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Everything we learned from GI Sprint

As our series on making games cheaper, faster and better comes to an end, we recap the highlights

For the past three weeks, GamesIndustry.biz has been exploring how games studios can counter the rising costs of development and make games in a more efficient way through a series of interviews, panels, videos and podcasts.

Our first GI Sprint has covered topics such as AI, cloud, remote working, game conception, team management and more. You can find the full series at the dedicated microsite, with all the videos available on YouTube. Each video is also available as a podcast – just search for 'The GamesIndustry.biz Podcast' on the platform of your choice (including Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, CastBox, Player FM, TuneIn).

In the spirit of GI Sprint, we've also made it easier than ever to get straight to the best advice by including the highlights below:

Shawn Layden's advice on making games faster and cheaper

For our opening session, former head of PlayStation Worldwide Studios shared his thoughts on the unsustainable costs of making games (especially in the AAA space) and how to bring these costs down.

His top tips included:

  1. Most gamers don't see the end of your game. So design fewer levels, make your games shorter.
  2. The tech advancement in games is not getting noticed by the majority of your players, so ask yourself: is this worth the investment?
  3. Try AI and develop tools to do some of the heavy lifting, and don't just throw people at the problem.
  4. Be disciplined and strict on what you can deliver and when. Don't spend too long on an idea if it's not working.

You can read the full article here, listen to the podcast, or watch the video.

'Singles, not albums': A guide to making smaller games

On a similar note, Ant Workshop's managing director Tony Gowland talked us through the benefits and best practices of developing more focused and frequent releases.

Key takeaways included:

  1. Keep the scope of your game simple in order to speed up development
  2. See which ideas from past projects you can isolate and spin-out into a more focused game
  3. Consider lower price points to better reflect the scope of your game and increase the appeal for impulse purchasers
  4. Re-evaluate your metric for success; break even points are lower with smaller, lower-budget games

You can read the full article here.

Image credit: Haiyan Zhang, Xbox's GM for gaming AI, and Brady Woods, product leader for Xbox Game Creator services

Four ways AI and cloud can make game dev easier (and one thing they can't do)

Two of the technologies that have promised to change the way that games are made and played are cloud and artificial intelligence. To discuss how these are going to help developers create games, we spoke with Xbox's GM for gaming AI, Haiyan Zhang, and Brady Woods, one of the company's product leaders for Xbox Game Creator services.

During the discussion, the paid identify four ways they believe cloud and AI can help, and one way in which they can't:

You can read the full article here, listen to the podcast, or watch the video.

Left to right: Dr Aleena Chia, Tommy Thompson, Lauren Maslen, Sean Cooper, Lucie Migné

How you can tap into the AI revolution to make games more efficiently

We delved a little more deeply into the role AI can play in making games faster, better and cheaper in a panel packed with experts – namely AI and Games director Tommy Thompson, Didimo technical director Sean Cooper, Goldsmiths University lecturer Dr Aleena Chia, and Mighty Build & Test's senior producer Lucie Migné and director of production Lauren Maslen.

The discussion was extensive but here as some of the highlights from the panel's advice:

  1. Don't just chase the latest craze and tap into something because it's being hyped up – it might not be right for you.
  2. Explore open source tooling and experiment with free services (but that doesn't mean you won't need to do a lot of work to integrate these).
  3. Pick out the best workloads to automate by determining which boring and monotonous tasks are being wasted on people.
  4. Figure out which are the best tools to use for the best use cases, and know when you're automating too far.
  5. It's easy to slip into the trap of automation and lose your identity – don't forget what gamers are looking for and retain the human touch.

You can read the full article here, listen to the podcast, or watch the video.

Sahar Asadi, King

How King is using AI to speed up development of new Candy Crush levels

Continuing the AI discussion, we spoke to King's Sahar Asadi, who leads the Candy Crush maker's AI Labs department, about how the firm is using this technology. In fact, one of those tools has already had a profound impact on the development of the hit mobile game.

