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Is Burnout Inevitable in the Creative Industries?

Candle that has just been snuffed out.

Photo by J R Guillaumin

How would you like to work 15-20 hours unpaid overtime a week?

What about doing it for weeks on end because of unrealistic schedules?

How about a 65% chance of damaging your health from the stress of overtime?

And what if someone told you these were just occupational hazards, to be expected if you choose a career in the creative industries? [Read more…]

Interview with David Amor, Creative Director, Relentless Software

ResearchLast week I travelled to Brighton to talk to David Amor, Creative Director at computer games developer Relentless Software, for the latest interview for my research on Perceptions of Coaching in the UK Creative Industries.

In an industry where, according to Gamesindustry.biz, “insane crunch times and endless overtime hours … are considered to be a standard part of working in the development sector”, David and his business partner Andrew Eades are remarkable for having had “the crazy idea of a development studio that works 9 to 5 with no overtime”. Not only that, they strictly limit internet and e-mail access during working hours, and recreational games are banned from the office. Their approach has elicited protests about such ‘draconian’ measures, mixed with incredulity when they explain that in 3 years of production they have never missed a deadline or asked their staff to work evenings or weekends.

David Amor

David and Andrew founded Relentless Software in 2003 to make Social Games on traditional games consoles such as PlayStation2. Their first product, DJ: Decks & FX, was published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) in September 2004 to critical acclaim and was subsequently nominated for a BAFTA. DJ: Decks & FX is a music-mixing product that gives users a virtual DJ rig and a set of over 100 genuine dance tracks to play. It allows the user to perform live at parties as well as record their perfect mix for later sharing and playback.

In 2004 and 2005, Relentless worked on SCEE’s London Studios titles, EyeToy: Groove, EyeToy: Kinetic and SingStar. PopworldEyeToy and SingStar are SCEE’s internally developed social games that have collectively sold tens of millions of units. SCEE are world-leaders in developing and publishing this genre of products and Relentless is pleased to work closely with SCEE in this increasingly important market segment.

Relentless Logo

In October 2005, Relentless Software and SCEE released Buzz!: The Music Quiz, a music based quiz game set in a TV studio that includes four bespoke buzzer peripherals. Buzz!: The Big Quiz was released in March 2006 and Relentless continue to develop new Buzz! games for PlayStation platforms including Buzz!: The Schools Quiz and Buzz! The Mega Quiz. The Buzz! franchise has sold 4M units in its first year and continues to be an important brand in the Sony catalogue.

Relentless was honoured with Best New Intellectual Property and Best Innovation in conjunction with SCEE at the 2006 Develop Industry Excellence Awards. Later in 2006 it went on to win a BAFTA for Best Social Game. Relentless was also named 3rd highest UK independent game developer in the recently published Develop 100 which lists the top 100 developers by revenue generated in the UK. At a global ranking of 43 with a single Buzz! product, above Microsoft and Sega, this demonstrates the potential of social games and the ability of Relentless to achieve success in this area.

Relentless continues to make games that everybody can play and has developed considerable expertise in the new Social Games genre that allows people to enjoy video games without having the gamer expertise required by other products.

Talking to David, I was struck by his emphasis on the hard business value of ensuring his staff have a good balance of focused work and time away from the office. In his view this is not just a case of being ‘nice’ to people, but of providing the optimum conditions for efficient work and reducing some of the uncertainty inherent in creative production.

Relentless are currently hiring – e-mail David if you think his approach to making games could be for you.

Click the ‘AUDIO MP3’ icon below to hear the interview.

Table of contents for Research: Perceptions of Coaching in the UK Creative Industries

