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Engineering Values Handbook – Put a Dent in the Universe

(Not sure what this post is about?  Check out Living Bungie's Values as Engineers.)

Put a Dent in the Universe

We’ve arrived at the seventh and final Bungie value. How do we make our dent?
We're brave enough to challenge the status quo.
  • With appropriate context-gathering, we’re brave enough to explore unfamiliar tech or try a change to any system, rather than always deferring to the top system experts.
  • With appropriate humility, we’re brave enough to challenge existing ways of doing things and suggest new ideas, even in unfamiliar areas.
  • This is intentionally in tension with, "We build the simplest thing that could possibly work." (From Closing is an Everyday Practice.)

“I was on a team that was tasked to look at improving one of our most common workflows, which is getting content changes imported into the game. People would use an editor to control what got imported in order to keep processing times down. Because this is so core to working on the game, we wanted to see if we could make it as streamlined as possible. We had some ideas around improvements we could make to the editor, but after talking with multiple users the overwhelming feedback was that they didn’t want to use the editor at all! They just wanted their changes to show up in the game without having to mess with another tool. This wasn’t in the realm of we had planned for at all. But it made total sense and became the focus of our team’s work from that point on.”
     James Haywood, 2007-

We take the initiative to rethink our priorities.
  • We leverage the high trust placed in individual engineers to take responsibility and initiative.
  • We don’t defensively focus on our current personal goals—we look for opportunities to have the most positive impact overall.
  • The flexible goals philosophy in our performance management approach is designed to support this—we don’t expect people to stay committed to specific goals selected months ago, instead engineers are trusted to identify and prioritize new opportunities in collaboration with their team and manager.

“For me the clearest example of “putting a dent in the universe” was us shipping Stadia in such a short time, while at the same time rapidly switching from Battle.net to Steam, and launching Cross Save, AND going free to play. All of those projects were begun after 2019 started, and they all needed to ship well before it ended. We had to shift a ton of existing priorities, and the new goals presented so many hurdles:
  • The initial meetings trying to figure out the UI flow or even how to explain users the swap from Battle.net to Steam made me think there was no way we’d be shipping it a few months later.
  • Tiger engine (Destiny 2’s engine) running on the Stadia OS at shippable quality in under 6 months? No way.
  • A team of two (James Duffy and Michael Alling) able to do the entire Steam client work and testing? Impossible!
  • Getting full platform alignment on all the Cross Save flows, with the cross-platform ownership complexities? Not happening.
  • The Services team working on the three things (Cross Save/Steam/Stadia) at the same time and able to deliver things on time so that client teams were not blocked? Not very realistic.
  • Getting Valve to loan us a Tiger-engine-experienced engineer that was able to work on both client and services pieces? What are the odds of that? 😊 (Love you Damian!)
Fortunately, there was a ton of support from everybody on the studio as well as from partners (Google engineers and project managers were in the studio throughout making sure the team had everything they needed, Valve was amazingly helpful, platforms turned out to be excited about Cross Save, etc). It felt like the entire studio just committed to point in the same direction and we made all of this happen, all at once. I have great memories from that year.”

     Sharad Cornejo-Altuzar, 2016-

We change what's possible.
  • We’re willing to try crazy things to make a player experience markedly better than the current best in the world.
  • We may not invent many new genres or fundamental technologies, but we will consistently empower stunningly new experiences.

“My best memory of something like this is the process we went through when we built Cross Save. Every step of the way, we were challenging what we thought was possible, what was expected, what was obvious. Our approach was always, “Let’s throw out what we think we know, and make the experience smooth and pleasant.”

The whole thing started with a small project built by five people in a week during Bungie’s first Carnival (a week dedicated to self-directed projects that we aim to have annually) in January 2017, just to show what was possible. Here’s how I got roped into that:

Crosssave

It was a remarkably complicated problem to solve. Summarizing it was easy: we want to give players a way to play using one set of characters on all the platforms they use. Naively, it seems like we should give players a dropdown box with a platform list, and a button to make that their primary and cross-platform account. Here’s what that looked like in the Carnival version:

Crosssave

But there were many more things to account for—what are the side effects of cross saving? What happens to existing characters on the accounts that I can’t access anymore? What if I bought Silver on those accounts? What if I have purchased different expansions on different platforms? What if I haven’t migrated my Blizzard account to Steam yet? Can this system be exploited? Are there any features that are exclusive to certain platforms?

