Get Professional!

The professional community of game developers has come a long way in the last few years. Five years ago we were a disconnected collection of technical people working in isolation. Today we are definitely a community, with a network of social contacts spanning the industry. But we have yet to establish a sense of professionalism in our members. Our values are still closer to those of the 20 year-old hacker than the 40 year-old electrical engineer.

You want examples? Look no further than the pages of this Journal. Most professional journals have no problem getting enough article submissions to keep afloat. With this Journal, every issue is a struggle.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Most of the submissions that I do receive are little more than opinion pieces. We seldom have submissions that dive into the nitty-gritty details of game design, openly discussing algorithms or computational techniques. A quick count of previous issues shows that, in the thirty issues of the Journal published so far, there have been a grand total of ten articles that reveal computational methods. Five of those articles came from my hand. Three came from Gordon Walton. The rest of the community has been generous enough to come up with exactly two articles revealing technical information in five years.

But it’s not just the Journal that is starved for useful information. The Computer Game Developers’ Conference has the same problem. Our feedback forms abound with complaints from people moaning that there’s not enough solid information presented at the conference. They want specifics: code samples, sales figures, programming techniques, hardware parameters. The problem is, everybody wants the information but nobody’s willing to share what they have.

One of the invited speakers to the CGDC had to cancel after his superiors discouraged him from attending. Their reasoning was simple: why should you go to a conference to give away information when we could send you to another conference where you could take away information? At least one major publisher refuses to send any employees to the conference and discourages them from attending on their own time.

Sorry, folks -- it don’t work that way. Let me tell you what does work. It’s a broad collection of values loosely termed "professionalism". Professionalism recognizes the existence of an intellectual community larger than that of any single company. This larger community the professional community -- sustains the efforts of individual companies. To do so, it requires the support and contributions of both the individuals and the companies that it sustains. The most important manifestation of such support is a willingness to share information.

Every system of values is founded on pragmatic considerations, and the pragmatism here is simple: if I give my information to you, and you give some information back, then we both win. Since the value of this information is impossible to gauge, we cannot use normal market-based methods to transfer the information. We simply have to trust each other.

At this point we have to address the problem of proprietary information and competitive advantage. Professionalism does not require you to divulge sensitive proprietary information. The professional recognizes the distinction between proprietary information and "good practice". There’s an easy way to draw the line between the two. Simply ask yourself, "Have any of my competitors figured this out for themselves?" If not, keep it proprietary. If so, then you can treat the information as "good practice" and tell the world about it.

An even simpler rule of thumb is to ask how old the technique is. Any technique that has been in use in a product on the shelves for two years or more can be treated as good practice.

The solution to this problem will not be found by industry executives, whose concern is short-term and bottom-line; the solution must seep up from below. In truth, it’s your problem. So it’s time to look in the mirror. Are YOU really a professional?