Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Culture Shock: the role of policy

In academia, there is less of a team spirit than there is in the game industry. Probably this is because there is less of a threat of, say, an entire department getting laid off because their collective product didn't sell enough units at retail. This difference has many manifestations.

One difference is in how closely people follow written policies.

In industry, while most workplaces do have some kind of Employee Manual with a list of policies, these are usually seen more as guidelines (except in the obvious cases where there would be legal repercussions if the policies are ignored). Getting an exception to, say, a sick leave policy is a matter of talking to your boss about it and having a good reason, especially if that reason ultimately benefits the team and the game.

In the academic world, policy seems a lot stricter. Asking for an exception is essentially asking your boss to go through some kind of appeals or justification process on your behalf. It is asking for more work, in a world where everyone already has quite enough work on their plate, thank you. So it is far more likely to meet a stone wall in this case. You are more likely to see bosses and administrators hiding behind official policy rather than explaining it or working around it, because following the rules is the path of least resistance, and there isn't much personal reward to putting in the extra effort.

For my peers in industry considering academia, this is one of those annoying things you can expect to run into. Ultimately, it means you have to choose your battles carefully, because you won't have enough time to fight over every silly little thing (at least, not if you expect to get all your work done).

Obviously, not all schools are this bureaucratic, and not all game companies are this relaxed. I'm talking general trends here, based on my experience. As usual.