  1. Take Part in My Research – ‘Perceptions of Coaching in the UK Creative Industries’
  2. Research Project: Definition of ‘Coaching’ for this Project
  3. Research Project: Definition of ‘Creative Industries’
  4. Questionnaire for Managers in the UK Creative Industries
  5. Questionnaire for Employees in the UK Creative Industries
  6. Online questions for UK Creative Industry Staff
  7. Interview with Mick Rigby, Managing Director, Monkey Communications
  8. Research Project Featured on ‘Better Business Blogging’
  9. Interview with Ruth Kenley-Letts, Film Producer
  10. Interview with Chris Arnold, Executive Creative Director, BLAC
  11. Interview with Russell Davies, Advertising Planning Maestro
  12. Interview with Chris Hirst, Managing Director, Grey London
  13. Interview with David Roberts, Senior Project Manager, Creative Launchpad
  14. Interview with Neil Youngson, Technical Director, Cabinet UK Ltd
  15. Interview with Greg Orme, Chief Executive, Centre for Creative Business
  16. Interview with Chris Grant, Consultant, 14A Conversations
  17. Interview with Antonio Gould, Consultant, and Sara Harris, Screen Media Lab
  18. Interview with Richard Scott, Surface Architects
  19. Interview with Ben Demiri, Brand Manager, SIX Showroom
  20. Interview with Sian Prime, NESTA Creative Pioneer Programme
  21. Interview with Jill Fear, CPD Manager, The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising
  22. Interview with Terry Childs, Creative Director, Silver Chair
  23. Interview with Matt Taylor, Director, Fat Beehive
  24. Interview with Mark Earls, Advertising Contrarian
  25. Interview with David Amor, Creative Director, Relentless Software

Creative Links – January

OK I might have made a mistake by promising to do Creative Links on a monthly basis – there are simply too many good creativity posts. Or maybe it’s like buying a new car – as soon as you decide on the model you want, you see it everywhere. In the interests of keeping up and keeping things fresh I’ll have a go at doing Creative Links weekly from now on. But first here’s the edited highlights of what I found in January, sorted into categories to keep it manageable.

Where do ideas come from?
Scamp takes issue with a piece of research that claims Where Ideas Come From is other people. Beeker claims it’s ethical to Steal Well, and Faris, true to his motto that Talent Imitates, Genius Steals, Couldn’t Resist the joys of plagiarism. Neither could I – here’s the picture he doubtless nicked from someone else:


If you’re looking for a balanced view, Doc Searls weighs up the pros and cons of disclosing your ideas vs keeping them secret in his post 10 Ideas About Ideas (via Creative Generalist); while Brian Lee advocates a middle way between plagiarism and the pressure to be original, reminding us that Creativity Is A Communal Act.

Tortured Artists
It may just be wishful thinking but I don’t see why artists shouldn’t enjoy themselves (and their work) as much as anyone else. I’m glad to learn that at least Douglas Eby agrees with me, in this great post on Pain and Suffering and the Artist.

Creative Partners
The subject of torture brings us neatly to relationships. Scamp continued his excellent series of Tips for Creatives with Finding the Right Partner and How to Have a Good Relationship with Your Partner – useful advice interlarded with (for me) flashbacks to my days as a couples therapist.

As a fan of creative synaesthesia and inter-disciplinary creativity I was pleased to see Mark Hancock catch the synaesthesia bug when he ventured out of the advertising world and spent time with videogame creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Noisy Decent Graphics did a brilliant piece on What I see when I listen and Russell played around with Electroplankton, which looks a bit like an online, affordable version of the Reactable.

Creative Flow
Speaking of altered states of consciousness, Steve Pavlina wrote a great description of My Experience of Creativity, prompting my inner Creativity Trainspotter to tick off Csikszentmihalyi’s Nine Elements of Creative Flow – can you spot them all? Steve followed up that post with 7 Rules for Maximizing Your Creativity.

Adliterate hosted a cracking debate on the question Is Blogging Killing Planning? I’m not a planner so I’m not qualified to answer the question, but reading through the comments on that post and judging from the general quality of blogs in the plannersphere, I have to say planning is doing wonders for blogging.

Creative Collaboration
Staying with planning for a moment, John Grant argues the case for Planning as Mediation – between the (potentially conflicting) interests of the client, creatives and customer. Simon Darwell-Taylor bemoans the lack of inter-disciplinary communication in ‘the typical ad agency’, as opposed to the more collaborative approach of TV production. Yet the grass is always greener – Richard Wilson has started a wonderfully dour blog called TV Grouting, where he says:

TV and the internet don’t seem to me to be natural partners. The internet is based on the principle of sharing information and ideas and making everything cheaper. TV is about owning and jealously guarding ideas and extracting as much money as possible from them

He contrasts this sad state of affairs with the world of advertising, where planners like Russell are ‘willing to share their ideas ‘with any number of people who might be prepared to nick them’. (As if they would…)

So what can we conclude about creative collaboration?

