Podcast 277: So you want to be a game developer?

Why is there such a divide between the world of game developers and other consumer software builders?

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This episode, we talk about the ways in which game developers are similar and different from web and mobile developers, before getting lost in a quick revery of the video games that have kept smiles on our faces during the recent lockdowns.

Has there ever been a gaming company that brought more joy to the world than Nintendo? They were making playing cards back in 1889 and continue to find ways to be different but fun with inventions like the Switch and Labo.

Sara gives us some the scoop on Rimworld. Check out the trailer here and feel free to lend your skill to a new mod if you have ideas for how to improve it.

A Excel sheet meltdown led to critical health data about the pandemic being lost in the UK. Rows can go to millions, but they used columns.

For those of us who need our reading glasses to see the tiny emoji people post in Slack, Paul has come to your rescue. He asked for the ability to zoom In on Twitter, the CEO of Slack co-signed, and boom, we got a new feature.

We discuss what other new Slack features might take off: stories, push-to-talk, and sneakers.


Paul Ford A good system would say: ''Sara's played 400 hours of RimWorld, would you like to check in on her?'' [Ben & Sara laugh]

Sara Chipps That would be really thoughtful!


Ben Popper Couchbase is a SQL friendly, multi-cloud to edge, no SQL database architected on top of an open sourced foundation. Join them at Connect.Online, their two day virtual technical conference for developers that has over 60 deep dive sessions, where you can learn about Couchbase, hone your application development skills, and network with peers and tech experts. Ready to develop your path? Register for Connect today and learn more at couchbase.com/develop your path.

BP Hello, everybody! Good morning.

SC Hey Ben! Hey Paul!

PF Hey Sara. Hey Ben.

BP So I got a cool news story that came across my feed this morning. It said 2020 was supposed to be a slow year for video games. There's like the big systems were going to announce their next gen consoles but not release them. So everyone was gonna wait. But obviously with everybody cooped up at home thanks to a global pandemic, sales surged up 20% or something like that. And then I saw that the video game industry annually is around $45 billion. And the film industry, which I didn't realize, is this is like 10, 11, 12 billion. The video game industry is huge. And I feel like the pandemic is just going to make it bigger. Do people who work in software in the video game industry, do they cross over easily into other things consumer or enterprise? Are they just like in their own world that doesn't crossover?

SC Yeah, no, they're definitely in their own world. Here's something that's not intuitive from the outside. Software developers in the videogame industry make very little money compared to platform.

BP Interesting.

SC Very little money. And it's super competitive, because every little boy's dream. And so very many little girls also dream the same thing. And so they wake up, and they're, they want to do this. And they study it and they go and they're like 20 people want this job, and it pays nothing. And even if you work on a successful game, like you're still not making that much.


BP Because you're part of a studio with like 1000 people, and everybody's job is to like, work on the pixels for one level or whatever. And you're just hoping like, someday somebody will see my genius or my studio will break through. But like, right, there's so much demand to get into the studio job because it's so coveted. Like, ''I finally get to make video games! My dream come true!''

SC Yeah and also--

PF Oh, those poor people.

SC Yeah and also like, if you think about how it transfers, and I don't know, I haven't done too much game development. So I may this may be an uneducated opinion, but I kind of look like going from game development as going to web development as being like, a brain surgeon, and then becoming a like--

PF Like a dog walker. [Ben & Sara laugh]

SC A dog walker, yes.

PF First of all, like that was a little reductive, right? Like there's, and frankly, with WebAssembly, it's all one big block. But there are these things like you know, you'll talk to somebody, you'll get to know them. And then they'll be like, ''Guess what, it's kind of weird, but I went and got a big job at Google.'' And you're like, ''Oh, okay'' and maybe you'll hear from them, like, once every six months after that. And then you'll talk to somebody and they got a job at Apple. And that's it. Your friendships over, [Ben laughs] they have now left. It's like they emigrated from Ireland in the 1800s. Like, they went to the better land and you never hear about them again. That's it. And then the game industry, you never hear from anybody. Except, ''yeah, that was tough. I was I really loved games.''

SC Yeah and you need to really worry about their health.

