Week 10 – CRJ – Agile and Estimation for a Independent Game Developer, a simple overview

The agile movement does not start with the manifesto; it takes form from it (Abbas, Gravell and Wills, 2008). A clear and concise set of values and principles creates a mindset foundation to improve the quality of work of a team, organization, or whoever else adopts it over a goal. The game development industry started adopting agile methodologies since the origin of the manifesto (Petrillo and Pimenta, 2010). In the face of the most common problems encountered in game development projects, agile estimation techniques arise as an essential tool to deal appropriately with uncertainty and change. As an independent game developer, I have to understand the advantages and limitations of those tools and adapt them to my reality.

It’s all about change, value, and continuously improvement 

The understanding of the word Agile varies in practice. It is also challenging to define Agile methods as an umbrella for well-defined processes. It’s hard to describe it. It’s easier to focus on the values that it propagates and the techniques that are used to pursue them.

Agile is about to work better together, focusing on delivery benefits, or as I prefer value. It’s not just on technique, and indeed, it’s not about software or framework. It’s about to follow the values and principles proposed in the Agile Manifesto (Manifesto for Agile Software Development, 2020) to make teams and people work better together, pursuing a goal. Said that Scrum and Kanban are some of the most common tools to solve management and organizational problems. And are usually adopted as the primary agile methodologies by the organizations. 

Embracing the change

To embrace the change is a crucial aspect that creates a mechanic that makes the team listen to the customer’s feedback and focus on delivering what is essential. It allows the team to review their choices and consequently enforcing continuous improvement behavior. This set of values are a valuable tool when creating entertainment products that need constant validation of the community’s expectations. Despite all complexities and uncertainties that are part of game development, It’s natural to adopt agile methodologies in their production.

The process of defining a game design concept is highly adhesive to agile management and modeling. As a broader set of ideas, plans, and structures, they usually change throughout development and change even after the final product launch. Titles like No Man Sky (No Man’s Sky: Post-Mortem – What Went Wrong – Can It Be Saved? : NoMansSkyTheGame, 2020) and Dead Cells (VIDEO: A Dead Cells post-mortem from Motion Twin’s Sebastien Benard, 2020) are good examples of recent and successful projects that faced and embraced different levels of changes. The first one after a failed launch adapted himself to listen to the consumer critiques. And the second on it was initially designed to be a tower defense game that was finished like a roguelike title.

A review made of the Gray Literature points out that the majority of planning problems are caused by optimistic estimation (Politowski et al., 2020). Agile estimation, as described by the Scrum framework, is a technique to deal with those problems. (Rosenberger and Tick, 2019).

And the greatest challenge, to estimate

Costs, time, and expectations are factors that create pressure for a good estimation. This pressure is negotiated on traditional project management using a fixed man-hour metric. Agile development estimates using a relative measure and a less descriptive technique.

One of the most popular methodologies is named Planning Poker.  Which consists of a blind vote approach using a relative scale. Then each team member presents a value that represents their understanding of the task, relating complexity, effort, and risk. Case the votes are uniform this is assumed that is the value of the task, in case of discrepancies the divergent participants expose their point of view. A new votation is made until a value is accepted by the team members. At the end of several iterations is created a relative measure of the value (story points) of the tasks. After some sprints, the average story points represents the velocity of a team. 

Planning poker is only one of several tools to estimate the work in agile. But the basic structure and principle are the same: create a flexible and relative metric of effort, value, and risk to plan the activities of an agile team.

The imprecision of this system solves itself when applied over time. Starting by assuming that everything is poorly estimated is useful to be a part of the development cycle. At the end of each sprint/timebox, it’s possible to review the original expectations and make a real analysis of what went right/wrong, but mostly to be continuously reviewed and adapted.

In my experience, I saw more success than failure when those techniques are adopted. I have the feeling that the link between the core values and principles of agile movement leverage and potentialize the advantages of those estimation methods. Building a cycle of continuous improvement.  

References

Abbas, N., Gravell, A. M. and Wills, G. B. (2008) ‘Historical Roots of Agile Methods: Where Did “Agile Thinking” Come From?’, in Abrahamsson, P. et al. (eds) Agile Processes in Software Engineering and Extreme Programming. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 94–103.

Agilemanifesto.org. 2020. Manifesto For Agile Software Development. [online] Available at: <https://agilemanifesto.org/&gt; [Accessed 7 December 2020].

Petrillo, F. and Pimenta, M., 2010. Is agility out there?. Proceedings of the 28th ACM International Conference on Design of Communication – SIGDOC ’10,.

pocketgamer.biz. 2020. VIDEO: A Dead Cells Post-Mortem From Motion Twin’S Sebastien Benard. [online] Available at: <https://www.pocketgamer.biz/news/69643/video-a-dead-cells-post-mortem-from-motion-twins-sebastian-bernard/&gt; [Accessed 7 December 2020].

Politowski, C., Petrillo, F., Ullmann, G.C. and Guéhéneuc, Y.G., 2020. Game Industry Problems: an Extensive Analysis on the Gray Literature. arXiv preprint arXiv:2009.02440.

Reddit.com. 2020. No Man’s Sky: Post-Mortem – What Went Wrong – Can It Be Saved? : Nomansskythegame. [online] Available at: <https://www.reddit.com/r/NoMansSkyTheGame/comments/5dgma1/no_mans_sky_postmortem_what_went_wrong_can_it_be/&gt; [Accessed 7 December 2020].

Rosenberger, P. and Tick, J., 2019. Adaption of selected PMBOK processes to fit SCRUM developments1, 2.

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