No one wants to work in a job they hate. But what happens when said job is your dream job? A former Ubisoft technical architect who worked on the Assassin’s Creed series has penned an intriguing blog post entitled “Why I Quit my Dream Job at Ubisoft” that addresses just that, detailing the experiences that drove him into independent development.
Although perhaps challenging to create, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is also fun to play hence why it features on our list of best PC games.
Last year, Maxime Beaudoin left Ubisoft to form his own studio with his girlfriend. After thoroughly enjoying his rise through smaller teams and smaller games - working on Wii title Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and eventually developing the Wii U port of Assassin’s Creed 3 - Beaudoin eventually got to work on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. This, he found, was a different beast entirely in terms of size, production, expectation and demand.
“On my last day at Ubisoft, while I was saying goodbye to my colleagues, nobody asked why I was leaving to work on my own games,” says Beaudoin. “Even people who barely knew me had a pretty good idea. A lot of them were actually envious, although they worked on Syndicate too, realizing one of their own dreams. I’m sure that many professional game developers might have a clue about why I made this move.”
Beaudoin explains that in big productions, like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, big teams are what marks their downfall. Syndicate, apparently, was created in collaboration of as many as ten studios based all over the world. This is turn dehumanises the individual and results in round-the-clock development. The post in its entirety is fascinating, however here’s an extended excerpt as to what Beaudoin struggled with most regarding the triple-A process:
“With so much people, what naturally occurs is specialization. There’s a lot of work to do, and no one can master all the game’s systems. So, people specialize, there’s no way around it. It can be compared to an assembly line in a car factory. When people realize they’re just one very replaceable person on a massive production chain, you can imagine it impacts their motivation.
“With specialization often comes tunnel-vision. When your expertise is limited to, let’s say, art, level design, performances or whatever, you’ll eventually convince yourself that it’s the most important thing in the game. People become biased towards their own expertise. It makes decision-making a lot more complicated. More often than not, it’s the loudest voice who wins… even if it doesn’t make much sense.
“On large scale projects, good communication is – simply put – just impossible. How do you get the right message to the right people? You can’t communicate everything to everyone, there’s just too much information. There are hundreds of decisions being taken every week. Inevitably, at some point, someone who should have been consulted before making a decision will be forgotten. This creates frustration over time.
“On top of that, there’s often too much people involved in making a decision. Usually you don’t want to make a decision in a meeting with 20 people, it’s just inefficient. So the person in charge of the meeting chooses who’s gonna be present, and too bad for the others. What it’s gonna be? A huge, inefficient meeting where no decision is taken, or a small meeting that goes well but creates frustration in the long run?
“Being an architect, I had a pretty high level view of all technical developments on the project. While it sounds cool, it has its disadvantages too. The higher you go up the ladder, the less concrete impact you have on the game. You’re either a grunt who works on a tiny, tiny part of the game (“See that lamppost? I put it there!”), or you’re a high-level director who writes emails and goes to meetings (“See that road full of lampposts? I approved that.”).
“Both positions suck for different reasons. No matter what’s your job, you don’t have a significant contribution on the game. You’re a drop in a glass of water, and as soon as you realize it, your ownership will evaporate in the sun. And without ownership, no motivation.”
Beaudoin rounds off saying these issues are by no means exclusive to Ubisoft or the development of Assassin’s Creed games, simply that they’re the direct downside of creating huge games with huge teams.