Agile Software Engineering Practices in the New Zealand Game Development Industry
Video game development has risen dramatically to become a massive and powerful creative innovation industry whose 2020 global revenue of just under USD 175 Billion considerably surpassing all other entertainment industries (such as box office movies and music) combined. However, video game development is not well understood by academia or industry due to scarce multidisciplinary empirical research, and so many development challenges cause most projects to struggle as current ways of working are often ad-hoc or not well-reasoned. The question then is, how can ‘best’ software engineering and creative production principles and practices form an empirical video game development framework which addresses common multidisciplinary project management and collaboration challenges in the industry?
- Explore and describe the current contextualized ways of working in video game development from multiple types of developer perspectives.
- Explain the relationships between video game project contexts and the project management and collaboration challenges game developers experience.
- Propose an improved process and framework of software engineering and creative production ‘best practices that address these challenges.
Video game developers
The project follows a mixed-methods co-design research approach. This includes the evidence-based software engineering approach which is based on evidence-based medicine. The approach will be used to identify the root causes of video game development challenges, and suggest the most valid and impactful solutions through collecting data from the best available source of evidence: Empirical interviews, focus groups, and observational case studies with game development studios from within the industry itself.
As video game development is the blending of the creative arts, product design, business marketing, data sciences, and engineering, it requires an incredibly diverse set of skills and perspectives. Therefore the He Awa Whiria approach will be used to understand and integrate different types of developers’ needs and goals (such as artists, designers, programmers, or Māori studios) into the research method. This is so that the solution framework will have wider, more equitable application for the industry, particularly in the bicultural NZ context.
Every game studio has its unique context, needs, and success goals, and so the Goal Question Metric framework (which is designed for development process improvement) is also a part of the research methodology. This is so that the effective development practices and processes discovered by this project can be used and tested by actual game studios in live industry experiments to help improve their development practices and reach their work culture aspirations.
Video game development is known as a ‘wicked problem’, which is a type of research problem which has many unknown elements and is rather complex, evolving, and defies simple categorization. E.g. are games works of art or engineering? Are they business products or interactive user experiences? Video games (and video game development) are all these things and much more. Hence, understanding how all these pieces work and interact together is something of a grand endeavour, and so the scope of the project is rather large and ambitious. But, this is necessary, as having a broad and a deep understanding of a subject is the only way to provide solutions that would be truly practical and meaningful for real teams – diverse groups of New Zealanders who are experiencing serious difficulty and trouble working together in an incredibly innovative and fast-moving industry, and who often require help.
As the success of this project relies on making relationships with game studios and investigating their way of working and struggles through on-site observational case studies, another challenge has been logistics. That is, finding the funding and ability to travel around New Zealand to visit studios under the threat of covid-19 restrictions has been problematic.
The main body of data collection with case studies and interviews is currently underway, but there has been one published paper so far on how agile software engineering frameworks are used by major New Zealand studios. There has also been the recent 2021 New Zealand game developers conference which has allowed for an amazing opportunity for field research and making connections with key industry figures and studios.
Check out the published paper on Software Engineering Practices and Methods in the Game Development Industry
A third of humanity are now gamers, and as a gamer myself, who has seen the video game industry slowly change the shape of how the modern world tells stories, socially connect, explore moral issues, and entertains itself, it has been personally gratifyingly to be apart of a project which will hopefully make a difference for such a significant industry.
It has also been incredibly motivating to learn how overwhelmingly enthusiastic the video game industry in NZ is about the research project, and how keen they are to be involved and contribute. Practically every major studio in the country has expressed interest in participation, and it’s been clear many game developers are hungry for solutions for the widespread teamwork and leadership issues that have been adversely affecting their beloved craft.
Its also been rather encouraging to see the University of Canterbury see the value in this influential and exciting creative industry and to invest in making concrete steps to create initiatives and programs to engage and connect with game developers. Finally, I am incredibly thankful for my supervisors who are collaborating from three separate departments, as well as to be a part of the AIGI team and receive their support and encouragement. All of which has given me a unique opportunity to contribute towards and to be a part of something very special and bigger than myself.