

Then there is the question of tests: video games need a continuous cleaning job, update after update, to file details, bugs and decisions that maybe don’t work well once implemented.

“As for this delicate moment, we are favored by the integration of Destiny 2 in Stadia . Thanks to Cloud Gaming, in fact, we can try the next versions of the game remotely, without complex installations and without even having to download the files “.

For a studio that develops video games there is also another problem to face, the so-called “crunch time” or the often crazy hours of those who do this work, times that risk going even more out of control in a situation of continuous availability.

“Yes, in this period there has been a lot of talk about crunch and conditions within the studios and this is leading companies to change a lot of things. This situation then adds another layer of complexity. For the moment the situation is going well, productivity is high and we ask all employees not to work more than a certain period of time, organizing their time as they prefer. If they need extra days to assist someone in difficulty, just tell us and we can activate additional days of vacation without any impact on them. We have organized ourselves to provide yoga and meditation courses online, we continuously provide advice and good practices to stay mentally and physically healthy, we send notices to remind everyone to disconnect from the pc at the end of working hours. Even at the highest levels it is possible to take a break, the important thing is to communicate and take a small space to stay updated. It is a continuous dialogue in which we gradually redefine priorities and solutions ”.

Isolation has also been a huge test for many companies and certainly those related to the world of video games, even with all the problems related to development and the lack of promotional events and previews, it is one of the few that somehow manages to move forward. . In some cases there is also the possibility that the solutions implemented today will not disappear with the return of normalcy.

“We think that office work, made up of meetings and face-to-face exchanges of ideas is fundamental, for some, basically people who perform non-group tasks, this situation has proved to be successful, we have seen them completely change pace, especially those who they spent a lot of time in traffic and now they work without that stressor. We have a lot of data that will help us understand what worked and what didn’t, but for sure some solutions are here to stay ”.

In addition to smart working, Bungie has also activated a charity campaign called ” Guardian’s Heart ” in which, for a donation of at least $ 20, an emblem was received to show in the game that certifies participation in the event. In this way, Bungie raised over 350,000 in the first 24 hours alone.

 

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