I don't know how I ended up reading through most of a blog post from early 2011 about game development but I did and think reddit was somehow involved. Anyway, I thought it would be an intriguing read. What followed was a hefty comment about how absurdly out of place that blog post was/is.
It wasn't until the next day I discovered that the post was a two years old. I thought I'd publish some of my own observations on what might be different, at well managed development studio, as supposed to your average software company and why that is.
First, there are people who know the industry and there are those who don't. The people I'm talking about have been around awhile and are among the most respectful and insightful people I've had the opportunity to learn from or know of. These are the people that give great presentations at conferences such as GDC and help the industry move forward as a whole.
With this in mind (and mind you, I'm not one of these people) I'd like to share some of the things that I've found to come into stark contrast with my existing beliefs as a more traditional software engineer.
Game code is disposable, means to an end. You're not going to maintain that code for that long, the platform will change, the design will change. Having great people around that can write great code, is much more valuable to a game studio than having the right process or discipline. This does not mean that it does not exist, it's a different beast altogether but what would make sense in your run-in-the-mill company doesn't necessarily translate so well, if you have to ship your game on a specific date.
Console development, specifically PS3 development is rather absurd from a performance perspective. The code that run well on a PS3 is very different from your general purpose software. These people know what the hardware is and they design all their work around that. You have to understand that the more you can get out of a console, the more you can spend on things that will make your game great, this will give you a competitive edge. This is also the reason why game code will shock some people, it was not written to be perfectly readable it was written that way because it got the job done and it was fast.
My last point, is a bit harder for me to argue objectively about but game development grew from a culture that wasn't motivated by greed (simply making a game for the purpose of making money). These people wanted to make a game because it was part what they believed they should do. A lot of the traditional churn that plague software development does not exist when your reason for doing what you do is so well bespoken. These people are self-motivated talented people and they get to do what they love while many of us don't. These people make rational decisions about what they need to do next to move forward, they don't waste a lot of time in meetings. If they did, they'd run out of business, because they need to ship the next game.
If you want to know more about the process of game development I urge you to read some of the publications available from EA DICE or Insomniac Games (they talk about this stuff becuase it make a lot of sense in the context of what they do!) I can personally recommend #GDC12 Ron Pieket: Developing Imperfect Software: The Movie.
That said, game development is not traditional software development, if you think that, you will fail at it. As to whether they are ahead or not, I'm pretty sure they've been ahead the rest of us from the start. You just need to know where to look.