Former Bundie staffers have predicted that freelance developers will become an increasing common sight, as permanent specialists fall in value.
Composer Marty O'Donnell and game designer Jamie Griesemer co-founded their own VR-focused studio Highwire Games last year, having worked on every Halo instalment at Bungie, Sucker Punch’s PS4 exclusive Infamous: Second Son and Destiny between them. The team is now developing PlayStation VR exclusive Golem.
Speaking to Playboy, the pair said that employing multi-talented staff is a must for a smaller outfit.
“We need everybody here to be good in pre-production, good in production and good in post-production,” O’Donnell explained.
“They have to have something that they can do at all stages of the game. They can’t just be concept artists and just draw beautiful pictures and then they’re done. Everybody here can wear three or four hats and that’s really pretty cool.”
“Yeah, and can really get into making [game] content,” continued Griesemer. “Which is not to say– I mean, we’re working with a writer and we’re working with a concept artist…”
“But [those experts] aren’t useful as full-time employees. It’s actually sort of destructive to hire them full-time, because you’re basically saying: ‘Hey, we’re only going to use you 25 per cent of the time, and the rest of your time is going to be wasted.’
“In a small studio, obviously you can’t afford any waste, but even in a big studio, they’re going to move more toward that model, where more of the team is outsourced and contract.”
O’Donnell compared the shift to a non-permanent development workforce in the world of games to the current state of film production studios.
“I think it’s going to turn out to be similar to the movie business, where you have the stakeholders of the film, the director, the producer and a few core people, writers and whatever,” he said. “Then they hire in to finish pre-production, bring in all sorts of experts for production and then they go way down [in staff] again and go into the editing room in post-production. And they put it in the theatre.”
Griesemer also criticised the accepted industry-wide tactic of shedding staff after a project finishes – a move that he argued moving to a primarily freelance team would avoid.
“The layoff is part of the budget,” he said. “I mean, it happens before the game even is out the door. So they know it’s coming, they just don’t tell their employees until the game is in the box. To me, that’s kind of treating people like cogs, like a resource. It’s not respecting them as professionals.
“If you bring somebody in and say ‘Look, we’re not going to be able to pay you after the project ships, so you should be reaching out [to find future projects], but please do stay and help us ship the game’, 95 per cent of the industry would do the right thing and stay until the game is shipped. And then they’d already have something lined up.”