Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do YOU know why?

Before reading any further, watch this video.  It’s roughly fifteen minutes, and worth every second.  I’ll wait.

Rob Pardo shared this video at a recent team event at Blizzard.  Like many TED videos, I really enjoyed this presentation, and it struck me as highly relevant to the gaming industry.

At a number of studios and across a variety of projects, I’ve repeatedly heard the question, “What are we making?”  In fact, I’ve asked the question a fair number of times myself.  After watching Mr. Sinek’s presentation, I am struck at how much more engaging a question “Why?” is over “What?”.

I am confident that most development studios know what they are making – even when most of us are flailing our arms trying to figure it out.  I am significantly less confident that most studios (publishers and developers alike) know why they make their games.  As Mr. Sinek says, “to make money” is an insufficient answer.  For us, the money is the “connecting point” that permits the end of one cycle to connect to the next, thereby allowing the employees to continue to do what they love (whether it be game development or accounting).

Beyond the products we make (collective “we”), answering the why question in our industry requires a serious level of introspection.  Having watched this video, I find myself convinced that the success of our top studios, and by association their products, is hinged on the organization’s ability to understand why.  They can appreciate the composition of their teams, their values and their unique identity.  As a result, they select the types of products that best leverage their talent, their experience, their unique identity and their limitations.

Here is a starter list of questions that I quickly assembled:
  • What does your team value?  And don’t give vague platitudes like “commitment” or “passion.”  What does your team truly value?  Technical expertise?  Quick-and-dirty rapid prototyping?  Artistic vision?  Actually, you don’t have to answer this, just look at your staff (their talents, their expertise).  The problem is solved bottom-up.
  • Who do you hire?  Largely, this answers the same question as the first.  However, you need to make sure that why you’re doing (top-down) matches the previous question’s (bottom-up).
  • How do you make your games?  Process-driven?  Agile and experimental?
  • Very Important:  What games have you made already?  Regardless of the financial and/or critical success, games are developed for a reason.  Why?  Why did you make that game?  The financial results will undoubtedly impact the next game you make, but should that be the prime deciding factor?  If it is, then aren’t we saying our why is “to make money”?
  • Why are you there?  Are you there for the project?  Projects end.  Or are you there for the organization?  What does the organization represent to you?  That alone is a pretty big why.

These are all interesting and important questions.  Candidly, I feel that being able to clearly answer them will give you far stronger forecasting ability than any form of “market research” or “end user analysis.”  There will always be plenty of data that encourages studios to make Game A or Game B.  All I’m suggesting is that the most significant data point comes from within the organization, not without.

Don’t tell me what your next game will be.   

Tell me about why you’re next game will be.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Art & "Leadership?"

I titled this blog, “Art & Leadership” because I’ve frequently felt that my own career has left me with one foot firmly planted in both disciplines.  Those who know me would probably say it should be “Management” rather than “Leadership.”  I chose leadership for purely selfish reasons:  it sounds better, reads better and surprisingly few know the difference.

In my opinion, effective development teams are composed of both strong leaders and strong managers.  Neither should be subordinate to the other, assuming comparable levels of skill and experience.  Good project direction requires strong individuals in both categories.  And good development studios recognize the difference and staff both with the best people.

Unfortunately, the two disciplines do sometimes become confused, encounter conflicting priorities and have to work through the resulting friction.  That’s okay.  Truthfully, both management and leadership require similar skills and talents:
  • Great communication skills 
  • The ability to proactively assess and prioritize opportunities
  • Stay focused on the “big picture.” 
They differ in a single dominant category:
  • Leadership is focused on the product.  It looks outward.  It is the what.
  • Management is focused on the team.  It looks inward.  It is the how.

Leaders (regardless of where they fall on the management/leadership spectrum) who focus exclusively in one area to the exclusion of the other are doomed to, at best, middling success if not outright failure.

Simply put, a strong leader with no management ability will have a clear sense of the goal.  Lacking management abilities, he or she has no idea how to get there and will likely damage the team in the process of figuring it out.  A strong manager with no leadership ability can organize the team and plan for contingencies.  However, the work will progress slowly, uncertainly and directionless in absence of a goal.

These two disciplines of thought must work in unison, as much as possible.  Ideally, the team should be staffed with both strong leaders and managers.  If your project or team seems aimless or progress is slow, then the company needs to recognize that they have not committed adequate resources to one group or the other.  Potentially, they may have also sought to have a single individual cover both disciplines - which frequently doesn't work.

To highlight this more in future posts, I've already started working on a series of mini-blog posts simply stated "Bad Manager" and "Bad Leader."  We'll save those for the future.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Welcome to my Art & Leadership Blog

So, this is it.  Yeah, I know.  It's not much to look at it just yet.  My current reasoning is that I should first get in the habit of adding content BEFORE I worry about presentation.  Case in point, no one wants to eat a shit sandwich, regardless of  how much garnish you put on it.

So, what is the site going to be about?  Well, the title sums up the primary points nicely.  However, I can very easily see myself veering off course and discussing game design, production, the industry at large and any other related tangent that suits my fancy.

Welcome.  And thanks for stopping by....k