Founded: 2001
Offices: HQ in Las Vegas, NV. Also 2 offices in Oregon: Eugene and Portland.
Industry: Web-based gaming
Employees: ~100
Tools used: JIRA, GreenHopper, Confluence

As part of our participation in the Game Developer Conference 2010 (GDC10) in San Francisco, we reached out to nearly 600 of our game development customers to see who might be interested in participating in a customer interview.

InstantAction was one of the first to get back to us.

InstantAction is a web gaming site featuring 3D, browser-based games. Popular games they develop include Fallen Empire: Legions, Rokkitball, Think Tanks, Galcon and more. Last week at GDC10, InstantAction announced they will be distributing LucasArt’s The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Braid.

I caught up with Jay Arrera, CIO, of InstantAction about their use of our game development tools.

The Interview

So who are you and where are are you located?

My name is Jay Arrera, I’m the CIO of InstantAction. We have 3 offices. Our HQ is in Las Vegas, NV and we have an office in Portland, OR, and Eugene, OR. I’m based out of Portland. I have been with this company for about 2 years.

Can you tell us about your department and your team?

I am responsible for IT—all corporate applications: collaboration, internal systems, email, firewall, networks, desktop, support, standard IT. In my department, there is about a dozen of us now, but we are hiring.

Game Development

What gaming platforms do you develop for? (e.g. Xbox 360, Gameboy Advanced, PS3, Facebook, iPhone etc)

Primarily for web distribution, but we also do iPhone and Xbox. We make tools for Wii and as far as programming languages, we make both game engines and games, so we program in C++ and C#.

What software development methodologies does your team use? (Scrum, XP, Waterfall)

It depends on each team. We have many teams, and some use straight forward waterfall. Most use some sort of agile or xp, it’s not formal. Usually the team leads are experienced in some agile programming, but we don’t have a formal method.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of that approach?

It works very well for limited scope, rapid iteration projects. It doesn’t work well for large enterprise projects that need to be controlled. So that’s where we sometimes use the waterfall method and sometimes we use the agile method depending on the size, scope, and complexity of the project. For small teams, it works great. You get rid of all the project overhead and can focus on the work that needs to get done. The developers really love it for the projects that we are working on.

Moving ahead a little bit, we use GreenHopper on JIRA and the teams that are using agile development love that because they can own their own tasks and push and move things around.

In your opinion, how important are software development tools to game development?

For us it is critical. For us, it is the daily workflows. The people who are working on game and web production are working on Atlassian tools every day.

How is software development changing within the gaming industry?

I guess I’m not really qualified to comment on that because I have only been in the gaming industry for 2 years. My prior experience is in Product Development and IT. But, what I can say, is that software in game development is definitely moving faster in general. There is definitely more rapid iterations than prior.

What games have/are developed using Atlassian tools?

We just announced The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Braid, which we suspect will be orders of magnitude more popular than those that have already shipped.

Legions is one that is currently out that is our most popular game, but all of our games that are out which includes everything on instantaction.com, Think Tanks, Rokkitball, Galcon. All of those games were integrated using Atlassian tools.

How often do you push out releases?

It depends. On the website it is weekly to monthly. On the games it is monthly to quarterly. On the engine release products it is annually.

What do you use for mockups for your designs?

We are an Adobe shop, so we use InDesign and Photoshop for the images, and then we use ConceptShare to collaborate on the wireframes. This is for web design. The games use a different approach. Then detail those out in the prototypes, and then we’ll take a screenshot of the image and attach that to JIRA. Then from that point forward, we use JIRA and Confluence so everyone is always referring back to the same design and we are all in sync.

How much testing is automated, and how much is manually done?

25-30% is automated – and that includes performance and functional testing. Most of the games testing is manual. For the site, we do performance testing and then website automation regression testing for browsers – browser compatibility. We have multiple QA teams internally, and then we have third party companies that use our JIRA instance to report their issues.

What are the plugins that you rely on?

Let me bring it up so I can tell you exactly what we’ve got: GreenHopper in JIRA and all of it’s modules.

For Confluence, there is the word doc converter, advanced macros, UI plugin, attachment extractors, Balsamiq Mockups, basic macros, charts, clicker theme, code macro, the Confluence to Atlassian plugin repository, attachments plugin, the contributors plugin, html macros, pdf export, remote API, thread dump, dashboard, dynamic task list, excel plugin, JIRA information macros, layout macros, left nav theme, live search, mail page office connector, page tree, profile macros, shared application access layer, table of contents, web dav, widget connector, tiny mc. Basically a lot!

Atlassian tools inside InstantAction

What Atlassian tools do you currently use?

