AAA to Mobile. Discuss.

Original Author: Keith Fuller

Although I’m working with clients in mobile games these days, that’s as a consultant. I’ve never actually been a “team member” with a group of folks making a mobile game. I think that’s a critical difference so I’m really asking more questions here than I’m answering. Particularly if you have in-the-trenches experience in both realms, please comment with your views.

The topic has bounced around in recent days (er…recent months, rather) about what it means to developers to shift from AAA to mobile. There are a ton of great questions to ask. How does that impact your production? What tools make more/less sense now? How is communication changed? Does it increase or decrease your tendency to crunch? Do you feel a lessened sense of stability with regard to continued employment? Even in the phone and tablet space there are still a number of different sizes of projects, but if you’re generally looking at a group of less-than-ten people over less-than-6 months, how have things changed from AAA to mobile?

I think there are some obvious points that leap to mind. Your iteration time has changed regarding the development of game features since your cycle is more like a couple of months instead of a couple of years. With a smaller team your content depth has decreased accordingly since you’ve got maybe 20 or 30 dev-months (or in some cases, only 11), and that’s for production values in the upper end of the spectrum. The cost-benefit analysis of sticking with a particular framework or process is easily upended…why bother with daily standups or weekly TPS reports when each of the five developers already knows what the others are doing?

The issues that I’m more curious about, though, come down to the personalities of the team members and the makeup of ex-AAA mobile teams. If you make this shift for reason of increased creativity or to break off the shackles of traditional publisher-funded development, does that imply a type of mentality that handles the challenges differently? For instance, on your typical 50- or even 100-person AAA team, one of the first things I tell people is that they need decisive leadership with a solid creative vision. While it is hopefully the case that all 23 programmers and each of the 38 artists are encouraged to contribute their ideas, ultimately the project must be steered by someone who knows where it’s going and can tell you what to do to get there. But with a team of four people working for as many months, do you still feel that same need to place that trust in a single driver? Or do you need every person on a successful mobile team to be as driven as the others? I’ve seen AAA projects get done with comparatively few shepherds and a high number of sheep. Can that work for a handful of people trying to carve a niche out of the Android Market? I’m genuinely intrigued to hear people’s opinions.

Most folks realize it’s difficult to get noticed in a flooded market of inexpensive games where everyone and their mom can put something on the App Store even if it’s ganas a required ingredient?

Like I said at the outset, more questions than answers. But if you’ve got an experienced viewpoint to share – and my contention is that many of you do – please contribute in the comments.