Reading: “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels”

I read Blood Sweat and Pixels

April 27, 2021 | Ian Arrowsmith

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Regardless of the industry in which you work, every project you take on will have creative and technical logistics that need to be overcome; whether that’s selling services, making cars, or developing video games.

I mention video games because I am (perhaps not surprisingly in my line of work) a big fan. Not only do I love playing a lot of games a lot of the time, I am also fascinated by how they get made, which brought me to reading a book called Blood, Sweat, and Pixels that examines the human stories behind video game development. 

If you work in tech, like I do, then it’s very likely that Blood, Sweat and Pixels will resonate with you as well. There were a few themes I found that matched with other projects I work on and though they may not be new, they are still interesting to learn about from different perspectives.

A story about project management

It’s quite amusing to think that a book about developing video games could come back to the work I do. I work as a Project Manager for Brew Digital, who design and develop digital solutions to complex problems. While I don’t work on the technical side of the design and development, I do have an overview of all threads of work that the team weaves and the challenges they face while doing so. 

Each and every project has its own unique complexities, regardless of the size or scale of its scope. In Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, Jason Schreier paints a vivid picture of the round-the-clock crunches, the burnout, the panic, and last-minute saves that go into the development cycle. While the work we do at Brew doesn’t rip our team apart in the same way that Schreier portrays, there are aspects to the behind the scenes journey of video game development that I’d like to mention again.

Milestones matter

There are a few obvious milestones in game development; when the game moves into full production having had a budget signed off, or when the game is released, but there are numerous other milestones mentioned in some of the stories. For example, an E3 demo. E3 is one of the biggest game events targeted at the trade and public in the calendar. Development teams galvanise around showing their work to the public at E3 and getting the energy from the crowd response. It’s an important opportunity to gain momentum and feedback. In software development I often feel the emotively motivational impact of milestones is missed.

Communication vs Team size

For big budget games the team size can grow quickly and scale up to meet the quality aspirations of the studio. The danger when this happens at studios that are growing, or are less familiar with large projects, is that the vision for the game isn’t effectively communicated. This means that when different teams’ work comes together, the process may not be as efficient. More work is then required to fine tune each aspect to bring it together to fit the vision. Small teams tend to avoid these kind of problems..

Working with unfamiliar technology

Technology in gaming is improving all the time, more pixels, fancy lighting, better explosions. Every so often though these advancements need a significant update in the technology used to make the games. When this happens the effect on estimations is often understated.

Use every opportunity you can to iterate

Game development requires iteration as a critical part of the process, how do you find fun? Some of the best games make learning how to involve iteration at every opportunity and keep iterating throughout as much as they can; if it’s for the sake of making a good game, none of it is seen as wasted time or effort. It’s the same approach as many successful endeavours, don’t stop improving, but it’s often maximised in game development better than other industries that follow a more waterfall project pattern.

My key takeaway from Blood, Sweat, and Pixels

What I found myself thinking back to the most once I finished Blood, Sweat and Pixels was the fact that all projects really involve working with people, software projects perhaps more than you might realise, and the better the people are aligned and work together with enthusiasm, the smaller any problems will be along the way.