Gaming has some lessons for software developers

While the gaming industry is helping to fuel hardware advances that are benefiting the enterprise, a computer science professor at the University of Western Ontario in London says the enterprise space could also learn a thing or two from its gaming cousins when it comes to software development.

Mike Katchabaw, who teaches a course in game design and development, says the differences between corporate and gaming development really aren’t that large.

Before a game is anything else, he says, it’s a piece of software. “It might be dressed up in a nice entertainment package, and there might be talent involved like a producer and a director, but ultimately it’s a piece of software, so there’s going to be carryover from that perspective,” says Katchabaw.

Where the two industries defer, though, is in their approaches to development, and it’s here Katchabaw says the corporate side could take a few pointers.

For starters, in the gaming industry cross-disciplinary development teams are common. Programmers need to work hand-in-hand with artists, writers and sound mixers, and Katchabaw says the gaming industry has done a good job managing that interdisciplinary environment.

“That’s something that has to happen a lot in other software projects as well,” says Katchabaw.

When designing a game, testing is much more important, because when designing a game for a console, there won’t be an opportunity for fixes or patches. Katchabaw says game developers get used to rigorously testing and thinking about what they’re doing before they do it.

“Those kinds of processes, were they to carry over (to the enterprise space), would be quite valuable,” says Katchabaw. “With the way commercial enterprise software has been going, there’s been some bloating. Take a look at the size of software we use today versus five to 10 years ago.”

It’s a view shared by David Wu, a developer with Toronto’s Pseudo Interactive. Pseudo has developed games like Cel Damage and Full Auto for the console market. Wu says agile programming methodologies popular in the gaming space, like extreme programming, are becoming more popular in the enterprise space.

Wu says the biggest difference between enterprise programmers and gaming programmers is that gaming programmers tend to be more pragmatic, and while they may not create systems that are as robust, they do work faster.

“Game development pushes the limits in rapidly changing requirements, rapidly changing hardware, high performance and very rapid development of a great many systems,” says Wu. “Game programmers tend to be much more efficient and faster than other developers.”

Jeff Zado, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager for developer solutions, says he sees the worlds of gaming and enterprise software design merging, as the next generation of business applications emphasizes an improved user experience.

“You could take a game developer, put them into an enterprise development environment, and the aspects of the software development lifecycle are going to be the same,” says Zado. “We’re looking for individuals that approach challenges in unique ways, and that will take advantage of the advancements that are out there.”

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