GDC: Wideload Production Model (Distributed Outsourcing)

Yes, I know that GDC has been over for a couple of days, but I spent the weekend blissfully pretending that game development is a figment of my imagination. So sue me.  😉

Anyway, on Friday I attended a lecture entitled: “Creating Stubbs the Zombie with the Wideload Model”. Stubbs the Zombie is a moderately successful, humorous FPS. Wideload is the developer; the “Wideload model” is basically using a very small core team to manage many independent contractors. You may have read about this in Game Developer Magazine. For those who didn’t:

Wideload had a core production team of about ten people. Despite professing to some rather astonishing mistakes (for example, not hiring a single producer), Wideload managed to get Stubbs out the door just a few months behind schedule. The model, which they plan to stick with in the future, had the following benefits:

  • Maintaining a very small core team made it possible to turn down undesirable contracts that most other developers would ultimately be forced to accept.
  • Contractors were paid a fixed price for assets, not an hourly rate, so project delays were less of a problem than normal. [Sounds great — but delays can negatively impact marketing campaigns, not just development budgets. I’d like to know how Wideload dealt with that.]

There were a fairly large number of bumps in the road, many of which (but not all) can be rectified in future projects:

  • Stubbs was based on a proprietary (and undocumented) engine, which made life much more difficult than it needed to be for contractors. Next time: go with a popular engine.
  • Wideload didn’t create a variety of reference assets before selecting contractors, which meant that contractors weren’t sure what was expected of them. Unsurprisingly, some contractors proved unprepared to meet Wideload’s standards.
  • Potential contractors weren’t tested thoroughly enough prior to signup … again, resulting in sub-standard work.
  • Wideload did not attempt to ascertain whether contractors were well-managed and well-funded enough to remain solvent throughout the life of the project. Due-diligence.
  • Development was afflicted by longer-than-normal feedback delays [probably inevitable with so many different parties working independently of one another].
  • As noted earlier, not nearly enough dedicated production talent within the core team.
  • Contractors were expected to “crunch” when under pressure, the way full-time employees do. No such luck.
  • Assets required substantially more post-production polish than normal. [Multi-project relationships and better processes may reduce this problem over time, but it is unlikely to ever disappear.]

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