QUOTE | "The playtesting bot we've developed gives designers, prior to releasing a level, an understanding of the game experience for the players. They can see whether the level they've created is providing the desired experience or not, and if not they can go back and refine it. We've also built on top of this bot a tweaking solution. If a designer says there are a few levels that don't have the intended experience, and these are the criteria for that experience, the bot can make refinements automatically. The best refined solutions are sent to the designers, and they can pick the best ones and go from there." - Sahar Asadi, King

Asadi told us that there are now 95% fewer manual tweaks being made to levels as a result of the playtesting bot, and that's led to 50% faster tweaks to the levels overall. You can read the full interview here.

Ulas Karademir, IO Interactive

IO Interactive's mission to speed up game development

The Hitman developer new chief technology officer Ulas Karademir discussed the advantages of running your own tech and how the studio is looking to make games 'cheaper, faster and better.'

In the full interview, he discussed how fun is "unmeasurable," like not knowing whether people will laugh at your joke until you tell it. The key, Karademir said, is to "iterate faster and test it." He also discussed how he is aiming to "reduce the rework" that goes on at the studio, and that AI may have a role to play in this.

QUOTE | "New work is energising. Doing new things is fun. But when I have something and I have to do it again or fix a bug, that's rework, that's boring. It happens because we misunderstand something, or it wasn't managed right, or a competency was not there. But once you've learned it, you know what to expect and that can be automated. AI can be used a lot, I think, in this area." - Ulas Karademir, IO Interactive

Image credit: From left to right: Ant Workshop's Tony Gowland, Free Lives' Dominique Gawlowski, and indie game developer and consultant Rami Ismail

Why devs need to fail fast, and how to do so

If your game isn't fun or feasible, kill it. That's the advice of Free Lives' Dominique Gawlowski, Ant Workshop's Tony Gowland, and indie game developer and consultant Rami Ismail, who took part in a candid discussion about bringing game ideas to life (and knowing when it's time to kill them off).

Their advice included:

  1. If it's not working, stop working – sooner rather than later
  2. Ask yourself: Is it fun to play and to make?
  3. Don't waste time on the nice-to-haves while you ignore the must-haves…
  4. …or time-sink features that just aren't working for you or your game
  5. Check and check again that your idea is worth investing your time and money in
  6. Make smaller games and know your niche
  7. Even when you do everything right, things may still go wrong

You can read the full article here, listen to the podcast, or watch the video.

Getting your game vision right at the concept stage

Before you begin failing fast, it's better to ensure you're working on the right game concept to begin with. To that end, organisational psychologist and Team Sync founder Graham McAllister detailed the challenges of aligning on a vision, why it matters so much, and how developers can overcome the issue.

His top tips included:

  1. Be careful with how you talk about a game idea; make sure that everyone knows what the vision for the project is with precision
  2. Make sure you lock down the vision for a project in the concept or pre-production stage. That way you won't waste time or put unnecessary stress on your team.
  3. Allow questions from your team; if someone doesn't know what the vision is, staff need to be able to tell you that
  4. Play your game together. The more you know about your project as a team, the better your work will be.

You can read the full article here, listen to the podcast, or watch the video.

Jesse Schell, Schell Games

Life without layoffs, or why they are an avoidable part of game development

Despite what the headlines suggest, layoffs are not an inevitability. Jesse Schell – a veteran designer and author who hasn't laid off a single employee since establishing Schell Games in 2002 – told us the games industry's cyclical hiring and firing practices not only breed distrust and fear, but also weakens team dynamics over time.

In his GI Sprint interview, he offered the following advice:

  1. Change how you do business, not your headcount
  2. Prioritise your people by creating a desirable workplace culture
  3. Be efficient and agile in your decision-making
  4. Outsourcing can save money in the short-term – but at a risk
  5. There are alternatives to layoffs
  6. Be honest and pragmatic about risk mitigation

You can read the full article here, listen to the podcast, or watch the video.

Left to right: Bossa Studios' Henrique Olifiers and FuturLab's Toby Adam-Smith

The benefits of working remotely

During the pandemic, studios quickly adapted to working remotely. This way of operating seems to have stuck, with many studios opting to stay fully remote rather than returning to the office – and this can also affect how efficiently you develop your games.

Bossa Studios' Henrique Olifiers and FuturLab's Toby Adam-Smith discussed the benefits of remote working, and how to maintain efficiency and teamwork when everyone is spread across multiple locations. For them, the key lies in four core areas:

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