PF You're either 100% in the game industry, living games, thinking about 3d algorithms, worrying about code. And so like, it's a weird world, because I think engineering is split up, gaming is its own universe, and it's punitive, like Cyberpunk 2077, they promise no crunch time. And then the memo went around. And it's like, ''I know this will be really disappointing to everyone and we promised no crunch time. But we need everybody to work on Saturdays.''


SC Yeah, people get very angry when things are not done in time. Like when I don't release a feature on time, I personally hate myself. I feel like I've disappointed the world. But in reality, people are going to go on living. When a gaming company is late on a game--

BP What about all the people who pre-ordered Stack Overflow dark mode, those people are angry. [Ben & Sara chuckle]

PF This is what's tricky. It's very similar to films in that you kind of get one chance to get out of the gate. And then there's lots of stuff, you know, you're gonna sell it on home video, or sell it to Netflix or whatever, for movies, but for same for games, like there's a like endless aftermarket, where if something's a hit, people still play it 10 years later. Like Civilization, you get a franchise.

BP There must be some crossover now, though, between like the back end, like if you're the person who's like making Fortnite work, so anybody can hop on and hop off and like calculating the stats and keeping all the servers going. I bet you could go get a job at Netflix, right? Like, there must be on the back end some crossover.

PF But see, those lives aren't hell in the same way. Right? Because what happens is, you know, Sara is talking about features like we're essentially you get that thing out the door. You're supposed to launch an MVP that's kind of anemic and sucks and doesn't have every feature. Any get on an iterative roadmap, maybe you're wrestling with the backlog, maybe you've got a sort of forward looking product vision, whatever, right? Like you're in this zone, where ideally, you might have to work hard. But you probably, the idea is this will just kind of keep going. Stack would implode if everybody had to work 80 hours a week, because it would never end. [Ben chuckles] There's no end in sight of Stack.

SC No, there's no release.

PF Yeah. So you have to organize around that. And you're going to get your your margins and your revenue from those incremental releases and building the platform and more people coming on and so forth. And then you look at the numbers, you know, it'll be like the new Grand Theft Auto comes out. And God knows they're probably working on another one right now. We're gonna find out. And it made $280 billion in the first nine minutes. And you're like, ah! That's it. That nine minutes is that whole companies and everybody's salaries for the next five years.

SC And if it doesn't, then yeah, it's not good.

PF Ouuff that's it.


SC Alright. I really related to this article. Because the other day I opened up my favorite video game for a little while now. It's called RimWorld. And it said in big letters on Steam, ''you have played 344 hours of RimWorld, do you like it?'' [Ben laughs]

BP ''Would you recommend this game to a friend? [Sara laughs]

SC Yeah that's exactly what it said!

BP ''Or would you warn a friend never to get close to this enormous time suck?''

SC I was like, if I played it that much, I would obviously recommend it. [Sara & Ben laugh]

PF Yeah, I mean, cuz, like, see, computers are so patronizing. Like, really? At that point, if the computer was having an honest relationship with you, it would say, ''Sara, how are things? Sara, what's going on? How are you feeling?''

SC ''Have you talked to your parents?''

BP ''Gone for any walks recently?''

PF Yeah, it's like ''Hey Sara, you've played 300 zillion hours of Rim World''

BP That would be so exploitative if they just started, they would like just tell your friend like a little pop up be like ''Sara play 400 hours of this game. It must be pretty good, huh?'' Just that they don't even ask you. Just let you know that your friends are addicted.

PF What is good about RimWorld? I don't know much about it.

SC Okay, so you, you are a bunch of folks in a spaceship, you crash land on an empty planet. You have to create your own settlement. And like sometimes people come and attack you. And then like you level up like, first you only have like wood and metal--

PF Sci-fi Sim City. Right.

SC It is and and then like there's a really it's open source and it's an indie game, there's a really open and like there's a vibrant community making mods. And they really recently released it with one of the mods that's at the royalty version, so you can become like Princess of RimWorld. So that was like, I saw that, I was like that. That's in my wheelhouse.

PF Mmmm. Games are purely about satisfying, like the need of a human being to gain power and territoriality. Like they just are so good at it. Just like ''Yes, I'm a princess of RimWorld.'' You're also an adult and like, I feel this way when I fly in Flight Simulator. I'm like ''Haha world!''

SC Yeah and I was just a Baroness I was just really hustling to get to that princess level.

PF I'm looking at it and it looks kind of cyber-punky too.