We wanted to build something that felt simple to use but also accounted for all of these concerns players might have, which is a monstrous task, and one that took many iterations of designs between dozens of small teams and hundreds of playtest person-hours to get right. We were doing something with few-to-no reference examples (at the time we were designing it), and it had to work smoothly on day-one, particularly because to solve for some of our requirements, players who mistakenly chose the wrong primary account would be unable to fix it for 90 days.

After the project was over, we met to do a postmortem with everyone involved, to record the successes and failures and what we’d like to keep doing or change in the future. We talked about a lot of things, but I think the main reason that group worked so well together was that we were all so invested in the idea that we were building something fundamentally nascent, a new spark of originality in our corner of the universe. There was some kind of magic that kept us all on the same page, with the same goals, working as a unit to make this thing that was truly new, that would actually put a dent in the universe, and I think we succeeded."

     Jake Lauer, 2013-

“We now take for granted that you can play Destiny 2 together on many platforms, but before Cross Play, Cross Save, or a PC version, we had to support more than one platform!

Early Destiny started out in the same paradigm as Halo, using Windows for development with the intention of shipping solely on Xbox 360. But part of connecting with new players and fans was being able to experience Destiny on your preferred platform. We had evaluated the PlayStation 3, and we knew it was going to be an undertaking to move from a highly optimized, single-device centric title to something that could broaden our player base.

With the help of some experienced multi-platform developers (former Bizarre Creations and Radical Entertainment engineers), we slowly undertook the process of refactoring core systems for multiple platforms, building infrastructure for new targets, and setting global standards that we felt met the bar—the product had to ship, but it also had to be a Bungie-quality experience to put a dent in the universe.

As we neared release, we’d set up a room with four identical TVs and did art and performance reviews, side-by-side—by that time, we’d expanded to cross not only platforms, but also console generations. Looking at the Cosmodrome mirrored across four screens and reflecting on the journey we’d taken to get here was one of the most memorable and satisfying moments in my time at Bungie."

     Kekoa Lee-Creel, 2012-

That rounds out our handbook for all seven values! Thank you for reading this far with us!

Just one more thing. After we finished building the handbook for this seventh value, we did one final exercise. We asked: In living these values, in this way, what do we sacrifice? We mention some downsides in passing in the handbook, but can we crisp that up? Can we identify the specific, meaningful, and desirable things that we sacrifice by approaching engineering in this way? If we can, that’s a good sign that we’ve built a meaningful handbook, rather than a collection of platitudes doomed to gather dust.

What we sacrifice

  • We sacrifice maximum predictability of delivery. We instead prioritize work/life balance, helpfulness, empowerment of individual engineers, and flexibility.
  • We sacrifice maximum architectural coherence. We instead prioritize empowerment of individual engineers. Of course systems require a certain amount of coherence to avoid descending into chaos (with larger systems typically requiring more coherence), so this shouldn't be misinterpreted as "everyone can do whatever they want." We try to identify the points of high-value alignment and establish clear decisionmakers for those, but we still tend significantly more towards local empowerment than the typical engineering culture of this scale.
  • We sacrifice maximum tech innovation. We instead prioritize predictable ecosystems that empower creatives.
  • We sacrifice maximum simplicity. Our focus on relentlessly polishing player experiences sometimes leads us to take on eye-watering complexity, well outside of industry norms (you should see the code and content for a gun in Destiny 2).
  • We sacrifice the pursuit of maximum throughput or quality via ruthless competition or debate. We instead prioritize a culture of positivity and empathy.
  • We sacrifice the greater accountability, recognition, and pride that could come with a more tech-ownership-centric model. We instead prioritize shared ownership and a focus on the ultimate player or user experience.
  • We sacrifice maximum speed of team growth. The premium we place on high-quality management with high discipline alignment limits our hiring rates and organizational flexibility.
  • We sacrifice the impact that a lone-wolf hero can have. We instead prioritize nurturing teams of people that support and magnify each other's impact.


That’s it! If you’ve journeyed through the ten thousand words of this handbook with us, you have a pretty good idea of the culture we're trying to live in and evolve towards as we continue to grow. We hope the read has been worth your time. We think we have something special here, and we’re committed to keeping this light burning as we hurtle together into Bungie's digital-first future.

-Bungie Engineering

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