Skip to main content

Making games is hard, and few people know that better than someone that’s making seven games at once. And that’s exactly what Xalavier Nelson Jr., studio head at Strange Scaffold, is doing. During his talk at Reboot Develop Blue 2023, titled How To Develop Seven Games At Once, he explains that’s exactly what the team at Strange Scaffold is undertaking – and he doesn’t recommend it.

“Please don’t do this, because I speak from personal experience right now,” Nelson Jr. pleads with the crowd. “Our mandate for this – the way we justified this method to ourselves – is that we wanted to make games better, faster, cheaper, and healthier than the industry assumes is possible.

“To do that, you have to try a lot of things and make a lot of things. We hit our peak of nine games last year. We’re down to seven now and, if God is merciful, this will never happen again.”

the last of us strange scaffold (1)

This experience has clearly taught Nelson Jr. some firm and clear lessons, and it’s influenced how he views the industry. The topic of the human cost of game development is the focal point here, and the abuses that have reportedly taken place across the industry. “The story we tell is if massive profit occurs, the failures of process accompanying it do not matter.”

“We promote people who have, perhaps even bitterly, disappointed and failed the people who worked for and around them because the game was a hit,” Nelson Jr. said. “Acknowledging that delay after delay occurred, acknowledging that massive overspending occurred, acknowledging that the project in the way it was run was wrong – but it did make several hundred million dollars. So we’re going to turn it into an HBO show.”

The crowd chuckles, because it’s obvious what he’s referring to. The Last of Us’ recent HBO series has been a smash-hit success with game director Neil Druckmann even sharing writing credits on the show. This all followed several exposés and reports from outlets like Kotaku that reported intense periods of crunch which pushed the game to launch. Xalavier quotes Bernie Mac’s Def Comedy Jam debut with “I’m not scared of you motherfuckers,” followed up immediately with “let’s talk about Neil fucking Druckmann, right?”

the last of us strange scaffold (2)

“The Last of Us is a product of an incredible studio with an immense number of talented creators working inside of it. The same year it won award after award after award, several exposés come out, talking about how the way it was made destroyed the people within it,” Nelson Jr. explains. “And rather than confronting those issues of process, we see the cycle beginning to spin up and start again. That’s where the industry is at.”

Video games are bigger and better than ever, but it requires more workers that are often being worked more harshly. “When we walk into deals, most developers and publishers I speak to are expecting the game to be delayed by one to three years before they sign the paper,” Nelson Jr. said. “That’s not reflected on the milestone schedule. But it’s the expectation – we know that making games is hard. We know that despite massive improvements in technology, we are making more complicated games than ever.”

“I remember when the PC version and the PS2 version of the game were made by studios. Now we put the same game on the Nintendo Switch on the same day as the PS5,” Nelson Jr. told the crowd. “This is unprecedented and amazing. But we are not acknowledging the human cost of this massive innovation, and updating our conversation around the culture of games to accommodate for this.”

You can keep up with Xalavier Nelson Jr. on Twitter, or on the Strange Scaffold website.