A Game Studio Culture Dictionary


Deuze talks about how “the current company culture in game development is finding its way between the residue of ‘militarized masculinity’ and cultivated independence on the once hand, with a commercial climate of milestones, crunchtimes, customer relationship management and marketing on the other hand.” (Deuze, MW, 232). This, with the trend of game companies merging and then trying to integrating vertically (MMW, 228), creates managerial hierarchies that are often strained, which creates a culture and a language that exist in the workplace.

In this Gamasutra article, a number of commonly used phrases in game studio culture are collected and described in detail. Below are a few phrases that I think are relevant to the kind of culture that is described in the readings for this week. Specifically, these are with regard to the dynamics between game workers’ managerial requirements and their creative work.

Seagull: Used as a verb to describe when a high level executive swoops in and craps all over a decision made in the trenches.

Hello, Monster: When you encounter horrible design decisions, often from a marketing exec or someone far from design. Like, “Why don’t you just make the game open world?”

Reality Distortion Field: The phenomena that exists in the Ivory Tower that allows execs to set completely unrealistic goals and/or deny the obvious.

Quacking Duck: If something is blatantly wrong somewhere on the screen, it gives the execs an obvious aesthetic error to focus on instead of tearing something else apart which may have nothing wrong with it.

Meat Shield: When middle management protects subordinates from the whims of upper management.

Management Roulette: When you have every producer and lead coming around your desk several times over the course of a day to see if a feature that has been deemed important by upper management is complete yet, generally resulting in being pulled out of your train of thought every 20-30 minutes. You never know which manager will be around next, but you know it’s just a matter of time.

Buzzword Compliance Pass: Adding a bunch of bullet-points to a presentation that have nothing whatsoever to do with the game but will certainly be brought up at the meeting by an exec, e.g., “I don’t see anything on this update about leveraging social networking or microtransactions. How do you plan to ensure that your game has a high retention index?”

Feature Creep: When unplanned features creep into the game through subtle and unofficial channels.

Cabal: A small group of employees secretly operating together toward ends that differ from those of studio authorities.

Yellow Pixel: Counter-strategy to the phenomenon where each manager in the review process felt the need to”fix” something regardless of its relevance or value. It entails adding something obviously broken so that aproducer could point it out and feel good about adding value.

“ (Gamasutra)

These managerial conflicts and strains that affect game workers are very much one sided in that the managers may or may not agree with these definitions. It is with a certain sense of pessimism toward upper managerial governance that these terms are coined. It also points to the issue of poor working conditions and quality of life (or lack thereof) discussed. (MMW, Deuze, 230). With the lack of security over our media jobs, perhaps we can only hope that our creative work doesn’t get Seagulled, that it doesn’t get subjected to a Quacking Duck or a Yellow Pixel for that matter, and that the Meat Shield will benefit us.

– Dan Schiffman




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