BP Cyber-punk, Civilization SimCity, looks great.


SC Yeah, exactly. There's also two really great releases that I've loved this pandemic. Fall Guys. And Among Us, which I haven't played yet, but I've heard everyone loves it. I'm playing it this weekend.

PF People really love Fall Guys.

SC Fall Guys is great. It is amazing. And it's so much fun.

PF My only problem with like the Triple A games because I because I'm really cool and hip and into it. I just bought Witcher [Ben laughs] just right here on the on the cutting edge old Paul Ford. And it's just like, I got into it. And it's fun. And like, you know, I'm like, I see how this is gonna go. I bet I'm gonna get a lot of powers and guns from quests. And then I'm like, yeah, that's gonna be like 40 hours.

SC Yeah, yeah! It is.

PF You got to be into it. Right? You got to be in the zone.

BP Can't think about all the time you'll waste. You just got to waste it.

SC Yeah, don't use logic.

PF I just don't have it. Right. It's a pandemic with twins.

SC Yeah, that's true. Did they play games with you? Like if you all got into like Among Us or Fall Guys, could you do that?

PF Fall Guys would be an option. We did get into Super Mario Kart. We got the Switch. You know what is great is Ring Fit Adventure.

SC I was about to say!

PF For people who don't know it's just like, it's Nintendo. But they give you a leg strap and a metal circle. [Ben laughs] And then you use those things to do cardio fitness and and sort of body resistance stuff. And the thing is, is like you're like, Okay, I'm running. I get this. I'm shooting stuff. And then it's Nintendo. So there's 46,000 micro games. It's just, ''hey, you can let's do the squat jump coin grabber'' and you're like, suddenly you're in there and sweating.

BP Is there any company that's brought more joy to more people? I think you could argue Nintendo is easily in the top three most joy over the last hundred years. They've been around, they used to make trading cards in Japan before they made a video. They've been around since like, 1895.

PF Well, in 2020, the companies that bring joy, it tends to be like that's the the top part of the fraction. And the bottom part is just sheer misery, pain and destruction of democracy. So like Nintendo is like way, way joy and just very little suffering.

SC Yeah.

PF What's wonderful is they don't, they want to exploit the last generation of technology. They're not actually like, what else can we get out of the computer, that's so exciting.


SC There's a great documentary called Indie Game. And if you haven't seen it, it's amazing. It's all about indie game developers, watching them create their dreams, watching how punishing it is, seeing how it goes. So if you want to learn more about game development, that may be the place to start.


BP So we missed this gem last week. In the UK, it was talking about the number of cases, they were reporting, you know, COVID cases trying to track this stuff as a public health. And it turned out that an extraordinary meltdown in an Excel spreadsheet containing lab results failed to update and so then all of a sudden, they had 16,000 new cases that were missed during a computer glitch. You want to walk me through what happened here? Is this something, is this Excel's fault?

SC So no, this is it. So okay, let's talk about this real life. Excel hasn't had like, maximum row size in 10 years. So this is like a machine that is at least at least 10 years old.

PF No, no, Sara, you've missed an important detail. Rows can go to millions. But they used columns. [Ben & Paul laughs]

BP There's no excuse.

PF Isn't that amazing? It's spectacular 10,000 people were not analyzed because of someone was got the x and y axis confused in Excel. In Excel.

SC Wow, that is wild! I think we would be horrified to learn though, like, how many of those there are in the--

PF Oh, no, there's no surprise. That's why like Air Table and things like that exist.

SC Yeah, but the government can't use Air Table, it's gonna be like--

BP No, Air Table hasn't been fed ramped and won't be for exactly another 10 years.


PF You know, what's weird is that like, increasingly, because at work, right, like you, you run into environments, there's plenty of Air Tables. There's Air Table all over these orgs. There's all these low code solutions, Smartsheet, and so on, and they'll pay the, you know, 20 $30,000 a year for lots of seat licenses. And it's sort of great, wonderful enterprise. Hooray, thank you. You're you've got single sign on. And then you can't get adoption. Unless there is like a consulting wing of the house. Tableau is a great example. There are Tableau specialists who install Tableau and then nobody uses it, unless you spend lots of money for Tableau expertise to get you set up so that your data can talk to tableau. And I, you know, notice how we're not talking about code, but everything we're talking about, ultimately comes back to code. Yeah, no, no, definitely use rows.

