Nimble Game Development: Another Kind Of Agile

In my last post I wondered why Agile emerged in the software business, rather than in another field. I still wonder about this, but in the meantime, something happened that made me think that “we’re not the only ones”.

The new field? Video games.

And I’m not talking about the production side, which is obviously software. I’m talking about the creative process.

You probably know by now that I’m a proud gamer, and as such, I listen to gaming podcasts. Among them: Irrational Interviews. The latest featured an interview with gaming greats Ken Levine and Amy Hennig. Both creative directors of ground breaking games that were financially successful as well. If you’re a gamer, and don’t listen to this, do.

Anyway, both Ken and Amy talked about the creative and writing processes. It was less about the software development itself. Yet, without mentioning the word, I kept hearing in my head “agile”.

Here are a couple of examples (I’m not using direct quotes, tried and failed).

Collaboration and teams

  • Ken said he realizes he doesn’t have good project management skills, for example, so he has other people on the team who do.
  • They recognize that the work of a creative director is for far more than one person. The team helps. It’s a group effort, and the game story is tempered by everyone on the team. (not just the product owner)
  • Working in a team is not about control, it’s about humility. Nobody wants to work with a dictator. (whole team)
  • Always think: How can we do our job better?

Embracing uncertainty

  • Amy said you have to be “Nimble”. (Get it?)
  • The most easy thing to change is the story that hasn’t been written yet. Everything that was recorded or created is done. It may not be relevant as we progress. You flesh out the roadmap as you go, based on what the team can accomplish. (
  • Creating the game, throughout production is working without a net.
  • You got to have faith in yourself, even if you’re not sure how you’re going to get to that scene, or the one after it.
  • I want the feedback, but gamers don’t know what they want until we see it. Until people don’t experience the game, they tend to want the thing they’ve seen before (customers are like this everywhere, I guess)

Planning and execution

  • Coming up with a great game idea is very small piece of the process, execution is key.
  • The whole game story (sometimes up to 20 hours) is in your head, you cannot plan anything that large in details. (No big design up front)
  • The process includes inventing and adaption. It’s “experimentation engineering”.  The story creation process is iterative, adapting the story and figuring the game mechanics  over time. The whole story forms very late. There’s no point in putting a milestone of "story complete" on the Gantt chart.
  • You’re in production from day one until the end. The team cannot wait for “the plan”, otherwise you burn salaries and moral sinks.
  • I never write anything unless it’s going in the game. I don’t write backstories. (read: documentation).

When I asked why agile evolved in software, Lior Friedman answered “Pain”. But if we look at this example, the pain exists not just in our field. And the people developed their own flavor of agile (or “nimble”) for their pain.

I’m still holding my verdict until I find out what the accountants do.

Or until I find out they are immune to pain.

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