I was chatting with a buddy of mine recently about Destiny. I don’t actually play it – he does – and every so often he informs me of the shitshow going on at Destiny HQ. As an example, recently developer Bungie put out a special weapon for players that preordered the next seasonal expansion. The update that included this bonus item, also caused all assault rifle class weapons in the game to start dealing 3 times their expected damage. How on earth does something like that even happen? Well I have a story, which will seem unrelated, but might help to explain things.
As some of you may know, I moved to a new area within within my place of employment earlier this year. However, it became apparent that my laptop wasn’t going to cut it anymore after the transfer. For the last few years I haven’t been able to run much of the code that I’ve written locally because my laptop couldn’t handle it. This made development, and testing fairly difficult. It wasn’t a massive problem though because I’d just hijack one of the numerous development environments we had, and I could do my testing there. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked which is all management cared about.
That’s weird though right? Why not replace the laptop if its the problem? Well I requested a replacement, but was denied. Other folks on the team had even older laptops than I, so when I complained they ALSO complained. When there’s only enough money to replace a few machines, obviously the people with even older models got the replacements while the rest of us were told to make due. Thus, I made due with what tools I had available.
Unfortunately, when I moved teams I ran into laptop issues again. I did at least try running everything locally, but my shit ass junker wasn’t having it. You start up the local server, and it would start to howl like a jet engine before a million errors ripped across your screen for otherwise functional code. However, my new team doesn’t have spare dev environments. We have 1. Not 3 like my old team. If you use dev for anything there is a chance that you’ll get in the way of another team’s development work. That leads to a lot of office drama, so using dev was very quickly removed from the list of viable workarounds.
It was at this time that it dawned on me that I might finally be able to request new equipment. It’d been 4 years since the last time I asked for a new laptop, so maybe the billion dollar corporation could finally find room in the budget for it? I let the team know about my predicament, and they told me to hit up my manager for some new tech. When I explained the situation to him, he seemed fairly reception and noted that getting me a new laptop would be a top priority. Finally! After 4 long years of suffering I might have the tools I need to do my job properly.
After a few weeks went by, I decided to follow up with my manager. I hadn’t heard anything the new laptop, so I wasn’t sure if he’d even ordered it. Turns out he hadn’t. I’m not one of the gifted few people who can code flawlessly without feedback, so I desperately needed this new laptop to deliver on my workload. I made as much clear, and my manager told me that getting new equipment wasn’t a priority. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but that’s what it translated to. I was pretty frustrated by his reply, and so I asked my team lead to follow up to see if he could figure it out. I’m not the best at navigating office politics, doubly so when I feel I’ve been shortchanged.
More time had passed, and apparently now my manager was onboard with the idea of getting me new equipment. But it came at the same time as a company wide reorganization. This is when new management roles are introduced, while people like me get shuffled around. Unfortunately, HR erroneously listed several of us directly under our AVP. Guess who was part of that special group of incorrectly listed employees? 10 points if you guessed me. And Mr. AVP sure as shit wasn’t going to approve my request for a new laptop because he had bigger fish to fry like snorting cocaine off a hooker’s ass.
A solid month went by before HR finally got their ducks in a row, and corrected where I fell within the organization. No sooner did they do this, then my manager took 2 weeks off. I’m sure this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: he didn’t approve the laptop request before leaving. Thankfully, he provided delegate approval to another manager within our area, and after presenting my case for a new laptop while being backed by the team lead, I was finally able to get the request approved. It only took 4 months of not being able to do my job, but I’d finally have a new laptop.
We’re now up to present day. I’m writing this the night before I plan to head into the office to pick up the new laptop. Our floor’s admin assistant informed me that a package arrived, and asked me to come in to pick it up. I assume it’s the laptop. Lord help me if it’s not. I think I’ll lose my mind if it’s not.
Editor notes: It was indeed the new laptop. It has 4 times the RAM, a CPU that runs 3 times faster, a SSD, and a 4K screen. It is immaculate.
After 4 months, my quest to obtain a new working laptop has finally come to a close. There’s a lot of fingers you could point throughout this whole escapade. I forgot to follow up with my manager after our original conversation, he wouldn’t approve the request, I was erroneously listed under the wrong manager by HR, and I had to go to a completely different manager to finally get the request approved. Keep in mind, the whole time this was happening I could barely get any work done, so for a solid 4 months I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing. That alone should have been reason enough to get me the tools I needed to do my job.
Now comes the fun part: what does any of this crusade of stupidity have to do with Bungie, or game development? Well, the story I just shared isn’t unique. I mean, some of the beats in it were unique to me, but I bet there is no short supply of people with similar stories from their work. Stories about how they couldn’t do work because another person, or team became a blockade. The larger a company is, the more room there is for human error. What’s especially painful is that most of these million dollar operations have so much coupling that a failing in one area can cascade to several other areas. Then everyone’s work is a mess even if they didn’t do anything wrong.
That cascading failure is the point of my story. I shouldn’t have been without the one tool I need to do my job for 4 months, but I was. Bungie shouldn’t have accidentally made all the assault rifles in the game do triple damage, but they did. When there are hundreds, or thousands of people working for you it becomes very easy to lose track of things. Problems that shouldn’t exist start to exist because it’s hard to keep track of everything. All it takes is a little miscommunication, and suddenly you’ve bungled the entire operation for 2 weeks.
I know we tend to look upon game development as being very enigmatic, but truth is many of the largest developers aren’t any different then the rest of corporate America. They are riddled with human error, and filled to the brim with the kind of inefficiency that manifests whenever too many people are involved in a task. And there’s no way around it. I know it’d be easy for me to say that reducing the number of cooks in the kitchen would help, but several of them are doing things so that other folks don’t have to.
So the next time you think to yourself, “how is Company X so incompetent” remember my story. Or, hell, maybe you have your own corporate bullshit story. I bet you do. Recall that video game companies aren’t all too different. They’re subject to the same stupid as the rest of us.