SC Use rows! If there's anything you get from listening to this podcast, anything you walk away with.

PF Although and look, wait, there's no excuse for someone managing critical health data to not know about the tool that they have like that is really, really bad. But the reality is, that is an arbitrary distinction, like if a human being is sitting down in front of Excel and going ''I'd like to organize my data'' they might just like, having the having named rows and data columns.

SC Yeah, they might appreciate that view better.

PF There's nothing wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, up until the point, once you're managing critical public health data in the midst of a pandemic, taking that hour is pretty important.

BP Alright, so we've talked about this a bunch like whether or not people are going to stay in cities, whether or not people are going to return. Rents in San Francisco for studio apartments are down 20%, which is a pretty eye popping jump. Maybe this is the time to be the contrarian, swim against the tide and moved to San Francisco.

SC I don't know. I know a lot of people--

PF No.

SC I know a lot of people that have moved and a lot of friends that live in San Francisco and they are heading out. I also know people who are trying to rent apartments in San Francisco and cannot.

BP What kind of apartment can't they find?


SC No, no, it's they have the apartment they're trying to find renters.

BP Gotcha. Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, exactly. Yeah, no, rents are down. 20% I mean, yeah, people are definitely pulling out but whether or not that means you know, like if you just graduated college or maybe you deferred for a year or something now would be the time to go right like before it was unaffordable. Now it's inching towards, it's still not affordable, but it's inching towards it.

PF It's all gonna shake out, we know nothing. There's gonna be an election. Maybe there'll be a huge influx of investment in blockchain 2.0, the awakening and like Steve Aoki will release a new blockchain song. It'll be really exciting.

SC Yeah, someone will land on those alt coins that I thought were a great idea.

PF Yeah, there's that, it's like anything, I find in Silicon Valley a little, a lot insufferable. I live in New York City for a reason. I love a lot of people out there. But you never I wouldn't count it out. It's still an incredible powerhouse. And it's still where when people want to go and live tech, that is where they go. That's it. That hasn't changed. You know, everyone will be like--

SC People just don't want to go and live tech right now.

BP Right. It's time to live video games.

SC It's time to live video games, live Netflix.

PF I mean, you still have like three or four trillion dollars of capital just kind of floating around out there. Right? Like, that's a lot of money.

BP Right, it's gonna go somewhere. It's gonna go to SPACs. You guys familiar with SPAC? This was the new venture thing?

SC Does it need my money?

BP It needs your money. You could liquidate your Dogecoin and go to get into a SPAC tomorrow.

SC I can't liquidate it now. I cannot liquidate it now.

BP Speaking of San Francisco is the place where people live tech and like I was taking over live. Did you guys catch any of Slack Frontiers yesterday?

PF Absolutely. I'm your number one Slack Frontiers. Actually, can I okay, brag a little bit? There's a new feature in Slack where if you put your mouse over an emoji, an emoji response. It will zoom in on that emoji, not just tell you the name of it, but zoom in on it as well. So you can see it. That is because I complained on Twitter, because I was like ''I'm old. I'm tired of seeing things and not seeing them!'' You're welcome, America.


SC Wow! Oh wow, I'm seeing that! It gives you like a bigger version of it.

PF I got a response directly from Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack.

SC Wowww!

PF Who went cosigned. I was like, oh, that'll get done.

SC Wow.

BP So Slack stories are coming. I'm gonna reheat all of my Twitter and Instagram content and share it on my Slack, share it on my Slack. [Ben laughs] Sara, take all your TikToks, reheat them.

SC It's just me in different expensive pajamas.

PF I think this is ridiculous in that it's probably pretty useful. Because video, we do a thing at work called 'show your work' where people are nominated and sort of do little videos about what they're up to. And it's a wonderful, wonderful way to see what's happening in the world. And it's very hard to just drop them on Channel, they kind of get lost really quickly. The some sort of context around video that makes it discoverable and gives people tools for telling stories inside of Slack is actually kind of good.

BP I could see that like, you know how, like you see if you have a message from someone like their name is highlighted in a certain way, you're like, ''oh, that person has a story,'' you hover over and they're like, ''this is the project I worked on today. I'm going to talk to you about it for a minute.'' And that's it. That seems kind of cool, right? And it's asynchronous.

