It was early May, 1998. nearly all of Ensemble Studio’s employees were in San Jose, aboard the Queen Mary. We had just been awarded a pair of Spotlight Awards from the Computer Game Developers’ Conference, including “Best of Show.” The statuettes looked like miniature Klieg lights, and someone had plugged them in on one of our tables. Sheets and sheets of stickers advertising an entertainment network called Berzerk littered the bar. We had taken to using them to replace the labels on our beer bottles and, as they became more numerous, to toasting “berzerk” and then just randomly yelling “berzerk.”
Tag Archive for: Ensemble Studios
You and I worked together at Ensemble Studios for more than a decade. I respect your right to your own opinion and your right to state it. However, I take issue with the manner you have decided to speak about your displeasure with “crunch culture” at the 2010 GDC.
While the importance of playtest might seem obvious, the practice took time to catch on and gain acceptance. In the late ’90s, it was still pretty routine to run into developers who didn’t playtest the games they were working on.
Luckily, I earned my bones at Ensemble, where there was never anything else. As the only founder with much real experience making games, Bruce Shelley was often responsible for providing us with some clue as to what we should be doing. Playtesting was the process he had seen work in the past. (Apparently, the development loop for Civilization involved Sid Meier writing some code, then Bruce playing and making notes, then Sid writing some code, then….) Ensemble started with it and we never questioned it.
In 1997, Ensemble had yet to release a game and we were not well known. Despite this, we received a considerable amount of mail (both actual paper and email) from fans. Most was “can I has job” but every now and then there was something special in the inbox.
I started to keep an “X File” shortly after I came across a couple of the more awesome ones and I’ve lugged it around ever since. The crown jewels of this collection are a series of notes that we continued to receive for several years from a fan (?) who had very detailed suggestions for a game.
I got into a discussion about this yesterday and was trying to accurately communicate the glory of these letters. I’ve scanned one in so it can speak for itself.
(Caveat: I do not have the sanity points to read this start to finish. If there’s anything offensive in here, apologies in advance.)
During the upcycle of a trend, it’s rare to see a quote from someone at the COO level that isn’t blue-sky / this-is-the-future / one-billionty-percent-growth-forecasted balloon juice. Which is why Dean Takahashi’s VentureBeat piece last Wednesday, in which John Schappert is quoted as opining that the current “social gaming bubble” resembles the “mobile games hype” of yesteryear, warms my heart.
(Even if, as Dean points out, Schappert’s comments could be designed to help EA achieve a better price for any companies they might want to acquire. A little late for that to be useful if rumors like the Playfish deal turn out to be true….)