We use JIRA, GreenHopper, and Confluence. They were in place when I got here. We have had opportunities to change, but everyone likes them, so we have kept them. At the time, there was no wiki or collaboration in place; people just trading docs around.

Was there a bug tracker before JIRA?

I don’t know what bug tracker was in place before JIRA. I have worked with a number of other bug trackers before, BugZilla, PVCS tracker, others. I am the JIRA/Confluence admin, and I have been very pleased with the configurability of JIRA and Confluence.

What are the biggest strengths of our products that keep you using them?

Frankly, inertia. If it works, then there is no motivation to change it. Second of all, the default configuration is simple enough that people can use it as is. We have several people that do that, and use it as is. Then, there are other teams that use highly customized, very team specific workflows. The fact that we can use the same tool to do that is great; some that just want a simple ticketing system can do it out of the box, while other people who really want to control their workflow and automate that can do that too.

JIRA

How are you using JIRA?

It depends on the team, but we are using it for both bug and requirements tracking. All IT ticketing is done through JIRA. We have customized JIRA, but I can’t speak to the specifics. We have some email loaders, some bulk import scripts that we have done so we can import things from excel spreadsheets, and some SVN integration.

Custom fields and workflows?

Oh yeah! Custom fields, permission workflows, screens, the whole gambit. We also use JIRA reporting within Confluence. We have team and product pages pulling portlets right out of JIRA.

Projects, issues, users?

A couple hundred users, both internal and external (third-party contractors and beta testers) 50 projects, no idea how many issues, has to be thousands. Version is the latest (4.0).

What advice would you give another company about when or why they should use a tool like JIRA?

I’d give the same advice for JIRA that I’d give for any issue tracker; you want the tool to adapt to your business process, which means you need to know what your process is. I’ve seen perfectly good tools get knocked because they didn’t even understand their own workflow. Another important thing, as a caveat to using JIRA; because JIRA can be heavily customized, you can dig yourself into a hole if you don’t know what you are doing. Again, you can do that with any tool, but I have seen people get frustrated. They need to take a step back and say ‘hey, we don’t need to do it that way,’ we can change that, we can change the workflow, the screens, whatever you want it to be, simple or complex, we can change it.

GreenHopper

How about GreenHopper?

Not all teams use it, it is a mix. The teams most aligned with Scrum XP methodology are using GreenHopper.

What is GreenHopper’s biggest strength?

Drag and drop! Just being able to manage hundreds of tickets just by dragging them around is why we chose it. Prior, we looked at one release having hundreds of tickets and manually having to assign all those tickets, even trying to do bulk moves, it was really cumbersome trying to keep track of all the tickets. And then, if you wanted to move a ticket from one release to another – just being able to do that was huge. Also, for the developers being able to look at their list of what is assigned per version was really helpful being able to filter through GreenHopper. And the the burndown charts. We have got great use of the burndown charts. You can’t lie to the burndown chart. You are either making progress or not.

Is there a reason GreenHopper isn’t used by all teams?

The biggest reason is because we have just grown so fast. We have pulled in a lot of people, and some of the newer teams haven’t established work process that are consistent with other teams. They are in their own silo working on a project. I don’t think there is anything in the tool that is holding them back.

What would you tell any other dev shops not using GreenHopper?

Buy GreenHopper! I was really happy when Atlassian acquired that. You are always leery when you use plugins and what the supportability will be. It is such a critical part of managing lots of tickets. It’s a really useful tool.

Confluence

How are you currently using Confluence?

It is our official document repository. We use it as our intranet, for all game design and prototype mock ups, our website, requirements documents, team status pages, it’s our written communication. It is used company-wide.

Is Confluence being used in different ways than first expected?

I don’t think that I have been surprised by how it was used. I might be surprised by what the content there is. It did raise my interest when there was a custom layout by using wiki markup or HTML. I have seen page layouts that I’d say ‘hey, how did they do that,’ so I’d open up the markup and copy how they did it. Also, someone was using the news feature to capture meeting minutes for their scrum meetings. It’s on the team page with a portlet, so all team members can see the scrum notes everyday, so I thouht that was good idea, and started doing it on my team.

There are no special customizations for Confluence.

What are the most favorable features?

Editing the text directly so that I can format it exactly as what I want.

What advice would you give another company wanting to try Confluence?

You have to pay attention to document organization. It’s really easy for documents to get orphaned or forgotten and go out of date; this is a general recommendation. The power of a wiki is that anybody can create a document, which means that anyone can forget a document. Use the search feature. Create index pages and keep them up to date. It’s helpful to have a librarian or part-time librarian to periodically cull things out. Lastly, watch your permission scheme. We have a publicly hosted Confluence site so we can share documents with testers and external employees, so we have to make sure admins are staying on top of who has access to what to maintain data security.

Thanks Jay!