PF Or a little screen sharing, you know, where you record a little video. It's just stuff like that.

BP Slack stories was the first one where you were kind of like, ''oh, give me a break.'' But when you think about it a little deeper, it makes sense. The other one is 'push to talk.' Are you familiar with this feature they introduced where it's kind of like there's a Discord channel could be running in one of your slack rooms. And you can just hop in and out and talk and if you want like, it's just like live chat. They said it's meant to like, be more like you're back in the office and you lean back in your chair and you're like, ''hey, Paul, remember that thing? We're working on? Whatever happened to the blah, blah, blah.''

SC I don't like that.

BP But yeah, and this is even scarier, because you're home alone, and then just somebody's voice is coming out of your computer.

PF No that's not good. But you know, maybe it will be good. Who knows? Slack, Slack tends to make overall very good product decisions. We're in it all the time. And we don't hate it. Like I hated Microsoft Word, hated it. I thought it was going to kill me. Alright Sara, I want your opinion on the shoes because if people don't know this, Slack has released its own brand of footwear.


SC Yeah, I think they're cute, but no one wants that. The only people that are gonna wear them are VCs.

PF The only ones who are gonna wear it are people who work in the, you know, work at Slack at the C level.

BP It's good for moral. When you've reached the, you know, the merch phase of your company, you know, you're doing well.

PF When when it gets serious, like Apple did this one point, it had a lot of Apple branded clothes, Apple colors in the late 80s, early 90s. And when it gets to that point, where it's not just like a jacket or a t-shirt, it just is like instant irony for everybody. It's just like, oh my god, this is ridiculous. And then it just gets more ironic over time. Like those Slack shoes, you should buy them now and wear them 10 years from now. And they'll simply be the funniest artifact of clothing.

SC Yeah, you know that's a really good idea. I'm gonna do that. That's great. That'll be people love that in 10 years, when I'm also that I'm just gonna be embarrassing. So that'll be the one redeeming factor will be my Slack shoes.

PF I mean, past results, but there is a sneaker exchange website. Sneakers are a very stable source of--

SC Yeah and no one want Cole Haan. Like why? If it was like Slack, Air Jordans, I would be like, oh, this is great. I'm hyped.

PF Let's be really clear here. You know, if you're Slack, and you're getting shoes made--

BP I don't think Air Jordans--[Ben laughs]

PF I mean, it's just brand, brand equity. It's a complicated conversation. And it seems like everybody's doing great. So I'm happy.


BP Alright, should we look at a few hot questions, do a lifeboat and hop off?

SC Sounds great.

PF Yes, please.

BP The International Space Station is a different gravitational field than us on our surface. Almost all computers and protocols depend on the Unix epoch being consistent everywhere. Epoch is the same for all computers on the Earth's surface, since they were in the same gravitational field, to the computers on the ISS need to be corrected for this difference? The net effect is that the time on the space station is .00000014 slower than the time on Earth. So in it's history, it is lost about a hundredth of a second. That's a pretty good answer.


SC I think I like the answer below better, and it's ''no, computer clocks are inaccurate''

PF That's the classic answer.

BP If you're late for your appointment on ISS. It's a really big problem. Alright, y'all, it's that time of the week, we're gonna do a lifeboat. This week, we awarded a lifeboat to Alex K, for answering the question ''How can I cut a string after x characters?'' There are six answers here. This question was asked seven years ago and has been viewed 25,000 times. Simply var trunk equals A B C D E F dot substring 0 3. So thank you, Alex K. Good one. Good one. Yeah. There's been a bunch of answers here, but it seems like it keeps the answer keeps getting smaller and smaller. This is the kind of like code golf. So Alex K gave the answer in the least number of characters. Alright, y'all. Well, thanks for listening. I'm Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can find me on Twitter @BenPopper. And if you want to reach us, you can always email us podcast@stackoverflow.com.

SC I'm Sara Chipps, Director of Community here at Stack Overflow. You can find me at @SaraJo on GitHub.

PF I'm Paul Ford, friend of Stack Overflow can see my company postlight.com but also go vote.

SC Yeah! Get out of here!

BP Go vote.

PF Let's go vote.

BP And if you want to see an emoji, you just have to hover. [Ben laughs]

PF That's right. You're welcome, America. Go vote!


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