  • Creative people need to share to be creative
  • Creative people get scared of sharing because someone might steal their creativity
  • Creative people sometimes need someone around to get them to share a bit more
  • Creative sharing looks terrific fun from a distance, it’s a bit messier close up.

For the pitfalls of creative collaboration, see Kathy Sierra’s brilliant The Dumbness of Crowds.

Creative Think
It’s almost impossible to single out individual pieces by Roger von Oech, they are all so consistently and variously creative, you might as well pick some at random – which is exactly what you can do if you click his picture on the Creative Think homepage. A couple of blog posts that stood out for me in January were Set A Deadline to Goad Your Creative Juices, countering the received wisdom that creativity is all about freedom from constraints; and his invocation of the God Janus to usher in the New Year by thinking something different.

Enterprising Blogging
Hugh McLeod knows a fair bit about blogging and being an entrepreneur, his random thoughts on the subjects are more memorable than most people’s considered musings.


Making a Living as an Artist
The online opportunities for creative producers can be bewildering – Jonathan Bailey clarifies the strategic options available in an excellent post on The New Content Economy.

Delve into the voluminous archives of Liz Strauss’ blogs and you’ll see she’s no stranger to Unblanking the blank screen so it’s worth listening to what she’s got to say about it. She’s got loads more great posts on writing, but 10 Ways to Start a Blog Post should keep you going for a while.

For What Not to Write, look at Claudinho’s post about 20 Words Most Used in Press Conferences. ‘Best of breed’ anyone?

And just when you’re relieved that the words are finally starting to flow, up pops killjoy Brian Clark to tell you Why Creativity Can Kill Your Copy. Brian’s a master of the headline that draws you in – admit it, you’re itching to know what’s so bad about creativity, aren’t you?

Playtime Competition and Links

If you remember my post about Tim Wright’s amazing Playtime event in October, you will no doubt be concerned to hear that the Russians have joined the golfing space race.

Not to be outdone, Tim is stepping up his plans for his mission to play gold on the moon with David Bowie – he’s registered www.golfonthemoon.com and (ahem) ‘launched’ a competition to win an iPod Shuffle. The prize will go to “the best moon/golf/Bowie image submitted by Xmas”.

Tim has also posted links from some of the Playtime presentations – by Gavin Stewart, Tom Hume and Rob Bevan. See my previous Playtime post for more about the presentations.


Serious Fun at Playtime

I had an amazing day earlier this month at the Playtime event organised by Tim Wright at 01zero-one as part of the London Games Fringe. I first came across Tim’s work at Warwick University when he was one of the guest speakers on the MA in Creative and Media Enterprises, and showed us his amazing games combining books, websites and mobile technology. It’s hard to explain how they work, but if ‘imaginary total fulfilment’ sounds like your cup of tea, check out Tim’s XPT site.


For Playtime Tim assembled an excellent lineup of speakers covering a range of disciplines and meanings of the word ‘play’. And refreshingly for an event involving computer games, there wasn’t a console in sight.

Pat Kane set the scene by talking about the social and cultural context of play, based on his book The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living, which argues that in rich countries the work ethic that has governed societies since the industrial revolution is now giving way to a ‘play ethic’ – so work is becoming more like play (particularly in creative industries) and playfulness pervades business, the arts, education, politics, education and family life. So far so fluffy – but his talk got really interesting when he highlighted the dark side of play, in the ‘addictive’ quality of computer games, the coercive behaviour of crowds at football matches, and even the treatment of war as a game, in the rhetoric of US officials who have frequently talked about ‘changing the rules of the game’ in the war on terror.

I couldn’t help thinking about my first experience of paintballing on a recent stag weekend – at the beginning of the game, we were just a bunch of hungover thirtysomething blokes lumbering around sheepishly (and getting wiped out by a squadron of 12 year old boys), but by the end we had all somehow become possessed by the spirit of the game and were hell-bent on using all our aggression and cunning on taking out ‘the enemy’. [Read more…]